Looks and power. These ingredients make the magic that is the 2010 Dodge Challenger SRT8. Its retro-cool design made people, mostly gray-bearded guys, look over and grin. And the 425 horsepower burbling out of the engine leads to some interesting moments in car control, such as feathering the gas pedal in a turn to help the Challenger SRT8 keep its nose pointed in the right direction.
The Challenger looks perfect on a sunny day with the California coast in the background.
Not the most advanced engine, though, the car takes a big efficiency penalty, in terms of fuel economy and its associated gas guzzler tax. And as cool as the outward car looks, its electronics interface leaves a lot to be desired.
Retro, but not old
Despite its retro design, the Challenger SRT8 does not shy away from technology. Witness the standard keyless, push-button start. The voice-command system let us dial contacts by name through the standard Bluetooth phone system, and proved very accurate, if slow, in recognizing street address inputs for the navigation system.
The round cursor on the map moves very sluggishly.
The optional navigation system, a bargain at $590, uses a hard drive for map storage, includes 3D maps, and accounts for traffic data when calculating routes. But this navigation system is far from the best-looking we've seen, and, although hard-drive-based, takes a long time to perform route calculations or respond to voice commands. When trying to enter a destination using the map on its small screen, we found the slow response of the cursor very frustrating.
The look of the interface graphics on the touch screen was a little cartoonish, with big bevels and bright colors, and the buttons were not intuitively organized. It took us a while to find the audio settings screen. As we've mentioned before with this Chrysler/Dodge head unit, its hard buttons are not ergonomically organized. For example, instead of residing on the steering wheel, the voice-command button is on the right side of the touch screen, far away from the driver.
On the positive side, Dodge complemented the unit's bezel-mounted USB port with a dedicated iPod cable in the car's console, which meant we didn't have a cable hanging off the dashboard. We were very pleased with the responsiveness of the iPod interface. The navigation system's hard drive also has space for music. The hard-drive library uses a similar interface to that of the iPod library.
The voice-command system let us place calls by speaking the name of a contact.
The Bluetooth phone system offers a useful set of features, most notably downloading a phone's contact list and letting you dial by name with voice command. But the call quality is a little weak; we sounded like we were inside a tin can while talking.
Doing a good job of complementing the car's horsepower was an optional 522-watt Kicker audio system. With 14 speakers, including a subwoofer, this system not only delivered resounding bass beats but was also delicate enough that we could hear details in complex, layered tracks. Vocals came through with well-balanced purity and the clarity of the highs belied the ugly black plastic grilles covering the tweeters.
With the Challenger SRT8's navigation head unit, we would have expected a backup camera, but none is available.
What the car does have is a built-in performance computer, with its display at the base of the speedometer showing quarter-mile and zero-to-60 mph times, braking distance, and skidpad g-forces. This performance computer speaks to what the car is all about.
Big fat power
We couldn't be anything but impressed by the rumble from the Challenger SRT8's engine, both audible and tactile, from initial startup to flooring it on a straightaway. Its 425 horsepower and 420 foot-pounds of torque are enough to get the Challenger SRT8 to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds, according to Dodge.
Most engines are hidden under plastic cladding, but Dodge exposes the Challenger's engine as a work of art.
The engine uses big displacement, 6.1 liters, in its eight cylinders to achieve this kind of power. But it lacks tech refinements that could make it more efficient, and so only gets 14 mpg city and 22 mpg highway in EPA testing, saddling it with a gas-guzzler tax. Our own driving, which admittedly leaned toward high-revving shenanigans, produced a very weak 13.9 mpg.
Getting things a little backward, Dodge includes a five-speed automatic transmission standard with the car. The six-speed manual with which ours came equipped is a $695 option. The manual transmission attempts to mitigate the low fuel economy by automatically shunting from first gear to fourth, if you aren't driving aggressively.
We did not find that this transmission shifted very smoothly, sometimes requiring brute force to pop it into gear, but we never had difficulty finding the right gear. Its gate does a good job of guiding the shifter. The transmission also included hill-start assistance, a real boon on the steep streets of San Francisco, especially considering the Challenger uses a pedal for its parking brake.
Even with the huge amount of power on tap, the Challenger SRT8 proved to be a very drivable car. In first gear, the car was content to creep along, without any bucking. Dumping the clutch for a fast start, we expected bone-crushing and tire-melting acceleration, but the car shot forward almost gently, smoothly adjusting engine speed as we shifted gears.
The pistol grip for the manual transmission is very cool, and also necessary for levering it into each gear.
Muscle cars were not known for their handling, but like its cabin tech, that's another area where Dodge updated the Challenger SRT8. While cruising around, we found the ride quality very comfortable without being soft. And while the wide tires deserve some credit, this beast cornered well. Following through the apex of a curve, we felt very little understeer, even when adding power. The Challenger SRT8 grips well.
Besides the massive amount of power, the SRT8 trim benefits from Brembo brakes. We always enjoy the stopping power and easy modulation of Brembos. On the approach to a turn, we could burn off a little speed without the brakes trying to dig in full-force.
Stylewise, we give the 2010 Dodge Challenger SRT8 top marks. It has a unique look and is an excellent update of the original, 1970 Challenger. For a coupe, the Challenger also has decent ergonomics, with a rear seat that you can climb into and a trunk lid opening far up toward the rear window, making for an easy load space. In the design category, the Challenger's weakest point is the cabin tech interface.
The engine is a boon and a curse, its power proving very usable but with the fuel economy being just awful. The six-speed manual, although a little rough, comes with some good features. But the handling was what really surprised us, giving the Challenger SRT8 near-BMW levels of cornering.
As for cabin tech, the Challenger SRT8 has all the right features, such as navigation with traffic, iPod integration, and a solid voice-command system. We were also very pleased with the Kicker audio system. But the navigation system's slow calculation and response times knocked the cabin tech down a bit.
|Model||2010 Dodge Challenger|
|Power train||6.1-liter V-8, six-speed manual transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||14 mpg city/22 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||13.9 mpg|
|Navigation||Hard-drive-based with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||Single MP3-compatible CD|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||Onboard hard drive, USB drive, satellite radio|
|Audio system||Kicker 14-speaker, 522-watt system|
|Driver aids||Performance computer|
|Price as tested||$46,605|