2009 Dodge Challenger R/T: American Muscle 40 Years Later
By Mike Blake, Carlisle Events
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Call it retro-muscle, the 2009 Dodge Challenger is true to its heritage; it looks feels and acts like an iconic 1960s-’70s muscle car.
One of the most head-turning vehicles I have driven this year, the Challenger evokes smiles, nods, double takes and knowing glances from those who saw the originals cruising the highways 40 years ago, and also those too young to have been around them, but who appreciate old-school American automotive power.
When the Dodge Challenger entered the automotive world as a HEMI monster in 1969 for the 1970 model year, to accompany its Plymouth sister, the Barracuda, in the “pony” wars for muscle car supremacy, it embarked on a brawny five-year run. One of the dominant street-legal racecars of the era, its initial cycle ran out in 1974. The name Challenger was revived for a six-year life from 1978-1983, as a Mitsubishi Galant trim sold in the U.S. by Dodge dealers, but it wasn’t a true Challenger and was, ostensibly, a Plymouth Sapporo.
The true Challenger came to life again in 2008, as a luxury muscle car, a 4061-lb, homage to America’s “pony car” era. In the day, muscle was all about the power it took to race heavy Detroit iron and steel down the boulevards and drag strips. The original Challenger came standard with a 318 c.i. (5.2-liter) V-8 that rumbled out 230bhp. Optional engines moved all the way up to a 383 c.i. (6.3-liter) V-8 that galloped out as much as 335hp.
My test ’09 Challenger in R/T trim (the R/T was made famous in the ’60s and ’70s as a Road and Track trim) was powered by a 5.7-liter HEMI engine (about 347.8 cubic inches) rated at 372hp and a whopping 401 lbs.-ft. of torque. The manufacturer says the vehicle will blow away a zero-to-60 sprint in 5.5 seconds, and my test ride, tuned only as one you would drive off the car lot, was able to do nearly as well, with my best times hitting 6 seconds flat and 14.6 for the quarter-mile.
Off the line, low-end torque smokes the Goodyear Eagle tires, and mated to a five-speed automatic transmission, a flat power curve allows you to pass vehicles with ease while at speed. There is a bit of fishtail when you get on it from a start or stay on the accelerator through a tight turn, but that’s real sports car handling and many of us enjoy that. On the autocross, the low center of gravity works well and turning and maneuvering are responsive and confident.
EPA rated at 16/25, my week of tests around Pennsylvania and Maryland, with admittedly more quick starts and exhibitions of acceleration that one would normally make with a family car, my ride still averaged 21.1mpg covering about 500 miles.
Now, this reverent monument to America’s street-racing heritage is built in Brampton, Ontario, Canada, and U.S. and Canadian parts make up only 56 percent of the vehicle, and the revered HEMI engine is manufactured in Mexico, but it still waves flags for the days gone by of American auto supremacy.
I wish my test vehicle had been coated in classic HEMI Orange paint, but it looked classy and classic nonetheless, in Bright Silver Metallic exterior paint, accented by a Dark Slate Gray interior.
Exterior styling, the stuff that turns heads, includes a recreation of the original look, with a long, raised performance hood accented by scoops, recessed grille highlighted by round dual headlamps and retro dual rectangular exhaust outlets.
The interior is reminiscent of a ’60s-’70s vehicle, but with electronic upgrades – navi, XM radio, digital driver information, keyless start, illuminated entry, power windows, air conditioning and 8-way power seats with lumbar support – the nostalgic look of yesteryear is appropriately modernized with all the best of today’s technology and comforts.
The trapezoidal theme of the door-panel cove and gauge cluster, dark headliner and slanted shifter console are inspired by the original Dodge Challenger, and interior space is better than generation-one, with a roomy 39.3 inches of headroom up front with 37.2 in row two, leg room of 42.0 inches and 32.6 and shoulder room of 58.2 and 53.9.
Attending to safety, the ’09 Challenger is outfitted with anti-lock 4-wheel disk brakes, brake assist, hill start assist, all-speed traction control, electronic stability programs, advanced multi-stage front air bags, supplemental side-curtain air bags and tire pressure monitoring system. With a low, steady center of gravity and solidly-built frame and body, the 2009 Dodge Challenger earned perfect 5-star ratings for driver- and front-passenger protection in a frontal crash along with 5-star driver and rear-passenger ratings for side-impact protection.
Aggressively base priced at $29,320, this is one of the car steals of the year. And even with all the upgrades for sound, entertainment, comfort and sunroof, my test vehicle added, bottom line was still under $40,000.
At $38,245, with all this history, muscle and style, this HEMI-fied icon could be one of the car buys of the year for serious car fans and those who just want to really enjoy American cars again.
Visit www.CarlisleEvents.com for more on the automotive hobby.
Mike Blake, former editor of KIT CAR magazine, joined Carlisle Events as senior automotive journalist in 2004. He's been a "car guy" since the 1960s and has been writing professionally for about 30 years.
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