“Oooh – That is beau-ti-ful…Has that got a HEMI?”
“Is it YOURS?!”
“Unfortunately…. no it isn’t” …And so began my first encounter with people just 10 minutes after picking up the Dodge Challenger R/T from Chrysler. I’m surprised I didn’t cause accidents as people stared, open-mouthed and gob-smacked where ever I went. One older gentleman behind the wheel of a big SUV dropped his jaw, took off his sunglasses and just stared at the car as his grey-haired wife smiled one of those lusting smiles at me – or was it the car? (My wife says it was the car… she wasn’t there…but insists it was the car…) You daren’t leave the car in a parking spot and walk away, because when you return there are men milling around, drooling all over the windows as they peer inside – afraid to even touch the car. “Is this YOURS??” they ask in unison as I approach the car with a big grin on my face. You should see their faces when you tell them it’s got a six-speed manual. Grown men are weeping right now as they find out you can get this baby with a stick-shift – I kid you not.
So why does a car that is not a Ferrari and has the aerodynamics of a brick make men go weak at the knees? Nostalgia… don’t underestimate it. Back when the original (pony) muscle cars ruled North American roads I was but a tyke. Six years of age but I still remember these cars like it was yesterday. At 18 my first car was a 1973 Dodge Charger and now 30 years later I’m driving a new version of the Charger’s sister vehicle – the Challenger. Back in the 1970’s Chrysler had the Charger, Challenger and the Barracuda, while Ford had the Mustang and GM – forever following the leaders – eventually showed up with the Camaro/Firebird. For me it was Dodge all the way, and after owning a Camaro (a piece of junk) and driving several Mustangs…Dodge still rules supreme in this scribes eyes. More than thirty years after the original cars made their appearances, we have them all available to the public again – the Ford Mustang never went away, but it morphed into a retro look several years ago and set the stage for this return. Thank goodness the boys in Detroit were nostalgic and gave the green light to producing these up-dated versions of the classics so that people like me can now buy a piece of our youth – albeit with a receding hairline and a beer belly (instead of girly-hair and six-pack abs).
Pushing the start button, I hear the familiar rumble of the V-8 engine… such a sweet sound. I put the shifter into gear, ease out the clutch and promptly stall it. This is embarrassing… clutch in, push-button, engine starts. Into gear and ease out the clutch with more revs this time. The engine bogs down but off I go – slowly. Weird, it feels like I’m in the wrong gear! I put the clutch back in and pull the shifter a bit closer to my knee and into first. That’s much better! I’d been shifting into third gear – not first. Once I got that figured out everything went nice and smooth. The shifter is cantilevered or tilted at an angle – hence my initial problem with finding first-gear. It feels a little odd for the first few times you go through the gears, but after 5 minutes or so it becomes second-nature and you don’t have to think about it. The shifts are smooth and the clutch fairly easy to modulate, but a bit heavier than you might find in a European or Japanese car. My wife completely hated it, but she just doesn’t “get” the whole feel of the Challenger even though she loves the look of it.
The 5.7-Litre HEMI V-8 engine comes with Variable Cam Timing – you get 372 hp (376 hp with the manual) and 410 lb.-ft torque with the “Classic” version, as well as A-line body-side R/T stripes, classic script ‘Challenger’ fender badging, 20-inch polished-chromed heritage wheels with all-season performance tires, classic egg-crate grille with heritage ‘R/T’ badge, body-color rear spoiler and chromed ‘FUEL’ filler door. If you skip the optional manual transmission and go with the standard five-speed Auto/Stick, you get the added bonus of MDS (Multi-Displacement System) where the engine switches from eight cylinders to four in highway traffic or during cruising, thus saving fuel. The six-speed manual Tremec transmission ($2,000) includes Hill Start Assist, heavy-duty anti-lock disc brakes, performance steering with variable displacement, bright pedals, limited-slip differential, 3.73:1 axle ratio.
For more control on R/T and SRT8 models, there’s an available “Sure Grip Differential” that incorporates a torque response unit and two-pinion speed sensing gears to help control slip between the rear wheels and provide better overall traction.
