2015 DODGE CHALLENGER - Horsepower hero shows its muscle
PORTLAND, ORE.?If you own a Dodge Challenger, chances are you never even looked at another vehicle before buying your car.
At least, that?s what Dodge claims: two out of three Challenger buyers don?t bother shopping around for anything else.
Not that there?s much else competitive in the Detroit muscle car segment. The Chevy Camaro and the Ford Mustang are it, and their drivers are also fiercely brand loyal.
But the Camaro?s been recently refreshed and the Mustang will be all new when it comes to showrooms in September. The current Challenger is a gas-guzzling brute with soft suspension and a dated interior, so Dodge engineers knew they had to up its game considerably to keep their drivers? loyalty.
Those drivers don?t care about all the traditional things buyers look for: reliability and fuel economy just aren?t that important to them, and value only matters against the price of the competition. No, they?re looking for style in a car that?s satisfying to drive and has great performance.
The fourth-generation, Brampton-built Challenger now offers all of this: a full-sized, five-passenger coupe styled after the classic 1971 model but with a thoroughly modern cabin, firm and well-mannered handling and a choice of four powerful engines.
For bragging rights, the Hellcat edition is the most powerful production car ever built in America, with 707 horsepower and 650 lbs.-ft. of torque.
Most buyers, though, will opt for either the 3.6L V6 or the 5.7L Hemi V8. The (even) more powerful 6.4L and supercharged 6.2L engines are jointly engineered with sister company SRT, Fiat Chrysler?s Street and Racing Technology brand that makes the Viper.
None of these cars are anywhere near the six-figure prices of the Viper, however. The basic SXT Challenger will start in Canada at $28,995, while the larger R/T will start at $36,995. The priciest of them all, the Hellcat, will cost $63,995.
I drove for a while along the scenic road beside the Columbia River here in the basic SXT. It?s a big car, wide enough for three adults in the back seat and comfortable for them if they have very short legs.
I?d expected a stripped-down edition for the price, but while there?s no navigation and just 18-inch wheels, it is equipped with keyless entry and Chrysler?s modern Uconnect audio system.
More important, it has a 3.6L Pentastar V6 engine that?s matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission. It makes 305 hp, which is quite adequate for an enjoyable drive. Not exciting, because there?s not much sound from the exhaust and the car still weighs 1,735 kilograms at the curb, but enjoyable enough.
Dodge expects less than 10 per cent of buyers to drive away in this most basic car, with at least twice as many preferring to stump up $32,995 for the SXT Plus. This offers the same engine and transmission but adds the extras that really make a difference, including a larger display screen and a separate 8.4-inch Uconnect display screen with navigation, leather seats that are heated and cooled, a heated steering wheel and 20-inch wheels.
All these controls are angled toward the driver so the front-seat passenger really only looks at a soft-touch plastic glovebox. Dodge calls the cabin ?the cockpit,? and it does let the driver feel pretty special. There are very few buttons and switches, with most controls operated by the touch screen or on the steering wheel or centre console.
The largest market, though, will be for the V8-powered R/T, with all the technology and comfort of the loaded smaller car but packing a 5.7L Hemi under the hood. It?s rated at 372 hp and 400 lbs.-ft. of torque.
Probably more than 40 per cent of all buyers will opt for the R/T and they?ll appreciate the meatier noise and satisfying rumble of the big engine. There are no official fuel consumption ratings yet, except that the V6 returns 7.8L/100 km on the highway, which is apparently a 12-per-cent improvement. This is absolutely the most positive rating available, so expect everything to deteriorate rapidly from that.
If you prefer a stick shift, there?s a six-speed manual transmission available for the V8s that will cost an extra $1,000 ? usually it?s cheaper, but not for the Challenger ? and if you like to see your engine while driving, there?s also a Shaker version with a hole in the hood for the air intake to poke through.
