A massive 6.4 liter (that’s 392 cubic inches, kids) Hemi V8 propels this tire-smoking muscle car throwback. With 470 horsepower and a sport-tuned chassis, the Dodge Challenger SRT 392 tries to combine modern technology with 1960s panache and muscle-car style. It’s a big, bold car, a fast-moving tribute to the leaded-fuel heyday of the American V8. Its high 12-second quarter mile times, however, are achieved in spite of having neither a four-barrel carb nor “four on the floor.” Instead, the 2014 Hemi Challenger gets multiple catalytic converters, computerized fuel-injection and a six speed manual transmission.
We generally thought the Dodge Challenger to be one of the better retro-styled cars of the 2000s: it’s not as cartoony as the Camaro or as bland as the (now discontinued) Thunderbird or as just-awful as the Chevrolet HHR. If anything, the new Challenger looks almost like a 1973 Challenger, seen by a near-sighted person without her glasses. If an artist sat down to draw the original Challenger from memory, maybe only having seen it once or twice, she might come up with something a lot like the 2014 Dodge Challenger. The new car retains that classic “coke-bottle” design, originally, it was said, meant to evoke the shape of a woman’s hips.
We liked the sound of our Billet Silver Metallic test car’s big V8 and the feel of those 470 lb ft of torque. We didn’t like the car’s poor visibility and ponderous heft. The large C-pillars and tiny side-mirrors made backing up a matter of faith and patience. Why the lack of a rear view camera on this otherwise pretty well equipped $50,000 car? We also found that the foot-operated E-brake, a common feature of large American sedans and SUVs, felt out of place in a manual-transmission coupe. Fuel economy with the Challenger SRT was as expected: lousy. We averaged 13.5 mpg in mixed mostly city driving.
Driving the Challenger SRT 392 feels something like driving a high-powered motorboat for the land. This is a two ton car, and while it will stop and turn when asked to, it doesn’t seem as happy about it as some lighter pony cars. Despite the Challenger’s stiff springs and dampers, it’s just too heavy not to exhibit significant body roll in hard corners. There’s lots of grip, but using it sometimes means imagining someone shouting “hard to starboard,” every time you crank the wheel to the right. The giant Brembo brakes are strong, but the Challenger pitches forward uncomfortably when asked for a quick stop. The pistol-grip shifter feels natural to use, the clutch has a positive engagement, and the steering is very light, with just a hint of Old-American-Car boatyness to it.
The Challenger SRT is perhaps the truest in spirit of today’s throwback muscle cars. Want a 1960s V8 American car but with airbags, crumple-zones and catalytic converters? The Dodge Challenger SRT 392 is about as close as you can get. So if that’s your thing, then point the Challenger’s long nose down the fading blacktop of the former Route 66, get on the gas and listen to that 392 Hemi sing the one song it knows. When you get tired of that, you can try the XM Radio or the Uconnect MP3 player and listen to whatever you want.