by Adam Lynton
As old-school muscle cars go, the Dodge Challenger remains an authentic and faithful champion of the concept. In R/T form, all the key ingredients are there: a powerful V8 engine, a broad-shouldered and aggressive look, and an emphasis on straight-line pace at the expense of ultimate cornering capability. The Challenger also bests its immediate rivals with a standard of everyday usability that is surprising, thanks to spacious rear seats and a big trunk in which you can store a couple of spare tires, as there's nothing this car loves more than to relentlessly burn through rubber. Its power and sheer size can make you feel invincible on the open road, but it also means that the Challenger is hardly as agile as a German sports car. What it does have is bags of character and a comfortable cabin with just enough of the latest technologies. It's easier to live with than the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro, while delivering similar drag-strip thrills.
For 2019, the Challenger R/T gets the features that are part of the Super Track Pak for enhanced performance, with the inclusions being a performance suspension, enhanced steering, 20-inch wheels, paddle shifters, a performance hood and front splitter and performance seats. The Performance Handling Group - with improved braking and handling - is available, adding the likes of Bilstein shocks and upgraded springs, while a new Performance Plus Package adds on track-ready wheels and tires, among other upgrades.
The R/T Scat Pack, meanwhile, gets a revised look thanks to the 2018 Challenger SRT Hellcat, with a power-bulge hood one of the most notable changes. Standard additions for 2019 are launch control, launch assist, line lock, SRT drive modes, and access to the SRT Performance Packages. A rear-seat delete option for R/T and R/T Scat Pack trims is also available to lighten overall bodyweight. Opt for the R/T Scat Pack Widebody and there's an SRT-tuned chassis and adaptive suspension. New Scat Pack Bee badges are visible on the fenders, with the same logo embroidered into the seatbacks. Other small interior accents give the cabin a lift.
The Challenger remains a menacing machine from any angle. 20-inch wheels do a good job of filling out the arches and are standard on every trim. On the Scat Pack versions, there are rhombi illuminated air-catcher headlamps which can route cool air to the V8. Headlamps with an LED surround, an SRT front splitter, and LED daytime running lamps are standard. The R/T has a body-color rear spoiler with an integrated backup camera, while the R/T Scat Pack's spoiler is in Satin Black. The Scat Pack Widebody is distinguished by widebody fender flares, while the front marker lights are designed to flow into the fender flares, too.
There's nothing shy about the Challenger's dimensions. This is a big car and that's reflected in its 197.9 inch length, a width of 75.7 inches (without the mirrors), and a height of 57.5 inches. The wheelbase measures 116.2 inches. The Widebody is 0.2 inches shorter and 2.5 inches wider than the other trims. Curb weights range from 4,158 lbs for the R/T to 4,314 lbs for the Scat Pack Widebody, both in their automatic guises.
Complementing the Challenger's in-your-face persona is a 14-strong color palette with some seriously fruity, eye-catching options that would deeply offend Audi owners. Newly introduced for 2019 are Sublime (a striking light green shade) and Triple Nickel (a less severe light gray), with carryover colors being B5 Blue, Destroyer Gray, F8 Green, Go Mango, Granite Crystal, Indigo Blue, Maximum Steel, Octane Red, Pitch Black, Plum Crazy, TorRed, White Knuckle and Yellow Jacket. Only B5 Blue ($69) and Plum Crazy ($70) cost extra. Built for the drag strip, there are also several stripe and decal options to choose from.
Whichever model you go for, the Challenger R/T enjoys brawny V8-powered performance and rear-wheel-drive, although it's not the quickest in this class. The R/T starts off with the 5.7-liter HEMI V8, which is good for 375 horsepower and 410 lb-ft of torque when equipped with the six-speed manual transmission. It will hit 60 mph in just over five seconds. Go for the eight-speed automatic, and peak outputs drop marginally to 372 hp and 400 lb-ft. The R/T Scat Pack, meanwhile, displaces a larger 6.4-liter V8 and churns out 485 hp and 475 lb-ft of torque, enough for a sub five-second 0-60 mph dash. While a Mustang and Camaro are ultimately quicker, there's always the insane 707 hp supercharged Hellcat (reviewed separately), albeit at a much higher price. For even more performance, the R/T Scat Pack can be specified with the 1320 Drag Pack. It costs $3,995 and borrows drag strip tech from the Challenger SRT Demon - the modifications make for a quarter-mile time of 11.7 seconds at 115 mph.
While towing capability probably won't be top of mind when ordering a new Challenger R/T, the base trim is capable of towing a maximum of 1,000 lbs. Towing is not recommended for the R/T Scat Pack and R/T Scat Pack Widebody.
