by Roger Biermann
While a range of monstrously powerful engines is available to the Challenger range of pony cars, even the lower trim levels come equipped with a throaty V6 that delivers a more than adequate 305 horsepower and 268 lb-ft of torque. This is a bit more oomph than the base-level Chevy Camaro, although the Ford Mustang's turbo inline-four delivers 100 lb-ft more torque. Nevertheless, the Dodge doesn't fail to deliver, and it does so in a stylish body that harkens back to the true pony cars of yore. However, you don't have to turn back the clock to enjoy this vintage-styled beast, as it comes with most of the modern amenities we can't live without, like smartphone integration, power-adjustable front seats, and available advanced safety features like blind-spot monitoring. What's more, it doesn't sacrifice daily usability like so many of its rivals, supplying ample cargo space to complement the spacious interior. The Challenger is truly an example of American ingenuity that takes the best parts of a classic vehicle and reinvigorates them with a modern flair.
Quite a number of changes were made to the Challenger range for 2019, but with regard to this review, only those pertaining to the SXT and GT are relevant. Both models are now available with all-wheel-drive, with the GT coming standard in rear-wheel-drive as opposed to the previous edition, which was only all-wheel-drive. The interior has seen some touch-ups, and cloth seats are now standard on both models, with leather upholstery an option.
It only takes one glance to know that the Challenger couldn't be mistaken for anything other than a pony car, with a 1960s style that has been revamped for the modern era. The heritage split-grille rests between aggressively styled halogen headlights with quad-halo LED surround. A performance hood with built-in scoop is present on the GT, which also rides on bold 20-inch alloys, while the base SXT prefers more understated 18-inch wheels. Both models sport a body-colored rear spoiler.
While the powerhouse sits relatively low at 57.5 inches high, with a ground clearance of just 5.2 inches, it is by no means small. However, even its 197.9-inch long body, with a width of 75.7 inches and a 116.2-inch wheelbase, belies its rather hefty weight. Both models in rear-wheel-drive configuration starts at 3,894 lbs. Opting for the all-wheel-drivetrain tacks on about 214 lbs.
A choice of 14 lurid colors is available to ensure that your Challenger turns heads, even when its throaty engine isn't roaring for attention. The standard palette comprises IndiGo Blue, Octane Red, TorRed, Sublime and Go Mango. A few of the less eccentric colors include Pitch Black, White Knuckle, Maximus Steel, Granite, Destroyer Grey, Triple Nickel, and F8 Green. For a nominal surcharge, you can pimp out your pony car in outrageous Plum Crazy, or opt for the slightly less vivid B5 Blue.
While the Dodge Challenger may look the part of a performance-oriented pony car, the lower trim levels simply don't have the power to deliver on that promise. With just 305 hp in a car this bulky, it is unlikely to thrill anyone. Mated to an efficient eight-speed automatic gearbox, the engine can push the Dodge up to 60 mph in a modest six and a half seconds, while it maxes out at around 130 mph. This is quite a bit behind leading rivals like the Ford Mustang, which can make the same sprint in around five seconds in base form with its base turbo four-cylinder engine.
The Challenger's higher-spec trims like the SRT Hellcat, not covered in this review, are capable of performing far better with their powerful V8 engines and performance-focused ancillary equipment.
Only one engine is available to the entry-level models of the Challenger range. Both the SXT and GT trims come equipped with a 3.6-liter Pentastar VVT V6 engine that develops 305 hp and 268 lb-ft for the rear wheels, although class-exclusive all-wheel-drive is available on either model. This is certainly enough power to get the pony car up to speed relatively quickly, although it isn't as agile as smaller pony car competitors like the Ford Mustang or Chevrolet Camaro. Merging and passing on the highway shouldn't be too much of an issue, but the deep-throated engine's bark is more impressive than its bite on these heavy vehicles.
Regardless of which drivetrain you opt for, the engine comes mated to an efficient ZF eight-speed automatic transmission that seamlessly rows the gears for optimal performance. The GT does offer steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters for those who want a bit more engagement with their Challenger.
