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2009 Dodge Challenger SRT8
Classic Style Meets Modern Engineering
By Ken Glassman, Photography by Dodge, Feb. 05, 2009

FAST FACTS

1. SRT8 models get the 6.1-liter Hemi with 425hp and 420 ft-lbs of torque.

2. Brembo brakes, plus a lower and stiffer suspension than the standard Challenger, lets this muscle car go fast on the straights and the twisties.

For those of us of a certain age, just looking at the 2009 Dodge Challenger SRT8 is like taking a trip back in time. You see, back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s when “American Iron” ruled the roads, and “muscle car” meant rip-snorting horsepower, I was graduating from high school and starting my time in college.

While I didn’t personally own any of the hot cars of the day, many of my friends who were members of the lucky gene pool club were affluent enough to own them, and I got to drive some of the best of the best. There were Boss 302 Mustangs, and later Mustang Mach 1s, and Oldsmobile Cutlass 442s, Pontiac GTOs, Chevy Camaro Z28s, a Buick Grand National, and of course the hot Mopar cars. There was the 440 cubic-inch Plymouth Barracuda, and one of my fraternity brothers at the University of Iowa had a beautiful 1970 Dodge Challenger convertible finished in Plum Crazy purple, with Bumble Bee stripes, a 426 cubic-inch Hemi V-8 with 425 horsepower, the optional “shaker” hood, and a custom 8-track stereo system. Man, that puppy could lay down some rubber and tear down a deserted two-lane country road like a rocket!  It was a time for long hair, cold beer, and hot chicks. 

STYLING: RETRO AMERICAN IRON

While the 2009 version of the hot Challenger looks like a modern American muscle coupe, it has all the retro styling cues of the past . . . long hood, short deck, wide stance and front grill, big wheels with wide tires, and devoid of gimmicky modern styling cues like wings, or extended rocker panels, brake scoops or other boy racer gimmicks.

PERFORMANCE: 425 HEMI HORSES

Start the motor and you are at once treated to the aural delight of the 6.1 liter Hemi V-8 burbling through the dual exhaust system. Precious few cars today offer up an engine sound that thrills the driver at idle. The anticipation of the 425 horsepower, with 420 ft-lbs of torque, being available at your right foot is palpable. Push in the clutch, grasp the retro pistol grip shift lever, snick it into first gear, hit the gas, pop the clutch, and the let ‘er rip! WHAM, you’re in sensory overload as the mighty Hemi roars, and the tires screech as they leave a strip of rubber on the pavement, while you’re shoulders are pinned back into the race inspired, well bolstered, leather seats. 

You’ll hit 60 mph in less than five seconds (and in first gear), then quickly shift into second for another round of torque induced g-forces, and you can hear yourself yell out, “yee-ha.”  Only respect for the local constabulary and not wishing to experience their jail, forced me to back off after hitting triple digit speeds. Chrysler tells us that I’d have hit the quarter mile in only 13.3 seconds, and it would only take 16.5 to hit 100.  But I gotta tell you, that one run alone made me feel like I shaved 25 years off my current age, and filled in the sparse patches of hair on my head. 

LOWER, STIFFER SUSPENSION & BREMBO BRAKES

While this 2009 Challenger provides all the straight line thrills of the old muscle cars, there are several things that set it miles (and years) apart from the cars of yesteryear. First off, the 2009 version comes equipped with 4-piston opposed Brembo brake calipers, clamping down on huge vented rotors, so when you hit the whoa pedal, the SRT8 scrubs off speed like a race car. And the ABS system makes sure you won’t flat-spot the tires, either. 

The other major difference between the cars of the two eras, is that the current Challenger can actually handle the road when it gets curvy. Sure you can feel the heft of the 4,100 pound car in tight corners, but the body roll is moderate, and with its limited slip differential (new in ’09) the Challenger always feels stable and well planted, and it tracks through high speed corners without the need for mid course corrections, making it an easy and everyday fun car to drive on any road.  This SRT8 would blow the doors off the 70’s models in the corners. 

And let’s not forget the Tremec TR 6060 six-speed manual transmission with dual overdrives, which is also new for ’09.  (The 5-speed automatic with Auto Stick is also available).  While the clutch effort is not as light as one would find on a little econobox, the pedal effort is much lighter than the ones from the ‘70s. Same goes for the shifter.  Short throws, light effort, and easy to find the gear you need.

You might think that a car with all this power and performance would ride like a truck and rattle your fillings over all but the smoothest pavement. But you’d be wrong. In fact the ride quality is quite pleasant. While the SRT rides a half-inch lower than the other Challenger models, the specially tuned shock and springs offer a comfortable and well-damped ride for most road conditions. 

DISAPPOINTING INTERIOR

I must say that the interior was somewhat of a disappointment. It is entirely functional, and straightforward, with four large dials centered for easy view from the driver’s seat, and the radio and heating controls in the center stack are easy to see and use. The seats are quite comfortable and very well bolstered to hold the driver in place under spirited driving. The rear has seat belts for three, but only two people will be at all comfortable, as head and legroom are a bit cramped. But I was looking for something a bit more stylish and striking. The gray and black tones are just too bland for my tastes. The red striping on the seatback and contrasting stitching on the seats are really the only contrasting color in the cockpit. A car with this exterior styling, the racy brilliance of the Hemi engine, and the performance personality begs for an interior that matches that attitude. Instead the Challenger’s interior can be mistaken for any well appointed 4-door sedan. 

THE VERDICT

Even if you’re too young to remember the exhilaration of the original Challenger that inspired the current model, this car will give you a unique and thrilling driving experience. And those older cars certainly didn’t have the respectable gas mileage figures of 14 city and 22 highway. At an MSRP of $42,245 you can find other cars that have similar performance numbers and more refined manners, but you won’t find any other car that can give you the same American Iron jazz that you’ll get from this Challenger SRT8.  And trust me, that’s a good thing.

POSITVE

Neck snapping power
Outstanding brakes
Incomparable engine song

NEGATIVE

Bland interior
Pricy
Poor gas mileage