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Thread: 2009 Dodge Challenger

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    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    2009 Dodge Challenger

    The fact that Dodge has brought back the Challenger - not just the name, but the real deal car, fully modern but also completely faithful to the original muscle car icon of the early '70s - makes me think that maybe there is a god. (Or at least a motor god.)

    But then I realize how doomed this magnificent beast is - and I realize there's got to be a devil.

    WHAT IT IS

    The '09 Challenger is a large, rear-drive American muscle coupe built to burn rubber and raise hell. Yes, there's a reasonably mild-mannered V-6 SE version ($21,820) available, but everyone lusts after the V-8 powered R/T ($29,820) and the even more virile SRT8 ($39,820).

    WHAT'S NEW

    Everything. The reborn Challenger is Dodge's newest model.

    ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

    Three engines are available in the Challenger, one V-6 and two versions of Chrysler's heavy-hitting 5.7 liter Hemi V-8. The standard V-6 displaces 3.5 liters and makes 250 hp - which puts it right in the middle, power-wise, between the Ford Mustang's standard 4.0 liter, 210 hp V-6 and the soon-to-arrive 2010 Chevy Camaro's 300 hp 3.6 liter V-6.

    Unlike the Mustang and Camaro, however, the Challenger's V-6 is not offered with a manual transmission. A four-speed automatic is the standard - and only - transmission you can get with this engine.

    The zero to 60 time with this combo is about 8 seconds flat. Fuel economy is 17 city, 25 highway - all decent numbers for a coupe that weighs almost as much as a mid-sized SUV (about 4,000 pounds with driver).

    The R/T (the letters stand for Road and Track) comes standard with Dodge's potent 5.7 liter Hemi V-8 and your choice of five-speed automatic or (optionally) a heavy-duty Tremec six-speed manual - with Pistol Grip shifter, too. Manual cars also include Hill Start Assist to keep novices from rolling backward on hills.

    If you choose the automatic, your Hemi will make 370 hp. With the stick, you get an extra 5 hp - 375 total. You also get a heavy-duty limited slip rear axle, ESP "full off" switch (for righteous burnouts) and bright pedal covers.

    As with the Challenger's V-6, the 5.7 Hemi's output is midway between the Mustang GT's 4.6 liter V-8 (315 hp) and the 2010 Camaro SS's 6.2 liter, 422 hp V-8.

    Performance with the Hemi V-8 is up to muscle car snuff: 0-60 in the mid-high 5 second range with a top speed over 150 mph. The top-of-the-line SRT8 ups the ante to 425 hp (edging out the Camaro SS by 5 hp) with 0-60 capability right on the 5 second line. High 12 second quarter miles are within reach - which means the '09 Challenger SRT8 is quicker (and faster) than any classic-era Challenger of the early '70s.

    SRT8s also come with high-effort steering, high-capacity Brembo brakes, ultra-firm suspension and 20 inch wheels.

    The V-8 is available with Chrysler's cylinder deactivation technology - which helps fuel economy a little bit. But even with modern technology, the '09 Challenger R/T drinks gas just like a classic 1970 Challenger: 16 MPGs in the city. Highway mileage, though, is better at a possible 25 mpg (thanks to overdrive transmissions, mainly). Still, if you drive this thing as intended, don't expect to average more than mid-high teens. The SRT8 is even thirstier, of course.

    Both versions of the 5.7 liter V-8 require premium fuel but the V-6 is designed to run on regular unleaded.

    RIDE & HANDLING/DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

    If you grew up with big American muscle coupes you will love the Challenger. It is a big, heavy beast that dominates its environment - even V-6 versions. Although it is a coupe, the Challenger is nearly 7 inches longer, 4 inches wider - and about 200 pounds heavier - than a Mercedes E-Class sedan.

    If you were born after 1980, you will very likely have no experience with such things - having grown up with FWD imports - and the sheer size of the Challenger will take a little getting used to. But once you do - and learn to trust the Challenger's excellent suspension and impressive grip, you'll soon see what all the old timers mean when they speak so lovingly of the He-cars of the '60s and '70s.

