Youve got to give credit where credit is due. The previous generation Dodge Challenger SRT8 with the 6.1-liter HEMI was, is, and always will be a tremendous car. I have logged tens of thousands of miles behind the wheel of this great machine. In fact, back in 2008, I piloted #552 of 6,400 down the East Coast for a month. I had the absolute time of my life. You can read my synopsis of that trip right here…
East Coast Wrap-up
An Amazing Car, Great Places, and Even Greater People
After traveling nearly 6,000 miles throughout 18 different states, this HEMI Orange odyssey has sadly come to a close. It was nice to get home, but giving this car back is a terrible feeling. We have been through so much together.
From the rolling mountain roads of Vermont and New Hampshire, to the hustle and bustle streets of New York City, to the sandy beaches of the Jersey Shore, to our Nations capital, and all the way back to the Motor City, the Challenger and I have lived a lifetime as one unstoppable HEMI force.
From the sunniest of days, to the darkest of nights; over blacktop, concrete, dirt, and grass; through rain, sand, and even mud; the Challenger never wavered in an endless pursuit of getting to the people.
Looking back at this entire experience, I have so much to talk about. So much, in fact, that there is not enough paper to write it all down. I will, therefore, focus on two major topics; the Challenger itself, and the people who love it.
In my line of work, I have the distinct privilege of driving vehicles from all different manufacturers at all different price levels. And not in my entire time doing so have I driven a car that delivers on so many levels for this price.
The overall balance of the Challenger is completely astounding, and Ill tell you why.
On looks alone, this car stands up to anything. From the sexy belt line and minimal use of glass, to the menacing front end and enormous 20 wheels, the Challenger exudes an aggressive elegance rarely seen in automotive design today.
Step inside this beast and the interior welcomes you in like a king to his throne. The SRT seats are supremely comfortable. Of the hundreds upon hundreds of people who sat inside my car, nearly every one of them commented on how awesome the seats were. They hug you in the most special way without compromising the experience of driving.
The materials used inside are phenomenal. Leather and suede surfaces in the seats and doors are soft and supple to the touch. The dash board is remarkably dense, and the carbon fiber accents in the center stack provide just the right look.
Now, seated and facing the gauges, sensory overload really starts to sink in. The 180 mph speedometer reminds you of what lurks under the hood, and the Performance Pages display are there to measure just how good you can be with the car. By almost instinct, you grab the steering wheel and white-knuckle it as you helplessly envision what the Challenger is capable of.
Then comes the technology of UConnect. The turn-by-turn navigation was a dream to have on this trip. It diverted me around construction and was spot on in finding the countless destinations I visited.
But beyond navigation is where my favorite portion of the interior lies; the Kicker stereo system. One quick turn of the volume knob and all 13 speakers come to life with the ferocious clarity that I look for in quality car audio. The subwoofer thumps hard as it provides low end depth to counter the ear piercing treble that emanates out of the dash speakers ahead of you. I literally could not get enough of the stereo. It made this trip that much more enjoyable.
Tie in all the interior amenities and youre left not wanting to get out of the car. Its just that pleasant to be inside. But the best part is that all this comfort and convenience comes without having to sacrifice functionality. All the features are fully useable and solidify this car as an enjoyable daily driver. And the back seat even works great. I demonstrated on several occasions that me, a 61 185 lb. guy, can comfortably fit in the rear seat, all while a full grown adult can sit ahead of me without compromising their leg room.
Then, of course, is the whole promise of performance. Well, the Challenger delivers in spades on all levels.
First of all, there is the legendary HEMI engine that packs all that unbridled power underneath the hood. With the key in your pocket and a push of the button, 425 horses rapidly come to life. Once on the loud pedal, the exhaust note becomes a bit more vocal. Blast on to the freeway with the revs around five or six grand and this beast sounds pissed off.
Acceleration is excellent for such a large car. Reaching highway speeds from a dead stop is simply effortless. And, despite the shear bulk, the Challenger remains exceptionally nimble when hitting the kinks. I often think back to my time in Vermont and New Hampshire on Route 101, carving through those sweeping S-turns all day long as if they were not even there. The chassis stays compliant and linear which makes spirited driving a dream.
