World's First Test of Dodge's Newest Muscle Car The Challenger SRT8 has the muscle, and it'll lay down a stripe of rubber to prove it. By Joe Oldham, Contributor Date posted: 04-29-2008 425-hp Hemi V8 - 5-speed automatic transmission - 0-60 mph in 5.1 seconds - 20-inch wheels and tires The 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8 is a muscle car, right? An American muscle car. So naturally, the first thing I want to do when I jump behind the wheel is a big American smoky burnout. "Not here," says Pete Gladysz, the Dodge guy babysitting our test car and riding shotgun, as he looks around the leafy, tranquil residential street we're on in the middle of Pasadena. "Wait 'till we get to the track." Gladysz, powertrain senior manager for Chrysler LLC's SRT Group, sounds serious. So I wait. Carving up Mountain Roads We did our best to hang it out at Willow Springs International Raceway. Instead of the burnout, I carve our way up into the mountains east of Los Angeles on the Angeles Forest Highway, a tortuous two-lane road that cuts and weaves its way northeast toward Willow Springs International Raceway. It's a road custom-made to test the new Challenger's handling mettle. The 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8 is no rapier of a pony car, and it even makes its iconic 1970 inspirational predecessor, which I road-tested many times back in the day, seem compact. Instead, this new 2008 Dodge Challenger is more like a broadsword, a big brute of a car weighing 4,152 pounds. Remember, the new Dodge Challenger is really a Dodge Charger sedan underneath with a scant 4 inches chopped out of the wheelbase. But Dodge tuned the suspension to be more compliant this time around. Softer than the suspension on the Charger SRT8 we tested a few months ago. According to Gladysz, the engineering team realized it was unnecessary to tune the suspension so uncomfortably stiff to get this rear-wheel-drive platform to handle. A Big Brute The Challenger has full-size major league proportions, but major league style holds it all together. With all that bulk and its softer shock tuning, I frankly don't expect much in the handling department. Like that Charger, around town the Challenger is a big, heavy, ponderous car, a feeling amplified by its heavily bolstered, leather-upholstered bucket seats and the greenhouse of mail-slot-size windows. But the harder I push the Challenger on the endless curves of the Angeles Forest Highway, the lighter on its feet it gets. This car belies its nose-heavy 54 percent front/46 percent rear weight distribution with a neutral feel right up to the point where the electronic stability program (ESP) starts to activate. In fact, the ESP is programmed to let you play a little with oversteer if you want to balance weight transfer with throttle in tight corners. And in broader sweeping turns, you can actually hang the rear end out a little before the ESP selectively applies braking and modulates throttle input to save you from yourself. Later, at the test track negotiating our 100-foot slalom, the Challenger's capabilities once again became obvious on the first flat, controlled pass. From then on, it's only a matter of finding the quick way through the cones. Our testers note a quite neutral balance despite being a little vague on turn-in, but the short suspension travel helps transitions from left to right. At the Test Track Brembo brake calipers and fat tires bring the SRT8 to a halt from 60 mph in just 115 feet. When it's all over, the big 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8 records a fine 66.2 mph through the slalom. On the skid pad, its mild understeer on the limit transitions to gentle lift-throttle oversteer, which translates into nice 0.86glateral acceleration. Likewise, the Challenger excelled in our braking tests, recording 60-to-0-mph in just 115 feet. Its Brembos provide a firm pedal with excellent feel, very little ABS noise and no fade whatsoever throughout the test. Brake dive is also kept in check. No doubt contributing to the Challenger's fine handling and braking are the optional 245/45ZR20 front and 255/45ZR20 rear Goodyear F1 Supercar Performance three-season tires. Standard are 245/45ZR20 Goodyear RS-A all-season tires all around. A Citation Makes History The 6.1-liter Hemi V8 is rated at 425 hp at 6,200 rpm and 420 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 rpm. Of course, with 425 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 420 pound-feet of torque at 4,800 rpm thumping out of the 6.1-liter Hemi engine, you can do just about anything you want with this car, including passing anything on the road — except the radar unit of a California Highway Patrol officer. Once off the Angeles Forest