“I don’t wanna spend Canada Day in jail. I don’t wanna spend Canada Day in jail.”
The was my mantra for the week in the 2012 Dodge Challenger SRT8. This car was another of those lucky bookings I occasionally get. I was all set to fly down to a couple of events in the Detroit area, spending one day cooped up in a hotel room between events, when our Chrysler Group PR rep came to my rescue with this email: “Might be difficult to get a vehicle in Detroit as they’re all being used for the event… but I’m throwing this out there… if you want to drive to Detroit, I could hook you up with a Challenger SRT8 out of Mississauga and you would have a vehicle for your entire week.”
My response: “YES, PLEASE!!!!”
Not only did my hero spring me from a boring day in a hotel room (working, probably, ughh…), but he hooked me up with an epic car that I’ve been dying to drive ever since I read Paul and Grant’s Made In Canada Comparison of the Camaro and Challenger years ago. As you may recall from my Chrysler 300S review, I can get a bit patriotic about Canadian-built cars, especially ones built practically in my backyard at Chrysler’s Brampton Assembly. It doesn’t hurt that they are cool cars, too, ranging from this big, old-fashioned coupe to its platform-cousins, the Dodge Charger and aforementioned Chrysler 300, old-school large sedans with new-school, European interior quality (thank you, Fiat!).
Driving any Challenger is an event, but this is the SRT8 392. As in, the 6.4L Hemi V8 making 470 hp at 6,000 rpm and 470 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 rpm. Thank you SRT! (Street and Racing Technology, for those that care.) Incidentally, this is a gain of 45 horsepower and 50 lb-ft over the 6.1L Hemi that was recently put out to pasture. Fire it up, and every window on the block will rattle in its frame as the engine gurgles and barks to life. I spent several minutes just turning it on and off before I even went anywhere. And then did that repeatedly almost every time I went somewhere. A soundtrack I’d be love to have as a ringtone…
But listening to it is only the “How d’ya do?”, and I was thrilled to see that all this cacophony was hooked up to the six-speed manual. Actually, at first I didn’t notice, because the pistol-grip shifter seemed to me more like an automatic-type handle. It only dawned on me when I looked at the footwell and got confused about the third aluminum pedal off on the left…. And then I was, like, “Oh yeaaaahhhh.”
That clutch-shifter combo was a delight—a firm clutch pedal, but not tiring, even in the heavy stop-and-go jam I was in on the first leg of my road trip. The shifter isn’t exactly precise, but it slots through the gates with a rewarding grabbiness in the gates—very ‘manly’ feeling. It took a while to get the hang of the slightly rough action, but eventually the quick shifts started falling home with a bit of muscle.
On my part, I also kept expecting a couple thousand more revs for some reason and hitting the wall at redline until late in the week when everything really clicked. Some time on a closed course with this gearbox really helped get a feel for it—pedals aren’t ideal for heel-toe downshifting, but I think a bit more work and I’d have sorted it out. There’s nothing like track time or strip runs to really appreciate a car’s ability, especially 470 hp and 470 lb-ft worth of ability.
Ultimately, though, the tight runs of an autocross or even a tight track just aren’t the Challenger’s element. The brakes, despite being upgraded Brembo calipers clamping down on big discs (painting them red does nothing to improve performance, sadly), hauling that much weight down from speed will wear down even the best steel brakes, though they were excellent on the road, with good feel and control.