Motive - Dodge Challenger SRT8 vs Ford Mustang GT500

Discussion in 'OT Driven' started by TriShield, Apr 30, 2008.

  1. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    words: Eddie Alterman

    The definition of a muscle car has been lost to the fogginess of memory and the gaps between generations, but since we're in the midst of a retro-muscle revival, it's probably a good thing to revisit. Though this term — not even coined until the fuel crises had killed off the category — is one of the most hotly debated in all of autodom, a muscle car can safely be said to be any intermediate (read: two-door sedan) or sport compact with a seriously oversized V-8 and special trim. (Some allowance is also made for full-size cars like big-engined Ford Galaxies.) The Pontiac GTO is the first and best example, but there are many more: A Chevelle SS is undoubtedly a muscle car, by virtue of both its engine and body size, whereas a Corvette, even an L88, is always a sports car. The base '64.5 Ford Mustang is a pony car (it spawned and named the category), but in Boss or Shelby guise, it's a muscle car. Launched at the end of '69 as a competitor to the Camaro and Mustang, the Dodge Challenger was also a pony car, but Hemi- or 440-equipped models are firmly in the muscle-car pantheon.

    The reason we're rehashing these taxonomies here is that the two cars we're driving back-to-back today — the 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8 and the 2008 Ford Shelby GT500 — are good examples of cars that have jumped categories. The GT500's Shelby stripes and supercharged V-8 are clear indicators of its muscle-car-ness, and the Challenger's SRT8 badge on the trunk signifies that this is something much more than a sporty coupe.

    The Challenger also jumps classification for another reason, and that is because it is based off the corporate LX platform (Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger, parts of various Mercedes-Benzes). It is now a two-door sedan in the old mold, relieved of about four inches of floorpan versus the Charger. But most everything else is the same as the other SRT8 LXs. Same suspension, same engine, same transmission, same steering wheel.

    And yet, the car reads as totally retro. According to lead designer Jeff Gale, it took a long time to get it that way, despite having an iconic shape (and the concept from the '06 Detroit show) to serve as inspiration: "The looks and the aerodynamics of the car had to work together," he says. "So in terms of proportions, that meant lowering the roof versus the LX cars, accelerating the rake of the windshield, and making the C-pillar identifiable as the Challenger's." Up front, he wanted to stay as faithful as possible to the concept's long, flat plateau of a hood, with its integrated snorkels and hallmark front grille and headlights. But Gale says that the first time the 3/8-scale model went into the wind tunnel, the first 1/3rd of its hood blew off due to its overhang. That hood overhang is essential to the shark-like profile of the car, though, so Gale's crew had to tweak parts like the front grille surround endlessly, while also making sure the front air dam and the rear Trans-Am-style spoiler worked in aerodynamic harmony.

    But the most important thing the designers did to make this thing a true muscle car is visible under the hood. No, not the Hemi engine, although this particular item is also essential for burnouts. On the plastic shroud covering the grille stanchions are little circular indentations. These, partiers, are your adult-beverage holders.

    Unlike its exterior, the Challenger's interior isn't far off from the other LX cars' — at first glance it looks like an all black Chrysler 300 cabin. Though at launch there's no pistol-grip gear selector as on the original car and the concept, the interior nods subtly to the original 1970 E-body Challenger with items like the four-bomb gauge cluster, trapezoidal door panels, slanted shifter (there's only an automatic at launch, a six-speed manual is coming for '09), and dark headliner. The quality of the materials here is better than in the 300/Magnum/Charger, part of a Chrysler-wide initiative to improve its interiors. Heavily bolstered front seats denote that this Challenger, unlike many muscle cars of the past, is capable of changing direction. The rear seats are sized appropriately for full-scale humans. A performance display in the gauge cluster gives 0-60, 60-0, g, and 1/4-mile numbers. The only options are the MyGIG entertainment system ($890), a sunroof ($950), 3-season Goodyear F1 supercar tires ($50), and paint — Hemi Orange, Brilliant Black, or Bright Silver (more colors are coming next year).

    Taken together, then, the exterior and interior of the new car are something like a well-observed collection of styling cues that telegraph Challenger-ness, even though this '08 and the '70 look vastly different when you get the two side-by-side. The new car is all bulk whereas the old one is lissome and trim looking, which is how all these visual comparisons with cars of the pre-safety era play out.

    Like the Challenger, if you were to park the '08 Mustang next to a '68, it would look nothing like its antecedent. The current Mustang was the first retro-muscle machine to deftly overlay an assemblage of "heritage cues" onto modern proportions, and there have been oceans of ink spilled on the visual significance of this car (most of them gushed by J Mays himself). We all know about the changes that turn a Mustang GT into a GT500, so we won't belabor them here, but suffice it to say that, with its splayed-out grille, lowered body, and Ford GT–inspired wheels, the GT500 is about 1000 times as kick-ass looking as the Mustang GT. Too bad the interior has been whipped into submission by the accounting department. There's enough cardboard, mood lighting, and cheap leather in here to fill a sex shop.

    Under the hoods of both cars, nothing's really new. In the Challenger, you've got your standard-issue 6.1-liter Hemi pushrod V-8 with a 10.3:1 compression ratio making 425 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque. It's mated to a Tremec five-speed automatic with AutoStick. The Mustang's got the supercharged 5.4-liter V-8 with Ford GT piston rings, bearings, and four-valve aluminum heads for 500 horsepower and 480 pound-feet. It hooks up to a Tremec six-speed manual.

