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2009 Dodge Challenger ReviewThe Good
In the 2009 Challenger, Dodge has created a great-looking retro-muscle car that offers three levels of old-school, rear-wheel-drive brute force, and they all handle considerably better than their '70s inspiration.The Bad
The only thing the Challenger has trouble passing is the gas pump, as the SRT8 gets slapped with a substantial gas-guzzler tax.
The CarGurus View
Muscle cars were never practical, and Dodge’s stylish, retro-classic Challenger fits that mold. The V6-powered SE trim attempts to break out by offering better mileage at a substantial power penalty, but the Hemi-powered R/T and SRT8 provide plenty of tire-smoking power at the expense of efficiency.
At a Glance
One of the most anticipated American retro-muscle cars, the Dodge Challenger appeared briefly in 2008. For 2009 the Challenger is here in earnest and available in three trims: SE, R/T, and SRT8.
The two-door, rear-wheel-drive Challenger seems to have hit the styling middle line – the new version is not an identical copy of the '70s icon, but it's easily recognized as inspired by it. The new version is big – 10.1 inches longer than a Mustang, its direct competitor - and weighs around two tons. It is a striking automobile that has good ride characteristics, owing largely to its use of the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger platform.
But of course it’s a muscle car, and this year's line-up offers muscle for every budget. Dodge has planned well with three trims. The “economy” SE packs a 250-hp, 3.5-liter V6. The midlevel R/T brings you to “Hemi” land with a 5.7-liter Hemi V8 that produces 370 hp when coupled with the standard five-speed automatic or 375 hp with the optional six-speed manual, which comes right out of the Viper. Open your wallet wider, and you’re at the top of the line: The SRT8 packs a fire-breathing 6.1-liter Hemi V8 that puts out 425 hp and offers the same transmission options as the R/T.
With any American muscle car, the focus and the fun lie under the hood, and the Challenger doesn’t disappoint. The SE's 3.5-liter V6 produces 250 hp with 250 lb-ft of torque and spins through a four-speed automatic - the only transmission available. The EPA rates it at 18/25 mpg. Reviewers feel the SE will appeal to buyers looking for a distinctively styled V6 coupe that will preserve some sanity at the gas pump.
Pop the hood at the R/T trim level, and you'll find a 5.7-liter Hemi V8 with Variable Cam Timing that produces 370 hp and 398 lb-ft of torque with the standard five-speed automatic. Or choose 375 hp and 404 lb-ft of torque by selecting the optional six-speed manual transmission, which uses a two-disk clutch system for easier shifting with lower clutch pedal effort.
A Multi-Displacement System, standard with the five-speed automatic, switches from eight to four cylinders during highway cruising to improve fuel economy. The EPA rates this premium-fuel engine at 16/23 mpg with the automatic and 15/23 with the optional manual. Reviewers figure the R/T will appeal to older buyers who’ve always wanted the Challenger of their youthful days. Dodge says the R/T in stock form can do the 0-to-60 jump in less than 6 seconds.
The SRT8 represents the Challenger’s ultimate performance trim, and its buyers will be interested in only one thing: power. Its 6.1-liter Hemi V8 produces 425 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque, making it the most powerful engine ever offered in the Challenger. This Hemi has been massaged with a high-performance cam and special cylinder heads, intake, and exhaust systems. All of this is set in a reinforced engine block, with a forged steel crankshaft, high-strength piston rods, and a special anti-foaming oil pan. Although SRT8 owners might not be particularly interested, the EPA rates the big Hemi at 13/19 mpg. Most road tests so far have focused on the SRT8 and have generated 0-to-60 times of 4.9 seconds.
Ride & Handling
The Challenger derives many of its structures, parts, and systems from the tried-and-true Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger/Magnum, though the Challenger’s wheelbase is 4 inches shorter. Unlike its rival the Mustang, strapped with a solid rear axle, the Challenger features a five-link independent rear suspension.
The SE is 420 pounds heavier than a Mustang V6 manual, and the R/T is 591 pounds heavier than the V8 Mustang, but not only do the Challengers match or beat the Mustangs' gas mileage, they also handle better. Basically, it’s the Challenger’s independent rear suspension vs. the Mustang’s solid axle. On a smooth surface, there’s little difference, but as soon as the road is less than perfect, the Challenger has an advantage, with its all-around independent suspension smoothing out irregularities that few solid-axle setups could deal with. Reviewers praise the big Challenger’s compliant ride and handling.
Some reviewers note similarities between the ride of the SE and the Dodge Charger – no surprise there, for they have similar mechanicals. The R/T adds a firmer suspension, bigger tires and brakes, and the optional six-speed manual transmission. The ride is firmer, but still compliant enough that reviewers didn’t object to its role as a daily driver. It should be noted that the six-speed manual comes in the Track Pak, which includes the twin-disc clutch, famous pistol-grip shifter, limited-slip rear end, performance steering, load-leveling shocks, hill-start assist (applies the brakes when you start on an incline to prevent roll back), metal pedal covers, and high-performance mufflers.
Moving on up to the performance peak, the STR8, the ride stays civilized, making it a grand highway cruiser. You also get a 180-mph speedometer, and Dodge claims that the “natural” – ungoverned - top end is somewhere above 170 mph. Yes, you can get into a lot of trouble very quickly with the big Hemi. The standard traction control system does a good job of translating wheel spin to forward motion, but you can turn it off and just melt the big 20-inch tires in billows of white smoke.
