Ready to Rumble: A bare-knuckled brawl between Motown's 400-plus-bhp V-8muscle sedans. By John Lamm • Photos by Guy Spangenberg March 2009 Point either the Dodge Charger SRT8 or Pontiac G8 GXP down the road. With a light touch on the brakes, run the revs up a bit. Slip off the brake and bury the throttle. There's a light chirp as tires scratch for bite. Then comes a sub-5.0-second sled ride to 60 mph. A tick over 13.0 sec. and you're through the quarter-mile. It's a rush, of course, but not overly dramatic. Try the same thing with this pair's predecessors of 1970 or so and you'll find yourself in a bit of a wrestling match. Ain't progress wonderful? Maybe yes, and maybe sometimes it's fun to wrestle. Just saying "Charger" and "Hemi" will get you a free six-pack in some neighborhoods. And well it should, whether from a young driver loving his new Hemi or his old man (heck, maybe his old man's old man) getting nostalgic about the original Hemis. It has been 58 years since the first hemispherical-combustion-chamber Chrysler V-8. Today's Hemi isn't as hemispherical as its ancestors and we miss those broad cylinder heads and their rocker covers. Still, the new Hemi is a powerful-looking piece, plastic panels with "HEMI 6.1L" hiding heads that sport ugly coil-on-plug electronics. Look beneath the cast-aluminum intake manifold and you'll see the classic orange paint on the engine block. The Charger's aluminum fuel-injected V-8 puts out 425 bhp at 6200 rpm and 420 lb.-ft. of torque at 4800 rpm. That horsepower number matches the advertised output of the carbureted cast-iron 7.0-liter Hemi of the early 1970s. The modern Hemi, however, meets emissions and mileage standards thought impossible 35 years ago. Incidentally, Dodge does not use fuel-saving cylinder deactivation for the SRT8's 6.1-liter V-8. Just saying "small-block" brings to mind a fabled engine line, one that has produced over 90 million V-8s since 1955. It's said there are only two constants in the universe, the speed of light and the bore centers of a small-block Chevy. The GXP's LS3 V-8 is true to that tradition. Displacing 6.2 liters in the GXP, the all-aluminum V-8 is rated at 415 for both horsepower (at 5900 rpm) and lb.-ft. torque (at 4600 rpm). Like the Hemi, the GXP LS3 doesn't use cylinder deactivation. While those GXP power numbers are impressive, you wouldn't necessarily guess it when you lift the hood to face a plastic panel that hides the engine. This camouflage is pretty enough, but we miss seeing the actual hardware. While Dodge's SRT8 example of the modern All-American muscle car is built in Canada, Pontiac's G8 GXP is sourced from Australia via GM's Holden division. Any American motorhead could easily talk with an Aussie counterpart right down to the specifics of eking more power from small-block Ford and GM V-8s. We talk in horsepower and pounds-feet, they prefer kilowatts and Newton-meters and drive on the wrong side of the road, but otherwise the language, the basic equipment and the passion are the same. Just don't slip, let the accent confuse you and ask them if they're from England. Or New Zealand. They hate that. Thankfully, down in Oz they never liked front-wheel drive for their powerful vehicles and never tried such odd combos as the Pontiac Grand Prix GXP with its 5.3-liter V-8/front-drive powertrain. Reminds one of the time Bill Veeck pinch hit a 3-ft. 7-in. midget to draw a walk against the Tigers. The ploy had its intended effect, but isn't remembered as great baseball. Holden's adherence to rear drive is why the company got the Zeta platform program, which evolved into the General's "Global RWD Architecture." Prospects for this program are hazy these days, but the Zeta is the basis for the Pontiac G8 and Chevrolet's new Camaro. Specifically, that means MacPherson strut front and 4-link independent rear suspension with stability control, designs tweaked at the Nürburgring, a first for a Pontiac. Brembo supplies the front brakes, with ventilated rotors on duty inside alloy wheels shod with P245/40R-19 tires. Pontiac was able to cherry-pick from the Holden Commodore line to create the GXP. There's a lot from which to choose, including wild versions done by Holden's Special Vehicles group. But Pontiac passed on tall tail wings and large fender vents. Staying conservative, it based the GXP on the Commodore Calais V-Series, onto which was grafted a nicely done Pontiac twin-snout nose and a unique air-scoop hood. One look is all it takes to identify the Charger as a Dodge. That gunsight grille is as recognizable as Jay Leno's chin and looks as though it might take a bite out of you. Work your way rearward to the broad shoulders over the rear wheels and the shape stays powerful, like muscled arms from a sleeveless sweatshirt. An aggressive front spoiler, hood scoop, rear wing and 5-spoke alloy wheels add to the image. There is a version with Super Bee striping, but we'd opt for the standard SRT8's stealthiness. Like the GXP, the Charger has foreign roots, the chassis an E-class hand-me-down from Daimler and one of the best aspects of the SRT8. That would be Merc's upper and lower A-arm front suspension, the 5-link independent rear design and the Electronic Stability Program. The red Brembo calipers on all four vented discs are quite visible through the wheels fitted with 245-width front and 255-width rear tires. That chunkier shape of the Charger makes it look larger, and it is. Overall it's 4.0 in. longer and on a 120.0-in. wheelbase versus the Pontiac's 114.8. Although the Charger is 0.3 in. narrower, the two cars have identical heights and almost identical \tracks. As befits its generally larger size, the Charger outweighs the GXP by 185 lb. Still, by EPA measurements the interior volume of the GXP is greater than the Charger's. And that's felt in the