Looks and power. These ingredients make the magic that is the 2010 Dodge Challenger SRT8. Its retro-cool design made people, mostly gray-bearded guys, look over and grin. And the 425 horsepower burbling out of the engine leads to some interesting moments in car control, such as feathering the gas pedal in a turn to help the Challenger SRT8 keep its nose pointed in the right direction.
Not the most advanced engine, though, the car takes a big efficiency penalty, in terms of fuel economy and its associated gas guzzler tax. And as cool as the outward car looks, its electronics interface leaves a lot to be desired.
Retro, but not old
Despite its retro design, the Challenger SRT8 does not shy away from technology. Witness the standard keyless, push-button start. The voice-command system let us dial contacts by name through the standard Bluetooth phone system, and proved very accurate, if slow, in recognizing street address inputs for the navigation system.
The optional navigation system, a bargain at $590, uses a hard drive for map storage, includes 3D maps, and accounts for traffic data when calculating routes. But this navigation system is far from the best-looking we've seen, and, although hard-drive-based, takes a long time to perform route calculations or respond to voice commands. When trying to enter a destination using the map on its small screen, we found the slow response of the cursor very frustrating.
The look of the interface graphics on the touch screen was a little cartoonish, with big bevels and bright colors, and the buttons were not intuitively organized. It took us a while to find the audio settings screen. As we've mentioned before with this Chrysler/Dodge head unit, its hard buttons are not ergonomically organized. For example, instead of residing on the steering wheel, the voice-command button is on the right side of the touch screen, far away from the driver.
On the positive side, Dodge complemented the unit's bezel-mounted USB port with a dedicated iPod cable in the car's console, which meant we didn't have a cable hanging off the dashboard. We were very pleased with the responsiveness of the iPod interface. The navigation system's hard drive also has space for music. The hard-drive library uses a similar interface to that of the iPod library.
The Bluetooth phone system offers a useful set of features, most notably downloading a phone's contact list and letting you dial by name with voice command. But the call quality is a little weak; we sounded like we were inside a tin can while talking.
Doing a good job of complementing the car's horsepower was an optional 522-watt Kicker audio system. With 14 speakers, including a subwoofer, this system not only delivered resounding bass beats but was also delicate enough that we could hear details in complex, layered tracks. Vocals came through with well-balanced purity and the clarity of the highs belied the ugly black plastic grilles covering the tweeters.
With the Challenger SRT8's navigation head unit, we would have expected a backup camera, but none is available.
What the car does have is a built-in performance computer, with its display at the base of the speedometer showing quarter-mile and zero-to-60 mph times, braking distance, and skidpad g-forces. This performance computer speaks to what the car is all about.