Story by Benjamin Greene
Originally published by Dupont Registry: http://www.dupontregistry.com/autos/NewsCenter/NewsCenterDetails.aspx?mmysid=4066
It is a testament to what kind of vibe the 2011 Dodge Challenger bestows on its occupants when the very first drive with all four seats filled sparks a conversation about the 1973 oil embargo and leaves us looking to Google to prove the year of the white Challenger in the movie Vanishing Point. Out of the new batch of 60s- and 70s-inspired (at the very least by name) motor cars, the 2011 Dodge Challenger seems to offer the best blend of old and new.
The Camaro and Mustang’s old-school traits are masked by years of refinement. It makes them better in some ways but we doubt anyone will feel the same level of nostalgia as in the Challenger. On the other hand, the 2010 Dodge Charger seemed too archaic. After driving the 2010 Charger, we concluded that it was “old school muscle car to the soul…even to fault.” For us, and in terms of representing the old pony cars, the Challenger is like the baby bear’s things in The Story of the Three Bears: it is just right.
The styling of the Challenger is endearing; it grows on you the more times you walk up to it. After a couple drives, we found ourselves gushing over how cool the Challenger looked, for example, in the reflection of a plate-glass window as we turned to park in front of it. The classic 70s-esque styling was liked by all with the only source of complaint coming from the large slabs of flat metal on the sides of the car.
The inside also feels like a traditional muscle car. A flat hood stretches far out in front and is exaggerated by a dash so long that you could lie down and take a nap on it. Out of the new allotment of muscle cars, the Challenger offers the most interior room, which makes it more appealing for family-minded individuals. To make long cruises more comfortable, the 2011 Dodge Challenger features redesigned seats with improved cushioning and contours. Both the front and back seats were comfortable and even with four people in the car, no one complained about legroom. Besides comfort, the backseats sit closer to the exhaust and it is thus a better spot to enjoy the classic muscle-car tune. At the rear is a trunk so large, it sparked jokes about the amount of dead bodies it would take to fill it. In terms of space and comfort, the Challenger is perfect for a long trek.
The 1970s nostalgia is also present while driving the car. During normal driving, the car’s stature is always apparent. The car is long, wide, and heavy and it feels long, wide, and heavy. The car floats a little through corners, reacts a little slowly to transitions, and its nose springs up under full acceleration. But once pushed, the Challenger shrinks in size and its agility becomes more apparent. Its suspension does a remarkable job of keeping the large tires planted to the road. So good in fact, we found that we could enter corners with more speed than we previously thought. The Challenger’s command of the road comes thanks to a redesigned suspension for 2011; Dodge says the new architecture is good for 0.90 g on the skidpad.
The Challenger is equipped with a variable steering system, which monitors the car’s steering angle, vehicle speed, engine rpm, and chassis control systems 13 times per second and adjusts the steering ratio accordingly. We found the steering direct but uncommunicative.
Our test car was only equipped with the 372-hp 5.7-liter Hemi V-8. We say only because for 2011, Dodge introduced the SRT8 392, which produces almost 100 more horsepower for a total of 470. Still, we are impressed with base V-8’s power. The engine’s 400 lb-ft of always-there torque stands ready, eagerly waiting your next prod of the throttle. It helps that you can sit in the fat part of the power band thanks to a six-speed manual transmission. We aren’t too thrilled with the transmission’s longish throws and tendency to find ourselves in third when we wanted first gear but it does feature a very light clutch and what we can only call near-perfect ratios.
Our test car’s Super Trak Pak is a $495 option that is easy to recommend. It comprises 20-inch wheels with P245/45R20 Goodyear Eagle F1 performance tires, a performance brake package with high-performance brake linings, and three-mode electronic stability control with an “ESC-off” button. We liked the large rims and superior grip offered by the tires but found the brakes to be lackluster.
In all, we think the Challenger’s comfortable seats, interior and storage space, and passing power makes it a perfect grand tourer. Out of the current crop of pony cars, it did the best job of reminding us of the muscle-car glory days even if that makes it less of a true sports car than the offerings from Ford and Chevy.
For 2011, keyless go and automatic climate control became standard. For 2012, a new adaptive suspension that premiered on the 2012 Charger will be optional on the Challenger SRT8 392.
372 hp @ 5,200 rpm
400 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
5.9 seconds (estimated)
140 mph (limited) (estimated)
Great grand tourer that will bring back memories from the 70s
Feels more like a car from the 70s than the Camaro and Mustang