Highway and onto the 14 freeway, I open it up to test the Challenger's over-the-road passing ability. Our orange-on-black rocket is up for it, too. At 85 mph I punch it. The five-speed automatic kicks down, the acceleration pins us back in the seat and the Challenger blasts forward. This thing definitely has game. As we approach our exit to Willow Springs, I put the turn signal on and move to the right lane. At that moment, also going on are the rooftop lights of Officer Edward Smith's Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor. He hits the gumballs and makes a hard left across the median, spewing grass and dirt into a huge rooster tail behind him, then pulls another hard left onto the northbound pavement, rear tires blazing. Nice driving, Officer Smith. He catches us as we stop at the top of the exit ramp. Officer Smith, out of the California Highway Patrol's Mohave barracks, writes us up for "excess of 100 mph." This may be the first speeding ticket written for a 2008 Dodge Challenger in the entire USA. At least that's what I'll tell my grandchildren. After this episode, I do not test SRT's claim of a top speed of 170 mph for the Challenger. By the way, the car has no electronic speed limitation. The 170 figure is a "natural" top speed, according to SRT engineers. Just Stomp and Steer The stability control can minimize your burnouts unless you know how to play the game. Our test car is a rocket ship on the drag strip, too, recording a quarter-mile of 13.2 seconds at 107.5 mph — ironically, nearly identical to the runs I once made in an original Hemi Challenger in 1970. The new car's 0-60-mph time of 5.1 seconds (4.8 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) is right on, compared to factory claims. An interesting fact not to be overlooked is the quarter-mile trap speed of this car. Both the 1970 426-cubic-inch Hemi and the 2008 370-cubic-inch Hemi are rated at 425 hp. But the '08 car is 647 pounds heavier. As the quarter-mile speeds of these cars are almost purely a function of horsepower-to-weight ratio, you have to wonder which horsepower rating is fiction. Best acceleration runs result from merely stomping the throttle to the floor from idle with ESP off. No brake torque at all. With the 3.06:1 rear axle ratio and 3.58 1st gear in the five-speed automatic, the car produces textbook-perfect, bog-free, wheelspin-free launches. Manual upshifts with the console-mounted Autostick are blazingly fast, or the transmission does it for you right at the 6,200-rpm redline. Of course this kind of yank costs. The EPA rates the 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8 at 13 mpg city/18 mpg highway, which is thirsty enough to slap the car with a $2,100 gas-guzzler tax (which we've included in its base price). During our 10 days and 2,000 miles with the car we averaged 14.5 mpg. Tricky Business This is an American muscle car, and a smoky burnout is its prime directive. And yes, we finally do some burnouts in the Willow Springs area. Doing a burnout in this car is somewhat tricky. You can't just mash on the brake with your left foot, feed throttle with your right until the tires start spinning, then floor it and go. That worked in the original '70 Challenger. Forget about it in 2008. The culprit is modern technology. But you can do it. First you have to shut off the ESP, which itself is a two-step process. Hit the dash button once and you get a "soft" shut-off, which means it's still kind of on. Then hold the button for 5 seconds and it's off — kind of. Yes, it's off but it will still intervene in certain circumstances. For 2010, the federal government has mandated certain ESP interventions on all cars regardless of whether the system is off or on. Since the engineers were designing a new system for this car anyway, they dialed in the compliance for the 2010 regs. So for instance, if you mash on the brake pedal with your left foot and open the throttle with your right foot at a steady setting for 2 seconds or longer, the ESP computer interprets that as the car being "in distress" and shuts down the engine. Big Brother Takes the Wheel There's plenty of cornering grip, only don't ask this car to make any sudden moves. To do a really major burnout, you have to trick the electronic brain and slightly modulate your foot on the brake as you spin up the rear tires. (Modulating the throttle doesn't work as well.) The computer interprets this modulation as the driver having fun, and it's actually programmed to allow for fun. Then you'll have your burnout. By the way, when you release the brake, don't let the revs hit the rev limiter at 6,200 rpm or the computer will shut down the engine, shift you into 2nd gear, then give you back control. It's all a