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2015 Dodge Challenger: Muscle Meets Road

By Frank A. Aukofer, February 7th, 2015

The 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT 392 demands respect and requires restraint; if not, it spells trouble for reckless gearheads.

Manufacturer photo: Inspired by the iconic 1971 Challenger, all 2015 models take on a bold new appearance that draws on the 1971 model's split-grille and split-tail lamp cues, updated to 2015 with four signature LED headlamp halo surrounds offset by piano black trim
Manufacturer photo: Inspired by the iconic 1971 Challenger, all 2015 models take on a bold new appearance that draws on the 1971 model's split-grille and split-tail lamp cues, updated to 2015 with four signature LED headlamp halo surrounds offset by piano black trim

This is the epitome of old-fashioned muscle. It's full-on Detroit iron, exploding with V-8 power and testosterone; a throwback to another time in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when these mutants were the Holy Grail for a particular cadre of U.S. automobile enthusiasts.

But there are huge differences between those original grunts and modern versions like the new 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT 392: Commenting on the muscle cars of that era, the late Carroll Shelby, impresario of cars like the Shelby Mustang GT350 and GT500, once described them to this reviewer: "Great motors; couldn't turn, couldn't stop."

strong>And that was true: they were known for their flaccid drum brakes, terrible steering, and sloppy suspension systems, but incredibly powerful V-8 engines. While the Challenger and Chevrolet Camaro disappeared for many years as buyers veered away, Ford's Mustang survived and now, for the 2015 model year, has morphed into a full-zoot lightweight sports car.

The Challenger remains closest to the original dogma -- except, of course, it is now a modern automobile with all that entails. In the SRT iteration it remains a big hunk of muscle: The SRT measures 16 feet 6 inches from bumper-to-bumper and weighs 4,251 pounds, or more than 2 tons. Although you can get the menacing look by buying the delicate cruiser six-cylinder model, the SRT's 485 horsepower, 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 will attract die-hard traditionalists.

Manufacturer photo: Inspired by the iconic 1971 Challenger, all 2015 models take on a bold new appearance that draws on the 1971 model's split-grille and split-tail lamp cues, updated to 2015 with four signature LED headlamp halo surrounds offset by piano black trim

And if you simply must have even more, Dodge offers the Hellcat option, which equips the Challenger SRT with a 707-horsepower, 6.2-liter V-8 that develops 650 lb.-ft. of torque -- enough to pretty much shred the tread right off the rear tires if you do a smoke out. Dodge says it is the fastest and most powerful muscle car ever.

But the regular SRT is certainly no slouch with a claimed 0-to-60-mph acceleration time of about 4 seconds. This is where the trouble comes in, right there in the throttle "tip-in."

The term refers to how quickly the engine reacts to inputs from the driver's foot on the accelerator pedal. On the Challenger SRT, it happens instantly and powerfully. If you don't feather-foot the throttle, you could wind up getting rudely acquainted with the back of the garage or that parked car across the street.

So the Challenger SRT 392 requires restraint even as it demands respect. Time and experience with the car should develop both to the point where it can be driven in a docile, cruising manner, saving the punch for those occasional stoplight sprints or two-lane highway passing.

The test car came with Dodge's fine eight-speed automatic transmission, which is well matched to the engine's power band, keeping it at the ready for any situation. A six-speed manual gearbox also is available, though not driven for this review. It likely is a beefy box, but it's hard to imagine that the manual would do a better job than the eight-speed automatic, which also has a manual shift mode.

Manufacturer photo: Inspired by the iconic 1971 Challenger, all 2015 models take on a bold new appearance that draws on the 1971 model's split-grille and split-tail lamp cues, updated to 2015 with four signature LED headlamp halo surrounds offset by piano black trim

With fat 275/40 performance tires on 20-inch wheels, responsive electric power steering, fully independent suspension, and tightly snubbed shock absorbers, the SRT 392 attacks curves with confidence. The ride is choppy but controlled on rough surfaces.

The long hood with power dome on top seems to stretch to the horizon and the feeling is akin to driving from the back seat, which is way less than accommodating to all but small children. Front seats on the test car were beautifully upholstered in perforated suede with giant seatback bolsters.

Visibility is surprisingly good considering the high beltline, although the rear C pillars are wide, making proper outside mirror adjustments essential.

If you crave old-fashioned American muscle car power -- and the adulation of like-minded others -- then the Challenger SRT 392 will sate your soul.

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