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August 30, 10:36 PM Hartford Auto Examiner Keith Griffin



About 10 months ago, I had the opportunity to review the 2009 Dodge Challenger. It was not that long after it had debuted and I was excited to be behind the wheel. Then, I spent a week with it and my affection for it diminished quickly.

At least that was my memory of it because I just spent a week with the 2009 Dodge Challenger SRT8 Limited Edition with the 6.1-liter, HEMI V8 engine that produces 425 horsepower. My razor-like mind remembered driving the V-6 version of the Challenge when in fact I had been behind the wheel of the 5.7-liter HEMI V8. For some reason the 372 horsepower of the 5.7-liter felt anemic next to the 6.1-liter HEMI.

Then I realized why. The RT needs to be pushed hard to deliver performance. The SRT fairly well jumps off the line. At the time I questioned the need to spend an additional $10,000 between an RT and an SRT, but if I was in the position (i.e. recently divorced and newly minted Power Ball winner) I'd be behind the wheel of the SRT in a heartbeat.

The 0-60 time is a click below 5.0 seconds according to Dodge. (The SRT comes with a performance section that displays on the dashboard a whole host of useful info like 0-60 time, g-force, braking distance from 60-0 and 1/4 mile times.) It's effortless to get this car up to speed and then some. More than once I took advantage of an on-ramp to goose the Challenger and was quickly launching into unsafe speeds I will never commit to print.

The Challenger SRT is just plain fun to drive. Anybody with any scintilla of a lust for driving would enjoy time behind the wheel. The classic pistol-grip shifter just wraps around your hand and begs to be driven hard. (Actually it does need a firm hand otherwise it tends to shift from 1st to 4th gear in some misguided attempt at fuel economy.) The gears snick effortlessly into place, even though you could easily cruise along at 65 mph in fourth gear for hours.

There's one available feature on the SRT8 that could make people drive manual transmissions again: hill start assist. When you engage the clutch to shift on a hill the car will hold its position and not roll backwards. Somehow, though, a friend of mine managed to stall the car even with this feature (or I should say in spite of this feature). No more worrying about rolling into the car behind you.

Typically, I don't comment on design, but this is a sharp car that screams muscle car. The hood has a raised center, new-for-2009 black stripes and functional dual scoops. A lower front fascia chin spoiler has integrated functional brake cooling ducts. Not sure how long I would love that chin spoiler, though, because it loves to scrape the pavement when departing even slightly elevated driveways.

Dodge has tweaked the interior of the SRT8 to make you feel like you are driving a racing inspired car. My big complaint with the RT Challenger is an uninspired interior that seems to borrow liberally from the Dodge parts bin. Not so with the SRT8 that has leather seats with added bolstering (even though the handling on this car is superb for a big, fat coupe thanks to sway bars and a specially tuned electronic stability program) and, as Dodge refers to it, "four-bomb gauges" with tachometer and 180-mph speedometer in the center.

Maybe there is one complaint with the SRT8 Challenger. It's not a car that you are ever going to be able to achieve full potential with unless you have access to a track.

Environmentalists can also complain about the fact that the SRT8 comes with a $1300 gas guzzler tax for its 14 mpg city and 22 mpg highway. Didn't bother me and I ended up pouring a lot of gas into this baby because I drove it every opportunity I could get.

As mentioned above, this is not a cheap car to get into with a MSRP of $39,820. The model loaned to me by Dodge for a week had an optional $1045 sound system that was kind of a waste because all I needed to hear was the exhaust note. The six-speed manual sets you back another $995 (but you really can't live without it) and the GPS/uconnect system (which can be lived without) runs another $600, but does come with a one-year subscription to Sirius. Add in the gas guzzler tax and you come up with a $44,575 price tag.

VITAL STATISTICS
Wheelbase: 120.0 inches
Length: 200.1 inches
Width: 74.5 inches
Height: 57.7 inches
Curb weight: 4160 lbs.
Engine: 6.1-liter HEMI V8
Horsepower: 425 hp @ 6200 rpm
Torque: 420 lb. ft. @ 4800 rpm
EPA estimated mpg city/highway: 14/22
Base price: $39,820
As-tested price: $44,575
 
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