06
Nov
08

That Don’t Impress Me Much.

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Dodge had a pretty elaborate arrangement at the last NYC auto show. One could gather from my brief nod to their set-up that I was not blown away by their production. It sort of went down like this: Instead of the usual glitz and dazzle the companies put on these press conferences to coincide with their car reveals, we were treated to, essentially, a full stage production of “Our Dodge”, with sets and actors, starring CFO Jim Press as the stage manager. A section of the stage would illuminate and bring us all into the homes of demographic stereotypes who hammed up a “gee, I wonder what’s the perfect car for me?” performance, to which Press was readily available to answer, with the eventual reveal of a Challenger model.

When they finally got around to it, they revealed the Challenger SRT/8, and it was indeed a sight to behold on that stage. We’ve all been strung along for a while on pictures, concepts and the usual teases, but finally seeing it in the metal was worth it. It looked like it would definitely be a handful and was very much worth sitting through the Dodge song and dance.

I have to admit, there was a pinch of personal interest since this car, and the forthcoming Camaro, is to directly compete with the Mustang, of which I am a proud owner. I don’t want them to do bad or something mean spirited like that. That won’t affect me one way or the other, I have my car and I’m happy with it, The success or failure of one of its rivals can never change that, just as any new Camaro or Challenger owner could care less about the Mustang being popular or not. If anything, I want them do be awesome, so I can get to drive them and for there to be more amazing cars on the road. Regardless, I must admit a bias, especially when I say that the Challenger was terrible.

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Yes, terrible! And my disappointment with the car began well before the orange gargantuan languished in my driveway. The new Challenger was preceded by press kits and campaigns heralding the return of a classic American muscle car to the modern age, with a 6.1 HEMI blowing out horses out its ass on the street, and leaving tire marks actually shaped like mom and apple pie, but it’s all false.

This car is Canadian.

The Dodge Challenger is assembled proudly in Ontario, with all the pretense and style of a good ol’ U.S. performer with a touch of twang to seal the deal. I was fooled too, but it’s all a front. This car is Shania Twain.

Taking a good look at “Shania” off the stage and in person, you realize that she’s a bit too wide and kind of a fugly-face. She makes a beautiful noise, to be sure, but once you climb in her, the fun dissipates. Yes, I’m still talking about the car.

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The interior is capacious, with a lot of bland hard plastics and lack of any style, save for the gauge cluster, which has a cool font, and also displays performance meters, such as G-meter, a 0-60 timer and a quarter mile timer. The shifter, I felt, was too far back, and getting a hold of it when you need to is a pain. When I planned to up-shift using the “driver interactive manual” (more on that in a moment), it was easier to just slap it with my forearm instead of actually taking hold of it.

The Navi/radio (do we have a unifying name for this yet? Center console?) was decent. The combining of touch screen and actual buttons made on-the-fly adjustments easily, and more sophisticated inputs didn’t take too long to figure out. I had issue with ultra bright screen, which give you that unsettling feeling of sitting too close to the TV in the dark, that florescent ambiance that makes you nauseous. If there was a method to dim it without dimming the entire dashboard, I couldn’t find it.

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The back seat is proportionate with the car (huge!), so no optical illusions there, this car is big. Combine the Florescent lights and the cheap yet spacious interior with Sirius Satellite’s Blue Collar comedy channel, and you are essentially driving a Wal-Mart. It’s one of the few cars I’ve driven by myself and have noticed an absence of passengers, being alone in it feels like sitting by yourself in an empty house.

A house that’s big and orange. The centerpiece of which is it’s 6.1 liter HEMI, a real impressive power plant that should more than make up for all of its shortcomings. To lay out all 425 horses on the pavement should be a blast.

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But the transmission. Oooh, the transmission. If ever something or someone dashed your hopes, it would pale to the utter disappointment that this transmission produces. The automatic that they’ve fit in there is the same one that’s featured in the Charger, the one with the offensively named “driver interactive manual,” a name that says “it’d be ridiculous to let you handle this car on your own. We’ll do all the work, you just steer and wiggle the shifter a bit if it makes you feel cool.” The HEMI makes a beautiful noise at the top end of the revs, but attempt to impress your friends by a quick rev in neutral, and you’ll be met with the embarrassing noise of the rev limiter neutering you at 4K.

