by Morgan Carter
Unlike many rivals whose pony car lineup starts with a turbocharged four-cylinder, Dodge sticks to its guns by equipping the entry-level Challenger SXT and GT with a throaty V6 engine that develops 305 horsepower and 268 lb-ft of torque. While rivals like the Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang provide compact rear-wheel-drive packages, Dodge is bold enough to give its Challenger real-world practicality and the option of AWD. But while these contenders may be more strictly classified as pony cars, the Dodge is something more than a mere pony, and it's got the bad-ass classic looks to prove it. The illusion may be broken once you step inside, though, as the Dodge comes with plenty of modern tech features, such as a user-friendly infotainment suite with full smartphone integration. With ample passenger space and even more cargo capacity, the Challenger is an old-school tough guy with plenty of new-world charisma.
Not much changes for the Dodge Challenger in 2020, and while there are no mechanical adjustments, Dodge has expanded the paint palette with Frostbite, Hellraisin, and Sinamon Stick for the new year - all with late availability. The exterior badging has also been updated, and nine new wheel designs have been offered for better customization. The Challenger is also available as a 50th Anniversary Limited Edition on the GT RWD, with each of the 70 models bearing its own unique number and badging, having access to Gold Rush paint, and with an interior appointed with Nappa/Alcantara leather accented with genuine carbon fiber. What a way to celebrate 50 years of the Challenger.
The Dodge Challenger hasn't strayed too far from the styling of traditional muscle cars of yore. While it may boast some more modern styling, the pony car bears a heritage split-grille in satin chrome framed by dual automatic halogen headlights with LED surround. Full LED daytime running lights and taillights are standard, too. The base SXT gets 18-inch alloy wheels (19s on AWD models of both trims), while the GT gets 20-inch wheels and a performance hood with a scoop. Every model gets a body-colored rear spoiler. The Anniversary Limited Edition stands out from the regular fare with unique color options, badging, and wheels.
The coupe pony car rides quite low to the ground, with an overall height of 57.5 inches and a ground clearance of 5.2 inches, but it doesn't lack in other areas. A relatively long 116.2-inch wheelbase sits within the 197.9-inch body, while its width of 75.7 inches can restrict its dexterity on smaller roads. But the most unexpected figure is certainly the Challenger's weight; in its rear-wheel-drive configuration, the coupe weighs a hefty 3,858 lbs, while the all-wheel drivetrain increases this to 4,078 lbs in GT guise.
Dodge has refined its palette for the new year, dropping Sublime, Maximum Steel, B5 Blue, Plum Crazy, and Destroyer Gray from the lineup. However, Frostbite, Sinamon Stick, Gold Rush, and Hellraisin are new additions to the swatch, although you need to upgrade to the GT to get access to the latter. The remaining standard paints comprise Pitch Black, Granite, Triple Nickel, White Knuckle, IndiGo Blue, Octane Red, Go Mango, TorRed, and F8 Green.
The Dodge Challenger is certainly a powerful-looking coupe. However, the lower-end trims, the SXT and GT, simply can't live up to expectations as they only get access to the weakest engine in the Challenger lineup, a 305-hp V6.
What really holds the lower trims back is the base engine's lack of torque (only 268 lb-ft) as well as the Dodge's hefty weight, which only exacerbates the problem. But, thanks to a refined Torquefllite eight-speed automatic transmission, the early Challenger models are able to make the 0-60 mph sprint in a modest 6.5 seconds in independent testing. Still, this is quite a bit behind leading rivals like the Ford Mustang, which does the same in just five seconds with its turbocharged engine and less weight to carry. What the Camaro and Mustang don't offer, however, is all-weather tractability in the form of all-wheel-drive, which is available for the base-level Challengers reviewed here.
If you want more than just the look of power, then you'd be better off looking at one of the higher-spec Challengers like the SRT Hellcat.
The only engine under the hood of the lower-spec SXT and GT is the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6, which develops 306 hp and 268 lb-ft. Modulated by an efficient eight-speed automatic gearbox, this power is directed to the rear wheels as standard, although all-wheel-drive is available to both models. This is a class-exclusive configuration that helps the weaker trims stand out from the crowd, as the higher-powered trims in the lineup are rear-wheel-drive only.