rear seat area, where Pontiac comes out ahead. Ditto with luggage space. Layouts of the dashboards of the two cars are similar, from readable four-dial instrument panels to the placement of navigation/audio/climate-control panels to rotary headlight switches to their steering wheel switchgear. Both are good-looking displays, but the Dodge's is a bit less fussy than the Pontiac's. You can tell the GXP's design is not GM-Detroit. When would they use roller knobs for seatback angle and spec a Blaupunkt radio? These differences add to the Pontiac's imported aura...a hint of BMW or Audi? We think the dashboard of the Dodge has a more solid look. The Pontiac's display requires more pieces, being built as left- or right-hand drive — hence the center console-mounted window switches — and doesn't have that carved-from-one-piece look. And we love the Charger's in-dash test computer that will read out 0–60 and quarter-mile acceleration, lateral and longitudinal g's and braking distances. Thankfully, it has a memory or you might find yourself sliding off into the bushes while being charmed by the dial. Managing Editor Andy Bornhop and I were split on the seats — he liked the manner in which the big side bolsters of the Charger's seats hold you in place, while I preferred the slimmer style of the GXP's buckets. To each his own, both seats being comfortable for the several days we were in the cars. There's no denying the rear seat of the Pontiac is more spacious than that of the Dodge. GXPs can be ordered with a Tremec 6-speed manual transmission and SRT8s can't. Both our test cars, however, had automatics, five speeds in the Dodge, six for the Pontiac. Each has manual-select gates and we still prefer the Dodge's left-right gear selector over the Pontiac's fore-aft system. Then again, the Pontiac's automatic is more in tune with the driver, matching revs on downshifts. Running through those gears, the G8 just barely beat the Charger, the score in seconds to 60 mph being Pontiac 4.7, Dodge 4.9. The margin slimmed to 0.1 sec. though the quarter-mile, the Pontiac running 13.1 sec. at 109.4 mph, the Dodge 13.2 at 108.8. While the LS3 does its work with a strong, healthy exhaust sound, the rumble of the Hemi is enough to make any V-8 lover weak in the knees. Top speed of the Charger is claimed at 165 mph, while the GXP's is electronically set to 155 mph, thanks to its tires. Braking distances were also remarkably similar, within a few feet of each other from both 60 and 80 mph. And with Brembos on duty in each car, there was no question of stability or fade problems. This is getting too even-steven. Heck, both cars even have MSRPs hovering near $40,000. So perhaps you're expecting a difference around the skidpad and through the slalom, right? Sorry, no luck. Both cars generated 0.88g, while the difference in slalom speeds of 65.0 mph for the GXP and 65.8 for the Charger is not that significant. Then again, how the pair went through the slalom underlined a major difference between these rivals. Rush the Charger through the cones and you'll find it corners flat and planted, with little body roll and moderate understeer. Do the same with the Pontiac and it's a different story, leaning at each gate with the back end wanting to work its way out. Hustle the Charger down two-lane canyon highways and you'll be aware of its wide footprint and just-heavy-enough steering. There's light understeer, but it increases driver confidence, especially as you pick your way along unfamiliar roads. With the GXP, body roll is more abundant, and the steering feels almost too light — with limits less certain. Nevertheless, the Pontiac is great fun on the road, more alive and willing than the Dodge. In short, the Dodge gives you a greater feeling of security on a hard drive, but you can go faster in the more agile Pontiac. As you might expect, neither car has a boulevard ride — Bornhop calls it "the firm side of acceptable" — but given their performance potential they are quite livable for long hauls on all but the roughest surfaces. As a senior member of the R&T staff, one who had the pleasure of road-testing the original muscle cars in their day, I love the Charger-G8 duo for a pair of reasons. First, quality. Simply, the G8 and Charger are very well built and the originals weren't. Today's duo has the sort of build quality even many luxury cars lacked in the muscle-car era. Slim, even body gaps, smooth paint, good materials, reliable parts and pieces, and not a squeak to be heard. Second, that sense of quality also comes across in the driving. Whether you prefer the more Euro style of the GXP's handling, as I did, or take Bornhop's side with the more American approach of the SRT8, both are fun. Or, once you've parked the cars for the night, you can think of the GXP as a fine Australian Shiraz, the SRT8 a quality American beer. Should you get too ambitious on the road in either car, stability control is ready to save your bacon, backed up by airbags and other safety systems. The V-8s are not just powerful and clean, but also darn reliable. Ditto with the transmissions. The pair's predecessors were a hoot in a straight line. But once the road began to shuffle left or right, they were not. These are. But one note of caution: If the Charger SRT8 or G8 GXP tempts you, keep in mind they may not be around two years from now. There are new Chrysler 300s and Dodge Chargers planned for 2011, but the automaker's very existence is in jeopardy. Even in a best-case scenario, stricter CAFE demands will put the squeeze on the Hemi. GM's plans already limit G8 sales in the U.S., and with rumors swirling of a major switch back to front-wheel drive for many GM 4-doors, a future rear-drive muscle sedan seems a bad bet. We can only hope the public will realize just how good these current cars are.