Of the three Detroit muscle cars currently on the market, the Dodge Challenger is the most faithful to its vintage forbears in terms of styling, driving dynamics and overall character. Though lacking in handling compared to its peers, it's one of the best cruising machines on the market thanks to a spacious, comfortable interior and a classic, throwback look.
The Challenger rides on a shortened version of the LX rear-wheel-drive platform used by the first-generation Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300. While ideal for those full-size sedans, the platform is slightly oversized for a two-door and contributes to the Challenger's relatively porky curb weight. However, this architecture does permit a large cabin that can accommodate adults in the rear seats, unlike many cars in the segment.
Draped over the modified sedan underpinnings is perhaps the Challenger's greatest asset - muscular, head-turning retro sheetmetal. All of the cues that made the original Challenger a classic - a long, narrow opening for the grille and headlights, coke-bottle hips and a single, full-length taillight - are present and accounted for in the current model.
Inside, Dodge recently updated the interior with a three-spoke steering wheel and revised instruments. Otherwise, the sturdy and inoffensive yet unexciting cabin carries over unchanged.
The Challenger recently received a thorough suspension overhaul designed to make the car a bit more agile, with changes including new shocks and springs, revised geometry, firmer bushings and thicker anti-roll-bars. The front and rear camber settings are more aggressive, while new electro-hydraulic power steering promises increased feel.
Powertrain Lineup: Standard Pentastar, Optional Hemi
The entry-level engine is Chrysler's new 3.6-liter "Pentastar V6," which produces a healthy 306 horsepower and 268 lb-ft torque. Mated to exclusively to a five-speed automatic transmission, this motor returns 18 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway.
Those looking for the full-muscle car experience can opt for a 5.7-liter HEMI V8, which recently got a bump in power via variable valve timing as well as a higher compression ratio. Output is rated at 372 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque with the five-speed automatic, while choosing a six-speed stick boosts those figures to 375 ponies and 410 lb-ft of twist.
Notably, the Challenger is the first modern HEMI-powered car available with a manual transmission - a unit borrowed from the Viper -- with a pistol grip shifter reminiscent of the original Challengers from 35 years ago.
Fuel economy is rated at 15/23 mpg with the manual or 15/25 mpg with the optional five-speed automatic.
Trim Level Breakdown
The Challenger is available in no less than six trim levels: three V6 trims (SXT, SXT Plus, Rallye Redline) and four V8 trims (R/T, R/T Plus, R/T Classic).
The SXT comes standard with automatic climate control, an AM/FM/CD stereo with WMA/MP3 input jack, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a chrome fuel door and 28-inch alloy wheels. To those features, the SXT Plus adds Nappa Leather upholstery, heated front seats, a 276-watt Boston Acoustics sound system, Bluetooth connectivity with Uconnect voice command, for lamps and automatic headlamps.
The Rallye Redline brings a "Redline Red" exterior triple stripe pattern, unique 20-inch black chrome wheels with a red accent trim ring, a body-colored rear spoiler and steering wheel mounted paddle shifters. Also included is the Super Sport Package that is optional on other V6-equipped Challengers. This handling-focused package includes a performance-tuned suspension with 42 percent firmer front and 22 percent firmer rear monotube shocks, larger sway bars front and rear, 25-percent quicker steering and upsized brakes.
The R/T and R/T Plus mirror the features found on the SXT and SXT Plus, respectively, with the notable upgrade of the HEMI V8. The retro-themed R/T Classic adds 20-inch polished forged-aluminum wheels, dual side stripes, functional hood scoops and HID headlights. The R/T Rallye Redline adds 20-inch black-finish wheels and a two-tone
Newly available on the R/T trims is the optional Blacktop package, which adds 20-inch gloss black wheels, a gloss black grille surround, gloss black fuel door and a new matte black stripe kit that runs the length of the car.
Also included is Dodge's Super Track Pak, which includes a high-performance-steering gear, upgrade brake linings, monotube-shock absorbers, beefier Goodyear Eagle F1 Super Car three-season tires and a three-mode ESC with "full off" mode. All-season tires can be had for no additional cost.
The R/T and R/T Trims can also be spec'd with a Rallye Redline package (similar to the V6 trim level) that brings 20-inch black-finish wheels and a Redline Red/Graphite stripe on both sides of the car.
All Challenger models come standard with dual front, side and side curtain airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems.
Those interested in the Challenger will probably want to shop it against the other domestic pony cars, the Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang, and might also be interested in sporty two-doors like the Hyundai Genesis Coupe and the Nissan 370Z.