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2009 Dodge Challenger R/T
2009 Chevrolet Camaro SS (top); 2009 Dodge Challenger R/T. Click image to enlarge

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2009 Dodge Challenger R/T and Chevrolet Camaro SS

2010 Dodge Challenger R/T
By Paul Williams

I’ve heard that if you want to meet people, you should get a dog. Dog owners always seem to find each other; friendships are made; puppies are born…

My recent experience is that if you want to meet people, you should get a Dodge Challenger. What is it about this car? People just seem to love it.

It’s not as flashy as the new Camaro, I’ll grant you, but there’s something about the shape, the profile or the sound, or maybe all of the above that attracts people to it. And this is not a car that’s just been released. Challengers have been seen on the road now for over a year. You’d think people would have “moved on,” but many still seem to genuinely enjoy the idea of this car, and it pleases them to see it cruising along.

2009 Dodge Challenger R/T
2009 Dodge Challenger R/T. Click image to enlarge

If you’ve been following our Made in Canada series, you’ll know our test car is a Challenger R/T with the six-speed Tremec manual transmission. It looks a heck of a lot like the original Challengers from the early 1970s, but it is a bigger, much heavier car (1832 kilograms; over 4000 pounds), and is an altogether more sophisticated vehicle than its ancestors.

Ours is Stone White Clearcoat, with a black stripe package. This is not common, and is something else that gets people’s attention. Thumbs are up when it comes to seeing (but not necessarily buying) Stone White Challengers, and in case you’re wondering, Hemi Orange, Brilliant Black, Tor Red and Bright Silver metallic are the top 2009 colours of choice (in that order). Orders for 2010 put black at the top, followed by Detonator Yellow (R/T and SRT8), red and silver. In a further nod to the past, Plum Crazy was recently announced as a colour choice.

The R/T, as you may know, is not the most powerful Challenger, sitting mid-pack between the six-cylinder, 250-hp SE or SXT and the 6.1-litre, 425-hp SRT8. Its 5.7-litre “Hemi” engine develops 376 horsepower at 5150 rpm and a stout 410 pound-feet of torque at 4300 rpm, and the transmission is a joy to use, generating a wonderful V8 roar from the engine as you accelerate through he gears. I like the pistol grip shifter; it feels like you’re piloting some kind of super-real video game.

2009 Dodge Challenger R/T
2009 Dodge Challenger R/T. Click image to enlarge

We had occasion to put the Challenger through its paces at nearby Calabogie Motorsports Park, and found that the twisting 5.05 kilometre circuit was not particularly this car’s forte. It made it around alright, but somewhat reluctantly in places. It understeers, and takes time to stabilize itself when entering and exiting corners (of which there are many at Calabogie). It should be said that a new set of tires would have helped, as those on our car have seen better days.

No, this isn’t a track star, but it is a cruising sensation. What a great ride! Wonderful seats, great driving position, healthy pulsations from the exhaust communicating that this is a car that’s ready to go.

But it’s not like you’re blasting around from stop sign to stop sign in a Challenger; it’s got more class than that. However, when you do drop down to second gear and step hard on the gas… oh, my, it’s a fine time indeed. That V8 sound is tough to beat.

However, the Challenger is… umm… challenging to drive in dense traffic. In parking lots if fills the entire space, and backing up is risky business. You really have to keep your eye on your surroundings, as a lot of them are blocked out by the huge rear pillars and short glass. Yes, the Challenger has an sexy look, but it comes at a price in terms of visibility.

2009 Dodge Challenger R/T
2009 Dodge Challenger R/T. Click image to enlarge

And in the rain, or on otherwise slippery surfaces, the Challenger is easily flustered. There is standard stability and traction control, but putting all that power into 20-inch rear wheels wearing very wide performance tires in the wet is best done very carefully.

After 14,000 kilometres (only a few of them driven by Autos) there are no rattles or squeaks emanating from our test car. It feels solid and well-built, and believe it or not, the trip computer showed 7.9 L/100 km on a recent 500-km highway trip. The car was on “cruise” at 115 km/h, and yes, there was a tailwind: but not bad, nonetheless.

Our test car stickers at $44,985, although it has a base price of $35,295, so there are nearly $10,000 worth of options on it. The bigger wheels, the manual transmission, the navigation system and HID headlights…it all adds up. Perhaps that’s why sales are slowing for the Challenger, with 182 sold in September, 2009 (down from 503 in April, 2009).

Then again, maybe it’s the kind of car you buy in the Spring, rather than the Fall. And moving into winter, I suspect many Challenger owners will put their toy to bed for the season. It’s bred for those hot summer nights, I think.

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