2009 Dodge Charger SRT8 Review

By Roger Boylan

12.04.2008

Plato had no room for artists in his ideal republic, but not because he didn’t respect them; on the contrary, he argued that the “sacred fear” inspired by great art could cause too much excitement and passion and ultimately undermine the entire social system. I surmise, therefore, that he would have been firmly opposed to anyone in his republic driving the car I just wrapped up a week with: the ’09 Dodge Charger SRT8, a work of mechanical art quite capable of generating excitement and passion and undermining anybody’s social system. At first sight, this sculpture of power parked in my driveway raised serious doubts in my mind that it and I could ever find a modus vivendi. After all, it’s an in-your-face statement of automotive moxie, a direct descendant of the macho muscle cars of the ’60s driven by televisual hillbillies, mechanical monsters that mostly made a lot of noise and smoked their rear tires during getaways from the moonshine authorities. This, I thought, was hardly my style; my daily driver is a Jaguar S-Type, nimble enough but comparatively discreet. I wondered if I hadn’t made a mistake; was this Charger my nemesis? I was eager to find out, so I stashed the Jag in the garage for the duration and embarked on my routine of weekday commutes and weekend excursions as the middle-aged driver of what appeared to be the quintessential young man’s car.

The first revelation was, quite simply, the power of the thing. I’d never driven anything like it, not even the Supercharged Jaguar XF. Lower the boot and the Charger lives up to its name, charging ahead on an uninterrupted rush of power accompanied by a magnificent throaty roar that tickles something primeval in the human soul. This is all made possible by the 425 horses galloping under the hood, where a 6.1 liter Hemi V-8 works its magic in tandem with an adaptive 5-speed transmission that soon learned my driving style, notably that I was incapable of approaching an entrance ramp without dropping the hammer. After a couple of slight hesitations, it adapted by producing utterly seamless downshifts. (It comes with the AutoStick manual feature, which I ignored, on the no-doubt fusty principle that a manual is a manual and an automatic is an automatic.) An informal speed test or two gave a tick under 5 seconds for the 0-60 run. Fortunately, stopping was just as fast. The brakes, massive Brembo jobs with huge red calipers, reined in the beast firmly and fast, with no evidence of fade, despite several sudden stops for testing purposes. Cornering, as I found on a rapid drive through the Hill Country, is superb, the kind you’d expect from a Lotus, or a Miata, not a full-size American family car. Best of all, the SRT8 comes loaded with safety features such as active suspension traction control and an electronic stability program that makes it nearly impossible for the non-Nascar driver–and that would be me–to lose control, or unglue the car from the blacktop. Airbags abounded, too, side curtains in the back, console- and seat-mounted in the front. It’s that rara avis, a safe muscle car.

But it works equally well as a workaday commuter. I settled comfortably into the daily rush-hour routine, when opportunities for hairy-chested driving antics are few. No worries there. The Charger revealed itself to be quiet and steady when needed, with a docile response to light pressure on the gas pedal. And, with a 19-gallon fuel tank, it proved not to be the gasoline dipsomaniac I was half-expecting: I got 20 mpg on the highway at a steady 70, down around 17 when that primeval urge took over and before I knew it I was coming perilously close to three digits on the speedometer (which goes all the way up to 180 miles p.h., just in case)….I was confident, however, that my friendly local highway patrolman had his eye on me, even if my Charger was a sedate silver rather than a screaming tomato red. The air scoop on the hood, the flying rear wing, the 20-in. wheels, and the red Brembo calipers are signs that this Charger means business. (Ironically, our businesslike local Texas constabulary has its own Chargers.)

The car’s domestic bona fides were confirmed when I took the family for a Thanksgiving excursion through Austin’s western suburbs and into the adjacent countryside. It was windy outside, but little wind noise penetrated within. The tires can be heard on rough surfaces, but not much, and on smooth pavement are barely audible. (My car was Eagle-shod, each tire inflated to 35 psi.) My passengers had nothing but praise for the Charger’s comfort and easy ride and its many interior accessories, such as the DVD screen, remote control, and cordless headphones available to rear-seat passengers, the Sirius satellite radio/GPS nav screen, and the dual climate controls (instant cold or hot air) up front. The dashboard is conservatively but soothingly laid out in gray and silver, with the aforementioned 180-mph speedometer and a LED display for oil temperature and pressure and tire pressure. In daytime the soft backlighting is clearly visible and in the dark the gauges light up with a blue-white glow, which manages to be neither distracting nor cheesy.