When you get it moving, the car moves, there’s no question about that. Many onlookers, and there were indeed many, make a real effort to catch up to you for a quick look, but the Challenger just squirts away, unimpressed. I was dogged by a guy in his track-day BMW for 20 minutes and just left him at every intersection. The suspension is supposedly top notch, but the car maneuvered and swayed like a schooner. Highway rides are dull, but at least the HEMI makes them short.

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However, and this is a big one, despite all of the transmission issues, and everything else, it is impossible, impossible not to burn out at every launch. I defy any of you to resist. It may be that it’s the only amount of fun that the car can produce, and that it’s incredibly easy to do, but this car’s sole purpose was to lay rubber down.

The Challenger gives you perfect launches every time. They are not disappointing in and of themselves, but the transmission robs you of the feeling that you did them. If I’m starting to sound repetitive, it’s because the car’s self management really takes away from the experience you’d want with a muscle car. After a few days, I just didn’t want to drive it anymore.

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Shania spent a precious full day in the driveway of the short time I had it for, and I wasn’t bothered. I had my fun with it, and now it was just a big, awkward car to shuffle around in. It’s weird being so unenthused about the vehicle you are in while still getting so many thumbs-ups. Why? What are they admiring? Did they like the color? Was it the stats they’ve read or perhaps the pedigree? Perhaps it was the hype. There was a good chance that those who acknowledged me hadn’t experienced the Challenger for themselves, and when, one night, I received a wildly positive reception by a young Asian man in a really, really nice BMW M3, I was kind of taken aback. His car was black, well kept, with work done on it, but discreetly so. The car was fast, and loud but only when it needed to be. I know for a fact that it was more agile and fun to drive. His car was vastly superior to mine, not to mention the complete opposite of the experience I was having. I was confused as to why he would be giving me the time of day, let alone being impressed by the Challenger. What did other people see?

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The week before, I was backing out of my driveway, like I do every day, and right after commenting on how particularly good the Mustang looked that day, I scraped the front F#%king corner on the curb. It was time again to visit Ian at North Bellmore body & fender. ( on a side note, the man/woman who opened their door in such a hurry to leave/enter the mall that you’ve dented my door and ripped my vinyl, may wolves eat your children in front of you.) The timing worked out since we had the Dodge, so when she was all fixed up, V and I headed over with the Challenger to get her.

V drove the Challenger on the way back, and I finally got to see the car through someone else’ eyes. The Dodge looks pretty cool when it’s on the move. The noise was great, and it was exciting to drive around, and this was when I realized that in order for me to enjoy the Challenger, I had to be in a completely separate car. From here, I could take in all the good points without having to deal with the handling, snooze worthy ride, and the overall nanny-ing of the computers.

Depending on how you look at it, you can say that the Challenger is a powerful and extremely easy car to drive, or a powerful car for those who don’t actually know how to drive, but want to do all the wheel spinning and posing.

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I’ll say, however, that the ’09’s soon plan to have a proper manual, pistol grip shifters, and a true limited slip diff (I couldn’t get this car up a friend’s driveway…more embarrassment), so a lot of what I say has a good possibility of becoming obsolete. Hell, I’ll even get my hands on an ’09 for a follow-up. Until then, Challenger, don’t get me wrong, I think you’re alright, but…ah, you know where I’m going with this.

-Alex K-

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2 Responses to “That Don’t Impress Me Much.”


  1. November 7, 2008 at 1:43 PM

    Well, at least I was able to drive this one somewhere (yes, I did drive the Audi, but only around the block), thanks to the automatic transmission.

    I love the pictures!! But where’s the one with the driver standing in front and the sun setting in the background? You should include that one =)

  2. November 9, 2008 at 4:08 PM

    Interesting thing is that the regular R/T is supposed to make a better noise, handle much better, comes with a manual, and is a good bit cheaper as well. Where did i get this Information? Top Gear Magazine.

    My point being that if you get the chance, try out the a R/T version with a manual, it is supposed to be more entertaining in the areas where the SRT8 lacks (mainly handling)

    If i had to live with that car though i suppose one mod i would need to do is make a tinted vynl cover for the center console, as i too hate bright screens ruining the atmosphere of the car.


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