Challenger SRT8 performance honours past muscle cars
"Like muscle cars of yore, straight-line acceleration is the name of the game with the Challenger SRT8."
To some people - or maybe just to me - it’s positively confounding why the 2012 Dodge Challenger SRT8 is being sold in the 21st century. Yet like so many vehicle purchases of the past, present, and probably future, this muscle car’s existence is driven by the emotions of its owners.
The most powerful production model currently in the Challenger stable, the SRT8 “392” - named for its 392-cubic inch V8 engine - is loud, coarse, and not at all fuel efficient. And while that may not be enough to turn off a middle-aged man who wants to experience driving a vehicle he drag-raced without a care in a world decades ago, even the strongest emotions can’t compete with the limits of a person’s bank account.
The SRT8 is the priciest Challenger, coming in at about $12,000 more than the next-most expensive model. It also guzzles the premium stuff faster than Barney Gumble can chug down draught straight from the tap at a bar left unattended by its owner.
Truth be told, those aforementioned adjectives - “loud” and “coarse” in particular - may very well be the reasons that would drive a person to buy this Hemi-powered Challenger.
Things are different now; much different, I’m certain, than when the original 392 debuted for the 1957 model year. Premium fuel now hovers at or above $1.50/litre, roads typically have a lot more cars on them at any given time, and it’s quite rare, to say the least, to ever see a drag race on public roads between two muscle cars.
Although the new 392 has mammoth power that gets it moving in a hurry (0 - 60 mph in less than five seconds) and a retro look very reminiscent of older Challengers, it still gets plenty of 21st Century creature comforts expected from a $50,000 base price.
All SRT8s have leather seats with suede inserts, a touch screen media centre, unique steering wheel that’s heated, rear park assist, and an outside temperature gauge.
That’s not to say this Challenger is particularly comfortable. The front seats are nice, but the ride isn’t exactly forgiving. The worst offender is the clutch/shifter combo. After driving the 392 for a few days, the only body part getting a tougher workout than my left leg is my right arm.
The stick shift takes the word “stick” a tad too literally, its position is awkward, and moving from one gear to the next - either up or down - is never smooth nor satisfying. There’s even an audible grinding sound nearly every time I move into fifth, though that could be attributed to previous test-drivers’ having a little too much fun.
I may not be a fan of the manual transmission, but I still would have thought it would be standard equipment in a performance vehicle like this. Sure enough, it’s not - you’ll have to pay an extra $2,000 to move up from the standard five-speed automatic. You also won’t get the automatic’s fuel-saving cylinder deactivation feature. In other words, you’ll be paying extra to guzzle more gas.
Like muscle cars of yore, straight-line acceleration is the name of the game with the Challenger SRT8, but it handles well enough, too. Its steering is tweaked for a more direct feel, and the vehicle sits a half inch lower to the ground compared to other Challengers. The optional performance tires, meanwhile, sure don’t hurt the 392’s ability to stick to the road.
The interior is well put together, with a nice combination of metal and leather. The suede seat inserts and white gauges are a nice touch, and the steering wheel does admittedly feel really nice in my hands.
You won’t start eyeing a two-door muscle car like this in a showroom because of its rear seats, but it’s worth noting the Challenger offers more room in back than both the Chevrolet Camaro SS and Ford Mustang GT. I try the seats out and I’m surprised at how easy it is to fit in them and not be completely uncomfortable.
I’m sure there are people out there who love the simplicity and convenience of a VCR over a fancy Blu-ray player, but you sure won’t find many brand new VCRs anywhere these days.
The reason the same comparison doesn’t quite work with cars is because of that emotional attachment mentioned earlier (all the power to you if you love your VCR, though).
The Challenger SRT8 392 is certainly rough around the edges, but the 470-horsepower it produces makes for legitimate bragging rights over its closest competitors, and that’s still all that matters to some drivers.
2012 Dodge Challenger
Trim level: SRT8 392
Price as tested (before taxes): $55,020
Options on test vehicle: Manual transmission ($2,000); Premium Sound Group ($1,500) inc.: 900-watt amplifier, 18 speakers; Mopar Interior Appearance Group ($1,025) inc.: bright door sill guards, car cover, and premium floor mats; Media center w/ hard drive and navigation ($950); 20-inch aluminum wheels ($250); metallic exterior paint ($100); Performance tires ($100)
Configuration: front engine/ rear-wheel drive
Engine/transmission: 6.4L V8/ 6-spd manual
Power/torque: 470 hp/ 470 lb.-ft.
Fuel (capacity): premium (74L)
Fuel economy ratings: 15.1 L/100km city; 8.8 L/100km hwy
Observed fuel economy: 13.0 L/100km over 519 km
Warranties: 3 years/60,000 km (basic); 3 years/60,000 km (powertrain)
Competitors: Chevrolet Camaro SS; Ford Mustang GT
Strengths: power; standard features
Weaknesses: fuel economy; shifter; pricey options