Funny, muscle cars came and went in the 1960s and early 1970s as gas prices soared and insurance prices became an issue for many buyers. Yet muscle cars made a strong comeback in the last decade, despite high gas prices and a shift toward “green” eco-friendly vehicles.
So here we are with a refreshed Dodge Challenger for 2015. Its nose and tail have been tweaked and its interior remade to try and work some Mopar magic on this market segment. Hopes are that THIS Challenger will steal sales away from the ever-popular Ford Mustang, itself remade for 2015, and Chevrolet’s Camaro.
While one could argue the new Challenger looks better coming or going after its cosmologist-like stylists did their nips and tucks, the fact is Challenger still appears, and drives, heavy. Its stance and view from the rear quarter panels gives it a more Rubenesque appearance. That is, well rounded but a bit on the chunky side.
Now anyone who knows anything about Dodge Challengers will overlook all that because its Hellcat edition has kicked all the other performance coupes to the curb this model year. Hellcat touts a thrust-busting 707 horsepower from its supercharged 6.2-liter HEMI V8. For the record, that’s a record. The supercharged HEMI makes Hellcat the most powerful U.S. production car – ever! (See entry about first one wacked) So take that Shelby Mustangs, Camaro Z28s and even you, you puny ol’ Corvette Z06.
But alas, the test car was not a Hellcat, just the most basic SXT entry-level Challenger in a dark metallic “jazz” blue.
The SXT drops a perfectly fine 3.6-liter, 305-horse V6 with variable valve timing under the enormously long hood with its big power bulge. But while it’ll power the 3,834-lb. rear-drive coupe up to highway speeds with good energy, it’s no NASCAR-wanna-be, just 268 foot-lbs. of torque.
There’s no V8 rumble, no growl, no attitude. While you may get enough of that from the car’s looks, this is a pretty calm beast. That’s perfectly fine for normal city driving, or cruising the highway, but you won’t be showing off at stoplights or wheeling this into area car shows. If looks are your thing, the SXT will do just fine.
Dodge uses its high-tech 8-speed automatic transmission here, and that’s a good thing. It shifts smoothly. Braking is well handled too as the test car added the Super Sport Group, which included larger performance brakes along with giant 20-inch performance tires and satin carbon aluminum wheels. The brakes help stop the car quickly, the big tires and wheels simply look good.
They don’t help the ride any, as this is muscle car sporty, meaning sort of thumpy, despite its lengthy 116-inch wheelbase. You feel the road imperfections, but the car’s suspension seems well suited to rolling pavement, just not holes and big bumps. There’s traction control, but the big tires still struggle for grip on light snow days. You must be feather-light on the throttle as you come out of a turn to avoid wagging your tail.
Handling is extremely heavy and the steering wheel thick with leather. On dry pavement the car corners well, but even then I could get the back to waggle with a quick burst of power.
Inside, Dodge restyled Challenger to give it more modern functionality, like push-button start. That was accomplished, but the test car’s interior was extremely dark with a protruding black plastic dash and plastic door trim that reminded me more of the 1970s than today. Layout is logical, with retro-style round gauges in front of the driver with a tall digital trip computer screen between them.
Certainly the giant 8.4-inch navigation and radio touch screen mid-dash looks high-tech and modern. It’s easy to use too, but oddly does not contain a back-up camera, which would help when backing out of a drive or parking spot. The car has a huge C pillar blind spot, so opt for any package that includes the back-up camera.
Below the big screen are climate controls with large knobs and buttons and a dual system to help keep both front seat occupants happy.
Challenger comes with a manual tilt/telescope steering wheel complete with radio and cruise control buttons on the hub. There also are the usual automatic lights, power mirrors and windows plus Dodge delivers all the electronic hookups you expect. The test car also added a $495 radio upgrade with 6 premium speakers and a 276-watt amp, which is certainly sufficient.
The $1,400 Super Sport Group that gives this model its larger tires and wheels and performance brakes also puts paddle shifters behind the steering wheel for manual shifts, plus adds a body-colored rear spoiler. Another option adds body side stripes for $395 and a Uconnect package at $995 delivers that big nav/radio screen along with the navigation system, HD radio and Uconnect infotainment.
A few other points to consider – the visors slide, the inside door release is located very low, right next to the seat cushion, and the cup holders include a lighted ring in each, making then easy to find at night. Seats themselves are fairly snug but well-shaped and were a gray cloth in the test car. There’s a 6-way power seat, but only the seat bottom moves, along with a lumbar support. The seat back is manual.
A couple adults could sit in the rear seat, but the contortions to get under the front seatbelts may not be welcomed by all comers. Yet if you do travel in the Challenger, the trunk is huge, but with a deep liftover, a retro feature most of us have enjoyed living without.
Challenger’s giant doors also deserve a mention. Most coupes feature doors that are longer than in a sedan, but these are long enough to be a bit cumbersome in parking lots, especially those with narrow parking spots.
Gas mileage also is not a highlight. The test car’s V6 is rated 19 mpg city and 30 highway. I got just 20.4 mpg in about 60% city driving, some in snow.
Pricing though may encourage muscle car intenders to give Challenger a try, the base SXT starting at $26,995, plus a $995 delivery fee. With options the test car hit $31,275.
There are many engine choices and models beyond the SXT, including a 5.7-liter V8 that makes 375 horses, a 6.4-liter V8 rated at 485 horses and then the mighty Hellcat supercharged V8. An R/T model with base V8 starts at $31,500, a Scat Pack at $38,500 and SRT with the 6.4-liter V8 tipping the monetary scales at $46,000.
Hellcat? That’s $60 grand territory.
FAST STATS: 2015 Dodge Challenger SXT
Hits: Good acceleration, shifting and brakes, plus major look-at-me retro styling. Well-arranged dash, big nav/radio screen and roomy trunk.
Misses: Car feels heavy, ride is sporty stiff, interior dark and dash heavy on plastic. Doors are huge, so cumbersome in parking lots, no back-up camera, which is needed due to giant C-pillar blind spot.
Made in: Brampton, Ont.
Engine: 3.6-liter VVT V6, 305 hp
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Weight: 3,834 lbs.
Wheelbase: 116.0 in.
Length: 198.0 in.
Cargo: 16.2 cu.ft.
MPG: 19/30 (EPA)
MPG: 20.4 (tested)
Base Price: $26,995
Dealer’s Price: $27,331 (includes delivery)
Sound Group (6 premium speakers, 276-watt amp), $495
Super Sport Group (20-inch satin carbon aluminum wheels, R20 all-season performance tires, paddle shifters, body-colored rear spoiler, performance brakes), $1,400
Body side stripes, $395
Uconnect package (8.4-inch screen, GPS navigation, HD radio, Uconnect access, satellite radio/traffic/travel link, body- color shark fin antenna, tire inflator kit), $995
Test vehicle: $31,275
Sources: Dodge, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage