Driven: 2010 Dodge Challenger SRT8


There’s no question: The $43,655 2010 Dodge Challenger SRT8 is challenging. Challenging to certain male egos; challenging to judgmental mothers-in-law; challenging to humorless, Saab/Volvo/Honda Odyssey-driving soccer moms…. Challenging even to some muscle-car aficionados who think the big, bad Dodge is just a little too retro.

Still, fans and even critics cannot help but check out this car. Example: At the strip mall I dashed into the supermarket for 15 minutes, parking the Dodge at the far edge of the lot, the better to avoid rogue shopping-cart dings. When I emerged pushing my own cart a gaggle of males had gathered around the SRT8, wagging their tongues, pointing out details. We chatted; the younger guys took turns behind the wheel; the older ones asked about specs; guys in the middle asked if I’d smoked the tires—had I shown anyone up at a stoplight?

If you like attention you’ll get plenty driving this car. Save from women, who almost universally thought I was suffering from a mid-life crisis (even female friends who know that I review cars asked after my mental well being when they saw the Dodge). Women. Don’t. Get. Muscle. Cars. 'Nuf said.

Still, provided you’re drawn to a car like this you’re probably already secure in your relationships with the fairer sex—or will give up anything to enjoy 0-60mph times under five seconds and the absolute thrill of starting up a 6.1-liter HEMI V-8 with 425 horsepower. This much is hard to argue; the Challenger with this motor can hustle. Luckily, it can also handle. It helps that the baddest Challenger model comes with fat, 245/45ZR20 rubber and a smartly tuned fully independent suspension. Smart? Recall that this is a breed of car that in its original and even very recent guise was measured only by one factor: quarter-mile times. We have, thankfully, arrived at a more nuanced age (at least in this regard), one in which even the engineers of muscle cars have learned how to make all those ponies do more than one trick.

So, yep, the two-plus-ton, 16.5-foot long Dodge is a big sucker, but for all its heft and size the car corners predictably and if you know what you’re doing, lets you dance the back end out to power slide around corners, even with the stability control in play. If you were racing the SRT8 you’d want to wag that tail, because even in its most aggressive guise the Challenger exhibits enough body roll to otherwise wallow on initial turn-in, an effect made worse if you’re pushing hard because the stability control “wants” to correct a car — any car — that’s drifting wide of its intended path. The safe way to make short work of fast esses in the SRT8 is to use the throttle to nudge the rear tires free as you approach the apex—pause for stability control to aid the car in hooking up on its new line, toward the turn’s exit—then get back on the gas and rocket out of the corner. Repeat as necessary. Howl with laughter at the good time you’re having.

And while nailing 60mph in second gear—a pistol-grip six-speed manual is the only way to order your SRT8—is also gobsmacking fun, the nifty little secret about the Challenger is that it’s not a beast to drive daily. That suspension that can feel too soft at extreme moments of play is otherwise forgiving and enjoyable during around-town driving, and won’t beat your bones on the crappy Interstate at 75mph. Slow it to 70mph and in sixth gear and at about 1,800rpm you’ll pretty easily milk that 22 mpg EPA rating.


 
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