$8,263 - $11,893

2009 Dodge Challenger Performance Review

Note: This performance review was created when the 2009 Dodge Challenger was new.


Performance: 8.6

Reviewers, on balance, prefer the Challenger R/T's powerful HEMI V8 engine over the SE's subdued V6. Both, however, handle well for being big, brawny cars.

  • "Borrowing heavily from the styling of the original 1970-'74 Challenger, the reborn version sports similar lines and proportions. But you needn't worry about the 2009 Dodge Challenger merely being a poser's visual link to the past -- it can be had with Hemi V8 power, rear-wheel drive and the right sound burbling from its rectangular exhausts." -- Edmunds
  • "An impressive collection of Mopar accessories are available to enhance your Challenger right at the time of purchase. Upgrades range from basic air intake systems all the way up to revised camshafts, cylinder heads, and forged crankshafts. A coil-over suspension kit drops the ride height by 1.625-inches and should improve ride quality. Most of the performance parts are for the Hemi engines..." -- Automobile Magazine

Acceleration and Power

Though test drivers aren't satisfied with the Challenger SE's powertrain, most find the R/T powerful enough to thrill all but track racers. The Challenger SE features a 3.5-liter V6 engine that generates 250 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 250 pound-feet of torque at 3,800 rpm. However, the more powerful R/T comes equipped with a 5.7-liter HEMI V8 engine that provides 372 horsepower at 5,200 rpm and 401 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm. While the SE's engine is mated to a four-speed automatic transmission, the R/T features a standard five-speed AutoStick automatic transmission and can even be equipped with an optional six-speed manual.

According to the EPA, the SE has a city/highway fuel economy of 17/25 mpg, while the R/T is rated at a similar 16/25 mpg with either transmission.

  • "SE moves well from a stop, though it quickly runs out of steam as engine speed rises. Its 4-speed automatic is smooth but reluctant to downshift for more power. R/T with the manual transmission is quite potent, though it doesn't feel quite as fast as its 376-hp rating would suggest. The manual has positive, mechanical shift action and a smooth clutch." -- Consumer Guide
  • "The only tranny offered in the Challenger SE is a quaint four-speed slushbox that makes do with D, 3, and L shifter positions-no shifter paddles, no AutoStick, no sport-shift algorithms, nor any other concession to driver involvement. Bolt this hand-me-down hardware into a gigantic coupe that weighs about 300 lb more than a comparable Mustang V-6 automatic, and those engine-power bragging rights seem moot at the dragstrip." -- Motor Trend
  • "[T]he R/T has plenty of poke for everything but the drag strip. The R/T that I drove also had an ace in the hole: a six-speed manual transmission instead of an automatic. Stickshift brings the whole package to life, better engaging the driver and making Challenger altogether more sporting and responsive." -- Arizona Republic
  • "The pistol-grip shift lever -- another retro touch -- is at first a bit odd, but it works really well. The throws aren't especially short, but they're easy to get right every time. The three pedals are thankfully in just the right place for heel-toe work, and the steering is quick enough to allow for relaxed steering inputs." -- Road and Track

Handling and Braking

Critics, on balance, find that the Challenger handles well for a large car. There are, however, some concerns about its steering and ability to handle twists and turns. However, most agree that the Challenger is most at home when traveling in a straight line.

  • "Challenger's ride is surprisingly supple, especially given this car's performance mission. Bump absorption is quite good across the lineup, with the SE being the most composed.  ... Accurate steering is marred by excessive power assist. Though not as agile as a Mustang, Challenger handles well given its sheer size and heft. Body lean in fast turns is well controlled, and the brakes provide sure-footed stopping control." -- Consumer Guide
  • "For such a big car, the Challenger handles itself well, with minimal body roll and a surprisingly comfortable ride. Braking is up to the task as well." -- Edmunds
  • "This is one comfy cruiser, no doubt about it, thanks to nice, tall 60-series Continental tires and easy-does-it suspension tuning adapted from the Charger SXT's. It's not terribly well equipped for terrorizing the twisties. Bend quickly into a corner and you can feel the tires rolling under, then the body heeling over, after which linear steering response ensues." -- Motor Trend
  • "The R/T really likes burnouts, chirping tires and doing all the things muscle cars are famous for. It does them easily, too, with no wheel hop or great drama. Just burp the throttle, drop the clutch and smile." -- Road and Track
  • "Here's the big difference between today's Challenger and muscle cars of the past. Those old powerhouses went fast in a straight line, but stopping and turning were always a leap of faith. The 2009 Challenger, despite its size and heft, maneuvers sharply with level, predictable cornering and really strong four-wheel disc brakes. The handling performance is as enjoyable as the engine power." -- Arizona Republic

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