Dodge introduced the Challenger in 2008 to compete with the Mustang and Camaro in the retro circle-jerk wars of the late 2000s. I won't bore you with a bunch of specs that can easily be found on Wikipedia, but I will say that mine had a peppy feeling V6 producing around 300HP, a rather lethargic 5 speed automatic gearbox, and more nanny intervention than I've ever experienced in a car.
I really wanted to like the Challenger. That voice in the back of my head that grunts 'murica every time I see a lifted pickup truck or eat a cheeseburger really wanted me to like the Challenger. The part of me that actually likes the faux-retro design that plagues american cars from the late 2000s begged me to like the Challenger. But after driving it for a week I feel like its flaws sadly outweigh it's positive qualities.
(Dodge wanted me to try the Challenger so badly that the rental car company gave my reserved Chevy Spark to someone else and provided me with a V6 Autotragic 2014 Challenger as a free upgrade. Sadly my phone is a particularly vindictive camera potato, so I'll be using mostly stock photos)
I like the way the Challenger looks. It is probably the best example of modern retro styling except for Morgan, and it has tons of presence and character. Seeing the car makes most people smile (and I received delightful scowls from Prius drivers). I'd consider this to be one of the best car enthusiast's cars for non car enthusiasts. By that I mean everyone who is not a car enthusiast will automatically consider the Challenger owner a "car guy" whereas a car enthusiast will probably assume the opposite (at least for V6 auto models).
Pretty standard score for a pretty standard interior. It has one steering wheel, two pedals, and four reasonably comfortable seats that were made for someone much bigger than 150 lbs. I like the steering wheel mounted controls and the radiation green interior lighting.
It can get out of it's own way. Pinning the accelerator (and assuming the traction control doesn't totally fuck you over) will yield a 0-60 time of 6.8 seconds, which is only 0.8 seconds slower than the fastest Challenger of the 70's. It's not exactly memorable, but it does feel relatively quick for a car.
Full disclosure: riding motorcycles has ruined my ability to feel much difference between a "fast" car and a "slow" car.
The brakes are adequate for street driving. That being said I can easily get to the point of ABS intervention far earlier than I'm comfortable with and I wouldn't trust them for any form of aggressive driving that requires slowing down. Pedal feel is non existent and soft.
Also it has a foot operated e-brake. Fuck you Dodge.
It is comfortable. The Challenger's significant girth helps to iron out road imperfections and it absorbs potholes quite well no matter how squarely I try to hit them.
IT WEIGHS TWO TONS!
I am a firm believer that lighter = better when it comes to cars. Steering is over-boosted and does not offer much communication. The nannies step in way too early, and while turning off the traction control does allow some surprisingly hectic burnouts, that gets old pretty fast when you realize just how much the stability control is interfering. Speaking of SC, the Challenger actually has a pretty sophisticated system and I only "felt it" interfering when I was trying to drift in the snow or pull donuts in parking lots. It is nothing like how the SC in my FR-S gives you a good abrupt kick as if to punish you for being a wuss and or a shitty driver.
This was a pretty fun day!
Pulling the ABS fuses allowed me to get the barge a little bit sideways, but the chassis pushes way before it oversteers and doesn't have enough power to throttle into overseer (unless I absolutely flogged it). Given the poor braking performance noted above, I did not drive it around much with the fuse pulled.
All negatives aside, Dodge managed to hide a lot of it's mass from the driving experience. It does not feel like a 4000lb car, it doesn't actually feel much heavier than a Mustang. There is little body roll, and while the steering isn't exactly communicative it is pleasantly quick to respond.
This is the single feature that ruined an otherwise fun car. The gearbox is terrible. For powering onto an on ramp or chirping the tires leaving a stoplight (what 86.2% of Challenger owners care about) it works great. Shifts happen quickly and with enough force to feel "sporty". However when driving the car hard I found it's unpredictability downright scary (this was my first time hooning a non-manual car). When powering out of a corner the gearbox might downshift on you, or it might not. This made it nearly impossible for me to apply the proper amount of throttle and about half of the time would result in the SC engaging aggressively. If you happen to have the ABS fuse pulled, you get to experience some sketchy snap overseer.
The gearbox has a "manual mode" but it's barely worth mentioning. It'll up-shift for you before redline and refuse requests to downshift. It's also a bit slower to respond than auto mode. The shift pattern for "manual mode" is side to side. Again, fuck you dodge.
The V6 tries to sound good. Inside the cabin it ends up sounding throaty and much more powerful than expected. Not sure if they are using the radio to add sound or a tube from the engine compartment, but it sounds pretty good. From outside it sounds "meh" I had a rev-off with a Honda Fit and there wasn't much difference in volume between the two.
The stereo is adequate, it plays music and I can hear the things I am supposed to hear in the music.
Rental spec, there are not a lot of toys to be found. It has a power seat (never had one before) so that is pretty cool, and the cup holders light up. I wish it had a USB charging port and bluetooth.
Value 12/10 (as a rental)
I paid $12/day to hoon the shit out of a rental challenger for a week, I cannot complain.
Engine: 3.6L V6
Power: 305 HP @ 6350 rpm 268 ft-lbs @ 4800 rpm
Transmission: Five speed slushbox
0-60 Time: 6.8sec
Top Speed: I hit 100, speedo goes to 140
Drivetrain: Rear-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight: A little under 2 tons including driver
Seating: 4 people
MPG: I averaged 20
MSRP: Probably low to mid 20s