Dodge's high-performance pony car can now go around corners, too!
Looks are deceiving. In your mind's eye, the Dodge Challenger SRT8 392 appears just like the muscle car of legend that made a name for itself on the dragstrips and road race circuits, not to mention the highways throughout North America.
But in reality, it is a much larger version of itself.
On the market for several years now, the Challenger nonetheless still manages to grab our attention like almost nothing else. We decided to take another look at Chrysler's big pony car.
What is it?
The Dodge Challenger SRT8 392 is the high performance version of the third-generation of Dodge's pony car, which through fits and starts, has managed to hang on in various iterations since 1970. Harking back to the legendary muscle car days that saw wins on the dragstrip and road courses throughout North America, it is Dodge's entry to the revitalized muscle car wars that returned with the retro-styled Ford Mustang in 2005.
The first generation Dodge Challenger (1970-74) was not here for long, but it was looking for a good time. Meeting with moderate success, it did achieve a somewhat legendary status following stints on the road courses with Sam Posey behind the wheel.
It was followed in between by a rather unfortunate attempt at glory at the hands of then-Chrysler partner Mitsubishi. That one is better left forgotten.
As reintroduced in 2008, the new Challenger liked going straight - and really nowhere else. Through handling and suspension upgrades, the newest version changes all that.
The SRT8 gets its power from a 6.4-liter (392-cubic inch) V8 Hemi engine that makes 470 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 470 lb-ft of torque at 4,200 rpm. The flat torque band makes for catapult-style takeoffs, with amazing grunt from the exhaust system. Power gets to the rear wheels through a Tremec 6060 six-speed manual transmission with a ZF-Sachs twin-disc clutch.
While ours was the row-it-yourself version, an available five-speed automatic transmission is there for those who alternate between balancing smartphones, Super Big Gulps and drive-thru fast foods. With the automatic comes a cylinder-deactivation mode for additional fuel savings that shuts down four of the eight cylinders while at highway cruising speed. Paddle shift levers or the stick shift-based +/- gates can be used to row it yourself, if you are so inclined. Either way, 60 mph should come in less than 5 seconds.
The suspension has received an upgrade for model year 2013, with an improved adaptive damping system with three modes (Auto, Sport and Track) that change variables in steering, shock firmness, and gear holding. Also equipped with launch control (Houston, we have a problem), a driver can tap the stability control button twice, and then quickly mash the skinny pedal for a dragstrip-style start, that will either annoy or engage the SRT8 and its occupants. The tiller is controlled by a fully hydraulic power steering system.
Overall, the SRT8 sits a half-inch lower than other models within the lineup, including the base, and R/T models. It rides on 20-inch alloys shod with Goodyear F1 Supercar three-season tires, which are equipped with a Brembo performance brake package.
What's it up against?
Since this is no ordinary run-of-the-mill Challenger, it is fitting that it competes against players of the same ilk. To whit, the SRT8 faces the Ford Mustang Boss 302 and the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. Before any of you get your knickers in a twist, we'll take a pass on comparing the SRT8 against the ferocious Shelby GT500.
How does it look?
Take a Challenger and lower it a half-inch. Add front spoilers and spats, and give them a different color for contrast from our Redline three-coat pearl finish. Add a body-colored rear spoiler, and a pair of LeMans stripes. And then finish it off with a couple of 392 badges to signify the power lurking under hood. Pretty bad ass, if you ask us.
Mentioning that mind's eye thing, again, the SRT8 392 appears exactly like the original that inspired it. Put the two side by side, and it is clear the contemporary is longer, taller and wider than the original. This SRT8 pays homage to the 426-powered Hemi Challengers of 1970-74.
And on the inside?
Swathed in black leather and Alcantara, the Challenger is surprisingly roomy considering it is a reinterpretation of the '60s era pony car. A tilt and telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel helps to insure a good driving position, while well-bolstered and embroidered seats lets casual observers and occupants know this is a 392 Hemi. From a gauge standpoint there is no smoke and mirrors to get in the way. A speedo and tachometer occupy the two center positions, while fuel and water temperature flank them on the outsides.
The seats offered great support during a four-hour roadtrip. Soft touch material was all over, unlike the interiors of this Challenger's rivals. On the other hand, it is a rather loud-ish conveyance that makes Bluetooth conversations a bit of a, uh, challenge. Still it is an interior that is well thought out with an abundance of cupholders, cubbyholes and storage bins.
Our 392 was equipped with Dodge's older Uconnect system with Harmon/Kardon speakers. Operated by a 6.5-inch touchscreen, it was very intuitive and once configured, easily understood voice commands for navigation, telephony and radio. Still, this car needs Chrysler's newer 8.4-inch Uconnect unit. At the base of the centerstack were several buttons including those for stability control (tap twice for launch control!) and a sport button to change the car's handling and damping rates.
On the downside, the Challenger has a horrendous blind spot when looking over your right shoulder. Certain left hand turns require a giant leap of faith when entering traffic. Or at least the eyes of a front seat passenger.
The cargo area inside the trunk is absolutely cavernous. If that is not enough, the rear seatbacks also fold forward for added capacity
But does it go?
The big, naturally aspirated V8 is a brute, as it should be when comparing itself to fellow pony cars like the Boss 302 and the Camaro ZL1. With both 470 horsepower and lb-ft of torque on tap, like Bull Durham's Nuke LaLoosh, it is able to "give the heat, and announce its presence with authority." It does so on both counts with a roar that is thunderous, and a pushback that feels like a flying drop kick from a WWE pro-wrestler. By the numbers, 0-60 comes on in about 4.8-seconds, while it achieves a top speed of 182 mph.
Previous versions of the Challenger SRT8 were well known for their straight-line prowess on the dragstrip, because frankly, the car did not like turning left or right.
That was then. Now, the SRT8 is equipped with a tuned adaptive suspension that runs most of the time in auto mode. A touch of the button to sport totally transformed and firmed up the ride, with raised damping rates, to the point that the Challenger is a serious contender for enthusiastic driving. The hydraulic steering system was remarkably communicative, with feedback that encouraged us to push it even harder. At the other extreme, the Brembo brake kit with slotted rotors offered no fade, and slowdowns with nary a hint of nosedive due to improved brake and chassis geometry.
Weighing in at a portly 4,170 lbs., the Challenger is not nimble (for the record, the '70 weighed 3,650 lbs.). But it is surprisingly good to drive. And it's also very thirsty. Rated at 14/23 mpg, we bested the 17 mpg combined figure with an observed 17.9 mpg. So that $1,000 Gas Guzzler tax seems well-applied. And worth it.
Leftlane's bottom line
We can see why the Dodge Challenger SRT8 392 is as popular as it is.
With improved handling, and performance that will scare adults at will, it is a car that operates as normal transportation during a work week, but can be as bad as it wants to be with the push of a button.
2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8 392 base price, $43,775. As tested, $49,205.
Red-Line pearl coat, $500; Harmon/Kardon audio, $1,995; Navigation, $790; Goodyear 3-season performance tires, $150; Gas Guzzler tax $1,000; Destination, $995.
Words and photos by Mark Elias.