Baby Boomers must be in heaven these days. No, not the type of heaven that's preached about in Evangelical circles, but Muscle Car heaven (a very different place). The early 1970s was a time of high performing, rear-wheel drive, mid-size coupes that's left a special place in every car aficionado's heart from that era. While Ford hasn't stopped building the Mustang since its introduction in late 1964, Chevrolet discontinued the Camaro in 2002 only to resurrect it again in 2010.
When Dodge announced it was going to build an all-new Challenger based off the famed show car, muscle car fans knew immediately that the pony war was back. Car magazines have now done head-to-head matchups between the Mustang, Camaro, and Challenger - just like in the 70s. The Mustang still retains its classic looks, but is not quite as retro looking as the Camaro and Challenger. When comparing all three, the Challenger is by far the most reminiscent to the original, therefore the most retro. Mopar fans were overjoyed with its revival.
The top-of-the-line SRT-8 trim comes with a 6.1 liter V8 HEMI with 425 horsepower and will go from zero to 60 mph in less than five seconds. If you truly want the pure driver's car, go for the six-speed manual transmission which is world's better than the automatic. The manual features the classic "pistol shifter" knob found on the original. Interestingly, this is the same transmission found on the Dodge Viper, so expect short solid throws between gears. One look at the Challenger in person and you'll immediately notice its size.
It's a big sucker and when compared to the Mustang and Camaro. The reason for its size is because it's based on the Chrysler LX platform, which also underpins the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger. This platform was designed for a full-size four door sedan and not a coupe. The difficulty for Dodge was to find ways to cut weight wherever possible on the shortened LX wheelbase. The Challenger SRT-8 comes in at 4,140 pounds, but the tradeoff is that it's quite possibly one of the coolest looking cars on the road today.
There is absolutely no trace of femininity in the design. It's a purely masculine, testosterone inducing machine of metal and power. Granted, the Mustang and Camaro are faster, but neither of them capture the visual spirit of the original the way the Challenger does. Even the HEMI V8 exudes so much powerful noise which many female passengers will find to be too loud. That's exactly the point. Man or woman, the Challenger is truly meant to be a guy's car. It's for those aging Baby Boomers getting near retirement age who want a brand new weekend toy.
It's also for anyone else who appreciates pure American muscle. Simply put, it's the closest thing to the original muscle car. There are a few drawbacks. The large C-pillars hurt rear visibility and the doors are tall and heavy. Strangely enough, the driver's seat doesn't fold forward, making it impossible to enter the backseat on the driver's side. The overall design of the dash is rather plain (especially when compared to the Mustang and Camaro) and the audio system is not what it should be for a car in this price range.
Speaking of price, the SRT-8 doesn't come cheap. It has a base price of $41,230 and many dealers charged thousands more over invoice simply due to high demand. If spending over $40k is over your budget, then consider either of the lower end models, the SE and R/T. In fact, the R/T offers the most bang for your buck as it too has the HEMI V8, but carries a base price of $32,000. The SRT-8 is for those who needn't worry about money, just looks and power alone.
If there was ever a car that so closely resembles the adored original, the Dodge Challenger would be it. In the eyes of its owners it simply looks perfect and is the source of their youth.