Compared to the current crop of pony cars, the 2010 Dodge Challenger makes decent numbers and looks the part, but after extensive time with the car, we've come to realize that the Challenger is really more of a draft horse than a thoroughbred. Compared to the latest Ford Mustang and revived Chevrolet Camaro, the Dodge is bigger and heavier and a bit less sporty. But one could argue that this suits the latest Challenger just fine, as it's the same niche that the Challenger filled when we last saw muscle-car offerings from Detroit's Big Three more than 35 years ago.
The Challenger's size and heft are largely due to its Chrysler LX underpinnings, the same platform used in the full-size Charger and 300 sedans. This platform also incorporates several Mercedes-Benz suspension components left over from the DaimlerChrysler days. Relative to the Mustang and Camaro, the Challenger offers far better rear passenger space, a smoother ride and a more serene cabin. Its interior design lacks the competition's styling panache, but you can get plenty of modern conveniences, including Bluetooth, navigation and iPod connectivity. And on the outside, the Challenger's large proportions and sinister retro styling give it street presence that Ford and Chevy simply can't match.
Don't get us wrong -- the Challenger still hauls its ample hindquarters when you drop your right foot, at least with either of the optional V8s under the hood (the dull base V6 is another matter). The 2010 Challenger R/T induces plenty of grins with its 5.7-liter 376-horsepower V8, while the 6.1-liter, 425-hp mill found in the SRT8 is even beastlier. Acceleration times are a bit behind the curve, but the eager burble from either V8 will undoubtedly inspire nostalgia, not to mention the occasional apocalyptic burnout. Cornering performance is compromised by the Challenger's bulk, light steering and (in non-SRT8 models) soft suspension and tires, but like the original Challenger, this one excels on boulevards and highways.
Ultimately, the Challenger's appeal depends on what kind of pony car you're looking for. If you want the best all-around modern muscle car, the quick and maneuverable Mustang should be your choice. For pure speed in a straight line, the Camaro takes the prize, unless you can afford the Shelby GT500 Mustang. But if you want a muscle car that will win over your heart with honest retro vibes and add a healthy measure of interstate-gobbling, passenger-coddling practicality, you're not going to find anything better than the 2010 Dodge Challenger.
The 2010 Dodge Challenger is a large sport coupe capable of seating five passengers. Trim levels are arranged in line with the three engine choices, from the base V6-powered SE to the V8-equipped R/T and the maximum-performance SRT8.
The SE starts off with 17-inch alloy wheels, full power accessories, an eight-way power driver seat, air-conditioning, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat and a four-speaker CD/MP3 player with an auxiliary audio jack. Stepping up to the R/T gets you 18-inch alloy wheels, sport-tuned suspension and steering, automatic headlights, foglights, interior ambient lighting, minor exterior enhancements and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.
The all-out SRT8 adds twin black stripes and dual scoops to the hood, 20-inch alloy wheels, a sportier suspension and steering than the R/T, a limited-slip rear differential, Brembo brakes, automatic xenon headlights, heated side mirrors, leather upholstery, heated front sport seats, cruise control, a premium audio system, keyless ignition, Bluetooth, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a performance meter that measures acceleration, braking and lateral G-forces. Many of the upgraded features can be added on lower trims as options.
The optional multimedia system adds some high-tech flavor with Bluetooth, a hard-drive-based navigation system and digital music storage. For the SRT8, a 13-speaker premium audio system with a six-CD changer, satellite radio and iPod integration is also available. Other optional features, depending on trim level, include a sunroof, high-performance summer tires and digital music storage.
For the R/T, one may order the Track Pack, which features a six-speed manual gearbox (in place of the automatic), a limited-slip rear differential, hill start assist (prevents rolling back on hills with the manual), a recalibrated performance steering system and bright pedal accents. A late-availability Super Track Pack is said to include the regular Track Pack's equipment plus high performance tires, a larger rear stabilizer bar, performance brake pads and a revised stability control calibration with an "ESP off" function. There are also numerous retro-themed Mopar accessories available.
Unlike the Dodge Challenger's distinctive-looking exterior, the interior is quite bland. A few styling cues are reminiscent of Challengers past, like the large beveled dashboard and distinctive shifter knobs, but overall the interior design and experience aren't much different from what you'll get in a rental Dodge Charger or Chrysler 300. The interior materials are of decent quality, at least, with plenty of soft-touch surfaces.
The front seats in most Challengers are wide and flat, which doesn't do much for lateral support, but they're comfy for long-distance drives. The SRT8's have better bolstering and are also covered in leather and faux suede. In back, the rear seats are surprisingly roomy for two adults, with good headroom and decent legroom. The backseat also features a fold-down armrest and a split-folding back. At 16.2 cubic feet, the Challenger's trunk boasts impressive cargo capacity for this segment.
The base Challenger SE is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 that makes 250 hp and 250 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed automatic (up from last year's four-speed) is the only transmission for the SE. The R/T sports a 5.7-liter V8 that makes 372 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque. This engine is paired with a five-speed automatic as standard equipment, with a six-speed manual available as an option. Choosing the R/T's manual transmission ups power output to 376 hp and 410 lb-ft. The thumping SRT8 comes with a 6.1-liter V8 packing 425 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque, with a choice of either the automatic or manual transmission found in the R/T.
In recent testing, the Challenger R/T reached 60 mph in 5.9 seconds, and the Challenger SRT8 took only 5.3 seconds. While impressive in their own right, these times put the Challenger a few beats behind the Mustang GT and Camaro SS.
Fuel economy registers an EPA-estimated 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway and 20 mpg in combined driving for the V6 Challenger SE. The R/T is nearly as efficient at 16/25/19 mpg with the automatic transmission -- the manual gets 1 mpg less overall. The SRT8 is the thirstiest of the bunch, at 14/22/16 mpg.
While performance numbers for the 2010 Dodge Challenger are impressive, the feeling behind the wheel leaves us a bit flat. The midrange R/T's soft suspension and tall sidewalls soak up ruts and bumps quite well, but handling is compromised as a result. In the hands of our experienced test-drivers, the Challenger SRT8 can weave through the slalom cones with impressive speed, but on curvy roads in the real world, even this high-performance Challenger variant lacks the nimbleness and steering feel to keep up with the Mustang GT.
As a boulevard cruiser or road-tripper, though, the Challenger shines. The cabin remains blissfully quiet at highway speeds, and the smooth ride makes the miles glide right by. In town, the quiet cabin may even be too quiet, as the wonderful burble from the big V8 engines is muffled to near silence. Power down the windows, though, and you'll get to enjoy the Challenger's big-displacement soundtrack.
All 2010 Dodge Challenger models feature stability control and side curtain airbags as standard safety equipment. Antilock disc brakes with brake assist are standard on R/T and SRT8 models and available as an option on SE models. In the rain, these brakes keep the pads close to the rotors, minimizing the amount of water collected on those surfaces for better braking.
In government crash testing, the 2010 Challenger scored a perfect five stars for frontal and side-impact protection for driver and passengers.
For 2010, the Dodge Challenger SE now comes with a five-speed automatic as well as stability control. A new Super Track Pack option (late availability) adds improved handling, and two historic Challenger colors, Detonator Yellow and Plum Crazy, are also on the docket.