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2016 Dodge Challenger Test Drive Review
America’s only true muscle car returns after a 2015 refresh with some fresh options, including the iconic shaker hood.
When manufacturers first started slinging retro-remakes of America’s most iconic muscle cars, it was the Challenger that most solidly hit the target. Fast-forward to 8 years later, and it’s still the most authentic of the breed and has now far eclipsed the run of the original, if not the influence. For 2016, the Challenger returns from its best-selling year with some new trim and wheel options, plus a new shaker hood that speaks to its roots.
Look and Feel8/ 10
Dodge’s muscle coupe offers a confusing array of trim and package options that can swing the price and performance all the way from a $27K V6 SXT to the $63K asphalt-chewing supercharged V8 Hellcat. Start with that SXT and you’ll get some surprising standards like keyless entry and ignition, automatic headlights with LED halo running lights, dual-zone automatic climate control with rear vents, 2-tone cloth, a tilt-and-telescoping leather-wrapped wheel, 6-way power driver’s seat, and 5-inch touchscreen. The SXT comes with the 3.6-liter V6, so if you’d like a V8, the R/T will fill that bill plus add 20-inch wheels with upgraded brakes, a spoiler, and a rear-view camera.
If you go with the Plus version of these trims, you’ll also add a larger 8.4-inch touchscreen with smartphone integration and voice command plus satellite radio, a power-adjustable steering wheel, leather upholstery with heated and vented front seats, a heated steering wheel and upgraded alternator, plus an upgraded stereo and fog lights.
The SRT 392 trim offers even larger Brembo brakes and forged alloy wheels, a unique intake, sport steering and adaptive suspension, better leather, and an 18-speaker Harman Kardon stereo. You’ll also get the Performance Pages app for 0-60 and G-force metrics, plus the Driver Convenience Group for bi-xenon headlights, power-folding mirrors, and driver-assistance systems like rear parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and remote ignition if you go with the 8-speed automatic.
If nothing but the biggest will do, the Hellcat takes the SRT 392 and adds the more powerful, supercharged V8, plus a damped steering system, automatic wipers, and automatic high beams.
For my week with the Challenger, I was provided an R/T Scat Pack trim, fitted with the 6.4-liter V8 and optioned similarly to a standard R/T with the addition of Brembo brakes, a sport exhaust, a heated sport steering wheel and the Super Track Pack, which gets you 20-inch wheels, sport tuning for the steering and suspension, plus a more aggressive axle ratio. This package also adds Dodge Performance Pages for the infotainment system. With a starting MSRP of $37,995, a Scat Pack Appearance Group added unique seats with “premium, high-performance cloth” and a little Scat Pack bumblebee stitched in, a leather steering wheel, HID headlamps, and further cosmetic enhancements like the Scat Pack stripe on the outside and a satin fuel filler cap and grille for $1,195. The 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters is a $1,400 option, while the navigation system with the 8.4-inch touchscreen and Uconnect added another $695. This version also came with unique Hyper Black forged aluminum 20-inch wheels, tacking another $1,095 onto the sticker, and with a $995 destination charge, the final price for the R/T Scat Pack came in at $43,375.
There were days when even muscle cars had “economy” engine options, back when bell-bottom pants were fashionable and “communist” was still a bad word. Today, even base engines deliver 300+ horsepower and will get you to 60 mph in around 6 seconds—figures most V8s struggled to achieve back in the late 20th century. With the Challenger, the fun starts in the SXT with a 3.6-liter V6 delivering 305 hp and 268 lb-ft of torque, but that’s not the impressive part. That combination will get you to 60 mph in just 6.4 seconds, but it’ll still manage 19 mpg city and 30 highway, with a combined rating of 23, and this from a car weighing nearly 4,000 pounds. This is helped by an 8-speed automatic that was added last year, and it does its job with responsive grace.
Move up to an R/T and you’re treated to a V8, just as any proper muscle car should enjoy. Here it’s a 5.7-liter monster of an engine, producing 375 hp and 410 lb-ft of torque, enough to propel the R/T’s 4,000+ pounds to 60 mph in just 5.8 seconds if equipped with the standard 6-speed manual. It should be noted that this is almost a full second slower than the Mustang GT, but then, this is not the only V8 engine option here. But before we get to those monuments to American excess, let’s talk about economy. With the 5.7, you can still expect an impressive 15 mpg city and 23 highway with the manual, or even better 16 mpg city and 25 highway with the automatic, for combined ratings of 18 and 19 mpg, respectively.
But economy is anathema to the muscle car. If you’re not biting your thumb at the tree huggers and making Greenpeace members froth at their hemp bits, are you really in a muscle car? Thankfully, Dodge has provided options to accomplish this very goal. Scat Pack and SRT 392 trims sport a 6.4-liter V8 that belches out a proper 485 hp and 475 lb-ft of torque and will force the Challenger to 60 in a more appropriate 4.5 seconds. Even so, you’re only giving up 1 mpg around town with either the manual or automatic, and this might be the most impressive bit of engineering to be had with the Challenger.
Except it’s not. It’s not because the Hellcat exists. And with 707 hp and 650 lb-ft of torque being wrung from a supercharged, 6.2-liter V8, the power necessitated more robust transmissions to deal with the gut-wrenching torque threatening to peel the rubber right off the wheels. And even with more than 200 extra horses and nearly as much extra torque, the Hellcat still manages 13/22 with the automatic and 13/21 with the manual, for a combined rating of 16 mpg from either. That’s not just impressive. That deserves an award.
