Verdict: 2009 Dodge Challenger R/T
Charming 'til the last
Reading through the notes on "Big Blue," our 2009 Challenger, you almost begin to wonder how many people actually drove the car. Every entry is almost formulaic, hitting the same highs and lows and reaching the same conclusion:
"I loved the look of the car and the big V-8 engine. The pistol-grip shifter is awesome and the soft springs make it a great cruiser. On the other hand, the car's too big, it gets lousy fuel economy, and the nav/stereo system is awful. But despite its flaws, I just love this car."
Whether it was the brilliant blue paint; the shiny, throwback five-spokes; the perfectly formed pistol-grip shifter; the retro styling; or the all-American attitude, everyone found something to love about the Challenger. Editors waxed poetic about the nostalgia the car generated in wide-eyed onlookers, and the charisma the big machine exuded every time the burly Hemi fired up.
"Ten minutes into my drive, I had both windows down and the Black Keys blasting from the stereo," wrote associate road test editor Carlos Lago. "I really enjoy simply tooling around in the Challenger," noted digital integration director Mike Floyd. Executive editor Edward Loh and associate online editor Kirill Ougarov both dubbed the Challenger "a nice cruiser," as did countless others. Associate online editor Nate Martinez captured it perfectly, writing, "It's one of the few cars I've driven that has so much charisma." And that was it: The Challenger somehow found a way to tap into that slice of the American psyche that loves a big, comfortable, V-8-powered cruiser and an open highway. Not long into its stay, Big Blue inspired former editor-at-large St. Antoine to drive 1000 miles across the Southwest for no other reason than because he could.
"Here, in this car, is the road trip as only America can do it: a plain so vast that 75 mph seems a standstill, your broad steed galloping with 376-horsepower ease, bikers in full leathers offering thumbs-up as they catch sight of the Challenger's profile," he wrote.
For as many stories of windows-down cruising, gawking pedestrians, and nostalgic introspection about the Great American Road Trip as were written, the Challenger was not universally loved. Like the positives, the negatives were almost always the same: The small exterior door handles were often panned, as were the clunky navigation system and the satellite radio that lost reception under every overpass. Associate online editor Benson Kong dinged the "pizza pan-size steering wheel," while Martinez found the interior plastics cheap-feeling. Several editors complained about the giant key that had to be fished out to unlock the car, then had nowhere to go thanks to the push-button starter; and nearly everyone agreed the Challenger at least needed a backupcamera, if not cameras mounted all the way around the car. Not a single kind word was logged for the skip-shift fuel-saving feature.
But for every foible our editors found, they also found something to love. Ougarov appreciated the "giant" trunk, while Martinez couldn't get enough of the exhaust note. Senior editor Jonny Lieberman just wanted to sit in the car and rev the engine. The seats drew near constant praise for their couchlike comfort, and everyone gushed about the pistol-grip shifter.
We also loved the Challenger's reliability. Before the keys were finally pried from our hands, Big Blue racked up four regularly scheduled stops at the service bay that cost us a grand total of...wait for it...$218.45. Each 6000-mile check-up consisted of an oil change, inspection, and tire rotation and never cost more than $70. And that was it. No unscheduled maintenance, none of those supposed Chrysler quality issues. After nearly 30,000 miles of hard driving, the Challenger suffered nary a hiccup with us.
It wasn't quite the same story at the gas pump. The 376-horsepower Hemi V-8 drank premium fuel like a B-list celebutante knocks back Grey Goose. Despite several long road trips out on the open highway, Big Blue only managed 17.9 mpg average during its stay with us. Thanks to a 19-gallon tank, though, editors were able to travel as far as 400 miles between fill-ups showing only mild restraint, or get from Los Angeles to San Francisco without stopping. Resisting temptation, though, wasn't easy. After all, Blue laid down a 0-to-60 time of just 5.4 seconds and could cook the quarter mile in 13.8 seconds at 102.3 mph. How do you say no to that?