bit tricky but once you get the hang of it, you can smoke the tires at will and look like a NASCAR hero after a big win. The Real Deal This is a big car, measuring 197.7 inches from front to back and weighing 4,152 pounds. The 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8 will be the talk of the town for the next few months, as well it should be. Available in Hemi Orange, Bright Silver Metallic or Brilliant Black, it looks, feels and sounds like a muscle car. It's got one of the sweetest exhaust notes you'll hear this side of a Flowmaster muffler. And they're only building 6,400 examples before they move on to lesser-powered versions. Of those, 4,000 are already sold. With all the standard leather inside and all kinds of high-tech stuff in the instrument panel, it's something of a performance bargain at its $40,095 base price. It's a true muscle car in every sense of the word. Those are the optional 255/45ZR20 Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar Performance tires under the rear fenders. MSRP of Test Vehicle: $40,145 What Works: Quick, comfortable and surprisingly agile; hey look, a usable rear seat; just plain cool. What Needs Work: Too big; too heavy; too many people ask you if it's the new Camaro. Bottom Line: A true muscle car in every sense of the word. Second Opinion Senior Editor Erin Riches says: During my weekend with the 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8, I meet up with people keen to point out flaws in the translation from the original Challenger. "It's too tall," they tell me, "and too bulky across the middle, and not even those 21-inch wheels are enough to give it the proper proportions." I remind them about modern-day limitations like pedestrian protection standards, SUV bumper compatibility and platform-sharing, but of course, they don't want to hear all that. But for those like me who weren't actually alive in 1971, the likeness is close enough. Indeed, there's a lot of car here, especially considering only two adults can ride comfortably in this massive cabin. But since when has efficient design ever defined a mass-market muscle car? It's about sensations, and in this regard, the Challenger SRT8 mostly delivers. It's a little too quiet at idle, but anything beyond half throttle produces exhaust sounds that are so loud and so old school that even those purists turn to look to see the big orange car blasting past them. And even though six-cylinder BMWs and Porsches are just as quick in a straight line, the Challenger is still a fast car, and you remember that every time you floor the gas pedal on the freeway. One of the few details that strikes me as inauthentic is the steering wheel. It's the same one from the Charger, and it's neither a 1970s-era antique nor an ergonomic triumph. I'd replace it. Also, the five-speed automatic makes life just a little too easy, so I'd wait for the six-speed manual transmission. With luck, Dodge will specify a heavy clutch and a shifter that asks the driver for a little muscle during gearchanges. Performance 0 - 30 (sec): 2.3 0 - 45 (sec): 3.4 0 - 60 (sec): 5.1 0 - 75 (sec): 6.9 1/4 Mile (sec @ mph): 13.2 @ 107.5 0-60 with 1-ft Rollout (sec): 4.8 30 - 0 (ft): 29 60 - 0 (ft): 115 Braking Rating (Excellent, Good, Average, Poor or Very Poor): Excellent Slalom (mph): 66.2 Skid Pad Lateral acceleration (g): 0.86 Handling Rating (Excellent, Good, Average, Poor or Very Poor): Very good Db @ Idle: 48.2 Db @ Full Throttle: 82.7 Db @ 70 mph Cruise: 71.1 Acceleration Comments: With ESP and traction control disabled, the quickest launch was the result of simply whacking the throttle to the firewall -- no brake torque. Just the right combination of gear ratios, available torque and tire slip produced a textbook-perfect bog- and spin-free launch. Upshifts are blazingly fast with a built-in burp between gears. Gearing and power delivery are very well matched. Exhaust is almost too muted inside the car. Handling Comments: Slalom: Given its size, I was initially apprehensive to throw the Challenger around, but its capabilities became immediately obvious after the first flat and controlled slalom pass. From then on, it was only a matter of coming to terms with finding the widely spaced corners of the car. Steering wheel feels about 2 inches too large, but offers a decent balance between effort and precision. Road feel is a little vague, as is turn-in. Balance is quite neutral and short-travel suspension helps it transition surprisingly well. Skid pad: Mild understeer on the limit that turns into gentle lift-throttle oversteer. Nice. Steering doesn't seem to load much. Braking Comments: Firm pedal with excellent feel. Virtually no dive, little ABS noise, and zero fade from first to last stop.