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2009 Dodge Challenger R/T Review


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2009 Dodge Challenger R/T

2009 DODGE CHALLENGER R/T TO MUSIC CITY
Another Hot MOPAR in Nashville, TN
From a Shunpiker’s Journal
By Steve Purdy
TheAutoChannel.com
Detroit Bureau

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When we traveled to Nashville last year reviewing the bright red Dodge Charger SRT8 we ran out of time before visiting all the places we intended. There is so much to see and do in and around Music City that we couldn’t quite manage it all. The main disappointment was missing the Lane Motor Museum where a collection of about 150 old and odd cars, mostly of the European persuasion, reside. Also, we didn’t spend nearly enough time hanging around Honky Tonk Row where you can just wander from one bar to another listening to all kinds of live music. And, we missed out on the great history lessons to be had at the Hermitage, home of our seventh, and in his day most controversial, president.

So, when planning this trip back to Nashville we asked the good folks at Chrysler for a new Dodge Challenger SRT8 thinking that might make an interesting comparison. A logical story idea, don’t you think? Well, they didn’t have an SRT8 available so they offered a Challenger R/T instead. I quickly acquiesced - as would you, I’ll bet.

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As it turns out the R/T may be a better car for the trip anyway. Many reviewers have offered the opinion the it makes the most sense of the three Challengers offered by Dodge. One reviewer offered the opinion that, like the three bears story, the SE is too cool, the SRT8 8s too hot and the R/T is just right.

The V-6-powered SE with base price of just $21,995 is good for 250 horsepower (plenty adequate) with EPA mileage ratings of 17/25. It comes only with an automatic transmission.

The big 6.1-liter Hemi powers the SRT8. Who needs to pay nearly $39,000 to get 425 horsepower? This hot one still gets pretty good mileage, though, at 14/22. Dodge recommends both Hemis use premium fuel but with modern electronic engine controls premium is not required. In most cases we’ll get better mileage and performance with premium. The SRT8 also just comes with automatic transmission.

This R/T packs an impressive 372 horsepower and 410 lb-ft of torque in this updated 5.7-liter Hemi V8. The R/T is the only version in which we can have a manual transmission, by the way, and shows a base price of $30,550. The R/T is rated at 16/25 mpg, zero-to-60 mph in 5.5 seconds, top speed of 172-mph and will do the ¼-mile in 14 seconds. Great numbers, I’d say.

Chrysler offers a lifetime limited warranty on powertrains and 3-years, 36,000-miles on everything else.

Our test car was delivered on a cloudy day that did nothing to enhance the Dark Titanium Metallic paint color. It just looked washed out compared to the brash orange we so often see on this car. At first blush it looks huge. Challenger shares the architecture of the Chrysler 300, just shortened a bit in the wheel-base department. That unspectacular color, though, did not seem to make it less noticeable. On our first drive into town we experienced plenty of stares and approving gestures. It’s an attention-getter even in this subtle color.

In spite of its bulk (just about two tons, in fact) this Challenger does a remarkable job of referencing its 1970s progenitor in physical appearance. With long bulging hood, vertical nose, short deck and classic roofline you could easily forget this is a modern car. The 235/55R18 Michelin Pilots look impressive filling the wheel arches. The optional 20-inchers with even lower profile come standard on the SRT8 and look like racing tires. Challenger’s horizontal, full-width grille opening with round headlamps squinting out from under the lip looks especially retro, as does the neat polished gas filler door on the left rear flank. The shapes and proportions of this car look great from any angle. I say “Bravo!” to the styling team that worked on this car.

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Inside, the retro theme continues. The simple dash with four round gauges under a conservative brow shaped much like the original does not include oil pressure or amp gauges. But who needs those in this day of electronic diagnostics. A shinny center stack trim piece sort of hints at carbon fiber – perhaps just a nod to modernity. Controls are mostly simple and easily manageable. Materials are not particularly luxurious but simple and well-fit, and everything is dark, dark, dark. Leather seats in this R/T are modestly bolstered and generous. I’m astounded that the driver’s seat has no seat-back release making rear seat access nearly impossible. Sure you can patiently run the power seat controls forward each time you want to put something back there, but that is cumbersome and annoying.

