Horsepower. Raw, tire-melting horsepower. Every man worth his chest hair can’t deny it’s one of the first criteria for buying a car powered by a V8. Typically, the more the horsepower and the lower the MSRP, the more attractive it looks. It was the formula that made the muscle car era a piece of American history. But nowadays, American automakers aren’t the only ones making rear-wheel-drive radial roasters; Japan and Germany have also gotten in on the unmitigated horsepower wars, albeit with a little more luxury and refinement.
We recently had a Bridgestone bar-b-que with three fire-breathing, rear/all-wheel-drive V8s representing each of the three respective automaking countries. Japan arrived respectfully in the Lexus IS-F, Germany showed up to the cookout well dressed in the Audi S5, and the United States arrived rockin’ a mullet and Miller Lite in the Dodge Challenger SRT8. Three different V8s, three different countries, and three very different cars.
Although their differences are clear, they all share some items in common – Factory performance division badging, eight cylinders of radial roasting power, and rear or all wheel drive. Our goal with this short take review is to not throw them in a pit, gladiator-style, and have them smote one another down until a victor emerges. But rather to drive all three in succession to really uncover their innate characteristics, their essence, and what kind of buyer they would appeal to most. In other words, whaddya like best: bratwurst, beef teriyaki or bacon cheeseburgers?
Dodge Challenger SRT-8
Bacon cheeseburgers taste damn good, especially when your right foot is simultaneously jockeying 425 horsepower and the tail end of the car is wagging to and fro in a frantic search for traction. Straight line acceleration that leaves a permanent patch of rubber in the asphalt – it’s the American way. And not only does the Challenger show up to the cookout with a 5 second 0-60 time and plenty of melted rubber to lay upon those bacon cheeseburgers, but whoever shows up driving this machine better have some extra time on their hands, because everyone, and I do mean everyone, is going to be stopping you with questions.
Quite simply, if you were a neglected child and are still starved for attention, forget about the IS-F and the S5. Buy the Challenger. Your immature needs will be met in spades. You might even grow tired of the endless flocks of people swarming your car. Pretty soon, your prized possession will be surrounded deeper than a cop car in an L.A. riot.
If you manage to make it out of the crowd, once out on the road, the Challenger’s raspy, baritone growl, buttery, pistol grip six speed manual and frenetic feel deliver plenty of giddy smiles. Just don’t let anyone see you giddy. Keep a straight face. Even mean, in fact. A scowl is good. Practice your scowl in the rearview mirror before pulling out of the driveway. In addition to being attention starved, it’s also a requirement of Challenger owners to have an attitude. If you’re laughing like a little schoolboy when you pitch the car sideways at a right hand turn, people will know you’re not the rightful owner.
The Challenger SRT-8 is a far cry from the Challenger of 70′s lore, as it possesses adept handling, quiet highway ride and a level of refinement which makes it more than just a muscle car remake. In a machine like this, you don’t need a stereo. The 6.1 liter HEMI provides soundtracks aplenty. You will never grow tired of the song the Challenger sings under full trompage. Yes, we were a bit disappointed with the rental-car appearance of the interior, and with 425 horsepower on tap, we were expecting more neck-snapping acceleration than what the SRT-8 actually delivered. But, in the end, if you’re attention-starved, have an attitude problem or really like bacon cheeseburgers, the Challenger is your car.
Going from the Challenger to the S5 is like changing from a Jimmy Johnson tank top and jean shorts into a Formula 1 button-down shirt and dress pants. The S5 is perfectly ornate, perfectly beautiful, perfectly refined, perfectly German. The six-speed manual is smooth as a Munich auburn lager, and the 354 horsepower of the 4.2 liter direct injection V8 catapults the S5 0-60 in a shade under 5 seconds.
Although you won’t garner as much attention driving the S5, you’ll still need to possess an attitude. Although it’s a different attitude than with the Challenger. In the S5, an elitist attitude is the requirement. Purse your lips. Lift your chin. Wear wire-rimmed bifocals. Appear unimpressed always. Look down at people as if they have some kind of deformity. Basically, act German.
The S5 might be the most refined, most luxurious car of the bunch, don’t assume this car can’t get aggro. It’s like my lawyer buddy who shows up to work in a suit and tie, but underneath, half his body is covered in tattoos. The S5 is akin to a well-trained German Shepherd; when not provoked, it’s reserved, quiet, friendly and easy to love, but unleash the beast and all hell breaks loose. The muted growl turns into a ferocious, yet still controlled roar. The intense thrust pushes your body nice and snug into the back of the perfectly bolstered leather-clad seats.
The S5 is not as much an outright hooligan as the Challenger, but more like a well-educated dissenter. It delivers tight, rigid luxury that only a German can provide, but also isn’t afraid to roll up its sleeves once in a while to show off its bitchin’ Scorpions tattoo. If your only goal in life is to impress others with the kind of car you drive, have a professional reputation to uphold, were the token ‘outlaw’ in your Ivy League school, love bratwurst or your first name is Fritz or Helga, then the S5 should be your car cookout choice.
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