Two HEMI V8 engines power the Challenger R/T range, with the base R/T employing a 5.7-liter with outputs of 375 hp and 410 lb-ft if paired with the six-speed manual. When mated with the optional eight-speed automatic, power outputs are slightly down at 372 hp and 400 lb-ft. The R/T Scat Pack uses a larger 6.4-liter V8 which is good for 485 hp and 475 lb-ft. Like the smaller-engined variant, it can be paired with either a six-speed manual or a TorqueFlite eight-speed auto.
Both engines provide lusty power from low down and make a classic V8 growl that instantly brings a smile to the driver's face. They aren't the most responsive engines in this class, but there's still a ton of grunt when the need arises, the 6.4-liter is especially capable at hauling the Challenger along at a ferocious rate. Passing power is readily available, and the engine note will encourage you to floor it regularly.
The six-speed manual requires some commitment with each gear change, but it's pleasingly mechanical in its nature and feels involving, as a stick-shift should be. The eight-speed auto makes it even easier to focus on quick acceleration runs but naturally isn't as engaging.
Designed for straight-line acceleration runs, the Challenger's considerable size limits its ability to carve through a series of acute corners. Although there's a good amount of grip available, this isn't a car that ever seems to shrink around the driver. Heavy steering imbues the car with a reassuring solidity on the highway, but requires a fair bit of muscle in town. Feedback through the helm is also rather muted, and slow reactions make it pretty easy to induce oversteer for controlled power slides - in a secure environment, of course.
However, these characteristics combine to make the Challenger a surprisingly competent cruiser. On the highway, the seats and fairly soft suspension make life simple when covering long distances. Minor road imperfections are dealt with nicely, with only larger bumps disrupting the otherwise calm environment. And while the engine note never fully disappears into the background, it makes a pleasing thrum that most petrolheads wouldn't be complaining about. The Challenger is also rather quiet for what is a serious muscle car.
By automatically deactivating four cylinders in specific scenarios, fuel-efficiency is improved, but these are still heavy and powerful performance cars so only so much can be done. EPA rated figures for the 5.7-liter Challenger work out to 15/23/18 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles for the manual model, with the automatic proving marginally more efficient at 16/25/19 mpg. The 6.4-liter isn't too far behind, with figures of 14/23/17 mpg for the manual and 15/24/18 for the auto. The most fuel-efficient model is the automatic R/T, which should allow for a combined cruising range of around 351 miles from the 18.5-gallon gas tank.
The Challenger is way ahead of its direct competitors for interior space as there's ample capacity for four adults. A simple control layout is appreciated, allowing one to get on with the business of driving without being distracted by overly complicated screens and switches. That said, the design is hardly what you'd call cutting edge, and materials are solid rather than particularly luxurious. While the driving position is good, there are some issues with outward visibility, although a rearview camera does help out in this regard. Dual-zone climate control and a user-friendly infotainment system are appreciated.
Making the most of its stretched dimensions, the roomy Challenger cabin is a welcome surprise in the muscle car segment. It's also a proper five-seater, with three as opposed to two rear seats. Headroom is average rather than generous, while legroom is good enough for most. While the large doors improve ingress and egress, they're also heavy and require care when opening them up in tight spaces. Getting into the back seat is typical of a two-door, requiring some twisting and turning - but this is nothing unexpected. Once seated, the seats themselves feel firm at first, but prove comfortable even after an extended time behind the wheel.
Standard interior colors are Black or Black/Ruby Red. On the base R/T, the seats are upholstered in Houndstooth cloth, with the R/T Scat Pack getting the same material but with a Scat Pack Logo embroidered into it. Nappa/Alcantara performance seats in Black with Tungsten contrast stitching are optional by means of package additions. A leather-wrapped shift knob, leather-wrapped steering wheel and Aluminum accents finish off the appealing cabin.
Pop the Challenger's trunk lid, and there's a genuinely useful 16.2 cubic feet of packing space back there. This compares favorably with a number of midsize family sedans. The Mustang's trunk, for example, is just 13.5 cubic feet. Hoisting a large suitcase in there does requires some effort, though, due to a high liftover. Folding down the 60/40-split rear seatbacks is a further boon for additional cargo capacity.
Storage space for smaller items is also decent, with door pockets and cupholders making life a bit easier. The front cup holders are, however, placed in close proximity to the gearshift, which is a bit of an annoyance in the manual variants.
