Exterior Design: *****
The 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8 gets all five stars for providing a perfect example of a polarizingly retro design done right. You either love it or you hate it. Although we've yet to find a single soul who is willing to shout this pony down in person. From the big, strong front fascia and that creased centerline to those broad haunches in the back, this muscle car oozes bad-ass.
Interior Design: ***
Inasmuch as the exterior was crafted with pound upon pound of love and care, the interior feels like the ginger-headed stepchild of the design process. The flat plastic dash, while soft-to-the-touch, looks bare, forlorn and unloved. The woven leather steering wheel feels less sturdy than this car deserves. Still, the Challenger SRT8 gets one star for a back seat with the spaciousness of the original, another star for those bolstered front seats and yet another for the faux suede along the doors. Nice touch, Dodge.
God, I love the built-for-America 6.1-liter Hemi engine. 425 HP and an almost equal amount of torque help make the performance tires on this beast squeal at the green light like it's a drag strip Christmas tree. Still, we're talking about 425 horses under the hood. It should jump harder, faster, stronger. It may have something to do with the 4100+ pounds it's trying to carry along for the ride.
The big Brembos help this pony "whoa!" with the quickest of ease and you can't ask for much more than that.
The nice thing about the Challenger is it's on the steady and capable LX platform. Unlike the bone-rattling ride of a Shelby GT500, the Challenger sweeps over the road, requiring a large pothole to even jostle it and taking the very largest to get anywhere near uncomfortable.
I love to mash the gas around a corner, and there's nothing like feeling that back end sweep outward as I steer with my right foot; the multilink suspension in the back makes that kind of hoonage effortless.
Crap. OK, here's the rub with the 2008 Challenger SRT8 — it's automatic only. While it's great for the straight-line racing crowd looking for solid, dependable and always-the-same 0-to-60 times, it's not really great for us. And the +/- gate on the shifter is an annoyance at best. We'll apparently have to wait until the 2009 model year before we'll have a chance to see this car with the gearbox it was always meant to have.
Our test unit was equipped with MyGig, but the damnable contraption wouldn't recognize our third-gen video iPod. So my "Muscle Car Meltdown" mix had to be played using the aux input rather than the preferred USB jack. Still, the big subwoofer kept pace with the low grumble of the exhaust well enough to make me happy.
Good god, there's some fun toys in here. Even if you ignore the issues with MyGig, the 1/4 mile, 1/8 mile, G-force and braking meters make up for it in spades. Also, it has heated seats.
The fuel economy is blood-draining-from-the-face bad — 13 MPG city, 18 MPG highway. But with an as-tested sticker price of $41,000 — and reports of $70K+ including the dealer price gouging — if you're buying this car, you shouldn't care less.
Breathtakingly stunning looks, high horsepower and rear-wheel drive overcome gearbox issues, weight, a mediocre interior, and piss-poor gas mileage any day of the week. Yeah, yeah, I know. On any other vehicle, I'd award three stars, but seriously, it's a 2008 Dodge FREAKIN' Challenger SRT8. Those classic, proportionally sound muscle car looks just feel so good. It's a shame Chrysler didn't build this car much sooner.
• 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8, Part One