Dodge Challenger, Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro are three of a kind (never mind that in NASCAR it’s the Mustang, Camaro and Toyota Camry, the latter front-wheel drive in production form).
The Mustang and Camaro are smaller, nimbler, and more graceful, so the Challenger can’t run with them in the corners. But MoPar fans don’t much care. They have the 707-horsepower SRT Hellcat, with its 6.2-liter supercharged V8. Megahorsepower can quickly make up for handling disadvantages.
And now, the SRT Demon joins the 2018 Challenger lineup. Try 840 horsepower and 770 pound-feet of torque. Why? Well, it’s a factory production drag car, the fastest muscle car in history, offering acceleration from zero to sixty in 2.3 seconds, a quarter-mile time of 9.65 seconds, and a top speed of more than 200 miles per hour. It’s the first production car that will do a wheelstand: 2.92 feet, as certified by Guinness World Records.
But wait, there’s more. For 2018 there’s another new model, the Hellcat Widebody. It gets fender flares, 20-inch aluminum wheels that are 11 inches wide, and 305/35ZR20 Pirelli tires.
The 2018 Challenger Hellcat gets a new grille and fender badges, so-called Air-Catcher headlamps with the Hellcat logo, and Demonic Red Laguna leather upholstery. New options include Brembo brake calipers painted black, orange and gunmetal; and a wheel finish called Matte Vapor.
Drive one of those, and you can sneer at Camaro and Mustang drivers.
There are more new performance upgrades and options for 2018, as well.
We would be here a long time, if we got into the details of all of the Challenger possibilities. There are no less than 16 models. Challenger SXT, SXT Plus, R/T, R/T Plus, R/T Shaker, R/T Plus Shaker, R/T Scat Pack, T/A, T/A Plus, T/A 392, GT AWD, 392 HEMI Scat Pack Shaker, SRT 392, SRT Hellcat, SRT Hellcat Widebody, and last but for sure not least, the SRT Demon.
Base engine in Challenger SXT is Chrysler’s 3.6-liter V6 making 305 horsepower and 268 pound-feet of torque. The R/T uses a 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. The Hellcat’s supercharged 6.2-liter V8 makes 707 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque, and can do the quarter-mile in 11.2 seconds and reach a top speed of 199 mph.
Transmissions for the Challenger are an 8-speed automatic or 6-speed manual. It depends on the model which one is standard, and which one is optional.
The V6 gets an EPA-rated 23 combined miles per gallon with the automatic (30 mpg highway), while the 5.7-liter V8 gets 18 mpg combined with the 6-speed manual and 19 mpg with the automatic. The manual needs premium fuel, while the automatic is okay with regular. That’s because the engine mated to the manual gearbox is a bit more powerful.
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.
The 2018 Dodge Challenger lineup ranges from the entry-level V6-powered SXT ($26,995) to the SRT Demon ($83,295). In between are the R/T with the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 ($33,495), and the T/A 392 with the 6.4-liter V8 ($38,995), and the Hellcat ($63,795).
Challenger SXT includes hound’s-tooth cloth upholstery, 18-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, rearview camera, power driver’s seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel, 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The infotainment and rearview camera are newly standard for 2018.
The Challenger GT is the all-season car, with all-wheel drive standard. It adds an 8.4-inch infotainment screen, heated and ventilated leather-upholstered seats, Alpine-branded audio, rear parking sensors, and more.
The R/T designation means hemi. Challenger R/T models get bigger wheels, brakes and a rear spoiler, among other things. The Shaker designation means a bulging hood with wide but relatively slim and restrained intake for the cold air induction. The 392 means 6.4 liters.
Challenger SRT models have things like HID headlamps with automatic high-beams, lightweight 20-inch aluminum wheels with grippy tires. Black cloth upholstery is standard, with regular or fancy Nappa leather available.
There are many options, either stand-alone or in packages, including LED headlamps and taillamps, synthetic suede upholstery, adaptive cruise control, a forward-collision warning system, blind-spot monitors, and cross-traffic alerts. For 2018 there are a quite a few new and miscellaneous equipment and trim upgrades and availabilities, to all the models. Things like optional Brass Monkey wheels on the SRT 392; optional red Brembo brake calipers on the R/T and R/T 392; a Performance Handling Package on 5.7-liter models with four-piston Brembo brakes and the high-performance suspension; and new F8 Green and IndiGO Blue colors, to add to the already eye-catching Plum Crazy.
