The general party line is ‘Americans haven’t been making cars the public wants to buy’. As a both a proud American and a car guy, I find these statements amusing because American car companies built SUVs for years for one very simple reason: Americans loved them and bought them in record numbers. The problem was not that the American car companies didn’t build cars people didn’t want to buy – as a ‘for profit’ company, that would be suicide. The world changed around them. FAST. And they got caught with their pants down. None more so than Chrysler.
They have been in the news as of late because they are being passed from one dance partner, Daimler-Benz and a hedge fund that was never in it to win it to Fiat. The party line was that the Daimler-Benz tie up never worked. To that, I submit the Dodge Challenger SRT8 6 Speed as evidence that it did. Follow me for a bit on this one, I promise it does make sense.
Back in 1998 Daimler Benz bought Chrysler and promised change within a renewed Chrysler. It took them a while - about 5 years - to bring together all of the good bits of each manufacturer. The heritage and power of Chrysler’s old school but very grin inspiring HEMI engine and everything else from the stewards of Mercedes Benz.
Change started with the 300C and Magnum then moved onto the Charger and now is at its highest level with the Challenger.
Yes, all the aforementioned cars are the same underneath but combining them with the all-important aesthetics (liberally borrowed from 1970) is where the Challenger makes a compelling case for Daimler and Chrysler.
Let’s start with a feature that these days could be considered an endangered species– the transmission. How many other V8 powered cars are on offer these days with a manual transmission? Suffice it to say not many. But that is exactly what transforms the already great character of this car. Yes, I am an old fashioned kind of guy that prefers to shift his own gears but in this application the engine is so much more alive. You feel as if the car is more flexible and fun with the hand shaker. Not that the automatic borrowed from Daimler Benz is bad, it is just the manual is SOOOO much better. For example, you can drive this 425 HP beast very gently and the transmission will respond accordingly by skipping a couple of gears to both improve fuel economy and make the car less aggressive. Truth be told, the 1-4 skip is not my favorite feature because no matter how you drive, the engine bogs and you really don’t see much of an improvement in MPG – not that you would buy this car to be accepted amongst a Prius love in. But I digress. Get on the gas and the manual transmission and engine work together to transform the SRT8 from ballroom to salsa dancer.
I will say this, the Challenger SRT8 does feel a lot faster than it really is. You get a whole visceral experience involving sound, motion and smell when you put your foot into it. Especially sound. You will find yourself holding gears and seeking out long tunnels and canyons just to hear the best German voice since Marlene Dietrich. (yes, the stereo is kickin’ but no need for it) However, if you were to look at this car by the numbers, it is not really the fastest thing out there. But really, who cares?
You have to understand what this car is all about. You literally climb to the top of Macho Mountain when you strap in. It is absolutely impossible to drive this car and not giggle like a schoolgirl.