While other V6 rivals, and even some turbocharged four-cylinder rivals, have more power on tap than the Challenger, it certainly isn't a weak coupe. Merging and passing on the highway are simple affairs, but getting around town can be a bit tricky in such a chunky pony car.
The GT model gets access to steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters that offer a more hands-on approach to drivers that may wish the Challenger offered a manual gearbox, which is only available from the R/T (reviewed separately).
While pony cars might be all about power, this comes at the expense of handling. The SXT and GT trims of the Dodge Challenger may not have the kind of power as their higher-specced siblings, but they weigh almost as much. The Dodge coupe's steering is also tuned towards powerful, straight-line sprints; it has plenty of heft and on-center weight, but it doesn't have the kind of quick precision needed to handle quick turns.
Add to this the pony's relatively awkward dimensions, and you can already tell that driving around the busy streets in town might be a problem. But, if you have enough space to work with, the Challenger is an enjoyable drive, and it remains well-composed thanks to its low center of gravity. Body roll is well-controlled, unless you're driving like a complete madman, but you won't get the same thrills offered by more agile sports cars like the Camaro and Mustang have evolved into.
Cruising down the road, as it was designed to do, the Challenger delivers excellent ride comfort, with all but the largest of bumps being easily smoothed out by the adaptive suspension. The GT suffers from road imperfections a bit more due to its larger 20-inch wheels, though. Road noise is mostly dampened by the well-insulated cabin, but the V6 leaking in doesn't sound nearly as good as the higher-spec V8s.
While it may be a power-focused pony car, the Dodge Challenger manages to deliver pretty competitive mileage figures. The standard V6 that powers the SXT and GT can be paired with two drivetrains. The standard rear-wheel set-up sees the coupe get an EPA-estimated 19/30/23 mpg across the city/highway/combined cycles, while the all-wheel drivetrain shaves a few mpg off to get 18/27/21 mpg. Traditional daily drivers may get better, but when compared with similar performance-oriented rivals like the Chevy Camaro or Ford Mustang, the Challenger stands up to scrutiny well. In its most efficient configuration, the Dodge can cover up to 426 miles before needing to refill its 18.5-gallon fuel tank.
The interior certainly lives up to the Challenger's affordable price tag, with budget materials present throughout and a notably short list of standard tech and safety features. Where the Dodge manages to save face, though, is its spaciousness and user-friendly infotainment suite. You'll appreciate the smartphone integration and logical control placements, and most hands-on drivers won't mind the lack of blind spot monitoring or forward collision avoidance. Unfortunately, the seats aren't really suited to dare-devil driving, failing to provide proper support when you push the Challenger to really deliver thrills.
Sitting low the ground, with a pretty low coupe-style roofline, the Challenger can be tricky to get into or out of. It's also pretty wide, and the doors are heavy. Getting in the back is even more difficult since the two-door body means you have to manhandle the front seats before squeezing in. The inside is more of a cockpit than a cabin, with the front seats getting the lion's share of legroom, although you can sit an adult or two in the back over short drives, and in far greater comfort than you could in any of the other two pony-sized rivals in the segment. Headroom is only relatively good all-round. As standard, the front seats offer six directions of power adjustability with four-way lumbar, while heating and ventilation are available as part of the optional packages. The vehicle's low height, broad rear pillars, and small rear windshield all hinder visibility, and there are no standard driver-assistance features to overcome these shortcomings.
We can't really complain about the Challenger's styling, with retro-chic being the flavor du jour, but the choice of materials leaves much to be desired. Hard plastics abound throughout the cabin, and the standard houndstooth cloth is hardly plush, even if it isn't scratchy. The GT makes no improvements over this standard offering, but each trim can be optioned with much more desirable Nappa or Nappa leather/Alcantara combination upholstery. The cloth can only be had in plain Black, while the leather upholstery offers a wider choice that includes Black, Ruby Red/Black, or Caramel/Black. Despite the cheaper materials around the cabin, the structure is well-built, with no rattles or squeaks as you hoon down the open road.
The spaciousness of the interior extends to the pony car's rump, with a pretty impressive 16.2-cubic-foot trunk supplied behind the rear seats. While the Dodge Charger might be the more practical daily driver, the Challenger is certainly a viable substitute, with more than enough space for daily errands around town or picking up the kids from school. Fitting all their sports kits in the trunk might be a little tricky, though. However, the rear seats can be folded down if it's just you and your player two in the front, freeing up some extra space for more luggage or larger items.
