What It Is
The only muscle car currently available that's comfortable and fun enough to drive on a daily basis.
Comfortable, modern, quiet, and big. Oh, and there's 470 horsepower awaiting orders under your right foot, too.
Keep your wallet handy because the V-8 Hemi engine is a thirsty one.
Driving the 2012 Challenger SRT8 gives you a smile you just can't wipe off your face until you exit the vehicle.
There's a running joke among our staff that the Dodge Challenger could be an entrant for Truck of the Year. No, there's no bed, and loading the trunk with gravel is some sort of heresey, but there's one inescapable fact about the Challenger: It's big. Really big, and its weight and size remind us more of one of its cousins in the Ram trucks division.
But despite that--and in a way, becasue of it--the 2012 Dodge Challenger SRT8 392 is a 470-horsepower, tire-burning, V-8-roaring, amazing looking muscle car that can suddenly transform into an excellent grand touring machine. Fine, at a racetrack, the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro will probably outrun it, but the Challenger is the one you'd want to drive to and from that track, and everywhere in between. The Challenger is the biggest muscle car offered by the Big Three, but it doesn't beat you up every time you get behind the wheel, and is so much more comfortable and usable on a day-to-day basis that it's practically in a league of its own.
What We DroveWe heard our Challenger SRT8 392 roll in before we physically saw it thanks to the 6.4-liter V-8 Hemi engine. Before we actually sat in it, the Challenger was already attracting attention, its Header Orange paint the same color of Velveeta macaroni and cheese. It's not as if the classically modern lines of the Challenger need the help, but if you want as much attention as possible, it's your best call; more sinister types may choose black.
Besides the ornate exterior color, our Challenger SRT8 tester was loaded to the gills with (almost) every bell and whistle Chrysler's performance division offers. As it stood, to purchase this exact Challenger SRT8, it would set you back a cool $49,910, including the $825 destination fee. Our tester included standard features like heated seats, a heated and leather wrapped steering wheel with the SRT logo stamped on the bottom, 20-inch aluminum wheels, and a 6.5-inch infotainment screen. Other standard equipment includes hill start assist; all-speed traction control; and electronic stability control, which includes an easy-access "off" button for when your inner adolescent demands a burnout.
Our 2012 Dodge Challenger SRT8 392 test car featured a couple of optional goodies. These included the Premium Sound Group package which features 18 Harmon Kardon speakers, a 900-watt amplifier, two 6x9-inch subwoofers in the front doors, and another two 10-inch woofers in the trunk for an extra $1,995. The five-speed automatic transmission, paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel, a push-button starter, racing stripes, and a sunroof were part of an option package that adds another $950. Our tester also featured 245/45ZR20 all-season performance Goodyear tires, a bargain at only $150. Tack on a $1,000 gas-guzzler tax and $825 for destination and you get our tester's price of $49,910. This price includes Dodge's 5-year or 100,000 mile powertrain limited warranty, a 3-year or 36,000 mile basic limited warranty, and 24-hour towing assistance.
Like most modern cars, the Dodge Challenger comes with a plethora of standard safety equipment. Front, side, and curtain airbags are standard, as is stability and traction control. There's no available backup camera, but backup sensors are available, and we strongly recommend them. Surprisingly, the Challenger can seat five, and actually has decent room in the rear seat, including two LATCH equipped positions. We're not going to call the Challenger a family hauler, but it is the only car in its class with five-passenger capacity.
The CommuteLet's get this out of the way early. The 2012 Dodge Challenger SRT8's V-8 engine provides a downright comical amount of power for a daily commute, as you'd expect from a 470 horsepower punch. And while we could go on for days about how the Challenger's 6.4-liter V-8 engine pulls hard forever and ever, there's more to the car than big power. The other end of the commuting equation is brakes, and here too the Challenger is overbuilt to the task. They're from Brembo, a company known for its racing brake setups, and bringing the Challenger's 4,100-pound bulk to a quick stop was no challege at all.
In an area that's vastly overlooked when it comes to the muscle car, albeit understandably, the Dodge Challenger is the best vehicle in its class for freeway cruising. Logging long miles a cinch thanks to both the seats and the adaptive damping suspension. The Challenger's two-mode adaptive damping suspension handled various road surfaces with ease, delivering a pillowy soft ride more reminiscent of a Ford Crown Victoria than a near-500-hp muscle car. The SRT-inspired driver and front passenger seats are among the most comfortable and supportive you'll find in any car, especially among its muscle car competitors.