What editors could say no to was the price tag. While the $30,945 starting tab drew only minor criticism, many objected to the $40,245 as-tested hit. Blame our fancy tastes, as options like the R/T Classic trim package, UConnect phone and navigation systems, sunroof, and Track Pak added some serious heft to the ticket. Many were quick to point out that a faster, smaller Camaro or Mustang could be had for a more reasonable amount.
Lago summed it up, asking, "Buying the Challenger means you're ignoring the performance and fun factor. You can put a price on nostalgia, sure. But do you want to spend $40,000 on it?" The Challenger is a car we loved for all the "wrong" reasons. You're not supposed to love a car that's too big, too heavy, and too thirsty. But we did. And can you blame us? We're car enthusiasts, and our connection to cars is as emotional as it is logical, sometimes more so. Even we are hard-pressed to explain, logically, why someone "needs" a Challenger. But we all know why we want one.
From The Logbook
In a fleet that also features a Nissan GT-R and a BMW M3, the Challenger is nowhere near the fastest or even the most powerful. But there is something to be said for the absence of fancy computers and the presence of a good, old-fashioned big pushrod V-8 and six-speed manual.
- Kirill Ougarov
- Kirill Ougarov
I couldn't help but blast classic rock with the windows down and my arm resting on the windowsill. It's just that kind of ride.
- Nate Martinez
- Nate Martinez
I got flashes of "Vanishing Point" as the Challenger's exaggerated nose popped over dusty hills and as I watched a brown cloud build and dissipate in the rearview, the engine's deep burble backing us the whole time. It's these moments where the Challenger reveals the best part of its character-but then you have to drive home. The Challenger is an eight-track player in an iPhone world.
- Carlos Lago
- Carlos Lago
|MSRP, as tested||27,148|
|Avg fuel economy||17.9 mpg|
|Three-year residual value*||$20,927|
|Recalls ( * Automotive Lease Guide)||PCM, roof moldings, grille blisters|
|2009 Dodge Challenger R/T|
|Drivetrain layout||Front engine, RWD|
|Engine type||90-deg V-8, iron block/alum heads|
|Valvetrain||OHV, 2 valves/cyl|
|Displacement||345.1 cu in/5654 cc|
|Power (SAE net)||376 hp @ 5150 rpm|
|Torque (SAE net)||410 lb-ft @ 4300 rpm|
|Weight to power||11.0 lb/hp|
|Suspension, front; rear||Control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs,anti-roll bar|
|Brakes, f;r||13.6-in vented disc; 12.6-in vented disc, ABS|
|Wheels||8.0 x 20-in, cast aluminum|
|Tires|| 245/45R20 99V |
|Track, f/r||63.0/63.1 in|
|Length x width x height||197.7 x 75.7 x 57.1 in|
|Turning circle||38.9 ft|
|Curb weight||4150 lb|
|Weight dist, f/r||53/47%|
|Headroom, f/r||39.3/37.2 in|
|Legroom, f/r||42.0/32.6 in|
|Shoulder room, f/r||58.2/53.9 in|
|Cargo volume||16.2 cu ft|
|Acceleration to mph|
|Passing, 45-65 mph||2.7|
|Quarter mile||13.8 sec @ 102.3 mph|
|Braking, 60-0 mph||127 ft|
|Lateral acceleration||0.81 g (avg)|
|MT figure eight||27.2 sec @ 0.64 g (avg)|
|Top-gear revs @ 60 mph||1450 rpm|
|Airbags||Dual front, front side, f/r curtain|
|Basic warranty||3 yrs/36,000 miles|
|Roadside assistance||3 yrs/36,000 miles|
|Fuel capacity||19.0 gal|
|EPA city/hwy economy||16/25 mpg|
|Energy cons, city/hwy||211/135 kW-hrs/100 mi|
|CO2 emissions||1.02 lb/mi|
|Recommended fuel||Unleaded premium|