I want the car I can’t have: Rockin’ the 2008 Challenger SRT8 | VailDaily.com

I want the car I can’t have: Rockin’ the 2008 Challenger SRT8

Andy Stonehouse
More than the raw blast of purely intimidating power, Challenger's early converts are all in a tizzy about the car's cool looks.

Over the weekend, I joined company with a select group of forward-thinking MOPAR advocates who, through some odd connection, managed to get their grubby mitts on The Retro Machine That Got It Right.

I speak of the 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8, an exceptionally well-executed revisioning of the 35-year-old-plus muscle car classic, which debuted this year but was produced in extremely limited quantities. The first off the line sold at auction for $400K, and if you can talk to the right people (or have a lot of eBay-ready cash burning a hole in your pocket), the rest of the first 6,000-plus copies of the quite appropriately priced $41,000 automobile are earning about a $20K premium.

Large, loud and imposing, it might not seem like the most gas panic-appropriate entry to set the auto world afire ” but judging by the number of palms I saw pressed up against the windows every time the Challenger was parked, there seems to be considerable interest.

So much so, in fact, that me and the boys decided to take the new Challenger up to Leadville and place it as an impromptu entry in the Boom Days auto show, where high-altitude car fans slathered the big Dodge with their undying attention.

I should mention that the two-door Challenger I got to careen was a slightly pre-production model, probably the exact same car featured in “Car and Driver” or on myriad TV specials gushing about its retro-magnificence. But even with 11,000 incredibly hard-driven miles on the odometer, the machine still had a hell of a lot in it.

Dodge decided to go for the gusto right out of the gate and packed this first Challenger with its largest-ever SRT8 power train, namely a 6.1-liter Hemi V8 that blows out a crazy 425 horsepower, yet still returned as much as 21 mpg during routine driving.

There’s been plenty of talk that the five-speed automatic transmission was a less fun choice for the debut model (we simply couldn’t figure out how to smoke the tires, which was a little sad, given all of that grunt), but this fall’s three model 2009 lineup (a 3.5 liter V6, a 5.7 liter Hemi and the SRT8) will include the option of a manual – so tires will eventually be aflame everywhere.

Even without the manual option, the ’08 Challenger’s magnificent, explosive power turns it into a considerably fearsome machine. The exhaust note is suspiciously serene at startup but, with a nice stretch of straight on the horizon, dumping the pedal launches a baritone gurgle that cascades into a rattling scream in seconds – or maybe that was my passengers holding on for dear life.

The wallop was head-snappingly wonderful and, more remarkably, the whole auto’s mostly able to keep up with that kinetic energy. Gigantic Z-rated 20-inch tires (245/45s and 255/45s, respectively) on huge aluminum wheels and a sport-tuned chassis mean you can actually take corners using very much of that speed – an experience I’m sure that was not quite the same in the oddly balanced looking 1971 model. Nimble isn’t exactly the right word for the 4,140-pound Challenger but it’s wonderfully agile for its largesse; four-corner Brembo brake calipers help bring it back out of orbit. And 130 mph didn’t take a lot of effort, even at 10,000 feet, and there’s obviously lots more left under the hood.

More than the raw blast of purely intimidating power, Challenger’s early converts are all in a tizzy about the car’s cool looks. Learning from the Charger (and the Mustang), Chrysler very impressively recast the original Challenger’s angular shadow and ended up with an equally imposing but thoroughly modern image – purists will argue that the very much long-delayed 2010 Camaro, which may finally come out next year, looks like it was instead auto-cadded to death.

Rather, the new Challenger retains that vicious eyebrow of hood over the bright, high-intensity headlamps, a tall, smoothed beltline and sharp (and non-functional) rear windows, plus the equally bodacious flat slab of brake lamps and that center-mounted reverse lamp.

Things are chopped and smoothed to slightly tone down the sharp-cornered proportions of the original, but the collective experience is still one of the most impressive in modern domestic automaking.

The interior may strike some as a letdown but is, for good or bad, consistent with Chrysler’s contemporary efforts. This is a nice way of saying there’s an abundance of plastic, despite the SRT8 Special Edition finery (super-bolstered, throne-like leather race seats, suede inserts on the doors, stippled leather on the wheel and door handles, and vaguely carbon fiber-styled trim on the console).

Despite the preponderance of polymers, it’s also effectively executed, just a little cheesy in spots. The areas you’ll be focusing on (white sport gauges, plus an electronic readout offering slightly ridiculous gravity sensors and 0-60 timers) are well done. The fantastically adaptable touchscreen navigation system and burnable hard drive head unit connect to a 322-watt stereo and a 200-watt kicker in the trunk, allowing some internal deafening.

I may simply have just not enabled it to do so, but it’s a vehicle where I would have appreciated the utility of automatic sliding convenience seating, as the very substantial side bolsters on the seats tend to crash into your thorax when clambering into the car; the back seat will fit three but our solo passenger indicated he would have appreciated just a bit more leg room, and access was just a tad ungainly.

Those who don’t quite have the dollars to grab one of the mostly ungrabbable ’08 models will be happy to know that the largely identical looking (save for 17-inch wheels and more austere V6 engine) 2009 Challenger will retail for just over $22,000, so expect to see very many of them in the years to follow – what fun would it be if we all drove Priuses?

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