A super track pack option is available across the board that drops the ride height by 12.7 mm and adds Bilstein shocks.
As you?d expect, and as is the case with the Camaro and Mustang, the V8 is a more satisfying muscle car to drive on the highway. Step on the gas and the V6 will build up to speed but the V8 lurches forward, growling its way through. Come to a curve and the Challenger does not feel as heavy and wide as its previous generation; it steers with a pleasing firmness at the wheel without overcompensation.
Little of this was apparent on Oregon?s scenic highway, where Subarus and Priuses drive with an obligation to slow traffic, so I went to the Portland racetrack to get behind the wheels of the more powerful editions.
The 6.4L V8 is called the Scat Pack and it also comes with an optional Shaker hood. It bumps the horsepower to 485, and the torque to 475 lbs.-ft.
There are two versions, priced at $45,995 and $51,995. Both are as loaded as the R/T, but the more expensive version offers more features, including six-piston Brembo brakes and an 18-speaker sound system.
On the track, it had all the roar and bluster on the straights you?d expect from such a powerful car, but maintained the neutral steering and forgiving brakes of the smaller V8s. Basically, it?s a customized Challenger, pre-tuned by SRT.
And then there?s the Hellcat. Now that?s a story in itself.
Transportation for freelance writer Mark Richardson was provided by the manufacturer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dodge Challenger Hellcat
I wish I could say the most powerful muscle car Detroit?s ever built is a pussycat on the highway and a hellcat on the track, but I can?t. It?s a Hellcat everywhere.
It doesn?t look that different from the regular Dodge Challenger. There are a few subtle styling cues, like the air scoop on the hood and the slightly wider front fascia, but there?s no badge anywhere that says ?Hellcat? ? just some silver lettering on the side that says ?Supercharged.?
And it?s that supercharger that makes all the difference, reminding the driver through the seats and at the wheel that there?s 707 hp on tap, and 650 lbs.-ft. of torque. With a list price of $63,995, that comes to $90.52 for each horsepower, which is astonishingly cheap.
To create that power, the supercharger blows 30,000 litres of air ? the equivalent of a mid-sized living room ? through the engine and exhaust every minute, spinning at up to 14,600 rpm.
It only does this, however, if you have the red key fob in your pocket. Every Hellcat comes with three keys: two red fobs for you and your partner, and a black fob for everyone else.
The black fob limits the engine to 500 hp and the revs to 4,000 rpm. It also restricts the many possible track settings. And if you don?t want your parking valet to do a Ferris Bueller with your Hellcat, there are many other restrictions available through the car?s touch screen.
Put the red key in your pocket though and the Hellcat will attack a racetrack with far more precision than previous Challengers. Its firm steering will remain neutral and its sophisticated suspension will keep it in line even when the back wheels are drifting through the tightest corners.
Dial in any number of settings on the touch-screen console to get your car exactly how you want it, and when it needs to slow down, massive brakes with a swept area almost twice the size of the standard V6 will bite smoothly and predictably.
But muscle cars are about powering from the lights and a fully customizable electronic launch control allows you the best possible start away from the competition.
Zero-to-100 km/h is a claimed 3.6 seconds, and the fastest drivers here at the track were getting 12-second quarter-miles. You?ll be gone so quick, those other cars will never know what beat them.
2015 DODGE CHALLENGER
ENGINE: 3.6L V6; 5.7L V8; 6.4L V8; 6.2L supercharged V8
POWER/TORQUE: (hp/lbs.-ft.) 305/268; 372/400; 485/475; 707/650
FUEL CONSUMPTION: (claimed, L/100km) n/a
COMPETITION: Ford Mustang, Chevy Camaro
WHAT?S BEST: Loads of inexpensive horsepower, refined cabin, neutral handling
WHAT?S WORST: Gas consumption, rear visibility, cramped rear seat
WHAT?S INTERESTING: There?s not another production car with more than 700 hp for less than half a million dollars.