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Test Drive: 2012 Dodge Challenger SRT8 Yellow Jacket

In the two years that we have been doing test drives, we have done almost every modern pony car, ranging from a base V-6 Mustang, to the Camaro SS, to the venerable Mustang BOSS 302. One vital car that we were missing, though, was the Challenger. Well, we finally got a hold of one, and it’s the bad-ass of the Challenger line-up, the SRT8 392.
Better yet, it has the special edition Yellow Jacket package, which comes with the school bus-yellow paint, blacked-out grille, exclusive 20-inch aluminum wheels with painted black inserts, retro-looking, vinyl stripe down the side with “Yellow Jacket” written in it, paddle shifters for the automatic transmission and a two-mode active suspension system.
To give you a little background, 392 means 392 cubic inches (6.4 liters), which is the displacement of the engine, and it’s good for 470 horsepower and 470 pounds per foot of torque that peaks at 4,200 rpm and has a redline of 6,400 rpm. Now, Chrysler has used the 392 moniker before, albeit never in a Challenger.
It was used on the Chrysler 300 letter series that raced in the Grand National series back in the 1950s. It is a good-sounding number, especially when written above the word “Hemi.” So when somebody rolls up next to you at a red light and sees the red numbers “392” on your fender, they know you mean business.
This leads me to the most important factor to muscle car buyers: Performance. The SRT 392 hits 60 mph in 4.6 seconds with the quarter mile in 13 seconds flat at 112 mph. These are fast numbers, but it is only on par with the cheaper Camaro SS and Mustang GT, despite the fact that it has a more than 50-horsepower advantage. This can mostly be attributed to its hefty, two-plus-ton weight and the sluggish 5-speed automatic transmission.
But to be fair, equipped with the Tremec six-speed manual transmission and optional Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires, you could shave a tenth or two off the 0-60 time and get the quarter mile in less than 13 seconds.
Its weight is an advantage in respect to ride quality, however, as it is, by far, the smoothest and most comfortable ride of any muscle car ever. But this doesn’t equate to sloppy handling like most smooth-riding cars, thanks to the new two-mode adaptive suspension system, which, when in sport mode, manages body roll and provides excellent feedback from the steering.
Now to the optional five-speed automatic transmission with which our test car was equipped. I’ll start with the good things: It held the gears all the way to redline in manual mode, and it had cool-looking chrome, T-shaped handles.
For the bad, it had lazy shift times in automatic mode and is slow to downshift and would seem more at home in a Cadillac DTS than a 470-horsepower muscle car. So if you want the real muscle car experience or sub-five-second 0-60 times, then manual mode is a must. Or you could just save a thousand bucks and get the manual. Oh, and leave it out in the hot, Mississippi sun long enough without a sunshade, and you’ll have the stylized “M” from Mopar branded on your hand from the chrome shift handle.
Being a big displacement, V-8 usually doesn’t equate to good fuel economy, but the cylinder deactivation feature on the automatic cars helps ease the pain a little bit and returns an EPA-rated 14 mpg in the city and 23 mpg on the highway. But this still isn’t good enough for the muscle-car-hating EPA, and they will still charge you a $1,000 gas guzzler tax.
The base price of a Challenger SRT8 392 is $43,995. Add in the Yellow Jacket package ($1,495), Mopar interior appearance group ($945), 18-speaker Harmon Kardon sound system ($1,995), 5-speed automatic ($995), navigation ($545), Goodyear all-season tires ($150) and the aforementioned gas guzzler tax ($1,000), and the as-tested price comes to $54,040. If you have to have the Yellow Jacket package, hurry, as they are slated to only make 1,000 of them in 2012.
Dollar for dollar, the Challenger SRT8 392 may not be the best value for strictly performance, as there are cheaper, higher-performing cars, like the Mustang BOSS 302. But a car with 470 horsepower, a ride that won’t send you to the chiropractor and an appearance that garnishes stares at every corner, will always be a blast to drive and own, and you can’t go wrong with that.