Dodge can’t afford to take too much longer to develop the next generation Challenger.
The year 2006 was a strange one in the world of the American muscle car. Ford had recently released the fifth generation of the Mustang and the public was in love. The new car looked incredible because the designers finally stopped trying to change the Mustang’s design and decided to use the styling of the original 1965-1973 pony car as the foundation. What resulted was a modern interpretation of the classic 60’s muscle car, an era of styling that's arguably one of the best.
As a result, the new Mustang sold like hotcakes while Chevy and Dodge continued to miss out. The Mustang simply had a monopoly on the entire pony car segment since there was no muscle car pulse detectable at the offices of the other two US automakers. It may have been the fifth generation Mustang that inspired the designers, or maybe Dodge and Chevrolet were tired of giving up pony car sales without a fight, but either way the two automakers got a start on building muscle cars again in the mid 2000s. A concept for the fifth generation Camaro hit the 2006 North American International Auto Show and was awarded best in show. Over at the Dodge booth, the revived Challenger was making its appearance.
Despite not winning the Camaro’s prestigious award, it looked ready to devour quarter mile drag strips. It went on sale in 2008 and today, just eight years after the release of the third generation Challenger, not much has changed about the car. In that time, the Mustang made a revolutionary leap in its sixth iteration, gaining fully independent rear suspension and enough refinement to compete with European sports cars that cost twice as much. The Camaro also clocked over into its sixth generation, with an entirely new platform allowing it to compete with the top-selling Mustang. The drastic updates made to the two pony cars solidified a new era of muscle car. Meanwhile at Dodge, the Challenger continues to roam around with its age starting to show.
The 707 horsepower Hellcat version debuted in 2015 and gave the Challenger the much needed status of being a must-have car again, but given the limited availability of the car, the Challenger image is at risk of taking a turn for the worst. In terms of performance, the Challenger has never really been a serious contender unless you take it to a drag strip. This was all good and well a decade or two ago when that’s all Americans cared about. But in 2016, straight line performance is not enough. The retro styling has worked in favor of the Challenger’s sales, but its mass, archaic handling characteristics, and girth makes it so that anyone who enjoys driving and not waiting for the Christmas tree to turn green has to seek elsewhere.
A decade is a long time for a car to be out. Even Lamborghini, which is known to take its time in developing new cars, only let the Murcielago’s production run span 9 years. That means before 2018, Dodge desperately needs to introduce the 4th generation of the Challenger. Like the 6th generation Mustang, it must be a two leaps and a bound ahead of the previous version. Ideally, the new Challenger would lose 300-400 pounds and hit the race track to train in the bends. The shape will be the biggest problem since the original Challenger was a huge car. Hopefully Dodge designers can manage a reduction in the footprint without hurting the classical styling too much. Dodge may not be able to match the performance of its competitors, but all it needs is the sales.