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2015 Dodge Challenger Test Drive Review
While the 2015 Dodge Challenger is not quite the precise sports-car weapon the Mustang and Camaro are, it’s very easy to live with every day.
Welcome to 1971. Your time machine is the 2015 Dodge Challenger, and it rekindles the Pony Car fire. The Challenger isn’t a sports car in the pure sense, though it can deliver decidedly racy performance in R/T and SRT trim.
Look and Feel
The 2015 Dodge Challenger is a wedge-issue car. To some, it looks flat-out great. To others, it’s just a repeat of something from 40 years ago. The Challenger is a big coupe with lots of nostalgia in its design and solid modern underpinnings. Some themes are timeless, like the long stretch of the hood, clean body sides and close-cropped roof. In any trim, the Challenger’s looks have purpose. The exterior styling of the Challenger has been mildly updated for 2015 with a new split grille that’s meant to evoke the 1971 Challenger, halo rings for the headlamps and a new hood. There are also new taillights that mimic the ‘71 with dual individual elements, LED outlines and a re-designed rear diffuser, too.
The Challenger offers style that looks like a million bucks at all its price levels. It’s available in 7 different basic configurations, from a V6-powered SXT that starts just under $27,000 to the Hemi-packing R/T, SRT 392 and SRT Hellcat. It’s one of the few cars anywhere you can still get with a manual transmission, a 6-speed Tremec that’s the standard gearbox for the Hemi V8 R/T models. I spent a week with a 2015 Challenger SRT 392 with 6-speed manual, summer high-performance tires, UConnect with navigation, the Technology Group and a couple of cosmetic options for a total cost of $48,965 including destination.
While V6-powered Challengers have at least 305 hp, the SRT 392 I drove is the second-most-powerful 2015 Challenger behind the newly announced Hellcat. Its 6.4-liter Hemi V8 roars with an authority that underscores the 485 hp and 475 lb-ft of torque the engine produces. The manual transmission is a strong Tremec 6060 6-speed with a notchy action that rewards a firm hand.
The Challenger is rear-wheel drive, with an anti-spin differential handling the power. The three-mode Bilstein Adaptive Dampening Suspension enhances the fully independent chassis for SRT duty. You can put the Challenger into fully alert Track mode, or mix and match your desired steering weight, suspension stiffness and stability-control threshold. There are a lot of other SRT-specific tricks like launch control and performance displays, too. This adjustability makes the most of the capabilities built into this heavily upgraded Challenger and helps make the car’s bulky curb weight less of an issue. Head to a drag strip and you’ll find out that the Challenger SRT 392 can hit 60 mph in just over 4.0 seconds flat and will cover a quarter-mile in a little more than 12 seconds. Top speed with the manual transmission is 179 mph.
In short, the Challenger SRT 392 is a blast to drive if your thing is a rumbling V8 soundtrack, snapping off your own gear changes and getting pressed back into the seat. The brakes are upgraded with slotted rotors and beefy Brembo 6-piston calipers in front, hardware that’s capable of counteracting the very strong powertrain. Steering doesn’t offer a lot of feedback, but it’s responsive without being too quick or too slow.
There’s a lot of horsepower under your right foot, but the Challenger SRT 392 doesn’t feel overpowered so much as it demands respect. Because of the engine’s strong torque, I found myself spinning the tires in routine situations like turning a corner or merging onto the highway. It can surprise you if you’re not expecting it. Summer tires don’t grip well when temperatures dip into the 40s or below, which can make the Challenger SRT 392 somewhat treacherous in areas with seasons. Even with winter tires, you’d be wise to adjust your technique in low-traction situations. The optional 8-speed automatic helps tame this behavior a bit, too.
The Challenger SRT 392 requires 91-octane fuel and returns 14 mpg city/23 highway. Its relatively long wheelbase and big-car bones are a benefit when it comes to turnpike manners. On the other hand, the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro have evolved into more fully fledged sports cars, while the Challenger is larger, heavier and more of a handful when you’re making it work.
Form and Function
The form of the Challenger is great—it’s the function that earns a few demerits. Visibility is limited because of the low roof, tiny mirrors and smallish rear window. The roof pillars lend a cozy feel to the cockpit, but also make tight maneuvering difficult and create large blind spots out on the road. Still, it’s not like the Challenger cabin is a bad place to be; it’s where the biggest upgrading for 2015 happened.
