Shopping for a new Dodge Challenger?
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PERFORMANCE | 8 out of 10
Optional Tremec T6060 six-speed manual transmission ported from the Dodge Viper
More Interstate/autobahn cruiser than mountain-road slalom champ
Enormous thrust is available from any speed at any time on the SRT8
To add to the mass appeal of the 2009 Dodge Challenger, the folks at Chrysler dilute the lineup's performance by offering the less-capable SE and R/T trims, but that doesn't take away from the virtues of the tremendously powerful engine available on the Challenger Dodge in SRT8 guise.
The three trim levels of the Dodge Challenger denote the engine housed underneath the hood—according to Jalopnik, the base SE gets "a 3.5-liter High Output V6 producing 250 hp and an equal number of lb-ft of torque," while the mid-range R/T offers a "5.7-liter Hemi engine" producing either "370 hp and 398 lb-ft of torque (when running on premium fuel) or 375 hp and 404 lb-ft of torque, depending on which transmission it's mated to." Returning unchanged from its model year 2008 introduction is the Dodge Challenger SRT8, which Cars.com reports is powered by "a 6.1-liter HEMI V-8 willing to provide a blustery 425 horsepower." Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that the SE trim of the 2009 Dodge Challenger is more fun than many V-6 options, but the real enthusiast driving belongs to the V-8-powered Challengers. The uninspiring V-6 on the Challenger Dodge SE is, in the words of Motor Trend reviewers, "not slow; it's just not fast, either." Nobody will describe either of the V-8s that way though, and ConsumerGuide proclaims that the "R/T is quite potent, with ample passing reserves." The highest praise is saved for the very capable Dodge Challenger SRT8, which Cars.com describes as "a rocket booster strapped to your fanny" and Jalopnik says can achieve "a 0-to-60 time of five seconds."
One of the chief complaints about the 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8 was the lack of any manual transmission option, so for the 2009 Dodge Challenger, the Chrysler bigwigs have decided to address those complaints, at least on the R/T and SRT8. Jalopnik is pleased to report that "both the R/T and SRT8 get an optional Tremec T6060 six-speed manual transmission ported from the Dodge Viper," although the SE still only offers "a four-speed automatic." In addition to the manual option, Cars.com says the V-8 Dodge Challengers can be fitted with "a crisp-shifting five-speed automatic." Both the five- and six-speed transmissions fare well with reviewers, with ConsumerGuide finding "the manual transmission has positive, mechanical shift action and a smooth clutch," while the "responsive automatic transmission shifts without harshness." The four-speed auto on the Dodge Challenger SE doesn't hold up quite so well to reviewer scrutiny, and Automobile Magazine observes that "you have to be willing to boot it because of the wide gaps between the gears."
The four-speed transmission also doesn't do much to help the Dodge Challenger SE's fuel economy, which isn't significantly better than the R/T's. The official EPA estimates for the Dodge Challenger lineup are 17 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway for the SE, while the Dodge Challenger R/T offers 16 mpg city, 25 mpg highway, and the SRT8 a measly 13 mpg in the city and 19 mpg on the highway. Road tests verify the SRT8's projected fuel economy, and ConsumerGuide reports that "an automatic-transmission SRT8 averaged 15.8 mpg."
There's a reason most modern sportscars tend to be on the smaller side—simply, smaller cars tend to handle better. Modern handling and traction control features can help somewhat, but Automobile Magazine says "for a sporting machine...the steering feels light and slow," and Motor Trend describes the 2009 Dodge Challenger as "more Interstate/autobahn cruiser than mountain-road slalom champ." On the positive side, the 2009 Dodge Challenger offers a surprisingly comfortable ride, which Cars.com calls "a nice blend of sport and comfort," and they note that "big craters and railroad tracks give Challenger only a slight jiggle." ConsumerGuide also raves about the "surprisingly supple" ride, "especially given this car's performance mission." Braking performance is also a pleasant surprise, especially for such a heavy car, and ConsumerGuide declares the "brakes provide sure-footed stopping control."
The 2009 Dodge Challenger R/T is all the performance most people will need, especially considering that the SRT8 gets slapped with a gas-guzzler tax.