But all that horsepower and mass have to slow down sometime which gives rise to, quite possibly, the most noteworthy performance feature; the brakes. Slam on the pedal and the bright red Brembos clamp down on the massive rotors with vice-like grip. The tenacious stopping power makes it feel like your brain is about to come out of your nose. They work that well.
So what is the best feature about this car? For me, its the ride quality. Even considering its devilish good looks, top notch interior, and rockin stereo, I cant get past how well this car drives. There were periods of time where I traveled very long hours over hundreds of miles without stopping. Finally, when I did pull over, I could get out and feel great. No back strain or sore muscles at all. The suspension absorbs any road harshness, while maintaining a very quite cabin. This makes the Challenger the ultimate car for long trips.
The Challenger truly lives up to the SRT badge it so proudly displays. Chrysler Engineers have struck the perfect balance between Street and Racing Technology.
Just when you think the Challenger couldnt get any better, it does. But it has nothing to do with the car itself.
The most rewarding element of this whole tour was the reaction the car receives. If you look through our pictures on Flickr, youll find one very common thread; tons of smiling faces and lots of thumbs pointing towards the sky. That is what this car is all about. It makes you feel good!
The Challenger also knocks down demographic barriers that often accompany such distinctive vehicles. Be they young/old, men/women, rich/poor, or black/white, the Challengers persona transcends all obstacles. Everyone loves it. Even competing brand loyalists who would never buy anything but GM or Ford products can be directly quoted as saying Im not a Chrysler fan, but that thing is sweet!
The Challenger is faced with the widest possible spectrum of fanfare I have ever personally witnessed in an automobile.
Everywhere I traveled I was treated like royalty. Complete strangers bought me dinner, asked for my autograph, and bent over backwards to make me feel comfortable. Some even going as far to offer me a place to stay while in town, or for future visits if I was ever to return. Plain and simple; I was treated like a rock star for the better part of a month.
I once said, When you buy a Challenger, youre not just buying a car. Youre buying into a culture. It doesnt matter where you go; to the gas station, to dinner, to the movies, or even to church. You will have fans everywhere wanting to know about you and your car. It never ends.
Of Pride and Future
Chrysler has created something great. In fact, they have created something beyond greatness.
The Dodge Challenger stands in a class of its own. It is a testament to brilliant design, modern engineering, and the foresight of creators to realize the demand for a car as special as this one.
History has shown that Chrysler has the guts to build cars people truly desire to drive, and this is clearly no exception.
For 2009, the model line expands to the R/T and SE. There is now a Challenger at every price point and performance level so as to satisfy the needs of the entire market. There is something for everyone and, better yet, its attainable.
If the Challenger is any indication of Chryslers upcoming design plans, then their future is remarkably bright. Any vehicle that can capture even a small percentage of this cars excitement will be an overwhelming success.
In my opinion, this is the best car Chrysler has ever made in my time. They should be very proud.
I highly recommend that interested customers get face-to-face with the car because pictures do it no justice. Then, if you do decide to buy, cut your own path and make this car uniquely yours. Personalizing a Challenger will not be hard given aftermarket options that are expanding everyday.
I feel sincerely fortunate and honored to have been involved in this project. Given the opportunity again, Id do it in a heartbeat. I am left with countless memories and tales to share for the rest of my life. With all that said Ill leave you with one last story.
I was in Elizabeth, NJ about to close out the day when a middle-aged man approached me by the car. We exchanged the usual banter about the whole trip and how he thought the car was beautiful. I then asked him, Do you want to sit inside? He nodded yes.
I jumped in the passenger seat and began to tell him all about the features of the car. Within mere seconds, I watched the mans face wash over with emotion as his eyes wandered in amazement throughout the interior. If I could have read his mind, Id say he was envisioning his old muscle car days and how they have changed so dramatically in the new Challenger; how a simple AM/FM radio is now a fully integrated touch screen entertainment system; and how the brake rotors are the size of the wheels on the older cars. Id also like to think he was asking himself, Just how in the world did they make this car look so reminiscent of the original Challenger?