There are just enough toys to keep driver and passenger comfortable while lighting up the drag strip. Across the R/T range, you get dual-zone automatic climate control, a six-way power driver's seat, a universal garage-door opener, illumination for the door pull handles, cupholders, keyless entry and go, rear parking sensors and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. The R/T Scat Pack and Scat Pack Widebody also have a heated steering wheel, while these trims can also be optioned up with heated and ventilated front seats. A power sunroof is an optional extra on all models, as is a power tilt-and-telescoping steering column. As far as driver aids go, brake assist, hill start assist, rear park assist, and a rearview camera are standard, while blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic detection are package-specific upgrades.
The Challenger's impressive interior performance is matched by an excellent infotainment system. Uconnect 4 is standard on the R/T and uses a seven-inch touchscreen with AM/FM radio, Bluetooth, voice commands, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, USB ports, and a media hub with an audio input jack. The R/T Scat Pack gets Uconnect 4C which adds a larger 8.4-inch display, SiriusXM radio with a one-year trial subscription, Bluetooth streaming audio and CD/DVD/MP3 capability. Navigation is an optional extra. Above all, the system is simple to use from the very start, without a complex and frustrating learning curve.
The standard sound system has six speakers, with the R/T Scat Pack featuring a premium audio system with six Alpine speakers and a 276-watt digital amplifier. Two further sound systems are available at an additional cost: a nine-speaker Alpine system and an 18-speaker Harman Kardon unit.
The 2019 Dodge Challenger R/T has a solid 80/100 J.D. Power rating, positioning it between the Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang. Added to this, the model was also a performance award winner for the highest owner ratings (for design and performance) following the initial 90 days of ownership. The R/T was, however, issued with one recall by the NHTSA for an instrument cluster that could fail to illuminate driver warnings properly. For 2018 models, four recalls involved a failing voltage regulator, cruise control that may not deactivate, and an issue with incorrect transmission park rods causing the car not to engage Park. Dodge's basic warranty covers three years or 36,000 miles, with a five-year/unlimited-mile corrosion warranty and a five-year/60,000-mile drivetrain warranty. Roadside assistance is for five years or 60,000 miles, whichever comes first.
An overall safety rating of five stars from the NHTSA bodes well for passengers in the event of the Challenger being involved in a crash. Evaluation by the IIHS revealed mixed results, however, with the Challenger receiving Good ratings for the moderate overlap front and side crash tests, but a Marginal score for the small overlap front driver-side test. Its roof strength received an Acceptable rather than Good rating, and the same goes for the head restraints/seats. Finally, the LATCH child seat anchors were rated as Acceptable for ease of use.
Every Challenger has dual-front airbags, front and rear side-curtain airbags, and pelvic/thorax seat-mounted airbags for the driver and front-seat passenger. Brake assist, hill-start assist, a backup camera and tire-pressure monitoring are all part of the package. The ParkSense rear park-assist system detects objects when reversing and alerts the driver via audible and graphic display warnings. Driver-assist tech is otherwise not quite on par with the average midsize sedan, although blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-path detection can be bundled together as part of the optional Driver Confidence Group package.
The third-generation Dodge Challenger has been around for over a decade. This being the case, there are no great surprises when starting it up and going for a blast either on the highway or the drag strip. But there lies its charm: without altering the basic muscle car recipe too much, the Challenger R/T offers buyers exactly what they want. A big lump of a V8 engine, classic proportions, and enough styling and performance options to satisfy every enthusiast's whim. It's not a lithe handler and there's no convertible option available, but the Challenger R/T tramples all over its direct rivals with a comparatively spacious cabin and a huge trunk. The R/T also represents the best value V8 in the entire Challenger line-up, and you don't want one of these without a V8 under the hood. While the Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang have their own charm, the Challenger R/T wears its years well and remains a massively entertaining muscle car.
The cheapest model is the manual R/T at an MSRP of $34,545. Next is the R/T Scat Pack at $40,245, with the R/T Scat Pack Widebody topping the range at $46,245. All prices exclude tax, licensing, registration, and a destination charge of $1,495. The R/T Scat Pack and Scat Pack Widebody with the manual transmission are also liable for gas guzzler tax of $1,000. While a six-speed manual is standard, all trims can be specified with an eight-speed automatic for $1,595.
The Challenger R/T range comprises three trims: the R/T, the R/T Scat Pack and the R/T Scat Pack Widebody.
The base R/T uses a 5.7-liter V8 producing maximum outputs of 375 hp and 410 lb-ft of torque. Rear-wheel-drive and a six-speed manual gearbox are standard, with an eight-speed automatic being available. A performance suspension, satin chrome grille, LED daytime running lamps, a functional hood scoop, and 20-inch Granite Crystal alloy wheels are standard. Inside, cloth-upholstered seats feature six-way power-adjustment for the driver, while there is also a seven-inch touchscreen for the Uconnect 4 infotainment system, a six-speaker sound system and dual-zone automatic climate control.