Handling has never been the strong suit of pony cars, which are generally overweight and overpowered. The SXT and GT may not be as muscled as their higher-trim siblings, but they suffer from the same issues. The steering provides as much heft as the Challenger's weight implies, giving a sense of involvement and control while driving down a straight road, but throw in some turns, and any confidence you might have quickly dissipates. This makes in-town maneuvering equally problematic, making the pony car feel more mulish than sporty.
Nevertheless, the Dodge remains composed on the road as it hunkers down close to the ground, and doesn't roll too hard into corners, assuming you don't try to treat it like BMW Z4 or Audi R8. This is a car made for looking good as you cruise down the open road, not delivering thrills around tight turns. The brakes also seem suited to this high-speed straight-line lifestyle, not being light enough to make for athletic maneuvering, but being more than strong enough to stop the hefty vehicle in a mere 105 ft from 60 mpg when you put your foot down.
Further capitalizing on its strengths as a cruiser, the Challenger provides superior levels of ride comfort, with the adaptive suspension absorbing everyday road abrasions with ease. Larger imperfections can rock the cabin a bit, and the 20-inch wheels that come standard on the GT adversely affect ride quality.
Considering the Challenger's focus on high-powered performance, and its overbearing weight, you might expect it to drink from the fuel tank like a sailor on shore leave, but it manages to be quite frugal, at least with the base V6 engine that comes with the SXT and GT trims. The former manages to get an EPA-estimated 19/30/23 mpg across the city/highway/combined cycles, while the more performance-oriented GT only loses a couple of miles to the gallon, with 18/27/21 mpg overall. While this isn't overly impressive when compared to daily-driver sedans or hatchbacks, it is quite competitive for its segment, with rivals like the 3.6-liter Chevy Camaro getting 19/29/22 mpg while the smaller capacity 2.3-liter turbocharged Ford Mustang gets a slightly better 21/32/25 mpg. In its most efficient guise, the Dodge is able to cover up to 426 miles before needing to refill its 18.5-gallon tank.
You get a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to the interior. While the cabin is supremely spacious for the segment, the choice of materials leaves much to be desired. And while the seats are comfortable, even over the long haul, they don't offer the level of support you'd expect from a car that dares you to push the limits of sane driving. Where the Challenger doesn't skimp, however, is its infotainment suite. The Uconnect system is as modern as the interior is retro, with all the features you'd expect laid out in an easy-to-use manner.
Getting into the Challenger can be, well, a challenge. The doors are large and heavy, making entering and exiting a problem in tighter spots, and you will need to pull the front seats forward to access the rear ones. But once all that is done, you will find that the interior is far more accommodating than rival pony cars. The is plenty of legroom in the front, and even the back seats supply enough without needing to pull the front seats forward. Headroom is relatively generous up front, and even the rear seats can accommodate an average-sized adult. But even though there is seating for five, we suggest you don't try to squeeze in more than four. It isn't too difficult to find a good driving position thanks to the standard six-way power front seats, but rearward visibility is poor at the best of times.
While the interior looks great, thanks to its minimalist retro style, it doesn't feel particularly good. The hard surfaces around the cabin feel low-quality, and the standard cloth upholstery is unobjectionable, at best. Sadly, not much changes as you move up the trim levels, although the Nappa leather is certainly an improvement. Alcantara is also available. A charcoal palette is standard, with nickel trim, but beige/charcoal is available on the SXT with Nappa leather, while the GT's Nappa/Alcantara can come in dual-tone charcoal/red. Overall, the cabin is well-built, despite the unimpressive material choices.
For a performance vehicle that is all about what's under the hood, the Challenger manages to fit quite a bit of junk in the trunk too. In fact, it leads the segment in terms of utility with its 16.2 cubic feet of cargo space. This makes the audacious pony car a surprisingly reasonable daily driver, capable of storing all your groceries with ease. And if you want to do some heavy lifting, the rear seats fold down in a 60/40-split to makes space for longer items. By comparison, the Camaro supplies a measly 9.1 cubic feet, while the Mustang offers 13.5 cubic feet.