Once I finished talking, I asked, Well, what do ya think? The man was speechless. He raised his hands in the air and shook his head in disbelief. There were simply no words he could muster to describe his feelings.
The car induces such a profound reaction from onlookers that words alone cannot convey its true impact. For me, the most powerful reaction is when a person is rendered silent and simply cant say anything at all.
The Challenger is just that damn good.
As Ive continued my journey with the Challenger, I hear many of the same sentiments echoed by current owners. And when the HEMI Highway Tour came to Long Island, we met a couple of Challenger owners who were no exception.
Ray Kelly of Massapequa, New York was the first enthusiast to show up at our gathering at Security Dodge and visited with us nearly the entire time. Ray owns a 2009 Brilliant Black SRT8 and could not stop praising the car he so proudly drives.
I look for any excuse to go for a spin, even if its just for a loaf of bread or gallon of milk, Ray said. I leave the cover off all the time now, because it slows me down when I want to get the car out quickly.
Ray continued, I even let my friends drive the car. Its made to run fast and thats what I encourage them to do.
Another owner, Sylvia Serafin, had this to add. We Challenger owners have such a camaraderie. When you meet others on the road, you always wave at each other. Its like we have our own little group.
This car is a beautiful American sports car thats a real head turner, she said. When you see a Challenger, you look! I absolutely love driving mine!
But despite three straight model years of incredible success, we are now welcoming the new SRT8 392. And while we will never forget the 6.1-liter HEMI Challengers, this new incarnation is absolutely astounding. With just over 3,200 miles behind us on the HEMI Highway Tour, I can honestly say that the new car is improved in nearly every way possible.
When it comes to power, the 392 gobbles up the road with a new sense of urgency. The power is ferocious. Where the last car needed a brief moment to wind up, the new 6.4-liter HEMI puts that aspect to rest for good. Horsepower and torque are everywhere in the power band. Be it from a dead stop at a light or a roll at 75 mph on the highway, this car is an animal.
The new exhaust note sounds fantastic. I find it terribly difficult to keep my foot off the accelerator as the revs climb north of four grand; this is where you start to really feel like a race car driver. The big V8 just oozes aggression as power builds and emanates from beneath the car. Its downright intoxicating.
Transmission shift efforts with the six-speed have been lessened and the gate feels even more defined than before. I bang gears with a higher level of precision, all while the clutch requires a bit more force, yet provides better feel at the same time. It performs absolutely perfectly. You gotta have a six speed in this car. Its just too much fun!
The suspension is undeniably more firm than its predecessor. You feel more of the road this time around. Not in a bad way though. Its not choppy or abrasive. Instead, the SRT8 just keeps you more in tune with the surface youre on. It feels incredibly awesome.
And lets not forget the handling. With a smaller steering wheel and higher steering ratio, the new 392 requires less driver input. When you come off of center, the car just feels more sharp and responsive. Turn in is much more direct and precise for 2011. This may be a big car, but it no longer maneuvers like one. Plain and simple, this Challenger feels lighter and much more reactive. Its brilliant!
Beyond the power and dynamic improvements, the upgrades made to the interior will make everyone happy. With a quick release on the driver seat back and a quick return on the front passenger seat track, mobility has unquestionably been improved inside the cabin. Seats are still perfect but now have electronic lumbar adjustment for the driver. Bonus. And the stereo still provides for rock concerts while driving. I love it!
I could go on for pages and pages about how much I love this car, but I gotta save something for next time. Make no mistake about it: theres a new sheriff in town. The 392 eclipses its predecessor in every way and does so with added levels of refinement and efficiency. The car remains a docile road car when you desire, capable of 23 mpg on the highway, all with the ability to snap your neck and shove you back into your seat. The balance of this package is phenomenal.
Challenger owner Ray Kelly added this, I love the new seats. And I love the factory-installed headers and cold air induction. I wont have to do those aftermarket upgrades again by myself.
And while many married guys out there might worry about their wives squashing Challenger hopes, Ray has a very supportive spouse. No, shes cool, he said. I think convincing her on the idea of a new 392 wont be hard.
So whatll it be, Ray? White with blue? Or Blue with white?