Most glaringly retro inside is the classic pistol-grip shifter, slanting slightly forward and toward the driver, controlling our Tremec 6060 6-speed stick transmission. Wow! It feels wonderful. Short throws, tight tolerances and little resistance make running through the gears a treat, particularly with the lower 3.06 rear axle ratio. With all that torque we can easily start off in 2nd gear and go around square corners in third when we want to. I couldn’t resist shifting more than I needed to just to enjoy the experience.

My only criticism here is a feature built into the transmission that tries to force a 1st to 4th shift under some circumstances. I know this is a fuel economy feature but I couldn’t quite discern what criteria the transmission was using to engage that function so that I could avoid it. It is monumentally irritating when it surprises me, requiring me to repeatedly bump the shifter firmly to the left to defeat it. Does anyone like that gimmick?

One of the best features of the Challenger R/T is its sound. Whoever tuned the exhaust system did a magnificent job. The dual exhausts with cool rectangular tips emit a throaty melody whether starting up with a rumble or accelerating with a roar. Even from inside the car we can feel as well as hear that guttural, V8 sound so reminiscent of the old days of raucous glass-packs.

The drive to Nashville was a pleasant one – no rain, no traffic snarls and no tickets. Passing through Indiana, though, we felt like we had run a gauntlet. I’ve never seen so many cops hawking traffic along both I-69 and I-65 and trying to ruin the day for average motorists. Indiana is at risk of becoming the new Ohio in terms of oppressive speed enforcement, I’d say. These cops on the freeways are the new government revenuers, it seems.

With cruise control engaged most of the way, set at barely extralegal speeds, we managed 24.9 mpg on premium fuel. In 6th gear we’re turning just a wisp under 2-grand at 80mph, but I kept it closer to 75 most of the way.

THE LANE MOTOR MUSEUM

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Adler, Tatra, Citroen, Panhard, Messerschmitt, Goliath, DKW, NSU . . . you name it – if you’ve never heard of it, it’s probably here. This fascinating guy, Jeff Lane, has amassed a collection of odd-ball cars unequalled anywhere, I’d venture to say. A slim, trim, 50-ish fellow with long pony tail and the command of detail we associate with an historian, the congenial Mr. Lane took us though his display of more than 150 cars housed in an airy, bright old building that used to be a bakery. With cars arranged loosely by nationality we find an entire corner filled with dozens of derivatives of the versatile Fiat 500, another corner features miniature cars and rows through the middle are dedicated to the Czech Tatra, BMW and other Germans, a row for Brits and an astounding number of Citroen 2CVs including one with two engines, one front and one rear, that Mr. Lane drove to the museum from Colorado where he bought it.

In another corner is a gathering of interesting Nissans and Datsuns. Since moving corporate headquarters to Nashville, Nissan has not invested in their own museum so the Lane is temporary home to their collection.

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Natural light streams in even on this cloudy, rainy day making for one of the brightest, best lit car museums we’ve seen – and we’ve seen many. In the front row we find the largest collection of Czechoslovakian Tatra automobiles - many of which rear-engined - outside of its native Eastern Europe. To the provincial American visitor those Tatras look pretty odd, as do most other cars in the Lane Museum.

One-of-a kind vehicles like the polished aluminum, exaggeratedly aerodynamic 1946 Hewston Rocket and the amazing, wood-bodied, propeller-driven 1932 Helecron (shown at the prestigious Meadow Brook Concours d’Elegance last year) constitute a major percentage of the collection. Even the better known brands like Saab, Fiat and Honda are represented by rare, unusual and sometimes one-off examples.

