The rear-wheel-drive two-door Dodge Challenger is a beast that competes with the Ford Mustang and Chevy Camaro.
There’s something undeniably great about the Challenger. There is nothing subtle about it, from its wide tires to an available purple paint job. It’s meant to go fast and attract attention. It can be a monster in a straight line, and goes around corners well enough to be acceptable. After all, the chassis has been around for nearly two decades.
Judged objectively, the Challenger can’t run with these smaller, nimbler and more graceful cars. But in the world of muscle cars, it’s about brand loyalty. A MoPar guy just isn’t going to buy a Ford or Chevy, at least not without feeling like a turncoat. The comparisons will and should continue, but we doubt if they’ll have much effect on buyers.
Base engine is the SXT’s 3.6-liter V6 making 305 horsepower and 268 pound-feet of torque, followed by the Challenger R/T’s 5.7-liter Hemi V8 with 375 horsepower and 410 pound-feet of torque. The R/T Scat Pack and SRT 392 use a 6.4-liter Hemi V8 making 485 horsepower and 475 pound-feet. Finally there’s the Challenger Hellcat’s supercharged 6.2-liter V8 making a mind-blowing 707 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque. It’s the most powerful American car in history. It can blast down the quarter-mile in 11.2 seconds and hit a top speed of 200 mph. Take that, Mustang and Camaro.
The standard transmission in the Challenger is an 8-speed automatic, but the V8s can come with a 6-speed manual. The R/T and SRT are opposite.
For 2017, the Hellcat gets new wheels, and all models except the base SXT get infotainment upgrades with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. In the center of the steering wheel on SRT models, there’s now a white LED logo for Hellcats and red one for 392s. Other than that there are no real changes for 2017.
A Challenger V6 achieves an EPA-rated 30 miles per gallon Highway, and the V8s can get 25 mpg.
In crash testing, the NHTSA gives Challenger five stars overall, with four stars for frontal collision and rollover. The IIHS gives top Good scores for moderate overlap front and side impacts, but only Marginal in the difficult small-overlap front collision test, with Acceptable grades for roof strength head restraint security. Automatic emergency braking isn’t available on the Challenger.
2017 Dodge Challenger models include the SXT ($26,995), R/T ($31,995), R/T Scat Pack ($37,995), SRT 392 ($49,195), and SRT Hellcat ($62,495). (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
Standard equipment on Challenger SXT includes dual-zone automatic climate control, 7.0-inch TFT display screen, a 5.0-inch infotainment system, Bluetooth, power driver’s seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, automatic headlights, 18-inch alloy wheels. SXT Plus ($3,000) adds Nappa leather, 20-inch alloy wheels, rearview camera, heated steering wheel, air conditioned seats, Alpine audio system, and 8.4-inch infotainment system.
R/T models get bigger brakes, rear spoiler, and an optional power bulge shaker hood with a cutout that reveals the Hemi engine ($4000).
SXT and R/T models are available with a Blacktop appearance package with 20-inch black alloy wheels, glossy black grille, satin black finishes on the spoiler and fuel door, a dual stripe, fog lamps, racy steering wheel with paddle shifters, black cloth upholstery, or available Nappa leather in Plus models.
Overall, there are 10 trim choices and many stand-alone options, including synthetic suede upholstery, adaptive cruise control, a forward-collision warning system, blind-spot monitors, and cross-traffic alerts.
The Challenger is a retro design all the way, with shapes that date to the original car from 45 years ago. The 2017 car looks very similar to the 2008 model that marked the rebirth of the Challenger. The Shaker hood with the power bulge is totally throwback to the Sixties.
Even the hounds tooth cloth trim, optional on the SXT and R/T, is throwback. Like the 1971 Challenger, the center console rises on the passenger side. Otherwise the Challenger feels like a luxury coupe inside. There’s a high-tech 7.0-inch customizable instrument cluster TFT screen, and an optional 8.4-inch touchscreen with sharpened resolution and quicker software for infotainment.
Acoustic glass and heavy sound insulation keep the cabin noise down even with high-performance tires. The Hemi’s engine noise enters the cabin, but being able to hear the engine is a good thing.
The front seats would be at home in a Mercedes, especially when they’re Nappa leather. Not so the rear seat, where there’s room for three (for short periods of time), but there’s less headroom than the Challenger’s size would suggest. And climbing in through the front doors takes some contortion.
The trunk is nearly huge, at 16.2 cubic feet, more space than some midsize sedans. It’s wide, long and shallow, able to fit several large suitcases, making this muscle car a good traveling car.
The thick roof pillars and high beltline detract from visibility, and a rearview camera isn’t standard on the base SXT.
Challenger’s 3.6-liter V6 makes 305 horsepower and 268 pound-feet of torque with the 8-speed automatic, with enough oomph to feel like a muscle car, never short on acceleration for passing.
The different models have different suspension setups, so they ride and handle differently, but any Challenger is stable and predictable even on twisty roads. The SXT and R/T offer a ride that’s almost luxurious, on their taller sidewalls.
Muscle cars are hardly known for cornering, but the Challenger SXT is firm enough to do that fairly well. A Challenger isn’t as quick-handling as a Mustang or Camaro, but the electric power steering is accurate and nicely weighted. It can be driven quickly.
The Hellcat is very easy to drive for a car with such a humongous amount of horsepower. Its power steering is hydraulic, which gives it more road feel, while its 4500 pounds gives it a feeling that’s anything but delicate. The Hellcat dampers are high-tech Bilsteins, but there’s an available adaptive suspension whose Normal mode isn’t much firmer than the standard SXT. Optional Pirelli P Zero performance tires give the Hellcat heaps of grip on dry pavement, but they’re scary on snow or ice. Big Brembo brakes inspire about as much confidence as you can have in a 4500-pound car that can go 200 miles per hour.
Our seat time in the Hellcat included one 30-minute blast at daybreak on a remote Oregon road that twisted upward into the mountains. We didn’t pass a single car in either direction. We drove it like we stole it, which to say almost as fast as we could without risking tossing it over a cliff. We reached the small town for coffee in about half the time it took 24 other autojournos driving different high-performance cars, and our smile was twice as broad. Mind-blowing acceleration out of corners and a quick-shifting 8-speed automatic transmission will do that to you. The Hellcat was indeed a beast, but we were almost amazed by how composed it remained.
If you need to justify the Challenger, start with the supercharged 707-horsepower Hellcat. After that, it’s only because it’s a MoPar. The Hemi engines are good, but so are Ford and Chevy V8s. The V6 is good too, but a V6 Challenger has to be all about looks. The handling is eminently better than back in the original muscle car days. Neither the 8-speed automatic nor 6-speed manual transmission will disappoint.
Sam Moses wrote this review, with staff reports by The Car Connection.