By Steve & Tami Laser
Do you remember the first Dodge Challenger? It was introduced in fall 1969 as a 1970 model, sharing Chrysler’s “E-body” platform with the third-generation Plymouth Barracuda. Dodge stretched the wheelbase by two inches to give it more room inside. Revised styling for 1971 included split taillights and a twin-inlet grille. Fast-forward 45 years and history repeats itself (sort of) with the revised Challenger for 2015.
Just about everyone remembers the return of the Challenger in 2008. Based on the same rear-drive platform as the Chrysler 300 and modern-day Dodge Charger sedan, Challenger’s styling cues evoked the original from many angles. For 2015, Challenger gets a new look with 1971-influenced design cues including a new split grille, more pronounced and functional power bulge hood, LED halo headlights and split LED taillights.
There’s a new TorqueFlite 8-speed automatic transmission, the base V6 engine delivers 305 horsepower, the 5.7-liter HEMI V8 puts out 375 horses and a new 6.4-liter HEMI V8 kicks out 485 ponies. And there’s the R/T Shaker and R/T Plus Shaker models with the 5.7-liter, a new R/T Scat Pack and a new 392 HEMI Scat Pack Shaker.
Yet the Challenger that’s making headlines is the new SRT Hellcat billed as “the most powerful and fastest muscle car ever” (from the factory) with a supercharged 6.2-liter HEMI V8 that punches out an amazing 707 horses driving home a “certified 1/4-mile elapsed time of 11.2 seconds at 125 mph on street tires.” While the Hellcat is an object of desire, the starting price of $59,995 (if you can find one), is simply out of reach for many enthusiasts.
We decided to test the Challenger equipped the way that we would buy it. Two things on our must-have list included a V8 engine and manual gearbox. Our 2015 Challenger R/T Plus tester was fitted with the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 teamed with a Tremec 6-speed manual transmission and anti-spin rear differential.
The Super Track Pak option package at just $695 is money well spent. It adds 20-inch Hyper Black alloy wheels with 245/45ZR-20 three-season performance tires, high-performance brakes and performance suspension and steering.
We admired the updated styling of our test car finished in a retro-themed shade of Sublime Green Pearl Coat paint topped by the optional Modern R/T hood stripes ($495 extra). The interior also featured a retro theme with sport seats trimmed with two-tone premium Black and Pearl Nappa leather.
We recently drove Challenger’s top two competitors, the Chevrolet Camaro SS and 2015 Ford Mustang GT. In contrast, Challenger feels like a larger car with a wider cabin. Challenger’s seats are comfortable and supportive, while the redesigned dash is inspired by the ’71 model.
With 375 horses and 410 lbs-ft of torque on tap the rumbly V8 provides ample thrust for any occasion. It generated ear-to-ear grins charging up steep hills, powering along our favorite stretch of twisty country road and making a beeline to the freeway for a quick trip to Orange County. The manual gearbox was a joy to use and the clutch pedal was lighter than some other muscle cars we’ve driven.
Since high-tech goodies are on the shopping list of performance car buyers these days, our test car obliged with a full array. The new Dodge Performance Pages are included with the optional Uconnect® system and its bright 8.4-inch touchscreen display. Drivers can increase engine and throttle responsiveness, adjust Electronic Stability Control (ESC) settings and change the steering feel. The system also includes active launch control with launch RPM settings, performance timers and performance gauges such as G-force indicators for off-road (track) use.
Uconnect also included an excellent audio system with satellite radio, HD Radio and navigation. SiriusXM Traffic™ and Travel Link™ with 5-year service are also part of the deal. The new Uconnect Via Mobile lets users enjoy their personal Internet radio accounts and stream audio content using their own mobile devices via Aha by Harman, iHeartRadio, Pandora and Slacker.
While we didn’t have a chance to try it, Dodge says that with its available mobile phone app, users can start and lock or unlock the doors and access on-demand Wi-Fi, making their car a “moving hot spot.” Other nifty features on our test car included Hill Start Assist, Ready Alert Braking, ParkSense® rear parking system, a back-up camera, and Keyless Enter ‘n Go™.
If we were in the market for a muscle car from an American nameplate, it would be tough to decide between the Challenger, Camaro and Mustang. All three are now sophisticated world-class cars that are light years ahead of their predecessors in terms of technology and build-quality. And with a bottom-line price including destination of $38,570, the Challenger R/T would fit very nicely into our garage.
It also boils down to brand loyalty. Challenger, Mustang and Camaro have legions of fans that know every nut, bolt and spec about their cars. Take a tip from us and be sure to test drive the competition. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how good all these cars are. Alas, if we lived in a house like this, we’d fill the garage with all three muscle cars and call it a day.
For more information, visit Dodge.com or your local authorized Dodge dealer.
2015 Dodge Challenger press fleet vehicle provided by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles LLC. (Prices and vehicle information applies to models sold in the U.S. at the time of publication. All information including prices and specs are subject to change without notice.)
Story, photos and video ©2015 CarNichiWa.com