The Challenger's interior is a little bit of a mixed bag. While screwed together well, and boasting mostly high-quality materials, its styling is austere compared to the exterior's outrageousness. It comes only in black, with just a few silver highlights to break it up. The instrument cluster is sharp when illuminated at night and through the Challenger's Electronic Vehicle Information Center, you can access a digital read-out of your speed, making it easier to see how fast you're really going. Both the radio and other EVIC functions are accessible through controls on both steering wheel spokes making both easier to interact with. Underneath the same spokes are controls to tune the radio and the volume level. However, rear visibility in the Challenger is a joke, with enormous pillars big enough to block a full-size semi if you're not being careful. Unfortunately, blind spot detectors aren't available.
The Grocery RunA Header Orange Dodge Challenger lined with racing stripes wouldn't be everybody's first choice to take to the local super market simply because of the attention-hog factor, but there's no denying it turned some heads. However, don't let the flashy styling fool you. Thanks to its bulk, the Challenger has a class-demolishing 16.2 cubic feet of trunk space. Translation: there's a massive cavern that doubles as the Challenger's trunk and can safely hold more bags of groceries than a family of five could consume in a week. If you're buying groceries for your entire neighborhood, the back seat doubles as a shelf and can hold even more cargo too. The trunk opening is huge, too, although the liftover is extremely high, and if you're not careful you'll find yourself banging things on the car's paintwork.
The Challenger's overall size, while helpful when it comes to carrying groceries and other cargo, proved to be a hassle when navigating through a busy parking lot. The overall length of the 2012 Challenger checks in at a staggering 197.7 inches and is 75.7 inches wide making parking spaces shudder on a regular basis. Pulling all the way into a parking spot also proves to be more difficult than first anticipated with the elongated hood and it's almost a sure-fire bet you'll hear the curb before it stops you. Backing out of a spot is just as difficult with the Challenger's massive blind spots blocking your view and no back-up camera to pitch in with the assist. We strongly recommend the optional backup sensors.
The Weekend FunSo do you do when you're tossed the keys to a 470-hp car doused in lurid orange for the weekend? Take it to a place where it can be showed off, of course. Over the course of its weekend stay with us, the Challenger was a GT muscle car and a show piece, attracting eyes the second we pulled into a parking lot for a country concert. The Challenger almost stole the show before it even began as countless concert-going folk stopped to ask how fast it went, and what was my inspiration behind picking that color.
Next to the V-8 Hemi engine, the Dodge Challenger's best feature is its ability to comfortably lap up as many miles as its driver can handle. It's easy to mistake the Challenger as more of a Grand Tourer because of its size and other refinements found both inside and out; show us another musclecar that's so quiet at speed. Then that mean ol' Hemi raises its ugly head when you step down on the accelerator and everything gets all confusing. Is it a Grand Tourer? Is it a muscle car? It's both. Rarely does a vehicle come along that's comfortable to ride in for long distances and has an engine that's this potent. Usually, they cost twice as much, and have a three-point star mounted on the hood.
SummaryThe 2012 Dodge Challenger SRT8 392 spent seven glorious days with us and we could have easily kept it for another week or four. But as a day-to-day driver, it has its drawbacks, like the huge blindspots, and the lack of a backup camera. And of course, if you enjoy that big 6.4-liter V-8, you'll drain the Challenger's 19.1 gallon fuel tank even faster than you think; over the course of the weekend, we had to fill the Challenger up twice, and that was just a combination of city and highway driving. On the other hand, the sound of that 392 V-8 Hemi engine does take the sting out of standing at the pump so often.
Other than those gripes, we enjoyed our time with the 2012 Dodge Challenger SRT8 392, and with 470 hp and neck-snapping looks, how could we not? There are very few things in this world that can put a smile on your face as quickly as the sound of a beefy V-8 engine accelerating to highway speeds. Combine that with the Challenger's modern yet retro looks and you have yourself a fun car.
But just what kind of car is it, exactly? As we mentioned earlier, the Challenger is too big to keep up with the likes of the Ford Mustang or Chevrolet Camaro simply because of its size. The Chrysler solution is in the pipeline now: the SRT Barracuda will be lighter, and will be better equipped to take on its Ford and Chevy competitiors. That lets Dodge keep the Challenger what it is now; an excellent grand touring muscle car, one that's essentially in a class all by itself.
Spec BoxPrice-as-tested: $49,910
EPA City: 14 mpg
EPA Highway: 23 mpg
EPA Combined: 17 mpg
Estimated Combined Range: 324.7 miles
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: Average
Notebook Quotes"The Dodge Challenger is a bona-fide experience, as American as Emeril Lagasse shouting BAM! over a Blues-Brothers-style loudspeaker during a Fourth of July parade at the Kennedy Space Center. Its glove box should be filled with KFC coupons. It should be on the state seal of Kansas, as well as the band’s." -Blake Z. Rong, Associate Editor
"SRT breathed pretty heavily on this car not too long ago, and it shows. The engine's more powerful, but the real changes are in the suspension and steering. It's much more buttoned down; the suspension does a much better job controlling all that weight now, so it's not bobbing around like crazy through turns."Keith Buglewicz, News Director