Indeed, good taste is evident throughout the car; this, too, was somewhat unexpected. Unquestionably, the interior of the Charger SRT8 would be a comfortable place to spend some time, even entire days, criss-crossing the empty deserts of the Southwest and bustling up the sinuous coastal highways of California and Oregon. Even after 200+ miles of nonstop driving one day I felt ready for more. I attribute this in part to the sheer pleasure of driving the car–its solidity, responsiveness, and power–and in part to the pleasant interior, especially the driver’s leg room and the well-sculpted and supportive suede-and-leather seats, which boast special red but subtle “SRT” stitching (and which can heat up at the touch of a button, a feature seldom needed in Texas, except by masochists). Room in the back is ample, too, even for the ample, such as I; as an experiment, I managed to arrange my person into a tolerable semi-reclining position back there, with the front seat pushed back halfway. The rear seats split 60/40 and fold forward, expanding the already considerable space of the trunk to a cargo cavern of near-SUV dimensions.

All of this doesn’t come cheap. This is the top-of-the-line Dodge, after all. The sticker price hovers around $40K for one loaded to the gills, but that’s a purely theoretical price these days, of course; I’ve seen comparable ’08 Chargers on sale at a $12K markdown at my local Dodge dealer. And, bearing in mind that the SRT8 poaches in the groves of the AMG Benz and BMW M-series, which command prices $20K higher, on average, to describe it as a bargain would be no exaggeration.

Does it take the threat of ruin and bankruptcy for the American automobile industry to produce such fine machines? The Charger SRT8, the daily ride of the true car lover, is an instant classic. It’s a car for all seasons: it can come roaring out of the primeval mists like Godzilla, or trundle meekly down the road to the grocery store. I thoroughly enjoyed my week with it, and was sorry to see it go. The hip adjective “awesome” would be an appropriate description, were it not so misused that its original meaning–as a reaction to something like Plato’s sacred fear–has been lost. Let me just say that I was mightily impressed, and would add one of these beauties to my dream garage in a heartbeat.

COPYRIGHT Autosavant – All Rights Reserved

Author: Roger Boylan

Aside from being the only Autosavant writer with a Wikipedia page, Roger Boylan is an American writer who was raised in Ireland, France, and Switzerland and attended the University of Ulster and the University of Edinburgh. His novel “Killoyle” was published in 1997 by Dalkey Archive Press and has been reprinted four times. In 2003, a sequel, “The Great Pint-Pulling Olympiad,” was published by Grove Press, New York. Roger’s latest novel, “The Adorations,” in which a Swiss professor named Gustave, Adolf Hitler, Hitler’s mistress, the Archangel Michael, and a journalistic sexpot meet at the intersection of history and fantasy, has been published as an e-book and is now available on Amazon.com and other online bookstores. Boylan's light-hearted memoir, "Run Like Blazes," has also been published as a Kindle e-book and is also now available on Amazon.com.

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8 Comments

  1. Nice review. The 2009 model seems like a sweet ride 🙂

  2. There are few things more fun than a 6.1 liter Hemi and a Chrysler LX car. One of those would be a 6.1 liter Hemi, a Chrysler LX car, and a six speed manual.

    I’ve never been a huge fan of the Charger’s styling, but Dodge clearly got the front end just right, and the proportions are very good. It’s almost a little too aggressive, though – like overcompensating for some shortcomings, if you catch my drift.

    Funny that the Challenger SRT8 uses the identical Alcoa wheels and – I believe – SRT seats. A car like this has a lot more appeal with gas prices below $2 than it does when they’re above $4, at least to my short-term memory impaired self.

  3. Classy review of a brash car. Well done.

  4. Platonic discourse in a review of a Chrysler product, is the world about to explode into a thousand little pieces?

  5. Except for the interior, Chrysler really got this car right. And the interior isn’t awful. It’s ok, just not as good as the rest of the car.

  6. I own one and it is a GREAT vehicle. Mine is a 2006 and was the 196th produced. It has 30,000 miles and is as new. A great car and a wonderful buy!

  7. Excellent review Mr. Boylan!

    I own a 2007 SRT8 Charger. I manage to average 19mpg in 50/50 city hwy commute to work every day. To put that into perspective, my 2002 W8 Passat (4.0 liter 8cyle VW) only averages 17mpg on the same commute. Both cars get 21 mpg cruising at 70mph. However, the SRT will do 0-60 in 5 secs vs the Passat’s 6.8sec and the Charger will seat Five 200# adults to the Passat’s Four 180# adults. The Passat will when the parking wars at Wal-Mart….Woopi!

  8. Nice review. I love the SRT8. It’s a powerfull car its a good looking car and its a decently priced car. Also they seem to be quite hard to come by and its sure is for a unique taste. I love SRT8 Charger and everything about it.

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