Muscle cars are back, and they’re better than ever. In an age when small displacement, turbocharging, and weight savings is the norm, the three big domestic automakers are announcing the return of big, bad, American muscle with more and more power. The past year has been particularly interesting, because Ford brought back the Shelby GT350 (reviewed here) with its flat-plane crank V8, and the General redesigned the Camaro. The biggest news was over at Fiat-Chrysler, with the introduction of the all-new Hellcat models (reviewed here).
Not everyone needs 707 horsepower in their muscle car though, and I find my personal sweet spot elsewhere in the Mopar lineup. We requested the specific model that I thought to be the best all-around package for the Mopar muscle junkie, and our friends at Fiat-Chrysler delivered. We were handed the keys to a 2017 Dodge Challenger SRT392 painted in the iconic “Go Mango” paint scheme, with a mean black stripe kit providing the perfect contrast to the orange. With so many different configurations to choose from, engines ranging from a 3.6L V6 to a supercharged V8, the Challenger line is sure to have something for everyone.
The SRT392 has a 391 cubic-inch V8, or in layman’s terms, a 6.4L naturally aspirated pushrod iron-block Hemi. It’s a similar unit to the supercharged 6.2L in the Hellcat, and a healthy step up from the 5.7L shared throughout the Mopar family. The 6.4L pushes 485 horsepower at 6,000RPM, and 475 lb-ft at 4,200RPM. In short, it’s a screamer and pays proper homage to the Challengers of nearly half a decade ago. There’s no artificial engine noise pumped in here, or turbochargers, or even direct injection – this is pure unsullied muscle. Just firing up the ignition flexes the entire car as the eight cylinders come to life. Give the throttle a little blip and you’re rewarded with a confident roar, and it immediately returns to a rumbling idle.
Dodge offers an eight-speed automatic transmission with cylinder deactivation for fuel savings, but let’s be realistic – the proper way to do a Challenger is equip it with the six-speed manual. The pistol-grip shifter from the previous model is now gone, but the ball shifter is cocked about 30-degrees forward and to the left, another throwback to the 1960s and 70s. The clutch is heavy, as it should be, but surprisingly easy to modulate, and the shifter’s throws are long but definitive. It’s pretty difficult to miss a shift, especially once you’ve been driving the car for a while.
For a car that weighs more than two tons, the SRT Challenger hustles itself with surprising prowess. It reaches 100 km/h in just 4.4 seconds, and colleagues from other publications have seen quarter mile times in the mid-12 second range. If shifts are pulled off efficiently and an ideal launch is achieved, this car is properly fast. For everyday driving though, the Challenger delivers an engaging driving experience and checks off all the right boxes for muscle car aficionados.
Throttle response is decent enough, and second-gear merges onto the highway are sure to put a sheepish smile on your face. At wide-open throttle, the SRT392, like all real muscle cars, is eager to lay a patch of rubber on the pavement. Stability control systems work particularly well here, and when using Launch Control (standard equipment), it’s not too difficult to get or maintain grip. Even when cornering, the steering has plenty of bite to it, turn-in is crisp, and the Challenger remains controllable. There are SRT Drive Modes that allow you to configure suspension, steering, and engine mapping for your ideal setting.
It’s seriously big, and when opening the trunklid it’s easy to see just how much space is wasted just in order for it to maintain its infamous stance. The thing is, weight savings was never a priority on this car – it possesses enough power to make up for its size. Performance is a requirement, but maintaining the muscle car characteristics was the top priority during development. Plus, heavy as it may be, the Hellcat will demolish nearly anything else on the road. The SRT392 also uses its 15.4” front rotors and six-piston Brembos to lurch to a stop very quickly when asked.
Fuel economy suffers with the manual transmission because all eight cylinders are always firing, but for performance junkies and diehard muscle car guys/girls, the trade-off is completely worth it. Our weekly commute cycle returned 15.6L/100km, which consisted of a ton of city driving and liberal acceleration (you seriously won’t be able to help it – it just sounds that good!). However, we took an extended highway trip close to Niagara Falls, ON, and that returned 9.5L/100km round trip, which means as a highway hauler, this thing will not disappoint or break the bank. The SRT392 requires 91-octane premium fuel and will perform even better on 93 or 94-octane.
From a design standpoint, the current-generation Challenger, redesigned for 2015, isn’t a huge evolution from the previous model. This retro-styled muscle car looks like the modern iteration of the original, and does a good job of it. The SRT392 has an aluminum hood that Mopar claims is “Viper-inspired”, mean LED halos on the headlights, LED tails, an SRT front lip, decklid spoiler, and massive 9.5-inch wide 20” Slingshot wheels. The car looks like the beast it is, sounds the part, and will make your neighbours envious.
We drove a previous-generation Challenger R/T (reviewed here) just before the new one was launched, and the largest complaint was the interior, which felt very dated at the time. The new model addresses this and implements the latest infotainment (8.4” UConnect) that Fiat-Chrysler has to offer, including unique SRT pages for measuring lap times, acceleration timers, and power delivery numbers. The instrument cluster still has potential, as the analog gauges use a font that looks rather cheap, and the colour information display within the cluster isn’t the most responsive.
Something I really liked was the driving position. It’s unconventional for performance driving, but the big, heavily bolstered SRT seats are immensely comfortable for everyday cruising. The Challenger may not be the most refined track rat but I’ll be damned if it isn’t a fantastic grand tourer. Immersing yourself into the cabin, forgetting about the plethora of plastics around and just enjoying the Harman/Kardon sound system and leisurely sinking into the seats, it becomes increasingly easier to eat up the miles in an effortless manner.
Dodge will sell you a Challenger SXT, the base model, for as little as $31,795. At that price it comes with most power options, a much smaller screen, and the V6 motor. Our SRT392 is the second-from-the-top model, positioned just below the insane Hellcat. At $57,495, it comes equipped with leather interior, all of the SRT goodies and performance options, including the big wheels. Curiously, Dodge charges $1,000 extra for the manual transmission – this is the opposite of most other manufacturers, who charge extra for automatic or dual-clutch setups. Our tester had a few options including the $250 Technology Group (rain sensing wipers, auto high-beam), Pirelli P-Zero performance tires, and accessory stripes. The total sticker just crested over the $60,000 mark.
The 2017 Dodge Challenger SRT392 isn’t the fastest, nor is it the most efficient or the sharpest. I prefer this to the Hellcat every day of the week though, and if I’m daily driving it, I’ll have it over a Camaro SS (reviewed here) or a Mustang GT, too. It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough to engage the driver on every push of the throttle, every perfectly rev-matched downshift, and every time it’s hustled around a track. If road trips are an occurrence, the Challenger will provide a smoother ride than its rivals, and offers better seats too. If you don’t need 707 horsepower and want the same menacing looks, the SRT392 just might be your ticket.