- Evocative styling
- Balanced ride and handling
- Manual transmission available on V-8s
- Acceleration of SRT8
- Droning V-8 exhaust
- Power driver's seat does not tilt to provide rear seat access
- No five-speed automatic transmission for V-6
- V-6 lacks standard stability control
Let the burnouts begin! The Ford Mustang finally has another domestic competitor.
The 2009 Dodge Challenger is a sporty coupe model; because the Challenger is based on the Dodge Charger sedan, it’s a size up from the Ford Mustang. The Dodge Challenger was introduced for 2008 as a limited-edition, high-performance SRT8 model aimed squarely at muscle-car enthusiasts.
For 2009, Dodge has brought out a full line of Challenger models that promises to meet the needs of a wider range of buyers. Most notably, with a new V-6 edition and a new six-speed manual, the 2009 Dodge Challenger gives a slight nod to fuel economy.
The 2009 Dodge Challenger is available in three distinct models: the SE, R/T, and SRT8. Major differences between them are powertrains, chassis components, and interior trim details. Despite these differences, the evocative exterior style of the new Challenger remains powerful across the entire line. With its bold nose and strong bodylines, there's no mistaking a Challenger for any other car. Furthermore, people of all ages like the car's look, not just old geezers who remember the original from 1970. The 2009 edition is thoroughly modern and manages to exude a bold presence even in the base SE trim level. With added graphics, rear spoilers, and larger wheels and tires, the more performance-oriented R/T and SRT8 editions look even tougher.
Inside, the 2009 Dodge Challenger sports a more conventional—but still sporty—style. The gauges are nestled in four pods, but unlike some similar designs, the Dodge's instrumentation remains easy to read regardless of lighting conditions. A center console is standard, and the pistol-grip shifter (on manuals) is a nice styling touch.
The performance delivered by the 2009 Dodge Challenger supports its styling. Three engines are available. The ultimate 6.1-liter HEMI, producing 425 horsepower, is the top powertrain and only available in the SRT-8 edition. The SRT designation identifies this Challenger as having been enhanced by Chrysler's in-house tuning gurus, the Street and Racing Technology group. New for 2009, the Challenger SRT8 can be equipped with a six-speed manual. Carried over from 2008, a heavy-duty five-speed automatic is available. Performance is impressive, with a top speed of more than 170 mph.
A step down from the SE is the 2009 Dodge Challenger R/T, which packs a 376-hp (standard six-speed manual) or 372-hp (optional five-speed automatic), 5.7-liter V-8. The 5.7-liter can get the Challenger to 60 mph in the mid-5-second range. The base Challenger SE’s 3.5-liter V-6 produces 250 horsepower and, with its standard four-speed automatic, delivers 0-60 mph times in the high 7-second range. This combination achieves EPA numbers of 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway. TheCarConnection.com put some serious miles on an SE and found it plenty peppy and relatively refined.
Being cognizant of customer concerns regarding responsible fuel economy, the R/T's HEMI benefits from efficiency gains totaling 4 percent compared to the same engine used in 2008 Dodge products. Mileage with either transmission is 16 mpg city/25 mpg highway.
Comfortable bucket seats are standard up front, and there are three seat belts in the rear. While the rear seat of the Challenger is larger than you'll find in a Ford Mustang, that doesn't mean it's roomy like a limousine. Headroom is acceptable, but those in the front may have to slide their seats forward to provide ample legroom for those in the rear.
Most Challengers will come with an eight-way power driver's seat. The seat is comfortable (especially in concert with the standard tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel), but when access to the rear seat is necessary, the driver's seat lacks a quick-release mechanism. The solution is to motor the seat forward or access the rear seat from the passenger side—very inconvenient. However, the folding rear seats (60/40 split) help give the Challenger excellent and flexible cargo-carrying capabilities.
Quality on all of the Challengers TheCarConnection.com have driven has been excellent, with no squeaks, rattles, or quivers. The cars felt well built, and materials felt and looked good compared to the much-maligned plastics used in Dodge’s cheaper models.
Because performance and style are the calling card for the 2009 Dodge Challenger, safety may be overlooked. But the 2009 Challenger has all the essentials, including four airbags (two front plus with side-curtain airbags that extend to the second row). Anti-lock brakes and dynamic stability control are standard on R/T and SRT-8 models but optional on the value-priced SE. The Challenger has not yet been crash-tested by the government or the IIHS.
In addition to the aforementioned performance and safety equipment, all the requisite options you'd expect are available, including satellite radio, leather seats, hard-drive media storage, and a navigation system.
The newly expanded Challenger line stacks up nicely against the Mustang, with the V-6 SE facing off against the base Mustang, the R/T against the GT and Bullitt, and the SRT-8 against the Shelby GT500. The SE and R/T outpower their respective Mustang competitors, but the mighty Shelby holds a major 75-horsepower advantage over the SRT-8.
While the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro isn't even on sale, Chevy has already announced some specifications. Currently, their V-6 and V-8 models outpower the Challenger by significant amounts (approximately 300 horsepower to 250 hp for the V-6 and about 400 hp to 376 for the V-8s). The 3.6-liter V-6 for the Camaro is an engine that TheCarConnection.com already knows and loves, and with direct injection, it will be considerably more refined and economical than the Dodge's aging 3.5-liter V-6.