Dodge Challenger R/T : A muscle car of no limits

In Drives by Mickael

Having already tested the new Ford Mustang in Miami (see article here), when I had the opportunity to test another muscle car while in the United States, I jumped on the occasion. Muscle cars were born in the US and represent upon my opinion one of the most important automotive heritage of this country, just like the berlinettas for italian automobiles. And when talking about muscle cars, three names come immediately to mind of every petrolhead. The Ford Mustang, the Chevrolet Camaro and the Dodge Challenger. Whilst the pony is often considered, wrongly, as the first one historically (which was in fact the Pontiac GTO), it was the one that democratized the muscle car and made it popular. The two other ones were simply answers from the other two major american automotive manufacturer to Ford, and as in Mark Twain’s own words “History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”, so when in 2003 Ford announced the big return of the Mustang, Chevrolet and dodge followed both in 2006 with respectively its Camaro and its Challenger. Finally we were reliving the sixties, and the three automotive manufacturers came up with proper designs incorporating every element that made all the muscle car DNA, and moreover reviving their original differences. Time to see if the 2015 version of the Dodge Challenger is still worth its legacy. Text & Images : Mickael B. ©

2015 Dodge Challenger R/T
Grade : 4 / 6

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I decided to do this test-drive a little bit differently than what I had been doing until now. Mostly, I wanted to drive. A lot, without restrictions, with that sense of freedom that anyone loves about driving. Driving randomly, no GPS, until you get lost, just letting your mind decide if you want to go straight, right or left. I knew already some nice roads in Texas golden triangle Dallas-Denton-Fort Worth but I wanted to discover some more. Still as I picked up the car on Thursday evening, my first practical test was simply to take it back home and experience it on my usual travel to work on Friday. So it’s Thursday night, and I have the keys of my second muscle car this year. I am happy because it’s a Mopar. It’s a Hemi. A legend upon the V8s. And although it’s the small one I don’t care yet because it’s still big. Most people in Europe would even find HUGE this small engine. I mean, who still manufactures naturally aspirated 5.7 litre V8s nowadays ? Even Mercedes Benz have gone for twin-turbocharged 5.5 litre engines after the mighty 6.3 AMG motor.

It’s a Mopar. It’s a Hemi. And it’s the “small” 5.7 litre V8. Yeah, right. Small for americans, maybe…

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First impression of course, after a tour of the beast, is wow this thing’s huge. Feels much bigger than the Mustang. Higher, too. Some would say less elegant, but I would say more brutal. More manly. And whereas the Mustang has changed most of its design twice since the 2005 big return, and the Camaro once, the Challenger has only had some detailed refinements. From the front, it’s a new grille and new, more aggressive headlamps, whereas in the back, changes only affect the lamps and exhausts. But the big changes are inside. I had never driven a Challenger ever before in my life, but I had been in a few during motor shows, and I can tell you that it’s nothing comparable. Before the 2015 slight facelift and modifications, the Dodge’s interior was really its weak point, but now there has been a huge leap forward. The general quality of the materials, the ergonomy and the presentation of every elements make it a nice place to spend some time. Of course, it’s still very american, so it’s not as good as what you would get from an average european car, but there has been some huge progress, so let’s not spoil our pleasure.

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Really Dodge, optional flappy paddles ? That’s a bit like your midwife asking you to pay an extra for your kid’s hands.

The seats have not much changed upon my memory, and although they offer good support, it is not as good as the Mustang, for instance. It’s a keyless start so press the Start button and the V8 will come to life… In a rather quiet bellow. I was hoping more, especially coming from a Hemi engine. There are three main interior elements that truly make the Challenger a very good place to spend some time driving. The first one is the 7 inch touch display of the center console, which can be extended optionally to an even bigger one. Then, the new steering wheel, regroups finally in a very practical way all the useful commands to control the different car features, but I was very disappointed to find mine without the optional flappy paddles. Really Dodge, optional flappy paddles ? That’s a bit like your midwife asking you to pay an extra for your kid’s hands. Especially as these usually come standard almost everywhere now. And finally, the third element is the main gear-lever. The first time I actually saw one of those was in an Audi, which had introduced this yacht style-inspired gear-lever on their new A8 back in 2011. And since, then I had always wondered what it would be like to drive with one of these. Time to figure out.

