2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8: Ready to Run
After much hype and buildup, the Challenger SRT8 arrives in dealers this month. The wait for a broader lineup isn’t long, however, as a fleshed-out range arrives this fall (click for our coverage of the full-line reveal at New York, or the SRT8 reveal in Chicago). We were lucky enough not to have to wait until fall to get behind the wheel, though, as Dodge invited us to take a spin in Pasadena, California, on our way to Willow Springs Raceway. Not a chance we’d say no!
Driving away from the hotel, easing out of Pasadena local traffic, it was a few miles before the opportunity to explore the depths of the throttle arrived. When it did, the payoff was instant acceleration and an exhaust and engine symphony. The 425HP Challenger SRT8 tune is visceral, powerful, and begs that right foot ask for more. When you get, say, up into the Angeles Crest highway and away from stop signs and bicyclists, Challenger proves an entertaining companion. In town, the car is comfortable and it only takes a well-placed blip to bring out that wonderful burble. Mustang’s V8s sound terrific; Challenger SRT8 sounds even better. Issues of fuel economy and pollution aside, the Challenger SRT8 and smoky burnouts are an obvious pair. Though none executed by this author, an SRT engineer left serious rubber on request just outside of pit lane. It was truly a sight to behold, watching the car just get swallowed up in tire smoke.
That SRT8 is estimated for 13/18 mpg on the EPA cycle, improved with MDS and other tweaks over the known Charger SRT8, isn’t important here. If you’re considering an SRT8, you’ve already accepted living life below 50 mpg. And if you haven’t, there are plenty of options out there. The limited-run 2008MY starts at just under $38,000, with only three sub-$1000 options.
Track Time at the Streets of Willow Springs
With a car carrying such history, what better place to stretch its legs than on a racetrack? In this case, Willow Springs Raceway in Rosamont, California. After a thorough track safety discussion, and a reminder that this track is aggressive and unforgiving, they let us run.
I ran about twenty-five laps, and my final runs were smoother, faster, and far better executed overall, thanks in part to and in-car SRT engineer and instructor along for several laps. One particular series of corners took several runs to get down well, but eventually I broke them. The Eureka moment was almost as excellent as was repeating the feat run after run, deepening my relationship with the car and the track and heightening senses of exhilaration and accomplishment. I only reluctantly, eventually vacated the driver’s seat.
But what about Challenger’s performance? The SRT8 was responsive, its optional Goodyear F1 Supercar tires grip the track like glue, and the five-speed automatic holds to nearly redline when the control logic senses you’re serious about playing. Or you can shift for yourself with auto stick. Steering was predictable and input smooth, though also sometimes a little light. Electronic traction aids were helpful, but intervention wasn’t shocking or intrusive.
Angeles Crest Highway was the best part of the on-road driving. Challenger is large and relatively heavy, but stuck to the canyon roads just as well as the track. The transmission’s willingness to play along with spirited driving was refreshing; keeping your foot deep into the throttle encourages the automatic to hold its gear to redline. Shifting yourself allows more engine braking and will stop it from upshifting when it thinks you’re not looking to be as aggressive. Fortunately for Challenger SRT8 buyers, this five-speed’s logic is set up for maximum fun. It’s possible to be gentle with SRT8 when you need to, say, in a 25MPH zone in Pasadena, but also responsive when you’re ready to play.
SRT8 was just as fun and responsive on Angeles Crest as the track. Shorter than its Charger and Chrysler 300 siblings, Challenger felt nimble and at even in the narrow roads and tight, sometimes blind corners. Our cars were equipped with the optional F1 Goodyear tires, and between the suspension setup and the tires, the car was confident even in tight turns on loose gravel. With a cliff to one side and a rock wall to another, slipper mixed surfaces can be daunting. The Challenger didn’t put a tire wrong all day. The return trip was even more rewarding, after spending a few hours getting to know my steed better at Willow.
Inside the Car
Challenger’s interior is reminiscent of the original and intentionally Spartan in design. Dodge’s interior guys successfully reinforced the badass nature of the car, and it is a serious and determined place to be. It looks right, and even without the optional sunroof, the black headliner doesn’t give you the impression you’re riding in a coffin.
Dodge’s interiors aren’t yet to the feel-good level of GM, Audi, Toyota, or Honda, but SRT8’s interior is improved over its current LX siblings. Challenger’s interior is visibly more driver-oriented, and has a much better-looking center stack, with better HVAC knobs and far less of the fake, cheap-look painted silver plastic that dominates Charger’s interior. We haven’t seen the interior of the lesser versions, being launched in fall for 2009MY, but the SRT8’s interior is a step ahead of the other LX cars.