Ray Wert Michigan's M-1 is a state trunk road that starts at downtown Detroit's waterfront drive, Jefferson Avenue, then shoots north in a straight line for 21.4 miles, past some of the poorest and wealthiest neighborhoods of the metro region until it loops back down the other direction in the city of Pontiac. And really, nobody calls it "M-1." Everyone knows it as Woodward Avenue and it's the heart of the Midwestern metropolis dubbed the Motor City. But until this morning, I didn't realize how important this stretch of road was to me. Many of you may not know, but this past month I moved to New York. Until the start of last month, I'd lived my entire life in this corner of Michigan. But this week I'm back in Detroit for one reason, and one reason alone — an entire week of driving the 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8. It's a car imbued with so much positive energy there's only thing I can think of to do it justice. I plan on running Dodge's muscular old-school revival up and down Woodward Avenue, stoplight-to-stoplight, from downtown Detroit to Pontiac until I pass out from exhaustion or the gas station declines my credit card. I picked up the Challenger from Chrysler's fleet company in Madison Heights yesterday afternoon. Despite an itch to hit the road immediately, we first needed the obligatory glamour shots taken by Metro Detroit's star photographer Fabrizio Costantini and a quick bite to eat. So it wasn't until late yesterday night when I finally had the chance to take the new Mustang-killer out onto Woodward. A few hours more doesn't bother someone that's waited three years since their first fleeting glimpse of the Challenger across a crowded Detroit Auto Show press introduction. Still, my excitement was obvious — if anyone had been looking that late at night — as I eased the muscle-bound two-door out on to the road and pointed the LX sedan-sans-two doors onto Northbound Woodward Avenue. I don't even know why I tried to contain my feelings. How can a person not be excited when they're driving a car with sheet metal so brilliantly retrospectively-inspired you're actually able to believe orange can work as a car color again? Plus there's that power. Despite the Challenger's hefty 4,100 lb. weight, the big 425 HP 6.1-liter Hemi the Challenger SRT8 shares with its bigger, four-doored brother allows it to blast away from stoplights. Each and every time, we were provided with the effortless gratification of squealing performance radials. But I grew up on Woodward Avenue. I know at night the police lay in wait, watching the stoplights, pens at the ready in eager anticipation of tickets to be signed and handed to unsuspecting hoons careless enough to do burnouts. I had no desire to be stopped tonight. Tonight, the fun for me is cruising my past with a car that's more of a time machine than any DeLorean. I wanted to drive. So I drove. I drove past the hospital where I was born. Past the Red Coat Tavern, where my mom had once been a bartender and where she'd met my father. Past Vinsetta Garage, Michigan's oldest palace of wrench-turning — and a lot where I'd spent many an evening in my teenage years peering through the chain-link fence, trying to discern the differences between muscle cars by shape under bulky car covers. Past Birmingham, where I'd taken my driver's training and first kissed a girl. Past Cranbrook, my high school arch-rivals. Past Long Lake, and the remnants of the Fox & Hounds grill and across from the Merrill Lynch office my father, now gone, worked at over a decade ago. I drove past old family homes, old restaurants and old memories. It's a credit to how similarly roomy this new Challenger is to the old early-'70s muscle car that I hardly noticed when I'd pulled around Pontiac and was already heading back to Royal Oak. The strongly side-bolstered seats and comfortable-to-grip steering wheel helped me to pass where I'd begun my trip so effortlessly, I decided to keep going — down all the way to where Woodward Avenue ends at the Detroit River. Not having enough of that low rumbling exhaust, I turned the beast around, rear wheels competently holding on as I steered with my right foot and came right back up Woodward. I did this over and over again last night. Each time, emotions long thought dormant welled up inside of me at every red light and would quickly explode outward on every green. Gone were any cares of the day. The photos? Meaningless. Writing the review? Means nothing to me. The price of gas and a rating of 18 MPG? Ha! These are little things for little people. I'm a man — a real man driving a brand new meaty Mopar muscle car — something Motor City denizens haven't done in decades. The only thing that matters is continuing to drive. OK, so it turns out there's one thing that matters more. Exhaustion. I pulled into the garage in the wee hours of this morning feeling emotionally drained, but with a wan smile on my face. Why shouldn't I? I knew I'd get to take it out again this