The R/T Scat Pack takes the performance up a notch with its 6.4-liter V8 - peak outputs are 485 hp and 475 lb-ft. As with the R/T, a six-speed manual is standard and an eight-speed auto is optional. Outside, there are 20-inch alloy wheels finished in Black Noise. This variant also has an aluminum hood, HID headlamps with integrated rhombi illuminated Air Catcher headlamps, a gloss black grille and a high-performance suspension. A Scat Pack logo on the seats, the upgraded Uconnect 4C infotainment system, and premium speakers are among the upgrades. Finally, the R/T Scat Pack Widebody boasts standard Brembo four-piston brakes, an adaptive damping suspension setup, a performance shift indicator, 20-inch Devil's Rim forged alloy wheels, Widebody competition suspension and Widebody fender flares.
A dizzying array of optional packages allow for extensive customization, with most changing up the Challenger's aesthetics. The Brass Monkey Package goes for $795, adding to the mix striking Brass Monkey wheels, black exterior trim and Blacktop R/T badging. It isn't available for the Widebody, however. The $995 Blacktop Package is only available for the base R/T, and also adds black detailing to the wheels and exterior. For $2,500, the Shaker Package encompasses a mean 'Shaker' hood and intake by Mopar, a white face instrument cluster and other sporty elements. Again, the Scat Pack Widebody is excluded. The priciest exterior styling option is the $3,400 T/A Package with a Black Satin painted hood, roof, and decklid. 20-inch low gloss forged aluminum wheels and T/A bodyside graphics are thrown in, too.
For many owners, squeezing the maximum amount of performance out matters with a car like the Challenger. They're catered for too, with a Performance Plus Package adding P Zero summer tires and 20-inch black forged wheels for $1,495. For the same price, the Performance Handling Group boasts a 230MM rear axle, Brembo brakes, performance steering, and other enhancements. Exclusively available for the R/T Scat Pack, the 1320 Drag Pack is a pricey $3,995 option but adds a range of enhancements to turn the Challenger into formidable drag racer - a drag mode suspension, adaptive damping suspension, and deletion of the front passenger and rear seats are all on the cards for this dramatic upgrade.
A little bit of sensibility comes to the fore with the Driver Convenience Group. It costs $1,095 and adds blind-spot detection, rear cross-path detection, and power multi-function mirrors with manual fold-away. It's available on every trim. Adaptive speed control and forward-collision warning can also be optioned on for $495. Further standalone options on the top two trims include an SRT performance spoiler ($695) and a power sunroof ($1,295).
Each Challenger makes a strong case for itself, with the base R/T strong on value while still offering the benefit of a powerful V8. But it's hard to resist the Scat Pack with the even larger 6.4-liter V8, and the Widebody variant looks properly mean with its modified suspension and fenders.
We're going to go with the base R/T, as the 5.7-liter HEMI is plenty powerful. This model gives you the opportunity to customize it with around $1,000 worth of styling upgrades, plus we also like the Performance Handling Group ($1,495). The net result is a menacing dragster with sharper handling, while still saving $3,000 over the cheapest R/T Scat Pack.
If the Challenger R/T is a bit too tame for your needs, then for another $20k, you can get into the fierce SRT range of Challengers. The key difference here is power, with the SRT models using supercharged V8s to deliver in excess of 700 horsepower. That's an insane amount of raw power, and with it comes spectacular performance. However, the SRT models are also more of a handful than the R/T versions. A competition suspension setup, an intercooler system, and other performance and trim enhancements set the SRT tier apart. In each case, you'll be having a riot behind the wheel of one of the finest muscle car ranges in the world. If you can stretch to the SRT, even if just for that addictive supercharger whine, we'd say go for it.
The larger Challenger loses out to the Mustang in the dynamic stakes, as its the Ford with the superior handling and agility. But the Mustang's smaller size sees it give away a huge advantage to the Challenger inside the cabin and the trunk, where the Dodge offers far more practicality. Price-wise, the R/T tier of Challengers goes up against the Mustang GT Coupe. Using 5.0-liter V8 with 460 hp, the Mustang has a slight edge in terms of straight-line performance. However, both cars delight with their charismatic engines, killer looks and loyal fan base. Despite the Ford's superior handling, the Challenger R/T is the better all-rounder. Whether carting the family around town or ripping tires to shreds on the drag strip, the Dodge is perfectly at home, and it's our pick.