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Driving the New Dodge Challenger

~ Although it won’t be in showrooms before 2008, the retro Challenger is sure to be a hit for Dodge ~

As the light turns green, I gently let out the clutch and give the throttle a tap. What I'd really like to do is slam the pedal to the floor to see how long I could keep the tires spinning. But the cop parked up the block probably wouldn't like that idea - any more than my co-pilot, a Chrysler engineer assigned to make sure I don't trash this one-of-a-kind, hand-built prototype.

It'll be nearly two more years before anyone in the media get to push the limits of a production Dodge Challenger, but there's still something exciting about driving the concept car that first drew so much attention during its debut at the Detroit Auto Show last January.

The unabashedly retro prototype recently got the go-ahead for production, and will debut sometime during 2008. Precise details are being kept a closely guarded secret, though has picked up a few intriguing tidbits.

After taking a lot of heat for converting the original Dodge Charger into a modern-day coupe, the automaker will keep things honest this time around, the Challenger coming out only in two-door form. Though you can see significant similarities between the original muscle car and the modern version, the new concept is a wee bit larger, points out Tom Tremont, Chrysler's chief of advanced design.

With subtle tweaks, look for the '08 production version to closely resemble the concept. It will share platforms with the Charger which, in turn, is based of the same "architecture" as the popular Chrysler 300C.

Expect Hemi power, says Chrysler's number-two executive, Eric Ridenour, starting with the standard, 5.7-liter version of the V-8. During a recent interview, Ridenour demurred when asked whether there'll also be a high-performance SRT version. The answer, we are told, is a tire-spinning yes, with horsepower likely to reach well above 400. Considering the competition, such as Ford's 500-hp Mustang Shelby GT500, that would seem an obvious necessity.

There's a beautifully dressed, 6.1-liter version of the Hemi under the hood of the show car, but while this is a "runner," it's not designed for burnouts. Even if I took advantage of the massive V-8, I'd wind up leaving the low-slung, cobbled-together rear suspension on the first pothole.

So, I gingerly steer it down Main Street, in Royal Oak, Michigan, a trendy community that attracts precisely the sort of gearheads who'd be the prime market for Challenger in '08.

Even on this blustery hot mid-week morning, there are plenty of folks wandering around, and the show car is drawing lots of attention. A kid in a Mustang drives by, toots his horn and gives the thumbs-up. A young woman on the sidewalk nudges her boyfriend, who turns and stares at the bright orange coupe.

The strongly retro look of the Challenger concept proved controversial when it was unveiled last January. It's Chrysler's style to go for the polarizing exterior design; you love it or leave. But the striking interior gets kudos across the board. Let's be honest, current Dodge products are pretty basic, with far too much Kmart-class plastic. The prototype Challenger is richly appointed with just the right amount of chrome and a set of eye-pleasing gauges.

According to Tremont, the production car will be "very close" in appearance. We just hope that is true both inside and out.

It's hard to say what the U.S. new-car market will look like by 2008. Some "experts" are predicting oil prices of $100 a barrel and $4 or more a gallon. Whether there'll be any market left for muscle cars is far from certain, but barring that sort of fuel crisis, the initial reaction to driving the iconic Challenger concept can only be described as positive. It's the sort of design you want to see and be seen in.
Source: BusinessWeek online
by Paul A. Eisenstein |
Thursday, August 3, 2006
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