Let's get one thing clear: This is not going to be your typical car review article. You're welcome. That's just the thing the automotive journalism world needs-one more self-important expert offering up an imperious assessment of a vehicle, all of which amounts to little more than opinions and emotional reactions. Don't know about you, but we're a little tired of reviewers skewering American cars for "cheap, hard, plasticky interiors." Not everyone cares if his dash is awash with soft-touch plastics or whether the gauges were lifted from the corporate parts bin.
Likewise, this is not your boilerplate old-model-versus-new-model puff piece. Everyone knows that in nearly all instances, a brand-new car will outperform its 40-year-old namesake. It's just inevitable: Metallurgy, machining, and manufacturing technology have advanced exponentially since the '60s. We are able to wring much more power and performance out of our engines, brakes, and tires than guys could even dream about when the first generation of these cars rolled off the assembly lines.
Instead, this is a review from a new-generation muscle car's toughest critic: the owner of the original model. We gathered a few owners of classic E-Bodies to kick tires, size up, and drive this new '09 Challenger SRT8 to see how it stacks up against their iconic muscle cars. We also tossed into the mix the perspective of non-Mopar muscle car owners, as well as input from a guy who sells these things for a living, all in an effort to get a complete look at whether Chrysler got it right with the new Challenger.
We had the car on loan from Chrysler for a week, and we spent as much time behind the wheel as possible. The car drew lots of looks and thumbs up everywhere we went. One of our first stops was Huntington Beach Dodge, where we talked with this guy, Dan Powers. He told us customer response to the new Challengers has been better than expected. "People gawk at the Challenger," he told us, adding that tourists will often stop to take pictures in front of Challengers on the lot. "We can't keep the SRT8s in stock. I recently sold one to a cop who came in to look at them after writing a bunch of tickets to Challenger owners. He bought an SRT8." Remember all that chatter in the news media about American car manufacturers not building cars that people want to buy? Maybe they should drive a Challenger.
The next day, we drove the car out to one of our favorite Sunday morning car shows at Village Coffee Roasters in Woodland Hills, California. We were immediately waved into an open parking spot by these two guys: Rick Bartholomew (left) and Bill Dale, owners of the two new Challengers in the background.
Rick is one of the founding members of Socalchallengers.com. He bought his Challenger on October 21, 2008. "It was a Christmas gift to myself from the year before. I waited for the six-speed to come out," he said of his Bright Silver Metallic SRT8. "I love it. It's a luxury muscle car. I got a ticket the first week I had it." Since taking delivery, he's added an after-cat exhaust and a Hurst shifter. At a recent dyno session, it made 393 hp and 389 lb-ft at the wheels.
Bill is a dealership technician at Reliable Dodge, and this '09 R/T is his wife's daily driver. They got tired of waiting for the Camaro to come out and bought the Challenger instead. "It's a great car, and I like the lifetime powertrain warranty. They got it right with the Challenger." He's done some stuff to their car, too, adding an Eibach lowering kit, a Mopar Performance intake, and a Flowmaster exhaust. Both guys agree that the Challenger appeals to younger and older buyers.