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Another genre of emphasis is that of tiny cars. You’ll find them all over the museum. One whole corner is dedicated to three-wheelers, scooter-based cars and other little things, both cute and homely.

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For those among our curious readers who want to spend a few hours browsing this unique collection just go to their Web site: www.lanemotormuseum.org, select the link called “ Our Cars” and you’ll find photos and descriptions of vehicles in this unique collection. Or, if you’re anywhere near Nashville, visit. My pretty blonde, who can quickly get bored with some of my old car adventures, was intrigued throughout the tour and asked nearly as many questions as did I.

THE 42ND ANNUAL COUNTRY MUSIC AWARDS AND HONKY TONK ROW

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We hadn’t planned it this way but our visit coincided with the Country Music Awards show. Our plan did include spending some time on what they call “The Honky Tonk Highway,” a neighborhood of bars, clubs, restaurants and shops running along Broadway from the river westward and north on 2nd Avenue for a few blocks, where music wafts out the front doors onto the sidewalk like the smell of fresh-baked bread. We got to combine the awards with the bars.

Street parking is limited but we found a spot a few blocks away toward the city center where convoluted traffic patterns and parking restrictions had us going in circles for a while. It was a short walk to the corner of Broadway and 5th Avenue where the CMAs were about to be presented at the modern Sommet (‘so-may’) Auditorium. After a couple hours of strolling up and down Broadway, poking our heads into a dozen different bars with elevated, busy stages by the doors, we settled into a front row table to listen to a four-man country band at the legendary Legends Corner bar. Dressed-up folks headed for the Sommet Auditorium streamed by offering more free entertainment.

The full moon was flitting in and out of high clouds and the temperature was cool but mild. Cowboy garb mixed with upscale regalia gave the intergenerational crowd a unique stylistic look. Blue jeans with a tux jacket, cowboy hat and boots for the guys and sexy black dresses for the girls seemed to be the most popular look. One old fella with all the cowboy stuff, a long white pony tail and a long black coat pranced through looking like someone famous. He might have been for all we knew.

About time for the CMAs to start we went across the street to another great old bar called Rippy’s. The program was on big screen TV without the sound while we had a bite to eat and listened to an amazing duo of guitar and banjo picker/singers who could easily have been part of the awards, they are so talented and adept at their craft. Only one out of thousands of aspirants will make it in the music business there in Nashville but they’re all there trying, which makes for wonderful free music everywhere.

THE HERMITAGE

Our main history lesson for the week covers the period of the late 1700s into the middle of the 1800s - the life and times of “Old Hickory,” seventh president of the US, Andrew Jackson. His history is documented at his home/plantation/estate called The Hermitage, now a beautiful interpretive park off Highway US 70 about 8-miles east of Nashville. Anyone interested in history will find it quite an inspiring place to visit.

Andrew Jackson was an orphan who made good. Through the law, the military and politics Jackson made his mark as a great man often with distain for convention. He was an unrepentant slave owner, a modestly successful plantation owner and a natural politician. His childless family life was quite a love story including the adoption of a nephew and the tragedy of his wife’s death just a few days before he left for Washington to be the president.

Archeological digs are concentrating on understanding the lives of the slaves that lived at the Hermitage. Little has been written or has even been known about their mostly anonymous lives. Jackson was noted for treating his slaves reasonably well while demanding more from his overseers.

DIMO’S RESTAURANT

The only notable eatery encountered on this trip was Dimo’s on the corner of Commerce and Third Avenue, downtown at the edge of Honky Tonk Row. A tour guide had mentioned that as the place the locals go for a good meal – so that’s where we went. It is usually our goal to find the place the locals frequent and we are seldom disappointed.

We were on our way to the Opry but fortunately left enough time for a half-hour wait to get seated. They were managing a group of 25 and did an admirable job. Once inside service was quick and the food was both first rate and reasonably priced. I had the least expensive steak on the menu – they call it a “club steak” - perfectly cooked, tender, pink, juicy and less than 10-bucks. The menu listed my steak as a 6-ouncer but it sure looked bigger to me. I easily finished it though. My pretty blonde had the 10-oz chopped steak that really tasted like steak.

