Forget Vail’s snow: All hail the Dodge Challenger R/T! |

Forget Vail’s snow: All hail the Dodge Challenger R/T!

Andy Stonehouse
Vail, CO, Colorado
Special to the DailyThe Dodge Challenger R/T is a manly ride, especially in eye-burning TorRed.

Gentlemen: finding yourself a little down in the dumps, now that the holidays are over? Lost some of that manly spark? Unable to perform like you could in your younger days?

Do I have the solution for you. Better than a cocktail of Cialis, Wellbutrin and Rogaine, the totally awesome 2009 Dodge Challenger R/T will put a spring in your step, hair on your chest and an artery de-clogging rush of blood through your body with every firm pounce upon the gas pedal. Even in snowy Vail, Colorado.

For an even more macho infusion, order one up in TorRed, Dodge’s most masculine tint, plus gleaming 20-inch mag wheels and hood-to-fender, retro-styled stripes. Your kids, who think that “Starsky and Hutch” starred Ben Stiller, will send you text messages, saying how embarrassing you are. Your mate will either kick you out of the house or, instantly make mad and passionate love to you.

OK, I can’t exactly guarantee these outcomes, nor would I particularly recommend the 372-horsepower rear-wheel-drive behemoth as the best of mountain winter cars. But I can verifiably state that the new Challenger is the most thoroughly eye-catching blast from the past that you can get ” and priced at less than $40,000, the slightly-repugnant-fun-per-dollar ratio is very, very high.

The 5.7-liter Hemi-powered R/T is this year’s marginally civilized version of the essentially pre-release 2008 Challenger, the SRT8, which cranked 425 horses out of a 6.1 liter, and felt a little more race track-oriented than the R/T. Both are now available with an optional six-speed manual transmission with a pistol grip shifter; while I longed for the opportunity to try one and smoke the 20-inch Goodyears down to their cords, Dodge recognized the implicit danger of providing such a temptation to auto writers and I rolled around with the chunky five-speed automatic.

Almost nothing has changed in the Challenger’s back-to-the-future looks, highlighted by that scary brow ridge over the twin circular headlamps (with orange running lights on the insides) and the sinister tail-wide bar of brake lamps. The lines are exceptionally sweet, translating all of the passion of the ’70s original into a thoroughly modern rendition.

Inside, the SRT8’s very aggressive race seats have been replaced by more comfortable two-tone leather bucket seats; other tweaks include an improved navigation system (with real-time Sirius traffic display) and the ever-popular lit-up cupholders and door pulls.

What has not changed is the raw fury of the Hemi experience, with a gargantuan gargle of high-five-worthy exhaust on every run. At idle, it’s slightly more sonorous than the brutish 6.1 liter, and during full-throttle blasts, it generates such hellacious noise that tears will form in the corners of your eyes.

As a slight concession to your potentially doubting family or green-minded neighbors, the Hemi is equipped with an electronic displacement mode which shuts down half the cylinders during non-chase-scene-styled outings (I turned in about 22 mpg during a normal freeway jaunt, and got about 14 while cavorting).

The Challenger, based on a platform shared between Chrysler’s Charger and 300C family, is indeed more akin to its muscle car progenitors than a contemporary sports coupe ” it’s big and heavy and, while it will handily roll up to its 140-something top speed, its large and blocky nature (and those 20-inchers) means handling ain’t quite like a Viper.

Keep it in a mostly straight line, however, and you’ll still have plenty of fun; the SRT8’s Brembo brakes are gone, but the R/T’s substitutes still do a pretty good job.

In its more costly, option-loaded rendition (a very basic R/T with 18-inch wheels and cloth seats is technically available for just over $30K), you’ll find such added niceties as a power sunroof, a whomping 388-watt stereo with seven Boston Acoustics speakers ” all the better for playing Robin Trower or AC/DC at high volumes ” plus that delightfully sophisticated touchscreen navigation system. The screensaver, by the way, shows an airborne Challenger, just as an added behavioral incentive.

Mine also included a remote starter and pushbutton ignition, with the cursory oversized key fob that has to be parked in the cupholders or left in the pocket of your bellbottoms.

Could this be the car to change your half-man existence into full-blown, Hai Karate-scented superstud-dom, even if you have to move to Phoenix, today, to experience it? Yes, yes, and again, yes. Do it now.

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