2015 Dodge Challenger: Smooth, powerful, fast

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The 2015 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack is not too late to the party.

Chrysler’s Dodge division was late to the hot 1960s muscle car scene, which was fading fast when Dodge announced its 1970 Challenger coupe. That was too bad because the Challenger was the slickest looking muscle “pony car” (think Mustang and Camaro), and you could get it with Chrysler’s famous 425 horsepower “Hemi” V8.

It’s surprising that Chrysler wasn’t quicker on the trigger with the Challenger because its 1955 C300 coupe was America’s first mass-produced 300-horsepower car with its Hemi V-8. It was the most powerful U.S. model that year.

But history has lots of twists, and you can get a 2015 Dodge Challenger with a V-6 that outdoes the C300 with a 305 horsepower rating despite two fewer cylinders.

The newest Challenger comes in several rear-drive models with sticker prices ranging from $26,995 to $59,995. Revised styling includes smoother front and rear fascias, split-port grille inserts and quad taillights.

In fact, the new Challenger looks much like the 1970s Challengers. And the former rather dull interior has been considerably upgraded.

The 2015 Dodge Challenger is powerful, fast and fun to drive.
The 2015 Dodge Challenger is powerful, fast and fun to drive.

You can even get a Challenger “SRT Hellcat” model with, once again, America’s most powerful production engine — a supercharged 707-horsepower Hemi V-8. It’s Chrysler’s first-ever supercharged V-8.

But enough is enough. Although docile, despite its potency and appropriate rumbling sound, the Challenger R/T Scat Pack I tested had “only” 485 horsepower and a pavement-pounding 475 pound-feet of torque. Its list price was $37,495, but a wide variety of options brought the bottom line to $45,270.

The smooth, responsive Hemi V-8 displaces 392 cubic inches, compared with the 1955 C300’s 426-cubic-inch Hemi, which had no power-robbing emissions controls.

A drawback to the current engine is just so-so estimated city fuel economy. It’s 15 miles per gallon in town, although the highway figure is a decent 25 mpg despite the Hemi’s power and torque and the fact that the Challenger R/T Scat Pack is fairly heavy. I averaged 17-18 miles per gallon during an even mix of moderate city/highway driving.

The Challenge is fairly heavy partly because the car has many comfort, convenience and safety features that make it a solid, comfortable long-distance cruiser. It quietly does 80 mph. at only a 2,000 rpm tachometer reading.

The 2015 Dodge Challenger has a sports car-style interior.
The 2015 Dodge Challenger has a sports car-style interior.

There’s a rear back-up camera when it comes time to park, and the blind-spot and rear-cross-path detection system is a worthy option.

The front seats are supportive in curves. Only the driver’s seat is power-operated, although both front seats can be heated and ventilated. There’s a mix of large and small controls that are easy to use, but the front seat belts are a little hard to reach. Cupholders and the driver’s power window controls are conveniently located, although inside door handles are set too low.

Gauges can be read at a glance. There’s a 7-inch display screen for such things as radio station selection, but it took several hard pushes with a finger on the screen’s controls to make it do such things as changing radio stations.

The new Challenger’s engine can be hooked to a standard six-speed manual transmission or my test car’s $1,400 class-exclusive TorqueFlite eight-speed automatic transmission. Opt for the automatic. It delivers smooth, decisive shifts and features easily used paddle shifters for manual transmission operation.

My solidly built test Challenger had confidence-inspiring firm steering, although it’s quick. Letting attention wander thus can put you partly in an adjoining lane. The ride is firm but supple — never punishing — although some bumps can cause a little jolting.

This car is agile, helped by electronic stability and all-speed traction controls, although the weight of the engine can be felt if you push the car hard through tight turns. It has Brembo four-piston high-performance front brakes with vented/slotted rotors. They bite firmly, but progressively. Brembo brakes also are found on exotic, high-speed foreign cars.

The R/T’s “Scat Pack” package contains lots of good stuff, besides its distinctive rear “bumblebee” stripe. For instance, the new 20-inch polished aluminum wheels have black pockets and a satin finish. The wheels work with a high-performance suspension with Bilstein shock absorbers. The ride height is lowered half an inch.

New Dodge “Performance Pages” include driver configuration modes to adjust engine, transmission and steering response, besides launch control if you’re drag racing. I didn’t do any drag racing, and guess that the “Performance Pages” can best be felt only on a race track.

The Scat Pack also provides an aggressive-looking performance front splitter and satin black decklid spoiler. But watch out when pulling up to, say, concrete shopping center parking lot barricades to avoid damaging the extra-low front splitter, which improves the car’s aerodynamics.

As with all Challengers, the doors are wide and heavy. And entering or leaving the rear seat is a bit of a chore. Once there, 6-footers will find there isn’t much leg room. Rear seatbacks flip forward to increase cargo capacity, but don’t sit entirely flat when shoved forward.

Loading or unloading the large trunk can be a little awkward because of its high opening. The trunk lid and hood are easy to open because they utilize hydraulic struts. The engine looks as if it could power a rocket ship.

In all, I found the racy Challenger R/T Scat Pack to be a blast to drive, although it’s as docile as an economy car in town.

Pros: Smoother look. Oh-my-gosh acceleration. Stable handling. Supple ride. Strong brakes.

Cons: Tight backseat. Long, heavy doors. High trunk liftover. Very low front end. So-so fuel economy.

Bottom Line: Docile, no-nonsense coupe that’s a blast to drive.

Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for more than 40 years. To read more of his new and vintage car reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com.

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