GRAND OLE OPRY AT THE RYMAN

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We finished our week immersed in the Grand Ole Opry at the old, restored Ryman Theater downtown. On the National Register of Historic Places, the Ryman was the home of the Opry from WWII days right into the 1970s. It was carefully restored by the Gaylord Entertainment folks and tours are conducted daily.

The Grand Ole Opry has a beautiful new theater out on the west side of town at the Gaylord Opryland complex in which to perform but from November through January each year the Rockettes put on their holiday show there. The Gaylord Opryland Hotel, also part of the complex, is famous for nearly a dozen acres of gardens under massive glass roofs where we wandered around watching some of the final holiday displays being finished – another not-to-miss place to visit.

Sitting on the hard wooden pews in the balcony of the Ryman for the two-hour Grand Ole Opry is both a history lesson and a musical treat. The unusually mellow acoustics come from all that musty old wood, I suppose, which is steeped in decades of history – history that is nearly palpable in that old theater built by a riverboat captain in 1892 for his preacher and pal who needed a place to gather his flocks. During the tours folks can go up on the stage and sing a few bars if they like.

Blue Grass music was introduced at the Grand Ole Opry and each of the four half-hour sets included a Blue Grass group. Not being a country music fan I didn’t know most of the performers but the range of acts was enthralling. Oldsters, youngsters, cowboys and country gals performed their hearts out for us. And they all talked about what an honor it is to perform in the Grand Ole Opry, especially at the Ryman.

BACK TO THE CAR

Our latest night out was a drive to the little town of Dixon, about 40 miles west of Nashville, to visit my pretty blonde’s Uncle Bob and his wife Mary. They live off a serpentine country two-lane with little or no shoulder. We left their charming little dog behind as we went into town to the popular country buffet restaurant. It’s a good thing we don’t eat like that all the time.

We spent many more miles driving after dark with this car than with most. I’m impressed that the dash lights turn down to a gentle ghostly glow with no extraneous lights glaring. They don’t go all the way off but nearly so. I’m amazed at how the dash lights of many cars barely turn down and leave some glaring light to make me squint during night driving.

After getting nearly 25-mpg on the freeway cruise down to Nashville, our city mileage went to just about 20-mpg. We experimented with both regular and mid-grade finding premium the better choice in spite of slightly higher cost. No difference in other performance characteristics was noticeable.

And, after a week of road time in all kinds of conditions I can say I’m pleased with the suspension calibration – not too stiff, not too soft . . . just right like Baby Bear’s porridge. This fully independent system with conventional struts in front and a 5-link system in the rear suits this sporty car much better than the solid rear axle of the original 1970s version.

I remain amazed that there is no seat-back release on the driver’s side, making the rear seat essentially inaccessible. This might be a deal-breaker for some. The car is otherwise reasonably practical with good trunk space, easy ingress and egress into the front seats, and convenient details like cup holders and cubbies,.

Another niggle that caused me some consternation is the hill-hold function programmed into the clutch and transmission. When stopped on a relatively steep upslope the car will hold steady for three seconds after releasing the break, giving us time to engage the clutch without rolling backward. It took some getting used to. Perhaps I’m experienced enough with a stick shift that I found it unnecessary. If I were too quick off the clutch I was working against the brake. If I was too slow, it started rolling backward anyway. After a week with the car I was getting used to it and found it modestly helpful. Given a choice, I’d do without that feature.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time with the Challenger R/T. And we hope Chrysler will stay afloat long enough to build lots of them. The few criticisms I had of the car are insignificant when compared to the overall ambiance, style, performance and character of this modern muscle car.

Though we are not yet at the point of letting government dictate the design of our automobiles we’re getting too damn close.

Better get one of these while you still can.

© Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved