– Retro-modern styling
– Cabin space and features
– Better power and handling
– Huge spare wheel in boot
– Dull cabin design
– Never quiets down
Who says true muscle-cars are dead? Nostalgic daydreaming over those ancient cars that most haven’t driven is rather daft, considering there’s one staring us right in the face, in our time. The Dodge Challenger SRT8 392 may be the last of its breed, but it’s still here, and it is every bit as crazy-cool as those leftovers from the 1960s that are now going for a hundred thousand dollars at auctions.
For one, it looks the part. As its rivals are moving away from retro styling, Dodge is steadfast in holding on to its roots. The go-big-or-go-home design is accentuated with 20-inch smoked-chrome alloys and dual exhaust tips, while new features introduced with the “392” update back in 2011 include HID headlights with angel-eye running lamps and a painted rear lip-spoiler, aside from a whole host of technical upgrades under the skin.
Build quality inside and out is solid, with only a few plastic and rubber bits appearing a bit unfinished. The simplistic interior, while dull in design, actually has soft-touch upper dash and door panels as well as leather and alcantara upholstery. If you’re still bothered, the 2015 facelift will come with a dashboard straight out of the Charger.
The Challenger is very practical for a muscle-car, no doubt due to its size. The cabin is very spacious up front, while there’s passable legroom in the rear to just about fit average-sized adults. The thickly-bolstered SRT front seating is partially power-adjustable for the driver, while the manually-adjustable passenger one can quickly move out of the way for access to the rear seats. Surprisingly, rear passengers even get padded armrests, a/c vents and two of the four cup-holders. The big boot would’ve been spacious had it not been for the full-size spare tyre stuffed in there, so you have to keep your groceries around an exposed 20-inch alloy wheel.
Features include a good single-zone a/c, a decent touchscreen navigation and multimedia system with hard drive, good CD/MP3 stereo with USB support, Bluetooth phone with voice controls that actually understood our accent, sunroof, front and side airbags, rear sensors, remote start, auto HID headlights, fog lamps, and smart keyless entry with starter button.
The “392” in its name refers to its engine displacement in cubic inches, and the 6.4-litre V8 is as big as it gets among naturally-aspirated motors, aside from the Viper. Pumping out 470 hp at 6000 rpm and 637 Nm of torque at 4300 rpm, we managed a 0-100 kph of 5.5 seconds using launch control on a dusty road, during our run on a warm April afternoon. But there’s a whole lot of punch in any situation. If you want to overtake while already cruising at 80 kph, putting the pedal to the metal generates a most insane growl on kickdown as you take off. And yet, with new cylinder-deactivation tech, we got reasonable fuel consumption at 15.9 litres/100 km.
The Challenger SRT8 is as close as you’ll ever get to experiencing the speeding-waterbed driving character of 1960s muscle-cars. You can speed over dips and lumps on the road, and the car just smoothly bounces over them and keeps on going. It’s an unusual feeling, because nothing this fast comes with suspension this loose nowadays.
But wait, when the Challenger gained the 392 motor, it also got adaptive suspension. So once you switch from “comfort” to “sport” mode, the dampers tighten up and suddenly the handling becomes worthy of a modern-day grand tourer. It can firm up even further in “track” mode. Body roll becomes very limited and, with smooth throttle inputs, it can be hustled at a fair pace around corners. With 245/45 tyres, there’s just enough rubber, but we feel a car with this much power deserves even wider wheels.
Of course, that’s assuming you want it to drive like a ground-hugging sports car, a bit like how the Charger SRT8 is. Curiously, the shorter-wheelbase Challenger is a bit more twitchier, and a tad more loose in its cornering behaviour, and we can’t help but think this was intentional, to keep its throwback muscle-car behaviour. We already know the Chrysler is capable of building great handlers like the Charger SRT8 for those who want that, so it’s cool that they’re also offering an old-school monster as an alternative, instead of just creating a Charger coupe. We actually loved that its stability-control nannies become permissive in “track” mode, waiting a while before interfering to cut short your indulgent tail-out antics.
The 5-speed automatic’s gear-shift pattern also changes in “track” mode to keep the revs up, smart and quick enough in its shifts, matching up well with the responsive throttle pedal. There are also paddle-shifters although they don’t respond as quickly as we’d like. If you’re truly a luddite, there’s a 6-speed manual available too. The thick-rimmed steering wheel is a bit heavy, quick-ratio and offers some feedback. The brake-pedal feel is decent, and there’s great stopping power thanks to its Brembos.
It’s largely an easy car to drive, until it’s time to back up. It’s big, and has small mirrors, a high rear-end and thick C-pillars, so you’ll be totally dependent on the rear sensors when parking. It’s also not the quietest car on the highway, with very noticeable road and wind noise, aside from an engine that’s always audible, whether it’s doing 500 rpm or 5000. Still, it’s calmer than most sports cars.
Even with its odd quirks and hint of crudeness, the Challenger SRT8 has evolved into a much better car in its 392 iteration. Who would’ve expected adaptive suspension in a car like this, and with that, it becomes a perfectly modern grand-tourer that can go hillbilly-wild at the touch of a button.
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