The Challenger is very easy to drive, whether at moderate speeds or very illegal speeds. Pushing the accelerator pedal farther and farther builds speed so effortlessly and quickly it’s almost scary. You always get the beautiful crescendo from under the hood, but stomping on the gas pedal increases the volume to the point that you get a bigger grin spreading across your face to match the sound. Needless to say, I exercised my right foot every chance I got!
Behind the large, almost over-sized steering wheel, the view out over the long hood is just as I remember from my youth. The steering is light, but not over-boosted like cars of old. The leather-wrapped steering wheel is tilt and telescopic and includes audio and cruise controls, making it very easy to get into a comfortable position.
The heated leather seats are surprisingly comfortable and far superior to anything from the ’70’s. The driver gets a power eight-way adjustable seat with lumbar, while the passenger gets a manually adjusted version. Entry to the rear seat is via the passenger side only – there’s no lever on the driver’s seat to flip it forward.
The dashboard layout is nice and simple with large round dials for controlling the heating and air conditioning. The navigation/audio screen dominates the main portion of the dashboard and is one of the better units I’ve experienced. Chrysler has always utilized touch-screen systems and this one is no different. It’s actually quite easy to use (the audio part) while driving – and it allows the passenger to make adjustments to the navigation portion even while on the go.
Obviously, the cars of the 1970’s didn’t have all of the safety features now available in modern cars, but they also didn’t have anything like the electronics we now have at our fingertips. For example, standard on the Challenger R/T is Media Centre 130 that includes a Boston Acoustics Premium CD/MP3 radio with audio jack, six-speaker sound system with digital sound processing and an impressive 276 watts of power. Stepping up a notch gives you the Media Centre 430 CD/DVD/HDD with a 16.5cm (6.5-inch) touch screen, 30 GB hard drive and audio jack. If that’s not enough, you can order the Boston Acoustics Sound Group II package that adds another speaker along with 368 watts of power.
The test vehicle came with the optional Media Centre 730N that consists of a CD/DVD/HDD/NAV radio with GPS navigation and SIRIUS Satellite Radio. The system features an integrated, 16.5cm (6.5-inch) full-colour touch screen LCD display, with memo recorder, as well as a hard drive with up to 30GB and a USB 2.0 port for storing music and/or digital photos or watch a movie. The voice-activated GPS navigation system comes with Uconnect phone. Compatible with most Bluetooth-enabled phones, Uconnect phone features voice recognition capability, onboard phonebook, conference calling and compatibility with up to seven capable phones. It is one of the best all-around systems available at the moment – the hard drive is easy to use and it’s extremely easy to rip songs from CD, USB or MP3 players – unlike other vehicles I’ve experienced lately.
Other electronics in the Challenger include the Electronic Vehicle Information Centre (EVIC). Included with the optional Electronics Convenience Group, you get information such as average fuel consumption, compass, distance to empty, trip odometer, elapsed time and maintenance intervals. The SRT8 also gets the Performance Pages Display showing a 0-60 mph (0-96 km/h) times, braking distance and timer, quarter-mile and eighth-mile times, and a G-force meter.
The 5.7 Litre V-8 HEMI is rated at a very respectable: 13.3 L/100 kms City and 8.1 L/100 kms Highway… by way of contrast, the 3.5L V-6 with a 5-speed automatic returns 12.2L/100 km City, 8.1L/100 km Highway. The big bonus from my viewpoint is that they can run on regular 87 Octane fuel (89 is recommended)!! That saves 10-15 cents/litre right there.
Storage in the Challenger is somewhat limited. The glove box is useless – there’s only room for the owner’s manual, nothing more. There are small door pockets and the floor console has a reasonable-sized storage area with a sliding armrest. The trunk/boot is very large, offering plenty of room – unlike the cars of the past where the spare tire took up practically the entire available space. I was very surprised to find that the rear seat folds 60/40 for even more storage/cargo capacity and has a fold-out centre armrest with cup holders.
