Brief Challenger SRT8 review, is it still competitive?

Quick background on my Dodge background…

10 years ago Dodge brought forth the Dodge Charger/300 as the new Chrylser LX platform. The LX platform was specific to Chrysler but it used a whole lot of pieces and parts from the 2002-2009 Mercedes-Benz W211.

Finally a domestic OEM had an affordable V8 rwd 4-door again! I purchased a 2007 Charger R/T as a big family car. It was a phenomenal car for two small children. The car was reliable for all of its five years of our ownership. The car never gave use any other issues and proved to be a good sale that Chrysler products no longer sucked.

We traded the charger it in for a T&C which was sad but was much appreciated after our family had grown to five. Note that when driving with small children, it is most helpful to have the kids more than an arm’s length away from each other. I then sold the Minivan for a crew cab Ram 1500.

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Now that the kids are bigger they mostly have the ability sit next to each other. The Ram 1500 has also been a great vehicle. At 59K miles it recently had its first issue, a bolt off the exhaust manifold broke causing a minor exhaust leak on start up. I brought it back to the dealer and they replaced both exhaust manifold gaskets and all bolts under the 100K powertrain warranty.

While I was there at the dealer waiting for a ride, the old salesman who has been there for 10+ years recognized me and chewed my ear off for a good 30 minutes. He asked me if I wanted to drive anything. I asked him if he happened to have a car with a 392 and a 6-speed manual, he pointed me towards a SRT Challenger just off the truck. I asked him if I could take it later that night with my wife for an extended test drive. He agreed. :)

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Back to the Challenger. Dodge was the first to market with the retro muscle car/pony car craze of ten years ago (except for the 2005 Mustang, bleh).

The Challenger SRT8 came out as a 2008, it was big and had the most naturally-aspirated horsepower with 425 from the 370ci Hemi. It was a damn cool car much like it’s 1970 forbear.

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The carbon fiber hood stripes were stupid but it was fun to drive, especially with the pistol shifter. The Camaro SS of 2010 was quicker and cheaper. Eventually even the Mustang GT with the 5.0 was also quicker. Dodge upgraded the SRT8 to 383ci from 370ci in 2011, increasing horsepower to 485.

Speaking of the Camaro:

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I helped a friend pick out and negotiate a 2016 Malibu lease, not a bad deal with the 1.5L turbo for 37MPG. While there at the dealer I test drove a V6 and V8 Camaro. The V6 was fun and the V8 was freakin fast with an advertised 0-60 of 4.0 seconds. The Camaro feels tight, slender, and quick to turn and stop. It reminded me of a 1988 1LE set up for SCCA with twice the power. The only downside to the Camaro is that the interior is cramped. The back seats are useless and visibility does suck. I love Camaros (I’ve owned three), but the visibility is an issue. I would consider an ATS instead of the Camaro just for the improved visibility. The Camaro is also an excellent value from the $26K turbo 4 to a fully loaded $46K SS.

Back to Saturday, we drive to the dealer in my little Abarth to pick up the truck. I interrupt our salesman who is closing a deal and he hands us the keys to the Challenger along with a dealer plate. The SRT8 is a painted as Eleanor, silver with black stripes. The car is dirty but still gorgeous. The SRT8 Brembos are huge and the Pirellis are beefy. The interior is red leather with suede/alcantera seats and door panels. The pistol shifter is gone but in its place is a giant ball shifter engraved with a 6-speeds map. The interior is big and airy, a huge difference from the Camaro and Mustang. Visibility is fantastic with large side windows and a tall windshield. The rear view mirror has a great view and the side mirrors are fairly large. The center display screen is quite large and works great with the reverse camera.

Foot on the clutch and the brake, then hit start. The big Hemi rumbles on start up. It doesn’t bark like the Camaro’s straight through mufflers in sport mode, but it rumbles much more like a muscle car. Where’s the stupid parking brake? Oh yeah, like my old Charger it is still a foot pedal, I pulled the same brake release handle that is currently in my Ram. Clutch take up is surprisingly short and not too heavy. The Tremec TR6060 still feels awesome. Shifts are smooth, exact, and offer much gratification. I’m sure the Torqueflight 8-speed is faster but the 6-speed is so much rewarding to drive. Rolling out of the dealer lot onto the freeway, the car accelerates quickly with tons and tons of low end torque. The car does not feel like she weighs 4,200 pounds. Cornering is tight with .9 Gs available. The fresh Pirellis are nice and compliant, they don’t seem to squeal but they are very easy to overcome with throttle. It’s amazing at how much throttle control the car has through the turns, steering via throttle is awesome. Cruising at 70 MPH the car feels solid and quiet, down shift to 4th and there’s that torque again, the car quickly hits 100 which feels a whole lot like 80.

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We drive home to show the kids, they are enamored with the Challenger, asking me if I sold the Abarth ( I thought they loved the Abarth). I take the kids around the block and again, I’m astounded at how much fun this huge car is to drive. The interior is huge and so the car feels big but it doesn’t drive big. Steering is tight, the shifter is fantastic, and the rear end is awesome. There was never a bounce or any kind of torque flex felt through the driveline. The rear end stayed composed and kept the tires on the ground with authority. We got the whole famdamnly in the car for a quick cruise through town. Our three young men in the back were surprisingly comfortable with plenty of space.

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We drop the kids off and my wife jumps in the driver’s seat. She is great with a stick ;) and quickly gets used to the clutch and throttle. She’s comfortable enough to immediately start goosing it through the corners. The car allows for a good amount of fun, I never noticed any ABS/throttle control intervention. While my wife is driving I start playing with the SRT settings, checking out the timers, launch control settings. There are a lot of fun software toys to play with.

We sadly bring it back to the dealer after discussing the realities of $54K in car payments.

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Conclusion:

Is the Challenger a better sports car than the Camaro? No, the SS Camaro is better in every number related to acceleration and movement of mass. The Camaro also gets better mileage and is $6K cheaper. The Camaro is a better pony car, no contest. The Mustang GT, is much more comparable to the Challenger in performance numbers. Acceleration is about the same but again the SRT8 is so much more $$$. Also, the GT350R is only $49K, $4K cheaper in a world without dealer markups.

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Compared to the 2016 Camaro and Mustang, the Challenger is a much better muscle car. For those who don’t know, the first real muscle car was the Olds Rocket 88, essentially a good-sized coupe with a big motor. Then there was the Tempest GTO, Max Wedge, and the others that followed which were mainly designed for the 1/4 mile or NASCAR rather than the SCCA. A Muscle car is something like a ‘69 Charger, a big car with a huge motor. Interestingly, the 1971 Challenger is probably more of a pony car, while the 2008+ Challenger is huge and not a small coupe with a big V8 like the Camaro/Mustang. The Challenger can carry four people comfortably, it has a usable trunk. It is built for cruising and kicking off 12 second 1/4 miles times. For someone with a family that also enjoys cars and loves doing car stuff together, the Challenger is a much better fit than the Camaro and Mustang.

For the wife and I, we can’t afford a new one but we’ll probably be in the market for a 2015 possibly next year. Also, I would like to drive a Scat Pack and see if it is as composed as the SRT8. The Scat Pack could be a fantastic value.

So here we are, eight years later with essentially the same Dodge. The Challenger is still amazingly attractive due to its size, power, and ability to see past the belt-line. I personally feel that 485 horsepower is perfect with more than enough torque to try and manage on the street. The Hellcat would be absolutely insane.

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That is all, thanks for reading.