The Challenger Ups The Ante

It=92s unusual for a niche vehicle to experience increasing sales years
after its introduction, but that=92s exactly what has happened to the
Dodge Challenger.
Oddly enough, 2010 has been the best year set for sales of the big
coupe, so it=92s no wonder that the 2011 model has received some
upgrades to keep it in the sales race. The new top of the Challenger
line is the 6.4-liter SRT8 392, which adds more power, a revised
suspension and brand-spankin=92 new white leather seats. About that 392
name: It=92s derived from the revised engine=92s displacement, which
emulates the drag race and top-speed challenge winning =9260s 392 HEMIs.
Of course, this engine is entirely modern.
We took it for a spin around Northern California=92s Infineon Raceway to
see what=92s changed.
Power to spare
Last year=92s SRT-8 packed a 6.1 liter HEMI V-8 and produced 425
horsepower, hardly making it a slouch. The new engine ups the ante to
470 horsepower and 470 lb-ft. of torque. More of a good thing.
That second number is important because the Chrysler engineers wanted
to dramatically increase the way Challenger drivers perceive the
=93shove in the back=94 delivered through the six-speed Tremec manual or
five-speed Mercedes-Benz-designed automatic transmission. The
additional displacement and new tuning is apparent from throttle tip-
in; this engine is stronger across the rev band and feels genuinely
heroic at times.
The old SRT8 was occasionally less than magic on a racetrack, mostly
due to an unwillingness to negotiate low-speed corners. This year=92s
car features new shock absorbers, revised suspension bushings and grip-
friendly negative camber on all four corners. The improvement is
apparent from our first turn at Sonoma=92s Infineon Raceway, where the
Challenger hangs on gamely through the slow stuff and holds additional
corner speed in the fast back section.
Grip is up to 0.93 g=92s on the skidpad, Dodge says, but numbers only go
so far to explain the wholly revised driving experience.
It=92s a real pleasure to steer and although it will never trouble a
modern Corvette on-track, a 370Z might not be completely safe.
Inaugural Package shines
Get your order in quickly, because 1,492 2011 Challenger SRT8s will be
available as the =93Inaugural Package,=94 featuring racing stripes and
rather outrageous interior. Our sources say that all of the available
cars have been spoken for, either through customer pre-orders or
dealer inventory requests, so be prepared to pay solid money to get
behind the wheel of one.
The package is strictly cosmetic, however; all the go-fast stuff can
be found beneath the skin of every 2011 SRT-8 model.
We have plenty of laps around Infineon under our belt, and although
our time in the Challenger was limited, we feel confident in
predicting that it will stay close to a Ford Shelby GT500 in most
situations and probably put a little gap on the Chevrolet Camaro SS.
You can=92t beat the laws of physics, but with this latest round of
suspension tuning the Dodge boys have managed to make it a pleasure to
steer this rather large and bulky coupe around a racetrack.
Entering Infineon=92s Turn One at over 100 mph will make a believer out
of all but the staunchest domestic denigrator.
Leftlane=92s bottom line
It isn=92t cheap and it won=92t be easy to get, but the 2011 Inaugural
Edition will be a real treat for everybody lucky enough to put one in
their driveway. We=92ll take a regular 6.4-liter SRT-8 in black or
possibly the new =93Green With Envy=94 for all the performance at a
slightly reduced cost.
But any way you paint it, the changes add up to more precision and
more power for Dodge=92s retro-modern coupe.
-----
Patrick
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