It may have been years since they graduated to Porsche or gravitated to Lexus, but for those drivers or collectors who came of age in the muscle-car era, the nostalgic allure of a made-in-Detroit V-8 rarely fades. The new Dodge Challenger SRT8 manages to straddle both worlds. It’s a Hemi-powered ringer for the 1970 original, but unlike the scary-handling, no-brakes monsters of yore, this retro Challenger is modern, safe and sure-footed. And it doesn’t require a six-figure investment to buy and maintain.
A 425-horsepower Hemi V-8 emits a savage rumble, propelling the Dodge to a top speed of 170 mph. When you slow down, you’ll have to field compliments: With its cop-show attitude and blue-collar origins, the Challenger attracted more enthusiastic crowds than some Ferraris I’ve driven. Though this two-ton Dodge is vastly beefier than its predecessor, its well-tuned suspension and massive brakes let it handle and stop as surely as it accelerates. Of course, the Challenger slurps fuel like a throwback street racer, managing just thirteen miles per gallon during my weeklong workout.
Only 6,400 high-performance SRT8 models will be made available in the States, and the Dodge is already setting off a frenzy. The first production Challenger fetched a cool $400,000—ten times the showroom price—at January’s Barrett-Jackson collectors’ car auction in Scottsdale, Arizona. (More-affordable 2009 Challengers arrive this fall, including a V-6 model, starting at just $21,995.)
Upping the entertainment value, a performance computer in the instrument panel lets drivers test and record everything from stopping distances to acceleration. Like some unholy arcade game, the computer flashes the car’s best previous score, practically daring drivers to beat it. (My top times were a 4.9-second blast to sixty and a 13.4-second quarter mile at 106 mph.) Just be warned: Those flashing lights in your mirror don’t belong to Starsky and Hutch.
Dodge Challenger SRT8
Engine: 6.1-liter Hemi V-8
Torque: 420 pound-feet
Weight: 4,140 pounds
Zero to 60 mph: 4.9 seconds
Top Speed: 170 mph