Don't expect small-item storage options to impress as much as the trunk does. Only two door pockets are provided, obviously, and neither is particularly large. There is a standard glove compartment, but the center armrest cubby is a bit too small to be much use. There are also a couple of cupholders up front, which will likely be the easiest options for storing keys, sunglasses, and the like.
The SXT and GT don't get access to the full list of features that the more expensive Challengers do, but they do get the essentials. Comfort is handled by a combination of the cloth-appointed sport seats, six-way power front seats with four-way lumbar, and automatic dual-zone climate control, while keyless entry and ignition, cruise control, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror add a certain degree of convenience. Advanced safety features are severely lacking, however, with only a rearview camera coming standard. The GT gets rear parking sensors, but if you want blind spot monitoring, forward collision avoidance, and rear cross-traffic alert, you will need to shell out for some of the packages. The upper trim also upgrades the standard cloth to performance cloth and adds remote engine start functions. Further optional features include heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, and Nappa/Alcantara upholstery.
Much like the standard tech features, the infotainment suite is rather simplistic. But this works in its favor, too, making it easy to operate on the move. Both models come standard with a seven-inch Uconnect 4 touchscreen that grants access to AM/FM Radio, Bluetooth functionality, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto. Two USB ports and an auxiliary audio jack are also offered, while a six-speaker sound system channels all audio playback. If you want to expand on this basic set-up, you can option on some of the available packages to add SiriusXM, HD Radio, navigation, and a 4G Wi-Fi hotspot as part of the Uconnect 4C system. Upgrading the infotainment suite also adds a larger 8.4-inch touchscreen and a six-speaker Alpine sound system. This can be further upgraded to a nine-speaker Alpine or 18-speaker Harman Kardon sound system.
The coupe pony car enjoys a relatively high dependability rating of 80 out of 100 from J.D. Power, with only one segment rival scoring higher. Despite this high rating, the Challenger has been recalled a couple of times over the last year (affecting 2019 models). Reasons for this included failure to illuminate driver warnings, and potentially damaged front tires. Additional recalls were issued in 2018, but those issues seem to have been corrected. The Dodge is covered by a pretty basic warranty that includes 36,000-miles/36-months of bumper-bumper, while the powertrain and roadside assistance plans cover a period of 60,000 miles/60 months.
While it's only been evaluated as a 2019 year model, the Challenger enjoys a great five-star safety rating from the NHTSA, but the IIHS has rated the current model and is a little more critical of the pony car. Out of five crash tests, the Dodge earned two rankings of Good, two of Acceptable, and one of Marginal. Optional forward crash prevention measures scored a mere 'Basic'.
There isn't a particularly extensive safety suite on the Challenger, with only a rearview camera, ABS, stability and traction control, and six airbags coming standard. The GT makes a token effort to improve this by adding rear park sensors, but if you want anything more, you have to tack on some of the available packages. By doing so, you can equip your Dodge with blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, forward collision avoidance, and automatic high beam assist.
While the Dodge Challenger is not, categorically, a bad car, its lower-tier models like the SXT and GT do have a hard time competing with more modern rivals. Sure they each get a well-powered V6 engine where their rivals start with turbocharged four-cylinders, but both of these are lighter and get more torque, aiding performance greatly.
Where they have the more classic-looking coupe beat, though, is their much more athletic handling and quicker acceleration. This makes them far more enjoyable to drive, especially when hooning around twistier roads. However, on long, straight roads, it's hard to complain about the Challenger's impressive staying power and cushy ride quality. It also functions better as a daily driver, thanks to its impressive trunk space and more usable rear seats.
There may be better-appointed town cars out there, with a lot more standard tech, but what you get in the Dodge Challenger is actually pretty good for the asking price. It's not overly thirsty, either, and while it won't deliver the thrills of a sportier coupe, it offers its own brand of fun. If you enjoy cruising around town and, looking damn fine doing so, then you should certainly take a closer look at the Challenger.
Getting behind the wheel of a powerful pony car has never been more affordable. While they may be the most basic of the Dodge Challenger range, both the SXT and GT models are highly competitive within the segment. Both are also available in either rear-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive guise, the latter at a surcharge of $3,000. The standard RWD SXT will only cost you $27,995, while the similarly driven GT will set you back $30,995. These prices exclude tax, registration, licensing, and Dodge's pricey $1,495 destination charge.