Rear seat accommodation is very good once you get back there… getting in is a different story. There isn’t much foot space for stepping in behind the front passenger seat, and then you have to watch that you don’t bang your head on the roof as you get in. If you have to sit behind the driver, you have to scramble over to the seat while still crouching – but don’t get your legs caught up with the center console that intrudes into the rear area! Get your foot caught on that and your taking a diving header toward the little side window! After you’ve extrapolated your legs from the passenger side of the vehicle it’s just a simple matter of sitting in quite a comfortable position… assuming the driver isn’t too tall. If he/she is very tall you won’t even fit back there because there’s no leg room when the seat is pushed back. There is room for three back there, but the person that draws the short straw for the middle had better be short. The seat isn’t too uncomfortable, but the centre console and very wide tunnel eat up a huge amount of real estate and you have to share foot space with the other two rear passengers – and it isn’t exactly roomy even for one behind each seat. Still, it’s just like the car was back in the 1970’s, so it’s staying true to its roots!
Standard on SXT, R/T and SRT8, but optional (!!!) on the base model is Anti-lock Braking System with Brake Assist… this is 2011 – shouldn’t all vehicles over $10,000 come with this as a basic safety feature? When you look at the fact the other Challengers come standard with advanced multistage driver and passenger front airbags, side-curtain airbags (front and rear), ESP (Electronic Stability Program) system, Performance four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock brakes (ABS), Tire Pressure Monitoring lamp and automatic headlamps – it just seems a little odd to me.
The Challenger was way better than I imagined… in fact, I would go so far to say that I’d genuinely use my own money to buy this car… if the wife would let me. My wife found it crass and unrefined – that’s exactly the point of this car and I guess you would have to have lived in the 1970’s/early ’80’s to appreciate these types of cars for what they are – big 2-door cars with big V-8 engines under the hood. Looking good and driving in a straight line were their only requirements – curves and bends in the road were not their forte. I’m not a nostalgia type of guy, but this car really brought back fond memories of my wasted youth… that alone makes the car priceless.
The sweet sound of a big V-8!
The BEST modern retro-classic automobile – It’s a very modern interpretation of a classic style.
Electronics and safety items that weren’t available in the 1970’s version
Better than expected fuel economy!
Smallish back seat considering the size of this car
Chevy Camaro, Ford Mustang GT
By The Numbers…
Please visit your local dealer for the latest prices and incentives.
For more information visit: www.Dodge.ca
Powertrain: 5.7 litre HEMI VVT V-8; 6-speed manual; RWD
Horsepower (Kw): 376 @ 5,150 rpm
Torque lb-ft (N.m.): 410 @ 4,300 rpm
0-100 kph: N/A
Cargo Capacity: 459 L (16.2 cu.ft)
Curb Weight: 1,833 kg (4,041 lbs)
Towing capacity: 453.6 kg (1,000 lbs)
Fuel Consumption: (Regular 87 / recomended:8 9 Octane)
City: 13.3 L/100 kms // Highway: 8.1 L/100 kms
I averaged 11.9 L/100 kms during combined driving. The on-board computer told me I was getting an average of 10 L/100 kms @ 120 km/h on the highway and 11.7 L/100 kms during mixed driving.
(The 5.7L V8 HEMI with MDS, 5-speed automatic w/AutoStick is rated at 13.5L/100 km City, 8.0L/100km Highway)
Pricing for the Dodge Challenger R/T Classic ($ Cdn)
Base Price: $35,395
As Tested: $39,765
(Options: Electronics Group – $1,375, Sound Group – $995, 6-speed manual Tremec transmission – $2,000 = $4,370)
Destination & Delivery: $1,400
All Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge vehicles are backed by a 5-year or 100,000-kilometre fully transferable Powertrain Warranty with $0 deductible, plus 24-hour roadside assistance. Basic Warranty coverage is for 3 years or 60,000 kilometres. Roadside Assistance is 5 years.
Copyright © 2011 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text: Iain Shankland / Images: Iain Shankland
Also Published at: Flagworld.com