The Hemi Highway Tour came to Southern California this month and although our notoriously good weather played shy, the visit provided some hands on inspection of the new Dodge Challenger and produced answers to some long awaited questions that many have been pondering — What’s new for the 2011 Dodge Challenger?
Of course, as many of us know by now, the 6.1L (370 cubic inches) Hemi engine found in the current Challenger SRT model has been retired and replaced with a 6.4L (392 cubic inch) Hemi for 2011. Gone is the aluminum intake manifold that gave the 6.1L it’s beautiful and aggressive under hood appearance. Instead, the new 392 Hemi has a low profile, plastic composite, intake manifold much like that found on the 5.7L Hemi (yet shaved), and complete with left and right half covers much like the ones found on the current SRT. This new intake manifold also skews the throttle bottle body off at an angle. Where the throttle body had a straight shot into the manifold before and the stock air box or cold air intake tube had to make a 90 degree turn into the throttle body, the new manifold has shortened that turn to about 45 degrees.
The new 392 Hemi engine makes an impressive 470 horsepower with 470 lb-ft of torque, thus making it the new king of the hill with regard to the Mustang (412 hp), Camaro (426 hp), Challenger (470 hp) muscle/pony car war. The car has already been seen running a 12.44 @ 110 mph in the 1/4 mile. Very impressive indeed. In fact, so impressive are the horsepower numbers coming from this new 392 that its power is greater than that of the R/T’s 5.7L (345 cubic inch) with a 100 horse shot of nitrous or an R/T with a supercharger running a low 4-5 lbs. of boost like that of the Hurst or SMS Challengers. Keeping in mind that the 392 is producing those numbers completely stock and right off of the showroom floor. Add a few mods and you’re looking at a true muscle car born of yesteryear’s Detroit that America has long been known for.
Also new for the 2011 automatic transmission equipped SRT’s is the fuel saving Multiple Displacement System (MDS), where, when the engine isn’t under load, it drops down to running on just four cylinders. A little throttle, and the engine roars back to life firing all eight cylinders. Intended to be a fuel saving feature, it remains to be seen if the new 392 automatic will overcome the SRT automatic’s previous gas guzzler tax. I believe that it will.
For those thinking that the 8-speed automatic transmission might be headed for the Dodge Challenger, think again. While it’s true the 8-speed ZF automatic transmission is going to be built by Chrysler (under license) in its Kokomo, Indiana, plant; it’s only slated to be introduced into more economical cars like the 6-cylinder Charger. As it stands right now, according to some knowledgeable Chrysler folks, if the new 8-speed automatic does hit the Challenger at all, it will most likely be limited to the base SE model.
The wheels on the inaugural edition 392 Challenger are taken from the Charger SRT line, complete with the “legmaker mod”, i.e., black painted pockets, named after the Charger owner from Orlando, Florida, known by his forum screen “legmaker,” who was the first person known to have done the modification. Pictures of his mod quickly spread across the Internet — and God said it was good. So popular was the mod, that Chrysler couldn’t help but take notice of its popularity and, in listening to owners, added it to its line of wheels. It isn’t yet known if Chrysler will be going back to what we have come to know as the standard Alcoa SRT wheels for its 2011 SRT models or if an entirely new wheel is forthcoming. What is certain is that wheels found on the inaugural edition 392 Challenger will be exclusive to that special edition model.
Also exclusive for the inaugural edition 392 Challenger and the Mopar 10 edition of the Challenger is a painted grill surround. Color matching for the Dark Water Blue and Bright White 392 Challengers and black for the Mopar 10 rather than the chrome surround found on all other models.
New for the 2011 Challenger are, most notably, the following: wrap around front spoiler, wider front lower fascia grill (now upside down), door handles with push button entry, rear trunk push button open release mechanism, mid-roof interior lights, tri-spoke steering wheel, cruise control arm delete, and driver and passenger side easy entry/exit seats to name just a few.
Beginning with the all new wrap around front spoiler. Many have expressed a dislike for the look of it, and I must say that I was one of them. However, this new front spoiler wasn’t changed for the sake of just changing something. It has a useful, positive, effect on the car, namely the wind resistance upon the spoiler causes a downward force which has enabled the Challenger to pickup a few more miles per hour on the top end. In addition, the new spoiler is mounted very sturdy when before it was held in place by clips. I placed my foot on the corner edge of new spoiler, with permission, and gave it a good amount of strength and the spoiler didn’t move an inch. After that demonstration and learning of its new found effect, it was immediately asked by others standing nearby if the new spoiler was interchangeable with the old SRT spoiler. The answer was a quick and definite, No. The two are not compatible and attach to the car in very different ways.
Moving on to the new lower front fascia and grill. As many have noticed by now, the new lower fascia appears to be the same as the old, yet flipped upside down. This too was not changed for the sake of changing something. By flipping the lower fascia grill (into a frown as opposed to its previous grin), the designers were able to open the fascia wider thus allowing more air onto the radiator surface. The Net result was a gain of about 4 horsepower, about the same as a standard cold air intake system being installed.
The door handles on the 2011 Challenger have changed as well. Gone is the handle surround which was replaced by a single door handle. Also new for the door handles are a raised push button atop each handle, which when pressed while the key fob is near, will lock the door. On a much larger scale, the trunk now too has a push button in which to open it (tucked under the lip of the trunk lid). At about 3″ wide and an 1″ in width, it is easy to find even in the dark. Before, the only way to access the trunk was to either press the key fob or use the trunk release button from within the car.
The interior lighting has been changed somewhat in the new Challenger. In prior models, when you open the door or roll the dimmer switch into the upper most position, the interior lights would be activated. These consisted of a left and right floor light and a dual map light in the front part of the interior roof. Needless to say, the lighting was wholly inadequate, especially for people in the back or for retrieving items placed on the back seat. So, Chrysler listened to the owners again and installed two new interior lights in the roof on the right and left and just behind the head rests of the front seats. An excellent addition.
One change that I know a lot of people wanted made was that to the steering wheel. While I am satisfied with the current 4-spoke steering wheel, the new tri-spoke steering wheel is much better both in feel and being driver friendly. An inch smaller in diameter than its 4-spoke cousin, it is also wider in the grip making for better driver control. Also gone from the right side of the steering column is the cruise control arm. Those controls have now been moved into the steering wheel together with an answer call button and stereo controls.
Now last, my favorite most notable change for the Challenger — quick release driver AND passenger seats to allow for immediate access to the rear seating area. Towards the upper rear of each front seat is a release mechanism which releases the seat from its locked position on the seating rails while at the same time releasing the back of the seat allowing it to fold forward. Third and fourth passengers can enter the vehicle now with ease and when the front seat is folded back into position it goes right back into its previous lock down position. No need to re-adjust your seat every time someone gets into your car or you need to retrieve a bag of groceries placed on the back seat. Now you can simply pull the lever, slide the seat forward and when done, fold it back. What could be easier than that?
I can tell you this. If the above features were offered as an additional package on my 2009 Challenger, I would have happily paid several thousand dollars for them.
Kudos to Chrysler for actually listening to the owners for ways to make a great car even better.
A special thanks to Heather Heughens and Scott Vandekerckhove of the Hemi Highway Tour for allowing us hands on access to the inaugural edition 392 Dodge Challenger SRT for this article.