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Riding around in a bright red Dodge Challenger SRT8 is not the best way to go unnoticed. With its wide and low design and deep HEMI V-8 growl, all eyes were on us as we cruised the streets of San Francisco. But the kind of attention attracted in the Challenger was unlike most high-powered sports cars in which we've found ourselves behind the wheel. Everywhere we went, people--almost exclusively male--were giving us the thumbs up, approving nods, fist pumps, and, on one occasion, a full-on round of applause. Yeah, that last one surprised even us.
The attention didn't stop when the car was parked for the night, either. As it rested in the CNET garage, people asked to sit in it and took pictures next to it. These are the same people, mind you, who just a few weeks ago walked right past the Mercedes C63 AMG without a second glance. How's that for cachet?
Test the tech: Gauging the performance
The Challenger SRT8 has a neat trick up its sleeve, hidden in the instrument cluster. An LCD below the speedometer displays menus for monitoring vehicle diagnostics, setting driver presets, and echoing navigation instructions. However, the most fun functions are beneath the Performance Features menu options. There drivers can record 0 to 60, 1/8-, and 1/4-mile times, along with a two-axis G-forces and a braking distance, all very important metrics in a high-performance vehicle. Not wanting to miss the opportunity to feel what 425 horsepower felt like at wide open throttle, we decided to see how well the SRT8 performed in a straight line.
We lined up at a stop sign at the bottom of an off ramp that merged onto a highway. We typically use this intersection to gauge how well vehicles get up to speed when merging with freeway traffic, but today the straight shot and 65 mph speed limit meant that we could test the Challenger's 0 to 60 time without losing our license. With a clear view both ahead and behind, we revved the engine to about 4,000rpm, dumped the clutch, and held on for dear life. The sensation was terrific, as was the noise as the tachometer needle swept toward the red line. Shifting into second gear at 6,000rpm, we were once again kicked in the back by acceleration. Sixty miles per hour arrived just as the engine hit the electronic rev-limiter of second gear. Choosing a cruising gear and composing ourselves, we checked the meter and saw that we'd achieved a respectable 6.24-second 0 to 60 time, which is significantly slower than Dodge's claimed sub-5-second 0 to 60 time because of a little wheel spin off the line.
A few more attempts at a better time resulted in equal thrills and a few smoky burnouts, but no improvement on the clock. Eventually, we decided that we'd reached the limits of our abilities as a driver long before we'd reached the limits of the Challenger's performance. Not wanting to press our luck, we called it a night.
In the cabin
Even though the main event is under the hood, the Challenger's cabin tech is no sideshow. The heart of the cabin experience is the UConnect touch-screen system, the functions of which Dodge has divided into three sections: UConnect GPS, UConnect studios, and UConnect phone.
The entire system features voice recognition to control the major functions. When the speech button is pressed, the screen shows a list of commands relevant to the mode the system is in. For example, if you're listening to a CD, the system will show commands such as "next track." If you're viewing the map, the system shows functions such as "choose destination." Unfortunately, Dodge placed the speech button on the bezel of the touch screen and didn't include a steering wheel button. This means that using speech functionality requires the driver to reach past the touch screen to hit the button. This all but defeats the purpose of voice activation.
GPS navigation is easy to use with dead-simple destination entry and point-of-interest search. The map graphics are gorgeous, and text is crisp and easy to read while in motion. The system takes advantage of Sirius satellite integration to offer Sirius Traffic Link, which overlays traffic data onto the map or displays a list traffic alerts in a menu. Map data is stored on the UConnect's 30GB internal hard disk, making routing of trips lightning quick.
Bluetooth hands-free is also easy to setup, provided you do it while the vehicle is stopped. Setup is completely voice commanded and guided by voice and onscreen prompts. The system is able to import up to 1,000 contacts from a supported phone, but for some reason it was unable to pull them from our test phone, a T-Mobile Shadow. However, once contacts are imported, one should be able to dial out by voice navigating the phonebook or searching by touch-screen. Our sole issue with hands-free calling is the same as with the rest of the voice-command system: the button to accept/end calls is also located on the far end of the touch screen's bezel, which meant we had to take our eyes off of the road to accept an incoming call.
Audio sources of the UConnect system include Sirius satellite radio, a single-CD player with MP3/WMA capability, and a one-eighth-inch auxiliary input, along with standard AM/FM radio. Music can be ripped to the internal hard-drive from CDs or from USB drives via the USB port hidden beneath a false button on the touch screen's bezel. Our model was also equipped with a 30-pin iPod dock connector hidden in the center console. Whether digital audio is played back from the iPod or the hard drive, the UConnect system allows for speedy browsing of songs by artist, genre, playlist, and other criteria.
Music is played back through an eight-speaker Boston Acoustics stereo backed up by 368 watts of power. The system includes an 8-inch subwoofer in the trunk, and it sounded great when playing rock music, with clear vocals and thumping bass kicks. However, when we tried a little hip-hop or electronic, the booming bass caused the plastic door panels to vibrate, unpleasantly distorting the sound.