The interior features a new instrument panel, dashboard and center console. An 8.4-inch touchscreen drives the latest version of Chrysler’s easy-to-use UConnect system, which is where you go for navigation, entertainment and some climate-control functions. The materials used are first rate for the class, and combined with the Challenger’s excellent highway manners, the cabin is a comfortable place to pass lots of miles. As long as you’re in the front seats, that is. Grown-ups will fit in the back, but you shouldn’t expect a coupe to excel as a sedan.
The SRT’s seats are covered in Alcantara with more aggressive bolstering, plus power adjustment. It was easy to find a comfortable driving position, though headroom could be an issue for drivers over 6 feet tall. The new controls aren’t as simple as those in the earlier Challenger models. They include more buttons and knobs, and they’re arranged differently. Once you get used to it, the layout is logical and easy to use, other than the UConnect screen being too bright at night. Also slightly annoying is the need to use the touchscreen to control the heated and ventilated seats and heated steering wheel, while other HVAC controls are just ahead of the shifter.
The Challenger can be equipped with some of the most modern driver aids, and Chrysler’s UConnect navigation and infotainment system continues to be easy to use. The Challenger SRT 392 had adaptive cruise control with forward-collision warning, rain-sensing wipers, automatic high beams and the SRT configurable drive modes.
The navigation system is responsive, accepting input via the touchscreen or through voice prompts. The prominent 8.4-inch display presents a lot of information quickly, thanks to its large size. UConnect Access works with your paired smartphone to open up the capabilities of the system even further. The Challenger can also act as an Internet hotspot with Mopar Web. That does require a subscription, but will allow multiple devices to access the Internet from the car at the same time without any extra hardware.
The audio system in the Challenger 392 is a 900-watt Harman Kardon rig with 18 speakers. Usability and connectivity for the system are great. It pairs up with your phone via Bluetooth and offers a USB or auxiliary input jack, too. A year of Sirius XM satellite radio is included, which is a more generous subscription than many other automakers offer. Unfortunately, for all the power and ease of use, it doesn’t sound very good. The audio features a lot of harsh high end and a scooped-out midrange. It does go plenty loud, however.
No other car offers exactly what Dodge has cooked up with its UConnect system, especially the special SRT functions. It’s neat, and it’s functional, and best of all it’s easy to master.
While the Challenger SRT 392 can easily overwhelm its traction, it’s not prone to getting out of shape. With the less-powerful (but still satisfying) V6 or 5.7-liter Hemi, spinning the tires will be a smaller concern. The Challenger feels big, and that’s not helped by its limited visibility. The technology aids like blind-spot monitoring and rear-view cameras can only do so much. Sometimes, it just feels like you’re sitting in a bucket, but those instances are usually when you’re poking along in a parking lot or trying to parallel park.
The Challenger is an easy car to drive, and out on the open highway, the small rear-view mirrors are likely to be your biggest complaint. The chassis is both predictable and comfortable, comforting because there are no surprises. You know when traction may break away, and you can easily tuck the Challenger back in line. The traction and stability control are benign, delivering gentle corrections and even letting a little bit of frisky tail-wagging happen in the SRT 392.
The 2015 Challenger has not been crash-tested yet, but earlier model years earned 5-star ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Challenger SRT models are not officially rated.
The Challenger is a solid coupe that’s sized for real people. It’s roomier than other cars it competes with, and the large trunk is practical in a class not known for utility. While it’s not quite the precise sports-car weapon the Mustang and Camaro are, it’s very easy to live with every day.
With an entry point well under $30,000, a V6 Challenger will return up to 30 mpg highway. Even the fire-breathing SRT 392 returned 16 mpg in my hands during a week of mixed driving—better than I expected and within the range you’d expect from the competition. The chassis and powertrains are well proven, so there shouldn’t be any surprises or time bombs, and you get a lot of car for the money.
The more exclusive Challengers like the SRT 392 and Hellcat will hold their value better than the higher-volume trims. The Challenger has been on sale for a while, so most of the bugs have been worked out. Because of the sharp competition in the class, it’s possible to find yourself a great deal on the Challenger that fits your needs, be it the relatively economical SXT or the fire-breathing Hellcat.
Dan Roth is a Boston-based automotive journalist who’s been writing about cars for a decade. A parallel career as a video producer and creative professional helped open the door to car writing in 2006, when he started working with Autoblog on its long-running podcast and producing videos. Dan has been fascinated with cars his whole life, leading to a large collection of tools, a driveway that houses a broken Volvo, and many sketchbooks filled with designs for his own cars that will never get built.
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