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    Dodge claims its SRT8 Challenger will leap from 0-60 in 4.9 seconds and through the quarter in the low 13s. Top speed is around 170 mph. The Ford's official 0-60 number is 4.9 seconds, but it has been clocked as low as 4.5/12.9. Those numbers are hardly shabby for either car, but especially so for a 4140-pound slab of steaming Dodge. The fact that the 180-pound lighter and roughly 20-percent more powerful GT500 is only as much as 10-percent faster in optimal conditions says good things about the way the Challenger puts it power down.

    We drove the Challenger on California's Willow Springs Raceway and then met up with the GT500 for a day of driving the Angeles Crest Highway. On the track, the Challenger's agility belied its bulk. The car bends naturally into turns, and its steering, which is initially a bit light, gives good feedback at speed. I was a little nervous in this car before I got going, mainly because the steering felt too vague on center. Apparently, this is a concern that Dodge is addressing for the '09 model. When asked about it, SRT's vehicle dynamics supervisor, Erich Heuschele, said the new steering tune would have "more authority." Speaking of authority, this engine has it in spades. The Hemi is incredibly tractable, with power starting at 2500 or so and not letting up until redline. It makes the noise of two armies battling. When I opened it up down Willow's front straight, I thought I was hearing a vintage P-51 Mustang flying out of Edwards AFB next door. At the first corner, it shut itself down like a car half its size. Big 14.2-in front and 13.0-inch rear Brembos are unfadable, and they have a knock-back mitigation feature that keeps the pistons from getting pushed back into the calipers at high lateral-g loads. Also, according to Heuschele, the big anchors allow for a much softer stability-control calibration: Because the system doesn't have to boost up to high pressures as quickly as on cars with smaller brakes, the ESP kicks in very gently. This means that with traction control off ("Track Mode") the car will still let you steer it with the throttle.

    But there's only so much you can tell about a car on a racetrack, which is why we put these two together on one of California's most lethal thoroughfares. (That, and it wouldn't have been cool to take the GT500 onto a circuit that Dodge had rented.) Out on Angeles Crest, the Challenger drove bigger than the GT500, but revealed itself to be the more composed car — it's short/long-arm front suspension and multilink rear ensure that the chassis never missteps. Even when bent way out of shape in a corner, the Challenger is easy to catch. The car is running a ton of spring, but its Bilstein monotube dampers are tuned for suppleness, and the SRT8 has one of, if not the best rides in the history of the muscle car. The GT500, on the other hand, rides on front struts and a live rear end, and it's about as stable and behaved as a crack-smoking monkey. Driving it provokes alternating fits of abject terror and uncontrolled giggling, and it takes a sure hand to control. Go in to a turn with too much throttle, and you'd damn well better commit, stay in it, and let the rear end do the turning for you.

    The Shelby is chuckable in the extreme. It's lighter and tighter than the SRT8, and it maintains that impression even in the presence of heavier control feel. The steering is firm and progressive, and you never have to make annoying, minute corrections mid-corner. Brakes are less confidence-inspiring than the SRT8's and the powerband is smaller (starts at 3000 rpm, craps out at 5000), but the supercharger gives the car great part-throttle response on the road, sending you reaching for another gear like it was a Bud tallboy. When you get up to speed, there's a good deal of wind and road noise in the Shelby. Since it's kind of like a four-wheeled Harley, we suppose that's only appropriate.

    Both cars are big fun, but the Challenger is the more grown-up and complete ride, built to satisfy a wide range of enthusiasts; the GT500 is irresponsible and outrageous, and seems intended for people with social disorders. Therein lies its genius. But all that personality regression will cost the Mustang owner — probably cosmically, definitely monetarily. The Challenger SRT8 is a serious bargain at just $37,995, and its short list of options means that you can't even tart it up to 40 grand. That number will hardly get a GT500 salesman's attention: The Shelby's MSRP is just under $45,000. Of course, the average transaction prices for these cars will be much higher, thanks to the miracle of dealer gouging. You can't even get your name on the list for one of the first 6400 Challengers anymore, as there are 11,000 people already on it. Dodge will make it worth the wait, though, as the '09s will get better steering, a limited-slip diff, more colors, and an available six-speed manual.

    So, to sum up: The Challenger has a more advanced suspension, superior ride, incredible brakes, a more gratifying engine, a better-crafted interior, and posts similar numbers. The Mustang is more adrenal, currently has better steering, and can play the guitar solo to Stairway to Heaven while administering a roundhouse kick to your face. The GT500 is rough and raw, while the SRT8 is a very powerful, very competent cruiser. This test has turned out to be a fair illustration of the differences between a muscle car based on an intermediate body and one based on a pony-car platform. If you want a high-strung, nine-testicled pet, get a GT500; if you want a chilled-out muscle car you can drive everyday, put your name on the Challenger waiting list.

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    Last edited: Apr 30, 2008
  2. Ingen

    Ingen New Member

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    Challenger wins, of course.

    I can't stand mustangs anymore, for the most part. They were sooo cool when the redesign came out...for about 15 minutes. After that, everyone had one, and they were just as lame as anything else :hs:
     
  3. CJPA

    CJPA New Member

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    Fucking Mustangs :mad:
     
  4. art_VW_shark

    art_VW_shark OT Supporter

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    :ugh::ugh::ugh::ugh::ugh: I hate how people judge a car's coolness by its quantity. Fuck dude everyone could drive a M5 and I'd shit myself
     
  5. Ingen

    Ingen New Member

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    :dunno: and :ugh: yourself. The styling died on me. It was awesome in the magazines before it came out, but something about seeing it on the street, it was just too... bland. And it still is :mad:

    So the challenger will be a breath of fresh air.
     
  6. matrix243

    matrix243 My body, is ready.

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  7. you know me

    you know me OT where the douchbags play

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    i want a car that can fry the tires for blocks....
     

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