Author notes - this is my unedited review I did last year. I’ve changed nothing. I simply wrote this after testing a Scat Pack and wanted to post it here. Ironically, shortly after writing this, my best friend was inspired and purchased the Scat Pack I used in the photos.

There are so many incredible cars to be had under $50,000 it has become almost overwhelming to try and find the best bang for your buck. Admittedly, I have personally driven many vehicles that fall right into this exact category, and I believe I’m about to make a compelling case for a particularly overlooked car.

Ladies and gentleman, the 2016 Dodge Challenger SCAT pack is a serious contender. Now, before you start digging up memes and going on a tirade of weight jokes, just hear me out. I was given the opportunity to drive a beautiful and well optioned SCAT, equipped with a six speed manual transmission. To be very honest, I too was completely skeptical.

Forged wheels and the classic Scat Bumblebee denote that this isn’t just a basic RT

I had driven a 2012 Challenger RT when it was brand new, also equipped with a six speed manual transmission, and I couldn’t have been more disappointed if I tried. For those of you not well educated on Dodge products, let me fill you in. The RT Challenger featured a 5.7 liter HEMI engine, good for 376 horsepower, and a 0-60 in about five and a half seconds. That’s not exactly terrible, nor is it exactly impressive. The problem is, the Challenger is a fat car. Weighing well over 4,000 pounds does not make a great case for performance whatsoever.

The 2012 felt numb to me, the steering was completely lifeless, the shifter was about as rubbery as a two dollar steak, and the brakes weren’t exactly great either. So, why is the SCAT pack so much better? It’s simple, everything has been changed to make the car far better. The engine is now a 6.4 liter 392 HEMI, making 485 horsepower. Transmitting this power is a masterpiece of a TREMEC six speed manual as previously mentioned. Clamping force comes from four piston Brembo brakes at all four corners. There’s a myriad of driver selectable parameters via the infotainment system, controlled by a button cleverly labled “Super Track Pak” which gives control over the engine, steering, suspension and launch control.

The particular Challenger I drove had featured some beautiful Nappa leather seats with suede center inserts, which were certainly grippy and extremely comfortable. Plastics in the interior have a rather nice feel, soft touch textures in place of traditional Dodge hard plastics. The center stack is surrounded by a stitched leather surface, which truly adds a touch of unexpected class. Honestly though, none of this matters at all. Sure, the interior of the Challenger SCAT is a pretty nice place to spend time, but it’s a far better driving device. After all, you aren’t buying one of these to keep up with luxury trends.

Photo Credit - Google

Press the engine start button, and you’re immediately greeted with a voracious exhaust note. Even at idle, the exhaust is beyond intoxicating. Going into the previously discussed driver options, you see sport settings for everything from steering, to launch control. I elected to set the steering in sport mode, as well as the engine, suspension, and left the traction on. Electing to turn the traction control off is thoroughly entertaining, but there’s definitely enough power to imitate a Mustang leaving cars and coffee if you don’t know what you’re doing.

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Upon sliding the beautifully designed shifter into first, you almost immediately notice that the clutch is so easy to modulate, that your wife may just let you buy this car without killing you in your sleep. Seriously, this is by far one of the easiest clutches I’ve ever operated. Once the car is moving, prepare to be taken aside by just how incredible the shifter is to use, the throws are extremely short, and the action is very crisp and deliberate. I will venture to say that it is one of the best transmissions I have ever had the joy of shifting, and I have driven every generation of Porsche 911 after the 993. That’s some seriously high praise.

The real magic happens when you press the skinny pedal, and the heavy battleship takes off with some insane authority. 0-60 times are said to be right at four and a half seconds, and I believe that to be conservative. Despite weighing as much as a Orca Whale, the SCAT moves out without fuss. Through first gear, there’s a pretty nice amount of wheelspin, quickly grab second gear and the wheelspin ensues. Upon sliding into third, the traction light stops flashing, and the torque gives you some insight as to how a cannon ball must feel after being fired. You may think I’m exaggerating, but the power figures simply do not lie. The 392 has a way of delivering torque so well, that it seems as if the powerband never really starts or ends. It just keeps going, and going, and never thinks about stopping.

Photo Credit - Nathan’s iPhone, taken of his bay.

While you’re lost in the moment, coming past 100 miles per hour in what seems like the blink of an eye, you can’t help but love that beautiful exhaust note. The HEMI projects its’ voice very well, and is capable of giving small children nightmares for nights on end. When it becomes time to slow down, the Challenger does that at an even more stellar pace than it accelerated. The Brembo brakes show zero signs of weakness, and subduing the heavy Mopar is extremely easy. Brake fade was nonexistent upon my test, and I most definitely put the car though some abuse. It should come as no surprise that the brake pedal was rock solid, and offered a very nice and confidence inspiring feel.

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Steering was better than I would have expected, most electric power steering racks are dull and boring, that’s not to say this was any different. Still lacking the true feedback of a hydraulic system, it wasn’t terrible. This was the area I found to be disappointing, only because the SCAT pack automatically gives the Challenger some Eagle F1 tires. With rubber of that caliber, I expect much more from my steering wheel. I’m not bashing it completely, but it is a weak point. Still yet, the suspension carries the weight of the Dodge very well. Handling was without a doubt better than I thought it was going to be, and I found myself attacking some highway off-ramps and truly enjoying what the car was doing. Obviously, no Challenger is going to be a corner carver in stock form, but the handling isn’t uninspiring, it actually becomes playful and confident as you get used to the weight of the vehicle.

I’m used to driving my 2300 pound Nissan as a daily driver, so almost doubling the weight for the Challenger becomes a new adjustment. With that being said, I came into this drive fully aware of what the car can and can’t do. What I didn’t expect, was to come away from this drive wanting to own this car. The truth is, I have been brutally hard on the Challenger ever since the day I drove the RT. I have always loved the exterior beauty, and let’s be honest, it is the most visually appealing of the group. The Camaro is beautiful, assuming you are blind in both eyes. The S550 Mustang is sporty, aggressive, and a step away from the traditional Mustang formula, and I do love that about it. However, the face lifted and redesigned Challenger is a work of art. The new grille design, the new LED tail light design, it all pays homage to the iconic 1970 Challenger, which is forever going to be one of the best looking classics. The 2016 model is everything I would expect from a vehicle at this price level. Wide, low, and retro, easy on the eyes is an understatement.

So, in conclusion, I will say this. If you think the basic RT is anything like the SCAT pack, you couldn’t be more wrong. Saying these two cars are anything alike, is a lot like saying that an iPhone 7 is like a vintage rotary phone, sure they both make phone calls, but that’s exactly where the similarities end. The SCAT pack takes all the shortcomings of the basic RT, and allows the car to become a finely tuned weapon. If you find yourself wanting to buy a weekend toy that is capable of being a comfortable daily driver should the need arise, do not discount the Challenger. Offering luxury, performance, beauty, and a reasonable sticker price, the decision starts to become an easy one.