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.
Lose the Cartoon, Keep the Attitude
Three years ago, Dodge brought American muscle to a wagon at the 2004 North American International Auto Show. In the best Dodge fashion, the Magnum arrived with a tough, mean look; made no apologies for being either pure American muscle or for being a wagon; and we loved it, though its personality was never subtle or refined. Three years later, Dodge introduces a new face that adds sophistication without losing its edge. The changes for 2008 are minor in nature may not sound all that significant. But the result is a vehicle with some style and grace added to its edge.
Though sales don’t begin until later in the year, an updated Magnum was but one of Dodge’s reveals at the 2007 Detroit auto show. Magnum keeps its goodness, including the HEMI V8 with cylinder deactivation in the R/T and the grocery-getter/weekend racer in the 425HP SRT8, but trades in some of the cartoon aspects of its pumped-up look for a more sophisticated approach. There is a smoother, cleaner look for the standard cars and the dad-racer SRT8. The Magnum has grown up, while keeping its devilish personality.
Family Face Updated
New headlights and hood allow for a raised-eyebrow look similar to the Charger sedan and all-new Avenger, with creases in the hood also reminiscent of Charger, for the basic Magnum range. Combined with the subtly redesigned lower fascia, the changes allow for a less clumsy face. The new wider grille is every bit as aggressive as before. The new chrome accents below the headlights are just enough to brighten the face. The SRT8 also gets a new grille, redesigned hood, and front fascia. The new hood scoop on SRT8 is functional as well as adding to its take-no-prisoners look.
Redesigned Interior Continues Upscale March
The interior has been redesigned as well, with what Dodge calls a more driver-oriented layout. The chrome rings around the gauges are among the elements that give the interior a more upscale look, versus the overdone thick chrome rings they replaced. SRT8 models get the new ambient LED cupholder and door-map pocket lighting standard, while that new feature is optional for the rest of the range. The SRT8 now boasts a ReConfigurable Display in the cluster for getting instant feedback on just how fast you got around that autocross course, or maybe more likely, to the grocery store and back.
Four-Door Coupe Hatchback: Awkward Bodystyle Answers a Question No One Asked
Chrysler has made it a tradition to introduce its most important, or sometimes just most fun, concepts at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit every January. This year, the Chrysler brand contribution is the Nassau. While it does play better in the tin than in photos, we’re not convinced it is a clear direction for Chrysler. After spending a few days at the show, we do confess that ours may not be the prevailing opinion. Even within the office, there were conflicting opinions on the success of the concept.
Nassau takes the 300′s rear wheel drive platform and the SRT8 6.1L HEMI V8 and, with a nip here and tuck there, put a new body on it. Probably inspired in part by the Mercedes-Benz four-door CLS coupe, Nassau takes a stab at the four-door coupe look. Sort of. Instead of a traditional trunk, there is a stylized hatchback, effectively muddling it beyond recognition or clear identification. As Trevor Creed described in the presentation, it is meant to look like a British shooting brake, except that few Americans understand that idea. Shooting brakes were sporting vehicles with a hatchback for some functionality. In the States, we’re more likely to put a HEMI into our SUV than put a hatch on our sporty cars. I’m a wagon and hatchback fan more than an SUV fan, but didn’t find the Nassau as successful as it should have been. The Nassau’s design themes may appear on the next 300, but we wouldn’t count on the hatchback.
Chrysler Group’s design teams often take refreshing risks and many of those have resulted in successful and well-received concepts, even if not production cars. The Nassau is likely to go down as one of the more mediocre attempts, unfortunately. My favorite view of the Nassau is from the front, despite adapted minivan grille it carries. Nassau balances the large minivan-inspired grille with a deep front fascia. The highly stylized headlights indicate Chrysler might move away from the rounded-bottom form headlights found, one way or another, on most of the current range, to a more elegant, trapezoidal shape.
The rear roofline is fast and low, going for a sporting look. But instead it draws attention to the apparent lack of rear headroom. There is an elegance about many sporting wagons, but not in the profile of this crossbreed. Pushing the wheels out to the edges of the body makes for a sleek look and the surface lines on the bodyside do wrap nicely into the taillamps. The C-pillar shape reminds me of the Infiniti FX 45 (view image
), but the subsequent glass aft of the pillar for the hatchback makes it look awkward. Also, the hatch opening looks smaller than a conventional trunk and the shape of the glass looks as though it would impede rearward vision, both elements that negate the typical goodness of a shooting brake or a hatchback.
There is a very modern, high-tech feel to the interior, inspired by electronics and cell phones. Interior pushbutton switchgear was patterned after the Motorola Razr cell phone. The design makes for a cool concept interior, but not necessarily a production solution. The interior ambient lighting is a very nice, comfortable and modern blue; the gauges are stylish and easy to read.
There are four bucket seats, with a center console running between passengers front to back. As a concept, the rear seats don’t fold down. The Nassau gets the poor headroom and cramped feeling of a low-roof coupe and the potential image penalty of a hatchback profile. Not to mention that trying to meld practicality with a luxury coupe concept seems rather pointless.