    Also, there are acres of room inside - maybe not enough for five people, as the Dodge PR materials tout - but you can put four people in a Challenger. And a fifth would fit in the huge 16.2 cubic foot trunk.

    Driving the Challenger is a real treat. As the owner of a '70s-era muscle car (a Pontiac Trans-Am) I felt right at home. Same big bruiser feel - but with much better "put-togetherness."

    The only thing I take issue with is that you can't get a manual transmission with the V-6 - and that you have to pay extra to get it with the V-8.

    STYLING & UTILITY

    I always thought Ford did a really nice job incorporating retro styling elements to the new Mustang but whoever is responsible for the Challenger deserves a medal. There aren't just hints and echoes of the original 1970 Challenger. The '09 could easily be mistaken for a meticulously restored '70 Challenger - especially if you order yours in one of the available day-glo colors with the optional stripe and decal packages. It has the same jaunty strut, hungry-looking front end with deep-set hooded headlights and prominent chin spoiler, up-arched rear quarters and twin-scooped hood as the original. Just gorgeous. A time-traveler. And they did it while also complying with all the federal government's bumper-impact and crashworthiness rigmarole - which may be a boon for safety but which make it exceedingly tough to bring edgy shapes like this to production.

    As mentioned earlier, the Challenger is a large car - and it has a bigger trunk than many four-door sedans. The back seats are not the easiest to access, but there is air between the front seat backs and the bottom cushions of the rear seats. People - and not just kids - can sit back there.

    The fastback rear glass somewhat limits rearward vision and there is a little bit of a blind spot at the B pillar near the rear quarter glass. But it looks great and as with the car's outsized proportions, you quickly get used to it.

    Seat patterns, the canted toward the driver center console and the trapezoidal shape of the dashpad also echo the early '70s - though modernity shows through in the form of the optional LCD display for the GPS/audio system (with MyGIG music hard drive) as well as the air bag-equipped steering wheel.

    QUALITY & SAFETY

    There is another area where the '09 Challenger reminds me of 1970.

    When I opened the trunk, I saw some fairly crude-looking assembly work - specifically, where the rear quarter panels meet up with the trunk shell. Dimpled spot welds and slathered on body sealer at the join points. None of it was clear-coated, either. Several car companies don't clear coat the door jambs, under the hood and trunk - in order to save a few bucks per car. But it looks cheap. The Frankenstinian welding/joining, though, really surprised me. I haven't seen anything like it on a production car in literally 20-plus years. It's probably not a functional issue, but t really reeks of slapdash assembly. You would never in a million years see this kind of thing on a current (or even recent) Japanese or European car. Or to be honest, even a GM or Ford car. Very disappointing. Prospective buyers who see this may react badly.

    The rest of the car seemed ok - and Dodge's powertrains (the 3.5 V-6 and the 5.7 liter Hemi) have a good rep for quality and basic soundness of design. The muscle car underpinnings should prove tough and durable, too.

    Base SE models don't come standard with either ABS or stability control - though both can be ordered optionally. R/T and SRT8s get both - and stability control is included on all trims.

    The car's sheer size and mass confer a safety advantage even without all the gewgaws. Like its forbears, this 4,000 pound hunk of burnin' love would crinkle up a Civic like so much aluminum foil.

    THE BOTTOM LINE

    Dodge has proved it's possible to turn back time. If you missed out on the original muscle car era and always wanted to find out what it was like, now's your chance.

    The only downside, of course, is the price. Even a base V-6 SE with a few options can push close to $30k and a V-8 R/T with stick will run you closer to $35k. The SRT8, at nearly $40k, is arguably over-priced. You can get a Camaro SS with almost exactly as much power (422 hp) for almost ten grand less ($30,245 vs. $39,820).

    Then again, I think the Dodge kills the Camaro on looks. Just my opinion.

    The point, though, is that for a brief little while, you've got a window. If you have the cash - or can get someone to loan it to you - it's now or probably never. Because unless things change dramatically for the better, it's not likely we'll see a car like Challenger in showrooms for another 40 years.

    If ever.
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    Last edited by Eric; 02-10-2009 at 11:01 AM.

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