At all levels, the Challenger’s brakes do a competent job stopping the big coupe. Air ducts in the front fascia of all Challengers direct airflow to the front brakes, which Dodge claims reduces temperatures by 15% during heavy braking. The manual transmission has a solid feel to it and gets different mufflers that produce a deeper tone, while the five-speed automatic performs well with crisp upshifts and fast downshifts. Steering is quick, with less than three turns lock-to-lock, but reviewers feel the Mustang’s steering feels more precise, with the big Dodge exhibiting excessive power assist that limits steering feedback.
Overall, the Challenger handles quite well given its size and bulk, with little body roll, substantial grip, and smooth transitions in quick maneuvers – such as on a slalom course or when engaging the twisties.
Cabin & Comfort
Reviewers point out that original “pony cars” were based on standard sedans and usually had standard sedan interiors. Dodge has followed this formula in its new interpretation of the Challenger. Thus, sitting in a Challenger is much like sitting in a recent Dodge or Chrysler sedan. This is not to say the Challenger’s interior is an unpleasant place to enjoy all the attention it will undoubtedly cause, but it is the least exciting aspect of this exciting car.
Reviewers note that the interior was assembled with care, though the materials are rather ordinary. Most interior materials are dark, with chrome door handles, control knobs, gauge bezels, and a big chrome band around the shifter boot to brighten things up. The front seats are heavy bolstered buckets on the SRT8 that include leather outers and velour inserts to keep you planted. The large steering wheel tilts and telescopes for comfortable adjustment. Gauges – left to right – are fuel, tachometer, speedometer (140, 160, and 180 mph for SE, R/T, and SRT8, respectively) and coolant temp. These gauges are easy to read even in bright daylight, because they are recessed and plainly marked; the SRT8 gauges get a light facing with dark numbers all illuminated with a blue-green light that matches the digital display. The SRT8 also gets a message center in the tach that offers displays for 128 functions including timing your own 0-60 or quarter-mile, braking, and lateral acceleration performance. This message center is optional on the R/T.
The center console, which includes the infotainment and HVAC controls, has a moderate lateral slope toward the driver. Road view is good, with no large blind spots.
The big news is that both the back seat and trunk are fit for human habitation and use! Reviewers were surprised at the ample back seat space when compared to its leading competitor, the Mustang. The back seats will accommodate two smaller adults and a child, although with moderate legroom, reviewers recommend short trips. The back includes a fold-down armrest with cupholders, two central vents, and two integral headrests. The back seats also fold down, adding to the other big news: This muscle car has a usable trunk, sort of. The 16.2-cubic-foot trunk matches the Dodge Charger's and the Audi A5 coupe's, leaving the Mustang behind. Reviewers, however, found fault with the fairly high liftover required to get things into that storage space.
The Challenger shows its performance-car nature in its trims and their various option packages. The SE is the most civil. Standard equipment includes cloth seats, air, power windows,locks, and mirrors, a tilt/telescoping steering column, 60/40-split rear bench seats, cruise control, a four-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo, remote keyless entry, and 17-inch aluminum wheels. Options include leather, a power driver’s seat, a moonroof, a nav system, an upgraded stereo system, 18-inch aluminum wheels, and stability control with ABS and traction control.
The R/T adds body trim, 18-inch aluminum wheels and wider tires, a firmer suspension, stability control, and bigger ABS brakes. Options include leather, nav system, a more-powerful stereo system, 20-inch chrome-aluminum wheels, bi-xenon headlamps, hood-into-fender stripes and functional hood scoops – they bring cool air into the engine compartment, but not directly into the engine - the 128-function message center, and the Track Pack, mentioned above, which includes the six-speed manual transmission and a number of other performance mechanical upgrades.
The top-line SRT8 has Brembo brakes, a high-performance suspension, a limited-slip rear differential, functional hood scoops, a polished aluminum fuel cap, heated sport seats, and 20-inch forged aluminum wheels. Many of the R/T's options are standard here, including the bi-xenon headlamps and Sirius satellite radio. The SRT8 has a flat black rear spoiler and a deeper front spoiler. The Track Pack, upgraded Kicker audio system, nav system, hood stripes, and high-performance staggered-size tires are also options.
All Challengers feature dual front airbags and side curtain airbags. ABS with Brake Assist, traction control, and stability control are optional on the SE and standard on the R/T and SRT8. In addition, Hill Start Assist, automatic headlamps, and a tire pressure monitoring system are also available.
The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the '09 Challenger five stars across the lineup in front and side impact protection, and four stars for rollover protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has not yet tested the '09 Dodge Challenger.
What Owners Think
The '09 Challenger is a huge hit with owners, virtually all of whom rave about its looks and power. There are, however, a few issues worth mentioning, such as the gas-saver feature with the six-speed manual that makes shifting from first through fourth challenging at best, and the difficulty of accessing the rear seats from the driver's side of the Challenger. Additionally, a significant blind spot is noted when changing lanes and passing. The lack of an optional V8 and/or manual transmission in the Challenger SE also irks many owners.
Much of this is overlooked, however, by the vast majority of owners who can't get enough of the '09 Challenger's acceleration, performance, drive quality, Boston Acoustics sound system, comfort, engine rumble, six-speed manual transmission, fold-down rear seats, and, of course, its killer styling.
by Albert A. Dalia
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Dodge Challenger Questions
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Rear Wheel Squeals?
My rear drivers wheel squeals when reaching 60. Stops when brakes are used. If car is parked it doesn't squeal when moving again. Doesn't always make this noise (1-2 times a week).
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