NEW YORK — It was a deep baritone, pleasant in its resonance, powerful without being bullying or intimidating. The car’s exhaust note became a throaty growl with increased pressure on its accelerator pedal. Still, there was nothing mean or angry about it.
I remember thinking: This is the way a muscle car ought to be — strong and authoritative minus any hint of adolescent narcissism. The 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT 392 coupe — it didn’t have to brag about what it could do. It simply did it.
There were other things immediately likable about this one. Other sports coupes pride themselves on being “driver-centric,” which is marketing-speak for selfie-mobiles, meaning they are designed and engineered to satisfy the comfort, ego and whims of the driver more than they are to serve the needs of anyone else brought along for the ride.
The Challenger SRT 392 is far more generous in concept. Its interior is designed to fully accommodate and please five people. You can take a crew or a family across the country in this one free of complaints from back-seat passengers.
Congratulations to Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, maker of all things Dodge, for understanding that “performance” is something that should be engineered into a sports coupe without sacrifice of practicality, common sense, community, or safety.
Goodness knows, the Challenger SRT 392 can perform. I dared not drive it in this city, whose canyonlike neighborhoods tend to amplify high-decibel exhaust notes. Instead, I explored largely abandoned, legal-for-this-sort-of-thing patches in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, where I could drive the Challenger SRT 392 in a manner that did it justice.
The car comes with a reconfigured 6.4-liter V-8 gasoline engine — reworked for more horsepower and torque, less vibration in operation and better fuel economy — that delivers a maximum 485 horsepower and 475 pound-feet of torque. At full throttle, that engine moves the Challenger SRT 392 from 0 to 60 mph in under five seconds. It was thrilling, fun, but also a little worrying.
The Challenger SRT 392’s value is in its engineering. But who has the time, money, opportunity to search out a safe patch where that engineering can legally be exploited? As a daily driver on restricted urban roads and heavily regulated highways, the car makes little sense, unless you somehow have a monetary interest in traffic litigation.
That being the case, this column recommends that you consider a much more daily-compliant version of the Challenger, the one with a 305-horsepower gasoline V-6. It offers enjoyable road performance without the likelihood of a speeding ticket. If you want a little more boost, but not the wondrous power of the 6.4-liter V-8, there is the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, delivering 375 horsepower and 410 pound-feet of torque.
If your need for speed is such that you’ve already invested heavily in lawyers, there is the aptly named Challenger SRT Hellcat coupe, with a supercharged (forced-air) 6.2-liter gasoline V-8 delivering 707 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque. Note to Fiat Chrysler Automobiles: Don’t even think about sending that one to me. I’d rather spend money on overseas travel than on speeding tickets. Thank you.
The Challenger SRT 392 is more than enough, especially if you live near a racetrack or legal speed patch where it can be fully enjoyed. But, again, if your everyday driving involves suburban-urban commutes, you might want to stay away from this one and opt for the V-6 Challenger. That one has the looks and the attitude without the potential legal penalty.
Bottom line: I’ll take the Challenger over competitive American muscle cars — Chevrolet Camaro, Ford Mustang — any day. The Challenger may not be as fast, or handle as sharply. But overall it is a much better automobile — more accommodating for five people, as fast as anyone with sense needs a car to be, extremely well crafted and loaded with standard and optional advanced electronic safety equipment.
Ride, acceleration and handling: It gets very good marks in all three.
Head-turning quotient: It is sleek, attractive and authoritative without being menacing.
Body style/layout: The Dodge Challenger is a full-size, front-engine, rear-wheel-drive sports coupe. There are eight iterations, including the standard Challenger V-6, the SRT 392 and the SRT Hellcat. The Hellcat’s name tells you everything you need to know about that car. Be warned.
Engine/transmission: The SRT 392 version of the Challenger comes with a 6.4-liter, 16-valve gasoline V-8 with variable valve timing. It is linked to a standard six-speed manual transmission. The model driven for this column was equipped with an optional eight-speed automatic that also can be operated manually via steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
Capacities: Comfortably seats five people. Cargo capacity is 16.2 cubic feet. The fuel tank holds 19.1 gallons of gasoline (premium grade is recommended).
Mileage: I averaged 23 mpg in highway driving, including some spirited antics on safe, vacant, legal speed patches.
Safety: Standard equipment includes ventilated disc brakes front and rear, four-wheel anti-lock brake protection, emergency braking assistance, electronic brake-force distribution, dusk-sensing headlamps, high-intensity-discharge headlamps, electronic stability and traction control, and side and head air bags.
Pricing: The base price of the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT 392 is $44,995, with a dealer’s invoice price of $42,691. Price as tested is $50,965, including $4,880 in options (advanced electronic safety package) and a $995 shipping charge. Note: If you’re getting the 6.4-liter gasoline V-8, adding the optional eight-speed automatic transmission saves you a $1,000 federal gas-guzzler tax.