Try to get to 60 mph with the Hellcat, and the manual is actually slower than the 6.4-liter engine in the Scat Pack and SRT 392 trims, wholly due to the inability to actually apply that power to the road effectively. If you want to swap cogs yourself, the best you’ll manage is about 4.8 seconds, but if you can live with the automatic and the launch control it provides, you’ll be damned close to 4 seconds flat, and nothing screams muscle car more than that.
But we can’t ignore the other iconic aspect of the American muscle car: its weight. The Challenger in Hellcat guise weighs in at 4,500 pounds, and that’s not just hefty, it’s portly. Even in the Scat Pack I tested, its 4,000+-pound curb weight is 300 more than the Mustang—not exactly svelte itself—and you feel it around every curve. It’s not that the Challenger can’t handle the twisties, but you never forget exactly what you’re pushing around. It’s truly at home in a long, straight line. The fact that the Hellcat can still drop from 60 to 0 mph in just 108 feet is another astonishing feat of engineering, thanks to 6-piston front and 4-piston rear Brembos with 2-piece vented and slotted rotors that were added last year. The Challenger just keeps getting better.
Form and Function8/ 10
Not only is the Challenger the only option in the class that can truly be called a muscle car, since last year’s update it also sports the highest level of refinement inside among the competitors. Materials, design, and fit all surpass the Mustang and the Camaro by the proverbial quarter mile, and the Challenger is the only one of the three that offers a usable rear seat and a reasonable trunk. It’s got 16.2 cubic feet there, versus the Mustang’s 13.5 and the Camaro’s comparably shameful 9.1. Want to take a trip and bring three friends? This is the ridiculously overpowered coupe to do it in.
I’ve spent time in all of them, and the Challenger is the only one that truly offers all-day comfort. Were I to go tackle some twisties, I’d grab the Mustang, but for a longer trip it’s the Challenger that would leave me the most refreshed when I arrived thanks to comfortable seats and a well-balanced suspension. That’s important, especially for the older demographic looking to relive the misspent youths the current crop of muscle cars caters to. Go for the Scat Pack and the suspension is upgraded further with Bilsteins, which means it can even handle the corners a bit, too. More than that, I personally feel the Challenger captures the visual aesthetic of the car it’s based on better than the Mustang or the Camaro. The Mustang looks too much like a squashed Fusion, and the Camaro too much like a life-size Matchbox car.
Tech Level7/ 10
Every Challenger gets standards like keyless ignition and entry and a 5-inch touchscreen for the infotainment system, a 6-speaker affair at the base level, although you do enjoy Bluetooth and auxiliary and USB inputs as well as an SD card slot. This can be upgraded to an Alpine sound system, even at this level. R/T trims get a standard rear-view camera, while any Plus trim will add the larger 8.4-inch touchscreen with voice command, satellite radio, and smartphone integration through Dodge’s Uconnect Access. Opt for the Sound Group II package and you’ll move up to a 9-speaker stereo, although this is absolutely dwarfed by the 18-speaker Harman Kardon option you get with the Premium Sound Group that’s available for Plus and Scat Pack trims.
If you’re interested in recording your own 0-60 and skidpad performance numbers, the Super Track Pack will add those metrics to the infotainment system, as well as adding 20-inch wheels, sport tuning for the steering, suspension, and brakes, and a more aggressive axle ratio. The real technology comes with packages like the Driver Convenience Group, which will get you bi-xenon headlights, power-folding mirrors, rear parking sensors, and driver-assistance features like a blind-spot warning system and rear cross-path alert—features that are very welcome on this behemoth. If you go with the automatic, you’ll also get remote start. SRT and above trims can also add the Technology Group for automatic wipers and high-beams as well as a forward-collision warning system. And again, if you go with the automatic you’ll be treated to adaptive cruise as well. All Challenger trims can be equipped with a navigation system.
Perhaps surprisingly, the Challenger boasts a 5-out-of-5 star rating overall from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, with only frontal impacts receiving a lower 4-star rating. With the usual bevy of airbags, including full-length side curtain and driver’s knee, traction and stability control, the Challenger can be optioned with blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alert, an adaptive cruise control and forward-collision warning system, plus a rear-view camera and parking sensors. Braking from 60 mph is accomplished in anywhere from less than 105 to more than 110 feet thanks to a variety of factors including different brake and wheel/tire combinations, as well as the varying weights of the different trims.
If you want a modern muscle car, the Dodge Challenger is really your only option. The Mustang and Camaro are currently sports cars, and the Charger is a 4-door sedan. That means the Challenger is the only place you can spend your money on a muscle car and actually get what you paid for. The Hellcat’s $60K+ sticker price is certainly lofty, but considering the only way to get more horsepower from a production vehicle would be moving into exotic supercar territory, cost-effectiveness is a relative term.
Currently there are a variety of rebates and incentives, some rewarding military members, others offering regional discounts, and even loyalty rewards for being a repeat Chrysler customer, although some of those last only until August. There are even special financing offers through August offering a reduced APR depending on the length of your loan agreement, so the coming weeks seem the best time to get your hands on a Challenger.
A CarGurus contributor since 2008, Michael started his career writing about cars with the SCCA - winning awards during his time as editor of Top End magazine. Since then, his journalistic travels have taken him from NY to Boston to CA, completing a cross-country tour on a restored vintage Suzuki. While his preference is for fine German automobiles - and the extra leg room they so often afford - his first automobile memories center around impromptu Mustang vs. Corvette races down the local highway, in the backseat of his father's latest acquisition.
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