Dodge Rises to the Challenge
Jim Powell, Mon, 21 Mar 2011 02:37:56 PDT
Man or woman, younger or older, gear-head or someone who sees a car as transportation; it did not matter. Everyone who saw my white and blue stripped 2011 Challenger SRT8 Inaugural Edition 392 exclaimed, "Wow, what a beautiful car!" Everyone who dared to ride with me for a tire-burning spin around the block used stronger language as their spine pressed into the supple white and blue leather seats. This car, color, and catapulting power captured everyone- just as Dodge hoped. With just 1,100 Challenger SRT8 Inaugural Edition 392 muscle coupes slated for the US, potential owners will have to hurry because orders and sales are going faster than the car itself.
The 2011 Challenger chassis is essentially unchanged and will likely be updated following the 2011 Charger revisions coming this spring. However, underneath and inside the Challenger gets some much needed improvements with better components and high-grade materials. For example, the SRT8 gets new shocks with a firmer ride that maintains a balance between everyday commuting and weekend racing. I could live with this car as a daily driver without sacrificing too much comfort on the freeways. This Challenger is better balanced thanks to recalibrated suspension geometry.
A rear "hop" can occur on rough pavement with more than two tons to be controlled and there is still some chassis flex over railroad tracks. However, this Challenger does corner better and goes where you point it. Dodge posts a .93g skid pad performance which puts the 392 Challenger somewhere between a sports sedan and a BMW coupe. Yet, I could definitely feel the quicker steering ratios and new negative camber settings. The old-fashion fully-hydraulic steering system has a new heavy-duty pump and revised gearing for better on-center feel.
The Challenger SRT8 392 Inaugural Edition rides on standard 20-inch SRT exclusive wheels and a Mopar quad-exhaust finishes off the look. With a top speed of 180 mph (173 mph in the automatic) the new front fascia chin spoiler is needed for better aerodynamics and rear deck-lid spoiler is actually functional for keeping this rocket planted on the earth. A larger front splitter and integrated front fender spats improve high-speed aerodynamics and overall balance as well.
Mopar aficionados will remember the original 392 HEMI engine introduced in the 1957 Chrysler and Imperial sedans, replacing the 354 cubic-inch original HEMI launched in 1951. Although larger, the 392 was internally another breed of engine over the 354 with larger valves and ports, a beefier block and crankshaft and stronger bearings to handle the increase in torque. The original "92" was all about torque and perfect for drag racing. In 1964, Don "Big Daddy" Garlits ran a record-breaking 201.34 mph in New Jersey in his famous "Swamp Rat" dragster. Famous HEMI engine builder Keith Black was better known on the water than on the land, until he teamed up with Tommy Greer and hired Don "The Snake" Prudhomme to dominate Top Fuel in California in the early 1960s using a 392 HEMI.
Torque is the pulling power that shows up quickly in big block V8 engines and Dodge has recaptured this whiplash off-the-line power in the new 392 (6.4 liter) HEMI V8. This new "92" HEMI engine in the 392 lineup pumps out an additional 90 lb.-ft. of torque at 2,900 rpm versus the previous 6.1liter V-8 engine, with a total of 470 pound-feet of torque overall. Consequently, it pumps out 470 horsepower through either a quick-shifting Viper TR-6060 6-speed manual transmission (my tranny of choice in this car) or the carried-over 5-speed automatic transmission with Chrysler's Auto Stick bump shifter.
The 392 uses an active intake manifold and high-lift camshaft with cam phasing to get maximum low-end torque while optimizing high-end power. Amazingly, a muscle coupe with 0-60 mph speed in 4-plus seconds and a quarter-mile elapsed time in the high 12s, is still getting decent fuel-mileage. Chrysler uses a displacement -monitoring system that reduces the V8 down to a V4 when power is not required. This improved 2011 "Fuel Saver" technology is only in the automatic transmission equipped SRT8. My Challenger 6-speed is rated at 14 mpg city and 23 mpg highway but I never gave it a chance to get above 12.5 mpg and I am not too sorry about that!
Inside, the new seats, dash, shifter and improved panels gave the 2-door a whole new feel. No more flimsy plastic door handles or cheap center console and arm rest. Everything is connected, flush, and finished in brushed metal. The standard Smooth Pearl White leather-trimmed seats and dual blue stripes accented by unique blue stitching are just classy. Each of the front seats has an embroidered "392" just below the headrest. The new three-spoke steering wheel, common to most new Dodges this year, includes audio, cruise, and Bluetooth controls.
Compared to the new Chevy Camaro, the Challenger has better visibility with a beltline that still rides high but not too high for most drivers. The "chopped" look is cool for some but claustrophobic for others. Without a height-adjustable passenger seat, shorter riders sit too low for viewing the world fly-by, adding to their out-of-control fear factor. The rear seat is not bad for smaller adults and the new manual seat memory makes getting in easier than most 2-doors.
Most of us who wanted to own these muscle-car legends in the 1970's and 1980's as used cars, knew that most of the muscle cars were more show than go. Rattle-traps that rusted with even the thought of water or salt, most Challengers did not survive long enough for us to save the money up to buy and restore them. Today, older Baby-Boomers are searching for these classics to finally own a legend. As one such Boomer, I would be perfectly happy owning a modern interpretation of the 1960's legendary cars, especially now that companies like Chrysler are building quality cars again. This 2011 Challenger 392 comes equipped with airbags, Brembo ABS brakes, wheel-slipping traction control and stability assist computers so it is fun, fast, and safer than any muscle-car of the past.