Recently a friend and I were cruising around South Florida in yet another new hybrid that was hitting the market. (See “A is for Apple, C is for City” in my blog listings).
The usual procedure at these events is for one person to drive and the passenger to “navigate” by reading off the turn-by-turn instructions provided by the sponsor. Sounds simple, but it still isn’t unusual to miss and turn and get completely lost. At least for me it’s not.
In this particular instance, there was no danger of that. We really weren’t following instructions because we knew exactly where we were, Russ having lived in the area for a nearby of years and the magazine where both of his had once worked being not far away.
Not having to follow a map and guidebook thus gave me time to rag on Russ about how “efficiently” he was driving, which is to say, not very. During our pre-drive briefing we had been shown how a screen in the dash could tell us how we were doing as far as getting the most gas mileage out of the vehicle.
Russ was getting only three bars out of a possible five.
“To hell with it,” he said, or something like that.
After a few minutes watching the screen proved monotonous, and my mind began to wander to other things, as it often tends to do.
Hey! What do you think about the NCAA tournament?
Wait. Where was I?
Oh, yes. I was riding with Russ.
“You know,” I said at one point, “I feel sorry for future generations. I mean, this is a nice, fuel efficient car and gets you from Point A to Point B” -- in this case Point A to B to C to D to E and beyond -- “but it’s not very high in the fun-to-drive category.
“Not like say, that Camaro SS I had recently.”
“Well, get used to it,” Russ said, “because this is what we’re going to be driving in the future. The government’s going to see to it for that.”
Fortunately for car lovers, especially those aficionados of Muscle Cars, those days are still a ways off in the future and the further off the better, I think.
In an odd, and fortunate, coincidence of timing, a couple of weeks later I found myself behind the wheel of a Dodge Challenge SRT8 392. Oh, what fun!
This was not the first time I had had the opportunity to drive this behemoth. The first was a few months ago at the Rides-n-Smiles event sponsored by our media organization, the Southern Automotive Media Association. I was able to drive the Challenger around the road course at Homestead-Miami Speedway under track, but not race, conditions, giving children from cancer support groups and their families from Baptist Children’s Hospital rides around the course.
It was a remarkable performer.
Even though I originally was disappointed when I found it had a six-speed automatic transmission and not a manual, I soon came to love the paddle-shifting on the track with the automatic. I must confess if for some reason I missed an upshift, the car took car of that automatically for me.
So I had a lot of fun with it, and from the smiles on the children’s faces, they did as well.
Having it for a week under street conditions simply re-affirmed that good first impression.
The Challenger SRT8 delivered to my driveway was a different color scheme from the one I had at Homestead but alike in every other way with the same automatic transmission mated to the standard 6.4-liter HEMI V8 engine.
HEMI could be construed as some loose translation of “brute” because that’s what the Challenger SRT8’s power plant is, a real brute that pumps out 470 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque to its 20-inch rear wheels. (I don’t know why I wrote it that way. Makes it sound as if the ones up front may be different sized. They’re not. They are 20-inches as well.)
Getting behind the wheel, I soon was back using the paddle shifters driving around city streets just as I had done on the track, which is not what I usually do when offered the opportunity to use the steering wheel-mounted paddles in town.
A waste of time, usually, but it just seemed like the natural thing to do in the SRT8. Placing my hands on the hefty steering wheel -- I loved the way it felt -- at the 10-2 position put my fingertips right at the paddles (left paddle downshift, right paddle upshift).
And if I pulled up to a complete stop, the transmission automatically went into first gear, which took away some of the work. Usually I prefer the car not to do that but to stay in whatever gear I have selected, even if that means a couple of extra flicks with the left paddle to get it down from third to first when I stop. But I was even willing to let the Challenger do that work.
Of course, there are plenty of other performance-oriented coupes and sedans out there. What gives the Challenger its special place is its styling. Well, that and the heart-pumping, solid bass sounds emanating from the dual exhausts. At the Homestead event, I kept the windows lowered to get the full effect of all that power to the children. From their reactions, I think they liked it. (I did, too.)
The Challenger’s exterior is very much line with the original 1970s Mopar icon with its wide, muscular stance, simple color scheme with racing stripes down the middle, and functional hood scoops.
Dodge lists the seating capacity as 2/3 front and back, though it might get a bit crowded in the back with two full-size adults. Also, it’s not all that easy to squeeze through the tilted front seats to get back there no matter what size you are.
As a driver, you sit in a nice position with all the basic controls within easy reach. Nothing complicated to figure out there either, just basic controls for audio, A/C, and all. The one problem is that your view to the rear isn’t the best because of the thick rear roof pillars that could, at the right angle, block the sun.
But the ride for the passengers is as comfortable as the handling is fun for the driver. The SRT8 is a race-capable car that is just as at home in everyday situations as it is on race weekends. (For the record, you can milder versions of the Challenger with all its looks but not the horses for around $25,000, or about $19,000 under the SRT8’s MSRP.)
The bottom line here is that although I won’t argue with those who might be horrified at the 14 mpg city, 23 highway fuel economy ratings (with premium fuel recommended) and argue that more more efficient vehicles, such as electrics, are our future, it’s still good to there is still room for American Muscle i the form of the Dodge Challenger SRT8, Chevy Camaro SS or Ford Mustang/Shelby GT5000.
At least for today.