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Auto Corner: America the Beautiful - the 2011 Dodge Challenger SRT8 392

21 May 2011   John Dickerson
The Dodge Challenger - bigger, more beautiful.
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New king of muscle, Dodge’s retro-styled Challenger inherits the aggressive lines of original 70’s Mopar muscle cars.

History repeats itself. In 1969 the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro ruled local drag strips. So in 1970 Dodge introduced its own muscle cars, the Challenger and Barracuda. The Mopar muscle cars boasted Hemi V8’s, lived short lives and went down in history as valuable legends – thanks mostly to the gas crisis, which cut the Challenger’s fabled life short in 1974.

Around 2008, just as the worst gas crisis since the 70’s sunk its teeth into American budgets, Dodge introduced its second Challenger, a retro-styled beauty in the spirit of Ford’s retro Mustang and Chevy’s retro-Camara.

For 2011, Dodge has improved both horsepower and fuel economy in its muscle monster, thanks to a 392 cubic inch HEMI engine. The testosterone-infused 2011 Dodge Challenger offers La-Z-Boy-like seating and 470-horsepower, far more than the larger HEMI of yore and 45 more horses than the 2010 Challenger SRT8.

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Just like the 1970 versions, the Challenger is bigger and more comfortable than the Mustang or Camaro. Mopar muscle heads have been thrilled to learn that the new Challenger, with its 470 horsepower, is just as fast and handles far better than its classic predecessor. It also boasts a number of treats that only a car designed in the new millennium could offer, including side curtain airbags and a navigation system that plays videos.

The only weak link in the 2008 Challenger was (again, like the original 1970) that it only came with an automatic transmission. The tranny was a good one, but it’s nothing like the six-speed manual that’s now available on the 2011 model.

My 2011 tester came in classic Hemi orange and was fitted with the six-speed manual transmission. I was pleased to find that the manual gearbox offered even better access to the new HEMI’s overwhelming range of both horsepower and torque (some 470 lb-ft.)

As with the popular retro Mustang and pending Camaro, the Challenger can be had with a mileage-friendly V-6, a standard V-8 or an even more powerful (in this case, insanely powerful) performance V-8, the SRT8. Naturally, I volunteered to test the largest engine. For baby boomers hoping to relive the Muscle Car era, look no further. The new SRT8 Challenger hangs at the track with Audi and BMW super cars that cost twice as much.

Indeed, if Tim the Toolman Taylor drove a late model coupe, this would be the one. The entire vehicle shakes when the HEMI V-8 rumbles to life. And yes, you can smoke nearly any living, breathing or rumbling thing off the line – late model BMW convertibles included.

Probably the only thing un-muscle-carish about the Challenger SRT-8 is just how comfortable the interior is –- and not just for a high school kid and his girlfriend. We’re talking truly comfortable for thrill seeking grown adults.

Also unlike some muscle cars of yore, the Challenger can stop and turn nearly as well as it can snap passenger’s necks, thanks to huge 20-inch tires and Brembo brakes.

Best of all, this truly unrivaled muscle car can be had for less than $36k. Not only does the Challenger sprint to 60 in just 4.5 seconds. It powers on past 100 mph in about 10 seconds.

Whether you’re looking for such Mopar muscle or simply for a retro-styled cruiser, the Challenger is worth your examination. It’s fast, comfortable and its V-8 roar can make even NASCAR drivers jealous. Finally, a domestic hotrod that can smoke import racers off the line and look like a million bucks at the same time.

 

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Inside, the Challenger offers a more stable and comfortable ride than the cheaper
Mustang and Camaro. Muscle car styling meets modern comfort.

 

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