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Review: 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT 392

by Byron Hurd

The baddest all-motor Challenger gets an overhaul.

With the supercharged, 707-horsepower Hellcat commanding unprecedented attention and the all-new Scat Pack stealing some of the 392's big-motor thunder, who could blame a car enthusiast for overlooking the former performance king of the Challenger lineup?

Fear not. The SRT 392 returns for 2015 with an all-new interior, more horses under the hood, an available 8-speed automatic transmission, and perhaps a little something to prove. Can it deliver the SRT experience, even in the shadow of its pavement-warping sibling? Let's find out.

What is it?The SRT 392 represents the peak of naturally aspirated performance in the Challenger lineup. Under the hood, you'll find a 485-horsepower, 6.4L Hemi V8—the same engine found in the Scat Pack R/T—mated to either a 6-speed manual or a "TorqueFlite” 8-speed automatic transmission. Our tester is equipped with the latter, which includes an "autostick” shift feature and wheel-mounted paddle shifters. All 475 lb-ft of torque go to the rear wheels via an "anti-spin” differential.So what does the SRT offer over the Scat Pack's big engine? Plenty.

First and foremost, the 392 comes standard with adaptive dampers at all four corners. Available only on SRT models (this and the Hellcat), this trick suspension allows the Challenger to seamlessly transition from comfortable highway cruiser to a track day weapon with a click on the 8.4” touchscreen (the "SRT” button on the center stack provides a shortcut). Just need to carve up some corners on your favorite back road and don't want to punish your kidneys? Try the "Sport” setting for an excellent compromise.

The SRT also gets 20” wheels to accommodate its standard six-piston Brembo brake calipers (not to mention fill those massive, muscular fenders).

What's it up against?The Challenger is the odd man out among domestic V8 coupes. It most closely competes with the Ford Mustang GT and the Chevrolet Camaro SS, but in reality it stands apart from that segment entirely. The Challenger SRT 392 is a muscle car, through and through. At nearly 4,500lbs, it simply can't keep pace with the leaner, meaner pony cars. If anything, it's a domestic take on Germany's V8 coupes—think BMW 650i, but for a lot less money.

What's it look like?The Challenger's exterior design hasn't changed much in the last seven years (one could even argue that it hasn't changed much since the 1970s).

For 2015, the 392 gets a mild, but effective aesthetic overhaul. LED exterior lighting brings a more modern touch to its classic lines and further accentuates the Challenger's signature round headlights. The front grille is now split, and the hood line arches forward ever so slightly more than it did in previous years, giving the Challenger's face a more sinister squint.

To round out the new look, the 392 also receives a center-mounted hood scoop, and while it doesn't feed the Hemi lurking underneath, it is a functioning cooling inlet. No more just-for-looks hood bulges here. This signature SRT styling element helps set the 392 apart from more run-of-the-mill Challengers, and it can also be found on its four-door cousin, the Charger SRT.

The 392 also take the visual formula one step forward with conspicuous "SRT” badging on the front grille and rear spoiler, and "392” badges can be found on the front fenders. Rounding out the look on our tester was a set of flat-black stripes. Against the glossy, "Pitch Black” paint finish, the stripes appeared grey, providing a subtle but pleasing contrast. At $595, they're almost a no-brainer.

And the inside?As well-executed as the exterior may be, the 2015 Challenger's interior is far more impressive. As one of the last vehicles engineered under the Cerberus regime, the 2008 Challenger's interior fell victim to some of the most egregious penny-pinching in a modern domestic. The big, boastful coupe had outward personality for days, but from the inside, could have been any other Chrysler product on the road. Dodge addressed this somewhat in 2010 with a mild interior refresh, but until now, the big coupe has been left out of the " Fiat era” of interior styling.

Gone are the days of nondescript functionality and barebones features. For the first time, the 2015 Challenger SRT 392 comes standard with a suite of luxury features befitting its nearly $45,000 price tag, and all of them are wrapped in an attractive, comfortable, boast-worthy design.

Without ticking any option boxes, you get dual LED displays (the aforementioned 8.4” center-mounted touchscreen and a 7”, SRT-branded gauge cluster), heated/ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, a flat-bottom "SRT” steering wheel, leather seats, an 18-speaker Harman Kardon audio system, Uconnect (Chrysler's infotainment interface) and a whole slew of safety features (including park assist, blind spot and cross-path monitoring, HID lighting and a back-up camera)

For an additional $995, the Technology group adds adaptive cruise control (which can be toggled on or off if normal cruise control is preferred—a welcome feature), automatic high beams, forward collision warning and rain-sensing wipers. A navigation package is also available as an upgrade to the basic Uconnect for a very reasonable $695. Our tester is also equipped with a striking Ruby Red interior—an excellent match to the black exterior—and the stand-alone power sunroof.

But does it go?That's the question, isn't it? Chrysler claims the 392 will do 0-60 in the mid-4-second range when equipped with the TorqueFlite 8-speed. It'll go on to a 1/4 mile in the low 12s on the way to a top speed of nearly 180mph (transmission-dependent). The TorqueFlite is the automatic transmission this car has deserved from the beginning, delivering crisp (even violent, in "Track” mode) up-shifts and rev-matched downshifts. The six-speed manual may still be the enthusiast's default choice, but for the first time, there's little shame in option for the Challenger's two-pedal setup.

There's no doubt that the 392's centerpiece is its engine. The 6.4 pulls like a freight train from 2,500 rpm on up to its (appropriate) 6,400 rpm redline, and the noises it makes are nothing short of intoxicating. The 392's active exhaust makes the most of every stab of the gas pedal. However, the 392's cylinder deactivation does result in some odd harmonics in four-cylinder mode. Our solution? Put everything in "Track” mode and never hear a hint of drone again.

The SRT model has always managed to drive "smaller” than its size and weight should allow, shrinking slightly around the driver and imparting a sense of confidence. With the 2015, that is truer than ever. With the suspension in "Sport” or "Track” mode, the 392 dutifully responds to inputs, tucking into tight corners cleanly and rotating precisely with the throttle. The Brembo brakes are phenomenal, and will hold up to mountain roads for quite a while before needing to cool down.

It's still more of a sledgehammer than a scalpel, but Chrysler's engineers have done wonders with what they have. It's no Miata and it never will be, but it gets the job done in its own way.

In city driving, however, the Challenger grows around you once again. Navigating a parking garage can prove tricky, with the tapered nose contributing to a sense of being unable to place the large coupe's front corners. Urban driving also murders the 392's already shaky gas mileage. On the highway, 22-23 mpg is realistic; in the city, that quickly drops to the low teens.

Leftlane's bottom lineThe Challenger 392 stands alone as a tribute to America's muscle-car heyday. It won't beat the Mustang GT or Camaro SS around a track, but it packs a heft and charisma that the other two cannot match.

While the 392 may lack the value proposition of the Challenger R/T Scat Pack, it's still the speed junkie's choice of the 6.4L models. The fully configurable drive modes and Brembo brakes are an absolute must for those who need to extract every ounce of performance from this quick, heavy coupe.

2015 Dodge Challenger SRT 392 base price, $44,995. As tested, $51,265.Technology group, $995; TorqueFlite 8-Speed Automatic, $1,400; Power Sunroof, $1,195; Uconnect with Navigation, $695; Gaz guzzler tax, $1,000; Summer tires, $395; Twin Black Center Stripes, $595; Destination, $995.

Photos courtesy of Dodge.

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