What's this? Another retro-fabulous muscle car from the land of burgers and the brave?
Oh yes. And if there's one thing that the US of A is doing better than anyone at the moment, it's producing desperately desirable sports cars again. Ford's Mustang is firmly re-established as a true motoring icon, and Chevrolet has promised a new Camaro. And, 37 years after the original thumped its way into American popular culture (thanks in part to a fiery role in Vanishing Point), Dodge is wading in with Challenger redux. And the good news is that it'll be on sale in 2008, and we've driven the sensational-looking concept. And let me tell you, nothing turns heads on the streets of Detroit faster than the reborn Challenger.
How do people spot the 21st century version? Surely it's a carbon copy of the original...
The update is subtle, but rewarding. You take more time gorging on the lines of the Challenger than, say, a Mustang. Its less overt design leads to a visual voyage of discovery that's manna for petrol-y people like you and us. Take the 'thrust' line on the side. See how it sits on top of the front arch, then kicks up over the rear? Nice. Or the cavity motif at the front and rear, the recessed ovoid shape that contains the lights? At the back, this cavity encompasses a full-width neon-lit tail lamp. So cool. And if you're really observant and you know your muscle cars, you'll love the bonnet. It reprises the original Challenger's performance hood, but this time the twin diagonal scoops house functional butterfly-valve intakes. And those stripes are actually exposed carbon fibre from the hood material. We can only hope that Dodge does the right thing and retains these features for the production car.
Okay, okay, you love it. But does it drive like a typical, wobbly concept car?
Well, the Challenger we drove felt really tight - perhaps the most together concept we've ever tried. The driving position, noise levels and interior ergonomics all felt pretty much ready for production – thanks in part to tried and tested mechanicals. The Challenger is based on the 300C platform, which means it's got the excellent 6.1-litre 420bhp Hemi V8, rear wheel drive and a whole lot of attitude. You feel less self-conscious driving this than, say, a ‘vette or a Viper and you feel a whole lot more cool.
What about the ride and handling? A soft, wobbly blancmange of a car that only entertains on straights?
Well, we didn't get the Challenger concept on its doorhandles but we did drive the wheels off the car it's based on (the new SRT-8 300C) and things look very promising indeed. The 300C SRT-8 is a joy to drive; fast, balanced, and unsophisticated – and we mean that in the nicest possible way. The Challenger's genes, both mechanical and historical, promise much in terms of driving enjoyment – and Dodge needs to deliver. Rumours suggest the Challenger is based on the all-new 300C platform, so we're expecting great things.
Dodge claims an unprecedented response to this concept forced them to build it. Is that baloney?
Yup. We reckon the car was always intended for manufacture. The Chrysler Group has a high success rate in terms of concept-to-production (Viper, Prowler, PT Cruiser and Jeep Compass), the concept car drives, goes and feels 90 percent ready and its success in the newly invigorated muscle car market in the US is pretty much guaranteed. Will the car come to Europe? Stony silence from the Dodge bigwigs, but the company is being brave at the moment – just how brave remains to be seen.