Special Coverage

Chicago Auto Show

CHICAGO – The ’08 Dodge Challenger SRT8 successfully pays tribute to its 1970s design heritage, but Chrysler Vice Chairman and President Jim Press says it is thoroughly modern, with high-tech safety equipment, great handling and the creature comforts today’s buyer expects.

Unveiled at the Chicago auto show here, the Challenger SRT8 proudly flies its muscle-car flag, powered by a 6.1L Hemi OHV V-8 rated at 425 hp and 420 lb.-ft. (569 Nm) of torque.

“Ram is the meat and potatoes, and we needed dessert with (the) Challenger,” Press says.

Asked if he envisions cars such as the Challenger SRT8 achieving the federally mandated 35-mpg (6.7 L/100 km) fuel-economy target within the next 10 years, Press says, “Absolutely. And it will be more fun to drive, have better performance, get great mileage and be all the things we want it to be.”

But for now, the SRT8 will not pass many gas stations, with its Environmental Protection Agency rating of 13/18 mpg city/highway (18-13 L/100 km).

On sale in April, the Challenger SRT8 will be priced at $37,995 (including $675 destination charge). The car shares its underpinnings with the successful Chrysler 300 and will be assembled at the same plant in Brampton, ON, Canada.

A less-expensive non-SRT V-8 Challenger, as well as a V-6 model, will be available next year, but Press declines to predict the take rate for the V-6.

Capable of sprinting to 60 mph (96 km/h) in 4.9 seconds, the Challenger SRT8 is sure to rekindle muscle-car memories for Baby Boomers.

Press identifies the ideal pool of buyers as “Boomers who have been deferring their gratification and now it’s their turn. They’re empty-nesters (and) ready to do something to take care of themselves.”

Standard features include electronic stability control, traction control, high-intensity discharge headlamps, side-curtain airbags and Chrysler’s MDS cylinder-deactivation system.

Press pegs anticipated Challenger SRT8 sales at about 6,400 units in 2008, and puts Challenger deliveries at more than 20,000 in 2009.

A source tells Ward’s base-model Challenger sales could exceed 40,000 units in its first full year.

“We sold 4,300 Challengers on the first day it went on sale and have 10,000 dealer orders in hand,” says Frank Klegon, executive vice president-product development. “So it’s already a production sellout.”

He says Chrysler will roll out more Challengers at the New York auto show in March, but there are no plans for a convertible version – either soft or hardtop.

“That market isn’t big enough for the expense,” he says.

The Challenger won’t be a short-term addition to the lineup, like the Plymouth Prowler was and Dodge Viper was supposed to be, Klegon predicts.

“I can’t say it will be a 15-year car like Viper, but its not going to come out and make a splash for a couple years and go away,” he says. “The car will have legs to it.”

– with Jim Mateja

tmurphy@wardsauto.com