The Challenger might not have a roofline or profile as sporty as the Mustang or Camaro, but its lines are clean enough to hold its own. It’s pure and retro all the way, with a shape much like the original 1971 Challenger. And the 2018 version looks very similar to the 2008 model that marked the rebirth of the Challenger. Nice face that has become iconic, nice flared fenders and hips. The Shaker hood with the power bulge may be a throwback to the Sixties, but then you might say that about any car with a hood scoop, including a Subaru.
The hound’s-tooth cloth trim might be throwback, but models with leather make the cabin feel a bit like a luxury coupe. Well, close. The front seats would be at home in a Mercedes, especially in Nappa leather. There’s a base high-tech 7.0-inch customizable instrument cluster TFT screen, or 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, as it should; that’s what any Hemi buyer wants. The Hemi uses a 2.75-inch electronically controlled active exhaust system to deliver that signature sound.
The rear seat falls a bit short, compared to the front. Three people can fit only for a short time. There’s less headroom than the Challenger’s size might suggest. And climbing in through the front doors takes some contortion.
The trunk is very large, 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. When that passenger in the middle of the rear seat starts complaining, you can offer them more room in the trunk.
The thick roof pillars and high beltline detract from rearward visibility when on the road, but the new-for-2018 rearview camera solves the backing-up issue.
The SXT with its 3.6-liter V6 is the easiest to drive and has the most compliant suspension; taller sidewalls on the tires help. It’s still firm enough to handle fairly well. With its 305 horsepower and paddle-shifting 8-speed automatic, there’s enough power to feel like a muscle car; after all, it wasn’t that long ago that 300 horsepower was considered a lot for a V8. The SXT isn’t short on acceleration for passing, unless of course you compare it to something extreme like a Hellcat. The SXT is an easy car to live with that exudes a lot of style.
The different models have different suspension setups, so they ride and handle differently, but any Challenger is stable and predictable even on twisty roads, and can be driven quickly. Not as nimble as a Mustang or Camaro, but the electric power steering is accurate and nicely weighted.
The SRT models are markedly firmer, while reducing body lean in the turns a significant amount. An upgraded Performance Handling Package tightens the suspension on R/T models and adds four-piston Brembo brakes.
The Challenger GT offers all-wheel drive for winter weather capability.
Jumping up to the SRT 392 with its 6.4-liter V8, you get 485 horsepower and 475 pound-feet of torque, along four-piston Brembo brakes and 20 x 9-inch aluminum wheels. You also get adaptive suspension and SRT drive modes that determine power, transmission shift points and speed (if you don’t shift manually with the paddles), steering quickness, stability control levels, and even suspension firmness. The drive modes include Sport, Track and Default modes, while Custom mode enables drivers to choose separate settings.
The Hellcat’s power steering is hydraulic, which gives it more road feel, although that feel is anything but delicate, given its weight of 4500 pounds. Still, it’s relatively easy to drive for a car with such a humongous amount of horsepower. 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.
The Demon will push back your eyeteeth, with a g-force of 1.8 g in its acceleration from a standing start to 30 miles per hour in one second. To increase horsepower from the Hellcat’s 707 to 840, a few changes were made to the 6.2-liter supercharged engine. Including a bigger supercharger with increased boost pressure to 14.5 psi; upping the redline to 6500 rpm; SRT Power Chiller liquid-to-air intercooler chiller system; After-Run Chiller that keeps cooling the supercharger/charge air cooler after the engine is shut off; Air-Grabber induction system with hood scoop having a huge 45.2 square inches of intake. Changes to get that horsepower to the ground include the TransBrake system for grippy launches; and Torque Reserve, to bring over-the-top torque at launch.
Do the arithmetic between the Demon and Hellcat, and you’ll find that you pay $19,500 to raise the horsepower from 707 to 840. There are a number of engine changes to justify that but maybe what you’re really paying for is the ability to say your car is the quickest production car in the world, in a straight line (and prove it if you go to the drag strip), and the only one that can do a wheelstand.
Ironically, for that extra 20 thou you also get no rear seats, and just two speakers. It’s all about saving weight. But to add madness to the irony, Dodge will sell you back your rear seats for $1. And never fear, leather upholstery and an 18-speaker Harman Kardon sound system are optional. Plus, Demon buyers get a free one-day session at the Bob Bondurant School of High-performance Driving.
No argument here on pros and cons vs a Mustang or Camaro. Nothing will change your mind if you’re in one corner or another. The 2018 Challenger is a worthy MoPar. It’s handsome. It handles. Good transmissions. The SXT is both retro and stylish, and quick, no longer a dinosaur, if you need to justify a V6. If you’re not the type to worry about justifying your stuff, the Hellcat or Widebody Hellcat is for you. The Demon is for racers.
Sam Moses contributed to this review, with staff reports.