One last spin in the Dodge Challenger

An iconic muscle car rides of into the sunset.

By Lee Bailie Wheels.ca

Sep 12, 2023 5 min. read

Article was updated 21 days ago

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This car is anachronism, and it has been that way since its inception.

Just look at it. Slab-sided, with tiny windows, massive wheels, and a long hood, but also little round headlights like eyes peeking out from under a pulled-down ballcap that say, “what are you looking at?”

Even among muscle car rivals from Ford and GM, the Dodge Challenger is the most out there, perhaps flexing a little too hard, leaning into its own prodigious power and badassery a bit too much, and reveling it its horsepower king status for a bit too long.

2023 Dodge Challenger Shakedown

Ok dude, we get it – you’re the Captain America of muscle cars. Quit tying so hard.

But then you clunk its heavy driver’s side door shut, get comfortable in its bathtub environs, fire up one of its massive V8s, such as the 6.4-litre (392 cubic inch) HEMI, and the chortling of its deep bass exhaust fills the cabin – and your brain stem – with intense feelings of, “oh yeah!” and you forget how fundamentally absurd this car is.

Logic and common sense are tossed out the window and it’s time to go for a rip!

I’m not going to say those were my exact thoughts when I, for the last time, picked up a Challenger press car for a week’s worth of fun recently, but it was close enough.

As you may have heard, 2023 marks the end of production for the Dodge Challenger, along with its sedan stablemates, the Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300.

2023 Dodge Challenger Shakedown

Like all automotive marques, Dodge’s future is electric, and they’ve indicated as much with the reveal of the Charger Daytona SRT, a pure electric concept first shown last summer. A production variant of that car is expected to go on sale next year.

But in the meantime, Dodge is ensuring the current third-gen Challenger will go out with a bang thanks to the release of seven “Last Call” special editions. The one shown here is a Shakedown Special Editon, which is the first of the Last Calls.

Originally, I was going to run through the Challenger’s history, which goes back to concept sketches first shown in 2005 but changed my mind because it’s ancient history, and the car we have now is what matters.

That said, the Challenger has an interesting backstory, as it was originally built on a modified platform and shared some Mercedes-Benz DNA because it was in development during the Daimler-Chrysler era. So please, feel free to read up on that stuff, as I did. It’s quite interesting.

2023 Dodge Challenger Shakedown

Back to our story. One of the more remarkable aspects of the Challenger is its looks, which haven’t changed much throughout its 15 years of production. Comparing the 2008 model to the 2023 reveals only minor styling changes which is a nod to its iconic status.

It is clear Dodge has used the Challenger nameplate as a playground to introduce a flood of new colours, appearance packages and models throughout the car’s production run, particularly in the past half-decade or so.

Currently, there are nine regular models sold in Canada in addition to the seven Last Calls, and they are available in a broad array of colours to suit any mood. They came up with great names for these shades too, including Pitch Black for my tester.

Personally, I’ve had the good fortune to drive most, if not all, of the current Challenger lineup over the past decade. I’ve enjoyed each of these experiences, but the one I’ve driven the most is the 392 Scat Pack, and it is my favourite, and it serves as the basis for the Shakedown Special.

It’s not the most powerful but, in my view, it is the most connected to the Challenger’s early 1970s muscle car heritage, a time when big iron ruled, and you didn’t rely on a supercharger to go fast.

The Shakedown Special Edition epitomizes the essence of the Challenger, a feeling that is apparent from the time the starter button is pressed and the 392 spools up with the accompanying deep rumble of its HEMI V8. It is a deeply satisfying experience.

2023 Dodge Challenger Shakedown

And that sentiment carries through every aspect of this car. From the Mopar Shaker hood to the flared haunches, massive 20-inch wheels, and more Super Bee easter eggs than you can throw a stick at, the Shakedown’s emotional appeal hits one square between the eyes.

The 392 generates 485 horsepower and 475 lb-ft. of torque, which is transmitted to the rear wheels through a 6-speed manual transmission. And it’s quite fast too – that I can confirm.

But the cool-car stuff is what lingers in my mind, and I suspect most buyers have similar feelings.

Hood pins. Check.

Heavy clutch. Check.

Round analogue gauges circa 1971. Check.

Overstuffed seats that belong in your living room couch. Check.

I could go on, but you get the point. Consider that these days the average new car purchase is a small or medium-sized crossover, and this car hits like a bucket of ice water to the face.

It’s as non-conforming as one can get, a pizza and ice cream for dinner forever kind of car. And that, to me, accounts for much of its appeal beyond its performance credentials. If you want to feel like a badass, this is your car.

2023 Dodge Challenger Shakedown

When one rumbles into a Wal-Mart parking lot, others will pause for a moment to watch the non-conformist behind the wheel pass in search of a parking spot. Did I just describe an experience I had while driving the Shakedown? Yes. And I loved it.

The fact that Stellantis is finally putting the Challenger out to pasture shouldn’t come as a surprise. One can make the argument that it’s long overdue. Electrification is the future, a reality that can no longer be put off, as all manufacturers have come to accept. That the Challenger and its siblings have survived this long is a testament not only to their popularity, but to our reluctance to let them go.

Their passing into the automotive afterlife is both sad and inevitable, but the time has come. One can hope the Dodge performance torch is successfully passed to the Charger Daytona SRT, but even if that comes to pass, the legacy of the Challenger will linger.

2023 Dodge Challenger Shakedown Special Edition

BODY STYLE: 2 door, 5 seater, full-size coupe
DRIVE METHOD: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, six-speed manual
ENGINE: 6.4-litre V8 (485 hp / 475 lb-ft.)
FUEL ECONOMY: (Regular 87) 16.7 / 10.4 / 13.9 L / 100 km (city / highway / combined)
CARGO VOLUME: 458.7 litres (16.2 cu ft.)
 $62,995 base / $85,670 as tested, incl. freight, excl. taxes and fees
WEBSITE: www.dodge.ca


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