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The new 8 speed gearbox should make everyone happy. The speed lovers, the environmentalists, and your wallet. But the reality is a little bit different.

Underneath the refined more than restyled body and the new interior, the Dodge Challenger has not much evolved. It has gained new engines, with the top of the range Hellcat, but most of its innards are the same. And the 5.7 litre Hemi V8 has just been optimized to provide an additional 15 horsepower. But the huge difference that I am sure most Challenger owners will truly appreciate is the new 8-speed automatic gearbox. Offered as standard, Dodge can add at extra cost a rev matching feature for downshifts, or a proper six speed manual. It adds a lot to the driving experience, as now the car has two more gears to play with, which of course increases accelerations whilst decreasing fuel consumption. So everybody’s happy. Well not really. Why ? The problem is that although the driving experience is better, because the car accelerates faster, and your wallet feels happier when reaching the fuel pump, you lose some drivability. Let me explain. When on Drive, letting the car manage everything, while you pushed the accelerator the car would probably simply keep the gear and increase injection to increase rev and speed. Today, what happens is that almost as soon as you reach 10 or 20% of the gas pedal, the car will immediately drop one if not two gears because it has more to play with, thus increasing much faster your speed, and actually up to dangerous limits regarding the law. Still, I think that with a little bit more time than I had, every 2015 Challenger owner will probably get used to this without any problems.

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The V8 is a very volunteer engine, especially between 2500 and 5000 rpm, where its sound is the best too, and revs to 5700. Typical muscle car. And with this very vigorous gearbox willing to drop the gears at any chance, it’s a joy just to have someone to overtake. On the highway, the car switches to its 4 cylinder running in 8th gear eco-mode to the full 8 bowls in 3rd gear in just a blink. Just to remind you that the Challenger is not just yet any ordinary car. Moreover, the view you have in the rear mirror and the general immediate presence of the V8’s immense torque are a permanent reminder that you are sitting in a fast car. Not the fastest, for sure, as I measured using the car’s integrated performance tool a 0 to 62 mph in 5.3 seconds, but still honorable. It’s true that being used to european sports cars than could claim times 0.4 seconds faster with 75 horsepower less didn’t make it feel like a rocket, but the Challenger is much heavier than any of these cars for sure. And that’s probably the technical weak point of the Dodge. Due to its very heavy weight, as the chassis and most of the general frame and body of the car has not changed since 2007, it feels still a little bit old and outdated comparing to its two main competitors. The direction is not nimble enough, and its center of gravity is sitting quite high.

On the highway, the car switches to its 4 cylinder running in 8th gear eco-mode to the full 8 bowls in 3rd gear in just a blink. Just to remind you that the Challenger is not just yet any ordinary car.

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My travel to work not being exactly very long, around 2 miles, it was not the most challenging travel for the Dodge but it allowed me to take a look at the boot, which is probably the biggest of its category. I had the opportunity to drive it in various environments, city, traffic jams, highway and country roads, and it really copes well with whatever comes. I was surprised by the general suspension setting, firm but not too much, and from that point of view, much better settled than with the Mustang Convertible. The Dodge includes a Sport Mode, which offers better gas pedal response, and slight settings changes, that I really found minimal. Nothing like the Sports Mode of our european cars. My guess is that it seems to be a new feature in all muscle cars but I am not sure if it actually really does something. More like a show button. And my biggest driving disappointment happened on the country roads, in Sport. I was expecting Dodge to have a bit of margin to play with the traction control, but the reality is, it cut your balls. It won’t let you play an inch. It just cuts everything on the gas instead. And that’s sad. That’s very sad, because where’s all the fun and the adrenalin if you cut my balls ?

