Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Dodge Challenger: Absolute coolness that's surprisingly practical

Call them retro cars, heritage vehicles, new/old muscle cars or whatever else you like, but make no mistake: they are back.
Cars that evoke the look and feel of a few decades ago, with their strong design themes and even stronger engines.
Case in point is the 2009 Dodge Challenger.


Sure, there are some differences between this model and its ancestor from the early 1970s.
This one is larger, heavier and, if you get the biggest engine, much more powerful. 
This Challenger has a 120-inch wheelbase and a back seat with 37.4 inches of headroom and 32.6 inches of legroom.
This muscle/retro/heritage car has three powertrains: a 3.5-liter, 250-horsepower V-6 that starts at around $21,995; a 5.7-liter, 372-horsepower Hemi V-8 that starts at around $29,995; and a 6.1-liter, 425-hp Hemi V-8 that starts at around $39,995. 
The middle version was our tester, an R/T trim model that is a ton of fun yet also completely practical. 
And don't let the old-school look fool you; this thing is thoroughly modern when it comes to features, including its six airbags, accented interior night lighting, MP3 and Bluetooth connectivity and keyless ignition.
Dodge says this model goes 0-60 mph in 5.5 seconds. 
While we found that to certainly be plausible, we never really got to put it to our own trial because it seemed like the red test car was particularly of interest to the local authorities. 
We contend that this would be a perfectly suitable family vehicle because of its roominess inside and sizable trunk.
Gas mileage isn't bad for a vehicle of this size, with EPA figures of 15 mpg city, 23 highway.
So imagine that: you could be the coolest mom or dad in the carpool lane. 
The cabin's roominess gives you the impression that you are in a sedan, and the comfortable seats don't do anything to dispossess you of that notion. 
Standard safety features, beside the airbags, include anti-lock brakes and electronic vehicle stability. 
Plus, the R/T version was plenty powerful and fun - you really don't need to step up to the SRT8 model with the 6.1-liter engine.
But if you do, you'll have the option of a six-speed manual transmission. Your gas mileage will drop to 13 city and 18 highway.
Whether an R/T or an SRT8, the Challenger will give you driving gusto. 
Hit the throttle and experience the roar of the engine and the explosive takeoff. 
Or cruise along the road leisurely and enjoy a silky smooth ride. 
There's an admirable firmness to the suspension, and you get great stopping power from the large disc brakes. 
And as was the case when we drove the SRT8 a few months ago, guys at the gas station, gym and sporting goods shop all wanted to give a thumbs up or ask a question about the car.
Who could blame them?
The Challenger is a cool piece of work.
Chrysler, Dodge's parent company, might be in bankruptcy protection now, but that doesn't mean it doesn't still know how to make some good vehicles.
If the company can make a few of the right business moves, and keep making really good cars like this one, it will be just fine. 


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