Me, my mom and the Big Yellow Challenger
summit daily auto writer
It’s funny how, even as an adult, you tend to continue to seek validation for your efforts – an issue that’s probably even more pronounced for journalists, given the downward spiral of our industry.
But I think I managed to score some points last weekend when a visit by my parents coincided with my fourth time in the saddle with the Dodge Challenger, this year’s tester being a 425-horsepower SRT8 Hemi edition in eye-melting “Detonator Yellow” clear coat.
My mother was not unimpressed by the full-blown retro experience of the Challenger, the most brutally fast, loud and in-your-face domestic product on the market, hands down.
The new Camaro, we conceded, comes pretty close, and the new Mustang is hot in its own way, but Challenger takes that 1960s muscle car thing and updates it in the most compelling, true-to-its-roots fashion.
Some things never change from the old days, however. While the exhaust note is breathtakingly badass (even a low-speed tap on the gas produces a rumble that’s more macho than Burt Reynolds’ spread in Cosmopolitan), the two-door Challenger lived up to its name when it came to loading and unloading my parents from the back seat.
There is a slow-moving power slider on the driver’s side, but the passenger side access meant much futzing around with the very, very heavy, leather- and fabric-coated front seats. Once I had the folks in the back, they were impressed by the roominess and even the visibility, but access was definitely an issue.
Therefore, it seemed more imperative to spend as much time rolling along on those fat, sick 20-inch wheels and generally enjoying the Challenger’s wide and comfortable stance, so they couldn’t actually get out of the car.
The big Dodge shares its basic platform with the cop-issue Charger and is therefore stable and secure up to 171 miles per hour, though I did not actually test this out with my parents in the car, as that seemed like a bad idea (my dad probably would have gone for it).
A year ago in Big Orange, the last SRT8 Hemi Challenger I got to drive, some friends and I managed to go very very very fast in an impressively stable and secure fashion; with the family aboard, it seemed a little more prudent to play around with the head-snapping, off-the-line acceleration (0-60 in less than five seconds) but to keep things low-key otherwise.
Low-key isn’t exactly Challenger’s forte, however, especially with the bumble bee-yellow paint job. It’s a car, as a friend said, that you can get arrested in just sitting there, so each and every movement on public roads requires tremendous self-confidence and care.
Pop the hood (as you will repeatedly be asked to do) and onlookers will gush at the tractor-sized Hemi. Remarkably, non-“Vanishing Point”-styled driving will return as much as 19 miles per gallon, not so bad for a 6.1-liter machine that matches its horsepower with 420 lb.-ft. of tire-melting torque. Brembo brakes also allow full stops from 60 in 110 feet. Ouch.
The looks are cunning, a clean-cut and slightly rounded modern redux of classic Challenger slab design, complete with the eyebrow over the head lamps and a mean, mean line of brake lamps. The chrome fuel filler lid, the carbon fiber hood stripes and even those oxygen-sucking hood inlets all add to the old-school charm.
Challenger can be driven in a law-abiding fashion, but the deeper, darker awesomeness always lurks around, so you have to make some careful decisions. Especially with mom in the back seat. Parental supervision also required me to play the Foghat and Iron Maiden a little more quietly on the 522-watt, 14-speaker sound system.
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