Dodge Challenger R/T Review: Old-School Muscle for Modern Times
Talk to a typical Dodge Hellcat owner about their powerband, and eventually they will get around to mentioning grip issues. Even with traction control and stability assist in play, and a 2-ton chassis atop, getting power to the pavement is easier said than done, and with a starting prices of $62,000, some people simply can’t afford a Hellcat.
Fortunately, Dodge has a solid second choice prepared, just for that very reason. The Challenger Scat Pack lives on in 2016, and by packing enough power to punch out the competition, muscle car fans can get a modern day version of a classic that screams volumes. People often overlook this Mopar-equipped alternative, and how it allows them to forego the drag radials and supercharger whine and replace them with a more affordable monster that’s more manageable.
There’s a reason why the lower powerband settings get used more often than not on a Hellcat, and track mode only gets turned on when tomfoolery, tire smoke, and perspiration are deemed necessary. To avoid a lot of this, the Scat Pack dumps IHI Turbo’s 80-pound blower, and sticks with the naturally aspirated 6.4-liter Hemi housed beneath it, which means it still has a healthy 485 horsepower, all while maintaining a very affordable $37,995 starting price.
But Dodge doesn’t stop there; by adding on the $4,800 Shaker Package, Mopar fans can take the most classically-styled muscle car on the market today and give it a shot in the arm that is more Dazed and Confused than Vanishing Point inspired. Outside of the instantly recognizable hood protrusion, badging, and tasteful black touches, we found that the option also remains heavily focused on interior niceties, with just a few performance additions. Optioned out with audio and tech upgrades, our declawed Hellcat struck us as a fun contrast to the elegantly restyled 2016 Chevrolet Camaro SS sent down to us two weeks prior. And in certain ways, it bested the Bowtie brand’s new champion.
What can be said about the resurrected Challenger that hasn’t already been covered? It’s easily recognizable, is retro but tasteful, has C-pillars that are larger than the panhandle of Florida, and likes to rock classic muscle car colors. There’s so much about this car’s presence that’s designed to excite the inner auto enthusiast, and with the Shaker option’s air grabber intake, stylish stripes, and retro badging, you know that the color “Go Mango” wasn’t brought back just because it sounded quirky.
Exterior pros and cons
+ LED running halos and rectangular taillights, under-sill puddle lights, keyless entry, and automatic projector headlamps.
+ 20-inch wheels, integrated angled exhaust tips, and a brutish presence all work stylistically.
+ The tasteful classic Shaker exclusives include crazy colors, black accents and one-off badges, special graphics, and that unmistakable ram intake peeking above the bonnet.
– Heavy, over-sized doors can be problematic in tight parking places and when on steep inclines.
Having 392 cubic inches of enjoyment is one thing. Mating all 485 ponies and 475 foot-pounds of torque to a high-strung manual gearbox? Well, now we’re really talking about throwback muscle car fun. Coincidentally, the Camaro SS we had was also a stick, so going from one to the other in about a week made for a fun comparison. Whereas the Chevy could be labeled as fluid and forgiving, the Dodge harbored a far sharper, race-tuned clutch, and took a little getting used to. But once accustomed to its more aggressive nature, the rewards become truly grin-inspiring.
Powertrain pros and cons
+ 485 horsepower and 475 foot-pounds of torque from a 392-cubic-inch 6.4-liter Hemi. ‘Nuff said.
+ Easy to use launch controls, adaptive performance settings, a six-speed manual gearbox, and an active exhaust are all fun powertrain additions.
+ 14/23 efficiency estimates by the EPA land you right at 17 miles per gallon, which is precisely what we got the entire week. This isn’t really a pro, but kudos for accuracy!
– The clutch is tightly wound and low to the floor, so rowing your own isn’t always a smooth operation.
– Add a $1,000 gas guzzler tax to the sale price, because ‘Murica.
Throwing a Shaker Package at a Challenger gets you a lot of nice interior upgrades, and while there still are a few cheap touches that we felt out, the bang-for-the-buck factor is strong as are the retro nods within things like the gauge cluster. Heated and ventilated, automatic and leather, the list starts with what you sit on and grab, and then shifts to tech upgrades like performance steering inputs and a useful ParkView backup camera. The cabin is also quite spacious, and climbing into the backseat was not an issue even for full-grown adults, whereas the Camaro was barely toddler-friendly.
