We might just be heading into the peak of the muscle car era. The whole world is waking up to America’s guilty little secret and the manufacturers are rolling out horsepower numbers that seemed like a funny joke just a few years ago.
The basic recipe is the same: big horsepower, big fun, bold looks, and an affordable price tag that costs just $26,995. But now this recipe is going global and the 2018 Dodge Challenger is taking on Ford and Chevy on the world stage.
It’s a war on multiple fronts, too, from the lesser-powered machines that offer just the looks through to the titans that have redefined the sector. This is the kind of power struggle we like to see. But how does the Challenger stack up against the reigning champions?
The 305 bhp, V6 Dodge Challenger SXT is the baby of the line-up and it’s got enough ponies to keep most people entertained. You can upgrade to a 5.7-liter HEMI V8 and 375 bhp with the Dodge Challenger R/T for $6000 more, which seems like a fair swap.
The next rung up is the four-wheel-drive Dodge Challenger GT. Perversely, though, this car features the lesser V6 as the R/T offers the bang for your buck when it comes to performance and fun.
You get an eight-speed automatic for all but the R/T, which gets a six-speed manual to make the most of the extra horsepower. The Scat Pack, Scat Pack Shaker, and Super Track Pak packs plunder the SRT parts bin to create a sporting hierarchy. The BlackTop pack and Convenience Package add luxury features and there’s a Hellcat Widebody if you really want to push the boundaries.
But then there’s another level of crazy altogether. The fierce SRT Demon sits on top of the tree, all 840 bhp of smoldering, tire-shredding, hate-fueled madness. Dodge started this insane power war with the Hellcat. Now things have got out of hand, but nobody is backing down.
You’ll pay $86,090 to join this exclusive hot-rodding club, but it will be worth it every time you drop your right foot. It’s a dragstrip car, not a circuit racer, but it’s still spectacular in its own way.
Nobody who ever bought a muscle car had fuel economy at the top of their list of priorities, but the lower spec SXT will give you 19 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway.
Without a hint of irony, the 5.7-liter V8 HEMI comes with fuel-saving technology that gives it a solid 25 mpg. As for the Demon, if you have to ask then you probably shouldn’t buy one. It could be worse, though, as the Demon will give you 13 mpg in the city and 18 mpg on the highway.
Safety and Entertainment Features
Muscle cars might be an old-school concept, but they have been brought kicking and screaming into the 21st century. So, the Challenger gets a five-star NHTSA crash rating overall, although it does drop to four stars for the frontal and rollover crash tests.
You get blind spot monitoring and adaptive cruise control, forward collision waiting on the options list, as well as a rear parking camera.
Inside, it’s another leap forward for the muscle car. The Dodge Challenger comes with its own flavor of Dodge’s Uconnect system that hooks up to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The five-inch touchscreen is relatively small, but its user-friendly. Upgrade and you get an 8.4-inch screen that’s easier on the eyes and also takes charge of the climate control and other settings. You can even have a Wi-Fi hotspot, although it’s 3G.
You get another seven-inch display between the analogue dash dials that mean you can cycle through most of your information. Optional stereo systems can help you bring the thunder inside the car, too, and you can spec it up right to an 18-speaer Harman/Kardon surround sound system.
How It Stacks Up Against the Competition
The Dodge Challenger squares up to the Ford Mustang and Camaro ZL1. Now you could include the likes of the Mercedes E63 AMG and BMW M3 when it gets to the range-topping SRT Demon, but it’s an apples and oranges comparison.
The muscle cars are hard liquor, compared to the vintage wine on offer in Europe. Technically the Dodge is stronger, but there’s no doubt it’s lacking the sophistication to hang in that exalted company.
The Challenger has gone hard on a nostalgic trip and it looks like a car the designers of the 70s would have penned if they were still at their desks. While Chevy and Ford have embraced the future, Dodge has paid homage to its roots with its curvaceous offering.
Dynamically, the Mustang is the pick of the pony car field and the Camaro is arguably the best looking. But the Challenger scores big when it comes to character and, perversely, practicality.
The willfully old-school looks and even the mildly wayward handling in the bigger engine models have combined to create a truly unique car that can still sell the magic of the muscle car era.
The Challenger interior is solid compared to the immediate competition, too. You can get five adults in there, which is a competitive advantage, the trunk is huge and the Challenger is relatively refined at cruising speeds. That depends on the spec and 20” wheels will hit the ride quality, but in its basic form, the Dodge is a quiet and civil car to drive when you consider what it looks like.
- Nostalgic styling.
- Cheap price of entry.
- Great interior space for five adults.
- Scary fast range-topping Demon.
- Its competitors are better on track and better all-round sportscar replacements.
- The Challenger is a big old boat.
- You’ll need shares in a tire company if you buy the Demon.
- Dodge has been left behind internationally.