It doesn't have much in common with its pony car competitors, and that's why we absolutely love it.
There have been a number of prominent CEOs who state that it is the C student who ends up being the best entrepreneur, risking failure and using the street smarts lacked by A and B grade students to start the businesses that end up employing honor roll recipients. In the School of American Muscle, that C student would be the Dodge Challenger. Having ditched school from 1983 to 2008, it came back to hit the books and while it still ranks last in class among its peers Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang, it’s the ballsiest of the bunch.
Dodge slipped one into the press car rotation, much to my indifference because I had foolishly built up some preconceived notions about the Challenger that leaned towards cynicism. Among the rumors that swirled were tales of a Challenger that was heavy and unrefined, what I assumed was an attempt from Dodge to jump onto the muscle car bandwagon and make money on a half-assed offering. With each mile that went by, I learned that my prejudice was far removed from reality. Actually, it took all of a full minute to reach that conclusion. Getting behind the wheel of a new car is an exercise in exploration, and while some like to unwrap the experience in a slow savory manner, I couldn’t resist kissing the firewall with the throttle.
That's where I learned that even with the traction control on, the rear tires spin with no regard for life. Though my example was a humble Challenger R/T, this one came with the Scat Pack. Visual upgrades included a split front grille and a hood with raised nostrils that stood out like a bulging vein on the forehead of a ticked off insane asylum resident. A black Scat Pack stripe matched the black 20-inch rims and contrasted with the TorRed paint job. A Bumblebee mascot can be seen hiding behind “6.4” scribbles on the fenders and on the driver’s info screen upon start up, alluding to the fact that Dodge blessed the R/T range with its 6.4-liter Hemi V8 foaming at the lips with 485 horsepower and 475 lb-ft of torque.
Pulling up at a stoplight, I was frequently coerced into rolling down the window by onlookers motioning for my attention, mistakenly thinking that the bumblebee badges signaled its 707 horsepower relative. “That a Hellcat?” they would ask. I’d shake my head but leave them bewildered when the light turned green and the rear end erupted, invading their personal space with tire smoke and an Earth-rumbling shouting match between eight burly cylinders. It was only when I was cackling off in the distance that it became apparent, every expectation I had of the Challenger’s personality was spot on, I just never guessed how much of a damn good time a heavy unrefined muscle car would be.
Now let me get one thing straight, this is no racing machine. While cars like the Lexus RC-F and McLaren 650S are point and shoot, the Challenger is spray and pray. There is so much performance cascading through the eight-speed TorqueFlite transmission and out to those poor rear tires, but not much of it is accessible. Many modern performance machines combine high grip and precision-engineered vehicle dynamics to translate a full throttle assault into shockingly abrupt but well-placed forward momentum, like Usain Bolt launching off at the sound of the gun. Hitting the throttle on the Challenger definitely yields momentum, but it’s the kind you’d get from trying to sprint from one end of a hockey rink to the other wearing socks.
Press the pedal about halfway to the floor and wheel spin is ensured, as is angry looks from your neighbors. There are children around damnnit. Once, when keeping the loud V8 subdued while I chatted with a worried parent over Bluetooth, I accelerated to make a left turn before the oncoming lane of traffic inconvenienced me into waiting for the next light. Sure the Challenger cleared the turn in time, but by apex, I found myself caught in the middle of a full-fledged drift that required healthy amounts of counter steering to contain. It was from that moment forward that I was changed. Suddenly no parking lot was safe from my wrath, and the rear tires had no choice but to endure the torture. Should have signed for duty on a Chrysler.
Not that the Challenger has standout sideways ability that makes it a potential Formula Drift contender either, it handles like the 4,200 pound maniac that it is. Sprung a bit on the soft side, this is the only performance car I didn’t take to the twisting roads for sampling because I enjoy my life and also want to keep the supply of press vehicles flowing. If it can’t turn though, it must be a drag strip legend, right? Well, not exactly. Even when playing with the launch control housed in the Dodge Performance Pages (which allows drivers to record their quarter mile times, reaction times, top speed runs, and lap times) it was tough to get a launch without wheel spin.
When I finally got the tires to lock, its 4.3 second time to 60 mph was a thrill to behold, although one that required a healthy amount of stopping power since the Brembo brakes had a bit of a hard time containing the big boned mass. So did I for that matter, but once I got over the thrill of switching the traction control, steering, and throttle response into Sport mode (heaven forbid you turn the traction control off), the Challenger was a joy to drive in the city although the 9 mpg I saw over 240 miles of throttle abuse when not in stop and go traffic was a far cry from the 18 mpg advertised (15 city, 25 highway). Unfortunately, it’s large dimensions make it a chore to park or navigate tight spaces with.
However, given that its attitude leaks into the driver’s state of mind, I was more concerned with keeping the windows down at all times and blasting Slow Ride as if I was Matthew McConaughey in Dazed and Confused than I was on taking in visual input from the pillbox windshield. Low visibility is a common theme in the Challenger since the backup camera is likely the grainiest on the market and the C pillars cast blind spots that could block out a dump truck riding alongside the elongated trunk. At least the extra real estate at the rear translates to a healthy 16 cubic feet of cargo capacity, but none of the massive exterior dimensions make it inside the cabin.
Draped in black cloth, the interior was none too impressive featuring low quality plastics placed in a pleasantly ergonomic arrangement, but its bare bones appeal only added to its muscle car persona. I was only a cigarette, bandana, and tee shirt removal (or leather jacket addition) away from being a good old boy sneering at the four-wheeled safe spaces that kept slipping into my rear-view mirror. The nice thing about the Challenger is that it feels simple. Even with a fairly intuitive and responsive Uconnect touchscreen infotainment system, dual zone climate control, and a power driver’s seat with keyless entry, the Challenger never feels like a highly sophisticated car where you dread to see the check engine light flicker on.
Everything on the car appears to be accessible and it’s easy to imagine a father and his child turning the wrench under the hood of the Challenger once the era of robotic transportation pods sets in. In an age where the country is torn apart by a wave of acceptance that’s conversely seen as coddling censorship, the Challenger is unabashedly old school, hardly scraping by without a gas guzzler tax thanks to the paddle shifted automatic (sorry manual fans) and using traction control as if it were a spray bottle fighting a house fire. The politically correct and anti politically correct may hate each other, but they also both need each other and the Challenger Scat Pack provides the opinions of a dying breed that will see its numbers reduced but never go extinct.
Even as someone who accepts the magic that computers can add to sports cars and supercars, I would love to own a Scat Pack although it is a fact I’d end up in jail or in a coffin before its in my possession for a year. Though it’s bunched into the same class as the Mustang and Camaro, it’s actually something else entirely, a Vin Diesel among the Paul Walkers and Tyrese Gibsons. The buy in for the Scat Pack starts at $37,995 although with the automatic transmission, Scat Pack appearance package, Uconnect system, rims, and destination, ours came in at $43,575. In terms of horsepower per dollar, the deal is almost unmatchable, but be sure to save some cash for tires because, at least in my experience, they won’t last more than a week.