Interior pros and cons
+ Vintage flair within the gauge cluster and all the Shaker badging makes for a fun interior homage, as sport pedals and a solid shift knob convey performance.
+ Still the roomiest backseat when compared to the Mustang and Camaro, so entry and exit are a cinch, and front seat space is solid.
+ Shaker upgrades give you vented and heated sport seats, a power telescoping steering column (the wheel also comes heated), and leather is everywhere.
– Cheap plastic touches like the flimsy signal stalk are still noticeable, followed by control knobs, switches, and dash trim pieces.
– Cup holders sit way too close to the shifter box, no auto windows option, and rear visibility is dicey.
Tech and safety
Tricky traction controls, launch modes, drive setups, and steering calibrations on standby, the tech end of the Challenger is largely focused on keeping Mopar performance at the center of attention. This means that the driver info display projects nifty retro gauges, and that all of the numerical read-outs are old school and cool. Thanks to an available $845 audio upgrade, the Scat Pack’s exhaust wasn’t the loudest part of the car for once either, as 506 watts forced nine Alpine speakers and a subwoofer to blast King Crimson throughout the cabin. With the additional $795 UConnect upgrade, drivers also get navi, HD radio, and five years of SiriusXM traffic and travel link, all of which are easy to use and identify.
Tech pros and cons
+ Fun and informative, the retro-inspired driver display works well alongside the loaded 8.4-inch UConnect touchscreen.
+ Almost all performance settings are adjustable from within the cabin’s touchscreen and info display, so on-the-fly tweaks are easy to make.
+ Smart safety tech touches like Dodge’s ParkSense rearview camera, hill start assist, rain brake support, forward braking alerts, and all speed traction control are strong selling points.
– Some occasional touchscreen lag, 3D maps aren’t multi-dimensional and are somewhat basic compared to the competition, and no surround cameras.
There’s more to the Shaker Package than just looks and interior upgrades. Although it may appear to have the same dyno numbers as the regular 6.4-liter model, that Air Grabber scoop is designed to shovel crisp air directly into a massive Mopar cone filter, thus making throttle responses that much more acute on cool mornings. Hell, even if it doesn’t do squat for performance gains, there’s just something about seeing that quivering hood lurch when you mash the throttle that inspires feelings of patriotism.
Loaded with upgraded Good Year rubber and stocking Brembo brakes that are just as well balanced as the Bilstein sport suspension, the drive feel you get is more sure-footed than floppy, which we found surprising and confidence-inspiring. While the Camaro, with its Magnetic Ride Control system, was more planted, the controlled way in which the Challenger retorted was commendable and we cannot speak highly enough of its surefooted approach.
Once you get used to the weight of the clutch pedal, and learn how to custom-hone your drive modes and launch control, hitting the highway just for fun becomes a daily occurrence. Active exhaust and squealing tires aside, the Scat Pack also houses practical driving perks like rain brake support, hill start assist, and race pedals that are super sticky and well spaced. It may have some atrocious visibility issues, and doesn’t drive as nicely as the new Camaro, but it is also incredibly endearing and demands attention everywhere it goes.
Wrap up and review
Even with its affordable price point removed from the equation, the Shaker-equipped Scat Pack makes for a very tempting Hellcat alternative once driven. It may not have the nameplate or the insane powerband figures, but it does have a traditionalist’s approach to performance that does not disappoint.
As a fan of classic car lines, the Challenger Scat Pack speaks magnitudes stylistically over its Mustang and Camaro competition, and thanks to the Shaker Package, harbors many touches that are right on the money for the right asking price. This truly is a declawed Hellcat, and while it may not be able to rip the road to shreds, it still retains a mouthful of teeth and lots of bite.
Would I drive one every day over the much smoother, and equally sensational 2016 Camaro? Probably. For as good as the redesigned Chevy looks and shifts, there’s just so much within this Challenger that Dodge has nailed down properly. It may be heavier, cruder, and ruder, but at $46,430, it’s hard to imagine a more fun and affordable resurrection of an American icon that works so damn well.
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