Only two trims within the Dodge Challenger come equipped with the lower-performance V6 engine: the SXT and GT. Developing 305 hp and 268 lb-ft, the V6 can be paired with a rear- or all-wheel drivetrain, but it always comes mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
Riding on 18-inch alloys, the SXT comes equipped with a sport suspension, automatic halogen headlights, LED taillights, and LED daytime running lights. The all-wheel-drive configuration upgrades the wheels to 19-inchers and upgrades the brakes, but replaces the suspension with a normal-duty variant. Standard features include keyless entry and ignition, cruise control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and two 12-volt power outlets. The interior is upholstered in cloth, with six-way power front sport seats with four-way lumbar, and dual-zone climate control. The infotainment suite comprises a seven-inch touchscreen, two USB ports, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth, and a six-speaker sound system.
The GT gets larger 20-inch wheels as standard and adds a performance hood with a scoop, and fog lights to the exterior. Like the SXT, it gets a performance suspension in RWD, and a normal-duty one in AWD, but upgraded brakes are standard in both configurations. The AWD guise does downgrade to 19-inch wheels, though, and it loses the standard performance steering. The upper trim upgrades the standard offering with remote engine start, rear parking sensors, and better-bolstered performance front seats with upgraded cloth upholstery.
One would be hard-pressed to call the Dodge Challenger well-appointed, at least not in its standard configuration. Luckily, buyers get largely unrestricted access to the long list of available packages. Some noteworthy packages include the Blacktop Package ($1,295), which equips the pony car with 20-inch Black Noise wheels, a black grille with Blacktop badging, a gloss-black instrument cluster, and a leather performance steering wheel. The Driver Convenience Group ($1,295) adds HID headlights, fog lights, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, rear sonar, and remote start, while the Technology Group ($1,295) adds forward collision avoidance, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beam assist, and rain-sensing wipers. The Plus Package can only be tacked on after the Driver Convenience Group has been added, and costs between $2,695 - $3,195 (RWD or AWD dependent) to upholster the interior in Nappa/Alcantara leather while adding heating and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, an 8.4-inch touchscreen, SiriusXM, HD Radio, a 4G Wi-Fi hotspot, and a six-speaker Alpine sound system.
There is only a $3,000 difference between the SXT and GT, so neither is likely to break the bank. However, the GT doesn't really add that much over the SXT, especially if you get them in their all-wheel-drive configurations - something we don't recommend unless you really need the extra traction. Both trim levels gain access to the same optional packages to shore up their weak points, such as lacking safety and comfort features. The GT does look a bit better than the base model, thanks to its larger wheels, performance hood, and hood scoop, but it does sacrifice a little ride comfort for these good looks. If value for money is more important to you than flashy aesthetics, the SXT should fit the bill.
The only thing that really separated the Challenger and the Charger is their overarching design philosophy. Where the former focuses on clinging to vintage aesthetics and the nostalgia of the true muscle car era, the latter moves with the times and takes a more modern approach towards city living. The Charger is more convenient in just about every way, with four doors for easy access, more rear-seat room, and even a slightly larger trunk. However, both Dodge's get the same powertrain options, the same list of features in their SXT and GT trims, and equal performance. So which is the better choice really comes down to your priorities. If you're willing to sacrifice a little practicality in the name of retro style, then the Challenger is probably the car for you.
The Ford Mustang focuses more on pure performance than the Challenger, opting for smaller dimensions and more potent powertrains. While these sacrifices won't deter true petrolheads who want nothing more than an exciting driver, more sensible buyers will certainly bemoan the cramped rear seats and pretty small 13.5-cubic-foot trunk. Still, who buys a car with 310 hp and 350 lb-ft to be sensible? In terms of tech features, the Ford takes the lead with more available safety features and an equally-as-comprehensive infotainment suite, but the Challenger has more in the way of creature comforts with automatic dual-zone climate control, six-way power front seats, and a much better standard infotainment suite. If pure, senseless fun is all you're after, then the higher-performance Mustang is certainly more alluring, especially with its manual transmission, but the Challenger is the more practical vehicle, and it offers its own kind of fun, too.