morning. And that's exactly what I did, four hours of sweet sleep later and after waking with that smile from the night before still firmly affixed to my face. Exterior Design: ***** The 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8 gets all five stars for providing a perfect example of a polarizingly retro design done right. You either love it or you hate it. Although we've yet to find a single soul who is willing to shout this pony down in person. From the big, strong front fascia and that creased centerline to those broad haunches in the back, this muscle car oozes bad-ass. Interior Design: *** Inasmuch as the exterior was crafted with pound upon pound of love and care, the interior feels like the ginger-headed stepchild of the design process. The flat plastic dash, while soft-to-the-touch, looks bare, forlorn and unloved. The woven leather steering wheel feels less sturdy than this car deserves. Still, the Challenger SRT8 gets one star for a back seat with the spaciousness of the original, another star for those bolstered front seats and yet another for the faux suede along the doors. Nice touch, Dodge. Acceleration: *** God, I love the built-for-America 6.1-liter Hemi engine. 425 HP and an almost equal amount of torque help make the performance tires on this beast squeal at the green light like it's a drag strip Christmas tree. Still, we're talking about 425 horses under the hood. It should jump harder, faster, stronger. It may have something to do with the 4100+ pounds it's trying to carry along for the ride. Braking: **** The big Brembos help this pony "whoa!" with the quickest of ease and you can't ask for much more than that. Ride: **** The nice thing about the Challenger is it's on the steady and capable LX platform. Unlike the bone-rattling ride of a Shelby GT500, the Challenger sweeps over the road, requiring a large pothole to even jostle it and taking the very largest to get anywhere near uncomfortable. Handling: **** I love to mash the gas around a corner, and there's nothing like feeling that back end sweep outward as I steer with my right foot; the multilink suspension in the back makes that kind of hoonage effortless. Gearbox: ** Crap. OK, here's the rub with the 2008 Challenger SRT8 — it's automatic only. While it's great for the straight-line racing crowd looking for solid, dependable and always-the-same 0-to-60 times, it's not really great for us. And the +/- gate on the shifter is an annoyance at best. We'll apparently have to wait until the 2009 model year before we'll have a chance to see this car with the gearbox it was always meant to have. Audio: *** Our test unit was equipped with MyGig, but the damnable contraption wouldn't recognize our third-gen video iPod. So my "Muscle Car Meltdown" mix had to be played using the aux input rather than the preferred USB jack. Still, the big subwoofer kept pace with the low grumble of the exhaust well enough to make me happy. Toys: **** Good god, there's some fun toys in here. Even if you ignore the issues with MyGig, the 1/4 mile, 1/8 mile, G-force and braking meters make up for it in spades. Also, it has heated seats. Value: *** The fuel economy is blood-draining-from-the-face bad — 13 MPG city, 18 MPG highway. But with an as-tested sticker price of $41,000 — and reports of $70K+ including the dealer price gouging — if you're buying this car, you shouldn't care less. Overall: **** Breathtakingly stunning looks, high horsepower and rear-wheel drive overcome gearbox issues, weight, a mediocre interior, and piss-poor gas mileage any day of the week. Yeah, yeah, I know. On any other vehicle, I'd award three stars, but seriously, it's a 2008 Dodge FREAKIN' Challenger SRT8. Those classic, proportionally sound muscle car looks just feel so good. It's a shame Chrysler didn't build this car much sooner. Suitability Parameters: Speed Merchants: Yes Fashion Victims: Yes Treehuggers: No Mack Daddies: Yes Tuner Crowd: No Hairdressers: No Penny Pinchers: No Euro Snobs: No Working Stiffs: Yes Technogeeks: No Poseurs: Yes Soccer Moms: No Nascar Dads: Yes Golfing Grandparents: No Also Consider: • 2008 Ford Mustang GT500 • 2008 Dodge Charger SRT8 • Waiting for the 2010 Chevy Camaro SS • Waiting for the 2010 Ford Mustang GT500 • Sitting at home and drinking oil straight from a barrel. Why you should buy the 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8: You love America and everything it stands for. You break out in hives at the thought of restoring an old '71 Challenger, but still want to live life looking good, moving fast and bleeding red, white and blue. Your nickname was "Super Soul" or your last name is "Kowalski." Why you shouldn't buy this car: You hate America and everything it stands for. You are content living your life in a drab, vanilla coma, never once yearning to break free to live life the way it should be lived. You know, like it was thirty years ago. Also, you're a red commie liberal hippie who smells vaguely French. Comprendez-vous?