Special Coverage

New York Int’l Auto Show

The long-anticipated ’09 Dodge Challenger makes its debut at the New York auto show.

The muscle car will come available in three models: the SE, R/T, and the high-performance SRT8, revealed at last month’s Chicago auto show as an ’08.

The base SE will be powered by a 3.5L SOHC V-6 that produces 250 hp and 250 lb.-ft. (339 Nm) of torque and is mated to a 4-speed automatic transmission. Chrysler says the SE is rated at a thrifty 18/25 mpg (13.0-9.4 L/100 km).

The R/T boasts a 5.7L Hemi V-8 that cranks out 370 hp and 398 lb.-ft. (540 Nm) of torque. It can be equipped with either a 5-speed automatic transmission or an optional 6-speed manual.

The top-level 524-hp SRT8 boasts a 6.1L Hemi V-8 underhood that churns out 420 lb.-ft. (310 Nm). The SRT8 comes available with the same transmission choices offered on the R/T model.

“Offering a manual transmission on our all-new ’09 Dodge Challenger was a must,” says Larry Lyons, vice president-car and minivan product team. “Borrowing (the) Dodge Viper SRT10 manual transmission technology, our engineers were able to develop a six-speed manual that meets fuel economy and performance targets for Challenger’s weight class.”

Chrysler LLC says the new Challenger features modern styling with “elements of vintage flair inspired by the original.”

“We drew upon recognizable details from our original Dodge Challenger and incorporated them into the ’09 model,” Jeff Gale, lead exterior designer for Challenger, says in a statement.

One of the most identifiable design elements from the original Challenger is the cast metal fuel door on the driver’s side of the R/T and SRT8 models. It is stamped with the word “FUEL” in the identical font used 35 years ago.

Exterior design cues that reference the past include a crease along the C-pillar and around the rear glass, a 3-piece taillamp design and dual-chromed rectangular exhaust tips on the R/T and SRT8 models.

Inside, the Challenger features a dark headliner, slanted shifter console and a trapezoidal theme on the door-panel cove and gauge cluster – all cues made famous by the original model.

“Our designers wanted to capture the mind’s-eye view of what people today remember about the Dodge Challenger from 35 years ago,” says Trevor Creed, senior vice president-design. “Their challenge was to excite today’s consumer by capturing the emotion of the original Challenger, while offering today’s comfort and performance.”

Chrysler says analysis shows the Challenger primarily will appeal to two groups – Gen Xers looking for “a vehicle that is affordable, but stands out in a crowd,” and Baby Boomers who have “the financial freedom and income to spend on fulfilling discretionary vehicle purchases.”

The Challenger will be offered in nine colors, including TorRed, Deep Water Blue, Titanium, Stone White, Hemi Orange (R/T only) and B5 Blue (late availability on SRT8 and R/T only).

The Challenger will be assembled at Chrysler’s Brampton assembly plant near Toronto, ON, Canada, alongside the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger.

The Challenger SE, R/T and SRT8 models will be available in North America this fall, while a special-edition Classic R/T will hit dealerships late in the ’09 model year.

bpope@wardsauto.com