NEW YORK -- When it comes to the new iteration of the fabled Dodge Challenger, the look will cost you $22,000, for the power you'll shell out $29,000 and the real deal will tap you for $39,000. Dodge has wisely, or not, tried to build a Challenger for every pocketbook.
The 2009 Dodge Challenger SE was powered by a 3.5-liter V6 that made 250 horsepower and a matching 250 pounds-feet of torque. It was mated to a four speed transmission. The combo reportedly achieves 18 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the hwy.
The Challenger R/T had a 5.7-liter HEMI under its hood that made a healthy 376 horsepower. Standard is a five-speed automatic but it can be equipped with a six-speed manual transmission. It also can be equipped with multi-displacement technology that will switch the engine as needed between four and eight cylinders. Dodge says it increases fuel efficiency by 20 percent.
The SRT8 is the real deal. It was powered by an even bigger, 6.1-liter, HEMI V8. The car makes 425 horsepower, has a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic and makes 420 pounds-feet of torque. Zero to 60 mph time is, according to Dodge, 4.9 seconds.
Except for some external trim the cars look exactly alike, although the R/T and the SRT8 have dual chrome tipped rectangular exhausts. The Challenger is distinctively designed. It turned heads all over this area where people are more focused on walking.
The big coupe had quad headlights that were visually chopped off at the top by the hood line. It had Dodge's trademark horse collar grille, a long sloping hood with power bulge and functional hood scoops. And it can be equipped with 17, 18 or 20-inch wheels.
No matter what color you get, the Challenger will come with a black matted interior. The manual, only available on the R/T and SRT8, had a pistol grip shifter. It had four bomb cluster gauges and the audio and climate controls were neatly housed around and beneath the navigation screen.
The Challenger is built on the same platform as the Dodge Charger and the Chrysler 300 which means it's a sizable car. But two doors and a sleek silhouette help camouflage the bulk. The upside is that the car has a huge trunk and there's plenty of room in the back seat for two full-size adults. You could get three folks back there for a short haul.
We started out driving the SRT8. In a phrase, it lived up to its muscle car heritage.
It was brutish and to get the most out of it the HEMI had to be handled firmly. I found the suspension surprisingly comfortable; not firm like I expected. But the articulation bottomed out more than I liked. The SRT8 didn't seem all that agile for rally racing around a track. It was made for the streets: rapid starts from stop lights, bullet-like acceleration on expressways but able to amble down the road at a civil speed.
However, I was disappointed that the SRT8 with a sticker of $42,980 as tested didn't have automatic climate controls. I thought the SE was lacking, too.
Although 250 horsepower is ample oomph it wasn't enough to move the Challenger, which weighed two tons, with authority. On the way back, we pushed the pedal to the metal a couple of times and the SE Challenger didn't move forward swiftly. Still, the entry-level Challenger was about looks not speed.
The Challenger can be equipped with push-button start systems, an audio input jack, Bluetooth that turns compatible cell phones into hands free car phones and remote start for automatic transmissions.
It's definitely a guy car. The Dodge Challenger is the first of a new generation of muscle cars coming to market in the midst of record high gasoline prices. The question is whether prices at the pump will dampen sales.