Unfortunately, while the Challenger impresses with its trunk size, it disappoints when it comes to small-item storage. Space around the cabin is surprisingly limited, given how roomy it is. The door pockets are barely usable, and the armrest bin is a lot more cramped than it looks. The glove compartment and large cup holders will most likely be your go-to spots for your cellphones or water bottles.
There aren't too many features available on the two lower-level trims within the Challenger range, but what there is, is modern and easily accessible. The SXT comes equipped with dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and ignition, a pair of 12-volt power outlets, a rearview camera, and a six-way power driver's seat with four-way lumbar. Upgrading the GT expands this offering with rear sonar and steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. The front seats are also replaced with performance items and the standard cloth upholstery is upgraded to houndstooth cloth. Available features include leather-appointed seats, heated front seats and steering wheel, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and forward collision warning.
The infotainment suite is nothing overly fancy, but it is modern and has all the essentials. On top of that, it is also ergonomically laid out and easy to operate. Going hand in hand with the retro styling of the interior, the seven-inch Uconnect touchscreen interface seems a bit old-school, but it is user-friendly and comes equipped with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Bluetooth compatibility. A pair of USB ports and an auxiliary audio jack are also available if you want to use supporting music devices other than your smartphones. A six-speaker sound system with AM/FM Radio comes standard. Available upgrades to the suite include SiriusXM, navigation, a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, a larger 8.4-inch touchscreen and either a 6-, 9-, or 18-speaker sound system. However, the 18-speaker Harman Kardon sound system is only available to the GT.
J.D. Power awards the Challenger a dependability score of 80 out of 100, placing it second in the segment. The car was recalled once in 2019 due to driver warnings failing to illuminate, and again later in 2019 for an incompatible braking package and front wheel. Additionally, several recalls were issued in 2018 for reasons that included the inability to cancel the cruise control, failure of the voltage regulator, and incorrect transmission park rods. Dodge offers a basic warranty for 36,000 miles/36 months, while the drivetrain warranty and roadside assistance are valid for 60,000 miles/60 months.
The NHTSA awards the two-door pony car a five-star overall safety rating, while the IIHS gives it a Good ranking for two crash tests, Acceptable for two other categories, and a low score of Marginal for the small overlap on the front driver's side.
Safety features are minimal, with the base-level SXT only receiving ABS, ESC, brake assist, a rearview camera, and six airbags: dual front, front side, and side curtain. A rear parking sensor is added when you upgrade to the GT trim, but if you want blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, or forward collision warning, you will need to equip some packages.
The Dodge Challenger range consists of a variety of models, each equipped with different engines and features. Overall, it is certainly a good collection of pony cars, but the SXT and GT discussed in this review are far less impressive than the upper trim levels, and fall short of their rivals in key areas.
These entry-level models come equipped with the most basic of features, with advanced comfort and driver-assist features locked behind package paywalls. It's true that the starting price for the Challenger is quite low, so adding a package or two shouldn't hurt your wallet that much. Still, many modern cars are offering these features as standard, although the pony and pony car segments don't seem to have adopted this trend, with neither the Ford Mustang nor Chevrolet Camaro offering these features either.
Where the two smaller cars do best the bulky Dodge is in their athletic handling and better overall performance. They offer much better acceleration and driveability, with a more enjoyable ride, especially at higher speeds. However, the Challenger is more practical as a daily driver, with ample space for four inside the cabin, and a trunk large enough to hold everyone's luggage as well.
The Dodge Challenger is certainly impressive to look at, and it can be fun to drive - at least in a straight line - but it will never be an athletic sports car, even in its more powerful guises, and the SXT and GT are even less impressive. Still, they make for great cruisers with their impressive dimensions and imposing styling. If that appeals to you, then you won't go wrong with this car.
