By Zack Klapman.
They have the same 470 horsepower Hemi V-8. They both wear a size XL, the Dodge Challenger looking like it asked for extra shoulder pads. They are both supposed to be the evolved forms of our nostalgic past. Modern engineering in a package (or name) that pulls at your hey-day heartstrings. Hardly reserved. Hardly slow. Hardly small.
The 2013 Dodge Charger Super Bee and 2013 Challenger SRT8 share a lot, germinating from an idea recycling bin, like a writer’s room re-hashing the “That’ll buff out.” They have been “new muscle” for a while, and these versions are, uh, muscle-ier.
A blind person may have a hard time differentiating the ride of the Chrysler 300 and the Charger, but these two might as well be braille and sand paper.
The Challenger SRT8 is the truest callback to 60s muscle cars available today. The exterior is as close to the original as anything on the market. Americanized for today’s larger man, it is big enough to swallow an original Challenger whole. Big engine, two doors, and the silly-but-not-wholly-wrong pistol-grip shifter are pure time machine.
As is the ride. This car is true to classic muscle because (unfortunately) it kind of drives and rides like classic muscle. If you remember, those cars did not drive well. Fast? For the times, but compared to modern standards, they were a joke. The Challenger shares some of those ailments: body roll, it squats, it dives, and it’s a lummox that runs the 40 in 4.2.
It is more comfortable than the old iron; you can do 1,000 miles in this car without blinking. It’s a Lay-Z-Boy with an engine, soaking up cracks and downed Elk alike, powering ahead like an AMG hovercraft. The seats are miles thick and oh-em-gee relaxing. Spacious enough for many Big Gulps and their owners. I just wish there weren’t so many big interior panels that share their chemical ingredients with those cups.
If you want the modern version of an old muscle car is absolutely it. The Charger Super Bee, on the other hand, is an AMG wearing a classic Zoot Suit. It corners flat. The nose moves way faster than you expect given its length and weight. The Dodge Challenger never left the drag strip, but this car stepped from the ooze onto the road course, and man is it fun. It’s a loon that doesn’t carry a German repair bill. Like the Challenger, it will do a burnout upon request, but it has more tricks than that. Even the automatic transmission shifted decently quick, though it needs an update soon.
The exterior is loud, big edges and menacing grills. Muscle cars make a statement, right? You’re aware of the size, but quickly become comfortable (opposite in Challenger SRT8. It’s big, forever.) I don’t know if I could drive it everyday, the design is a bit like putting spikes all over a leather jacket; we get it, you’re tough. Take it back a notch. But for a weekend car? Spike my hair; I’m going to scare people.
The inside is a spartan place (though a more upscale diamond stitching is available, and very nice), but the curves and materials inside don’t advertise “LOTS OF PLASTIC” like Mr. Vanishing point.
Nostalgia is all the rage, has been since we swam ashore. We pine for the past, often the location of the genesis of who we are. But I think it’s time to embrace today. Cars today can be phenomenal. A 2013 Camry would kill the Ferrari in Weird Science (nostalgic reference!). The Dodge Charger is a great car to drive, and it does all the things a 1969 GTO used to do, it just does it with modern dance moves. I like the past. I owned a 60s muscle car. I remember its faults; I don’t want to reincarnate them.
(Note: All vehicles provided by manufacturers for comparison test purposes. Photos provided by Dodge.)