I was expecting Dodge to have a bit of margin to play with the traction control, but the reality is, it cut your balls. And where’s all the fun and adrenalin if you cut my balls ?

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Second thing I did not appreciate much, is the combination of lacking the flappy paddles and this yacht-styled gear-lever. Although I truly appreciated this new gear-lever, as it fits perfectly in hand, and increases even the feeling that you are in control, especially if you have been boating before at some point in your life, it is very impractical to change gears manually using it. And of course, if I had had flappy paddles this issue would probably never have occurred, or at least I would have said that it wouldn’t be very important. But as I was forced to change gears with this gear-lever that seemed suddenly huge and very impractical for manual shifts. Moreover is it very massive and thus difficult to manipulate on such a demanding process than driving in manual shifts, it lacked sometimes some responses. So advice for future Dodge Challenger owners : please afford the flappy paddle options if you plan driving your car in manual mode, or you’ll probably end up eating that lever. Speaking about affording, the price of the Challenger starts at 31’995 $, which upon my european opinion seems like a bargain, but not that much when compared to its other muscle car sisters.

To all future Dodge Challenger owners : Please afford the flappy paddles option or you might end up eating that gear lever in rage and despair. Or be a true gentleman driver and get that six speed manual.

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As I was surprised by the general quietness of the V8, I started while cruising on the highway to look all the media features and especially the audio system that my car was offering. Whilst I found the interface very nice and practical, thanks to the command on the steering wheel, and the center touch screen I noticed something odd. The maximum volume level is 38. Why 38 ? The other very odd thing that I noticed during this week-end test-drive was the PANIC feature on the key to trigger the car’s alarm. Okay I admit. I laughed my ass off when I saw this the first time. The other useful feature I loved on this R/T was the fuel cap, which is probably a visual item that looks absolutely incredible. This car’s all about new feelings. I could really feel all the efforts that Dodge had made to change the experience future owners will have, to improve it. But underneath, they had kept all the elements that made the success of this true american muscle. Huge engines, massive chassis, and any proper driver in the middle would have that set of big balls any Dodge requires when you want to drive it to its limit.

Two very odd things of the new Challenger. The maximum sound level is 38. And there’s a PANIC button on the key.

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During all my journeys with the Dodge, I covered over 600 miles, barely averaging over 15 miles per gallon (around 16 liters per 100 kilometers) on roads and to places I knew or some of them I had never been to, enjoying the time spent with the Challenger. Looking for sunrise at 6h30 in the morning near the Texas Motor Speedway up to sunset near Grapevine Lake, going to the border with Oklahoma up north, in Dallas, and so on. I have really enjoyed my time in this new 2015 Dodge Challenger. It’s a myth, a legend, and thus a true privilege to have been able to spend time driving such a car. I mean you just got to look at it and you’re already loving it. It’s such a beautiful thing. Massive, brutal, yet terribly attractive. And as its most annoying default can be corrected rather easily by adding these optional paddles or choosing the six-speed manual, my guess is any Challenger owner will start to love this Dodge after just a few miles, even if the chassis and engine are a little bit outdated. After all, we love cars or people because of their defaults, not their qualities, don’t we ? Would I buy one ? Probably not a simple R/T like this one, but I would definitely go for a 392 or Hellcat with a manual gearbox in my future muscle car collection.

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The Challenger is a myth. A legend. Massive, brutal, yet terribly attractive. Full of endearing defaults. A muscle car from its spine and core DNA, and a one you got to love.

Dodge Challenger R/T
Aesthetics : 80%

Interior : 70%

Engine : 70%

Chassis : 60%

Gearbox : 40%

Cruising : 80%

Sports : 40%

Bargain : 75%

Buy one : 40%

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