Dodge doesn't ask you to break the bank to get your hands on its entry-level models in the Challenger series. The SXT and GT remain quite competitive with leading rivals like the Camaro and Mustang, and have fuel economy that keeps lifetime costs around the same level. Getting behind the wheel of the base-level SXT will cost you only $28,095, while the slightly higher-scale GT costs $30,645. All-wheel-drive can be added to either model, an exclusive feature for the segment, at an additional cost of $3,050. These prices exclude tax, registration, licensing, and the $1,495 destination charge.
The entry point into the Challenger lineup takes the form of one of two trim levels: the SXT or the GT. Each model comes equipped with a starter 3.6-liter V6 engine that produces 305 hp and 268 lb-ft. This power is regulated by a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission that directs the power to the rear wheels as standard, with optional all-wheel-drive.
The SXT rides on 18-inch alloy wheels, with halogen headlights and LED daytime running lights equipped to the broad front fascia. The optional all-wheel drivetrain sees the wheels replaced with 19-inch alloys as standard. Standard features comprise keyless entry and ignition, a six-way power driver's seat with four-way lumbar adjustment, a rearview camera, two 12-volt power outlets, and dual-zone climate control. The infotainment suite includes a seven-inch Uconnect touchscreen interface, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, paired with a six-speaker sound system.
The wheels are upgraded to 20-inch alloys on the GT, although you get the same 19-inch variants if you opt for the all-wheel drivetrain. Fog lights are added to the front fascia, while the rear receives a parking sensor. Performance brakes and an improved differential are installed along with a performance suspension system. Remote engine start functionality is added, and the front seats are replaced with performance seats that offer better bolstering support. Further emphasizing the GT's more aggressive attitude, a performance hood with a scoop is installed.
Neither of the low-spec Challenger trims offers a particularly long list of features, so customizing to suit your needs is going to be important when you decide to build your pony car. Some of the packages worth considering include: the Driver Convenience Package ($1,095), which comprises blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, fog lights, HID headlights, rear parking assist, and remote start - although some features overlap with the GT's standard offering. The Technology Group ($1,295) adds adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, forward collision warning, and rain-sensing wipers. Either model can also be equipped with the Plus Package ($3,000), which sees 20-inch wheels with trim-specific trim palettes equipped, along with a larger 8.4-inch touchscreen display, SiriusXM, a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, and a 6-speaker premium sound system. Nappa leather-appointed seats are then also installed on the SXT, while the GT gets Nappa/Alcantara performance seats; both get heated front seats and steering wheels, along with a power tilt-and-telescoping steering column.
There is little price difference between the SXT and GT trims, but also little in the way of added features on the upper trim. The performance enhancements also don't make much of a difference due to the same lackluster engine being standard on both models. Thus, we feel that the SXT should get the job done while still looking good, and the smaller 18-inch wheels offer better overall ride comfort. Still, if looks are what matters most to you, then the GT certainly looks more imposing.
The Mustang is more of a true-to-type pony car than the Challenger, with smaller dimensions than the imposing Challenger. This gives it much better handling dynamics and allows you to really capitalize on its stronger 310-hp turbocharged four-cylinder. In this regard, the Ford is definitely the more exciting ride, able to take corners more nimbly than the overbearing Dodge. It also offers better fuel economy to go with its marginally lower starting price tag. However, the Mustang isn't the clear-cut winner here, with a much more cramped interior and only 13.5 cubic feet of cargo space. This isn't as bad as the Chevy Camaro, but it does make the Ford pony less practical as a daily driver. If you want to cruise in style without sacrificing on practicality, then the Dodge Challenger is the better choice here. But if you simply want to fly down the road at breakneck speeds and still manage to get a thrill from the odd bend in the road, then the Mustang will serve you better.
The Dodge Charger is the slightly more modern cousin to the classically styled Challenger. The latter really leans into its retro nostalgia by sticking to the two-door body design, while the former moves with the times and takes advantage of the practical, spacious interior dimensions by adding extra doors. With identical engine options and similar handling dynamics, it really comes down to which style appeals to you more. If you have a family of more than just two, then the daily practicality of the Charger certainly makes sense, but the allure of the vintage Challenger can be hard to resist.