OK, so maybe I’m a little late to the party. It seems like every other automotive journalist has already gotten their hands on their own example of this newly reborn American muscle car legend and written in great detail about the car and their experiences in it. Well, better late than never as I always say and in this case, the wait was worth every minute. This 392 Cubic Inch, HEMI powered V8 Leviathan exudes so much attention demanding, brutish character, that it was impossible to turn down the invitation to get behind the wheel and give it thorough evaluation of my own. When a dealer contacted me and asked if I’d like to come down and give the Challenger SRT8 a go, I cleared my schedule. At the end of the day, I was not disappointed.
First, let’s get the basic numbers out of the way. With an MSRP Starting at $43,780 the SRT8 is priced very competitively, this is especially true considering that it may in fact, not have any competition. Sure, there are other retro-styled V8 muscle cars out there to choose from, but simply sharing a flair for nostalgia and a historic nameplate does not necessarily put them all in the same league. Punching out 470 horsepower and an equal 470 Lb-Ft of torque through either a 5 speed computer controlled automatic, or TREMEC 6 speed manual, the SRT8 didn’t just come to play, it came to dominate.
The brawn of the 392 HEMI is matched only by its Brains. This is no gas-guzzling, triple carbureted, tree-killing, Dinosaur, it’s a technological triumph. This new HEMI takes advantage of lightweight materials and sophisticated engineering in order to boldly claim that it’s the highest output per liter of displacement, naturally aspirated engine ever to be surrounded by MOPAR sheet metal, packing more punch per cubic inch than even the fabled 426 HEMI of yesteryear. If you choose the automatic transmission, the innovative advancements step up their game even further by incorporating a fuel saving “Multi-Displacement” function that allows the engine to run on fewer than 8 cylinders when cruising. Together with super efficient air flow and variable valve timing, the new 392 HEMI is more Dolph Lundgren than Mike Tyson… powerful and smart.
In the style department, the Challenger again stands head and shoulders above the crowd both inside and out. It is both bold and intricate with an exceptional eye for detail. With bodywork that skillfully blends muscular physique and sensual curves, the Challenger doesn’t just draw your attention to it, it holds onto it with Newtonian resolve. If it really is impolite to stare, the Challenger SRT8 may single-handedly spawn an entire generation of etiquette-challenged youths. The interior is just as captivating. The starkly contrasted, quality materials are as pleasing to the touch as they are to the eyes. From the race inspired, ultra-supportive seats, to the perfectly sized and wrapped steering wheel, the Challengers cabin is a place you want to be. A refreshingly business-like center dash cluster provides the vital information while the available entertainment console offers all of the high-tech modern features you’ve come to expect from a premium automobile. Although you can outfit your Challenger with a superb sound and navigation system, you may never want to use either of them. The music made by the glorious exhaust note and the lure of the open road are surely more worthy of your attention.
Leaving the Escondido Auto Park, the SRT8 demonstrated a surprisingly easy going nature in normal city driving conditions. It wasn’t at all twitchy; a gentle depression of the gas pedal was met with an equally smooth response from the mighty V8 lurking under the long hood. Never did the car feel like it needed to be restrained around town. The Challenger maintained an uncanny knack for rewarding light-footed driver inputs with docility. The massive Brembo brakes took a little getting used to at low speeds due to their enormous amount of grip, but the adjustment period was over before making our way out to Harmony Grove where the Challenger posed for pictures.
Once we began making our way back into town on the narrow winding back roads, the Challengers sheer size became more noticeable. Remaining ever conscious of the cars width around each blind turn, I was reminded that this isn’t a car you just toss around. It is, after all… a muscle car, and a fairly hefty one at that. Still, the handling was light years ahead of the cars that bore the Challenger name so many decades ago. In fact, once you get past the outer dimensions of the car, the confidence in its ability to hold the road rises with each sweeping change in direction. Body roll was minimal, and ride quality was firm yet comfortable. This is where the build quality really presented itself. The car was completely free of unpleasant noises and unexpected behaviors despite some very rough road surfaces and conditions.
On those straight bits of road between corners, the power of the 392 HEMI comes on quickly and with a sound you must hear to truly appreciate. Acceleration is forceful and seemingly exponential. The harder it pulls, the more it feels like it wants to charge ahead. Before you know it, that next corner is upon you and it’s time for those big Brembo’s to haul you back down to Earth, which they do over and over without any hint of fade or loss.
Heading onto Interstate 15 South in the late afternoon from a metered onramp provided the first opportunity to experience the Challengers ability to launch from a dead stop. Without the classic fanfare of smoking tires and panic induced steering input, the SRT8 instantly accelerated to the pace of the traffic flowing steadily along beside it. Aside from the goose bump eliciting exhaust note and face melting G-Forces, there was little in the way of comparison to its aging namesake. This Challenger offers all of the thrills the name suggests without any of the raucous drama or terrifying unpredictability that were part and parcel of yesterdays fire breathing muscle machines. Settling easily into traffic, it assimilated to the entrapments of city life without fuss and with its head held high. Overall, the driving experience was unforgettable and addicting. This is one muscle car that can work and play well with others when it needs to, and crush its rivals whenever it wants to.
Anyone who knows this writer, also knows that for me to give a 5 star rating to an American muscle car, is completely out of character. I’ve always preferred my muscle with a side order of mid-engine, European, corner conquering sophistication. But, I can’t sell this car short. It’s a truly phenomenal machine that combines so many great traits into a strikingly good looking and viciously performing package, that it has earned that honor and then some. If you’re in the market for muscle, take a ride in the Challenger SRT8 and you’ll know it’s the real deal.
For more information on the 2011 Dodge Challenger SRT8 visit Dodge on the web, or your local Dodge Dealer.