Muscle cars grab our attention because they provide driving fun, as they attract the eyes of those they pass by. This Challenger SXT Plus hits on both counts.
Dodge has done a bang-up job keeping the Challenger in the public mind. It’s a star of the latest entry in the Fast and Furious film franchise, and Dodge’s commercials stress a direct connection between the car you see on the screen and the one in the showroom.
The Challenger’s film connection also makes it popular with gamers, who can now update their Forza Horizon 2 with the Furious 7 Car Pack.
Of course, we still haven’t forgotten Breaking Bad‘s blowing up of a Challenger after main character Walter White drove it through a series of operatic parking-lot donuts.
Such masterful promotion of Dodge’s muscle car has Challenger sales on an upswing, with 2015’s first three months showing a 45% increase in deliveries. That’s impressive for a car that has become relatively familiar on our roads; overall it’s still more than half of Ford Mustang‘s business, but it’s only a couple thousand below the fading Chevy Camaro, which awaits its upcoming 2016 redesign.
A key to popularity is accessibility, and the Challenger’s entry price of $27,990 (including destination charge) for the base SXT keeps it in the reach of many. The SXT can be upgraded to a Plus trim level, with starts a few thousand above and includes heated-and-ventilated Nappa leather sport seats, upgraded brakes and projector fog lamps. Jumping to the Plus also gives you a choice of interior colors – Black, Pearl or the test car’s vivid Ruby Red.
True to its base-model muscle-car roots, the Challenger SXT comes with Chrysler’s family-car V6 engine – the V8s are for R/Ts and SRTs – and it makes a fine 305 horses here. You’d miss the V8s if you’d driven them first, but the V6 endows the Challenger with quick throttle response and decent mid-range surge.
The SXT’s standard TorqueFlite automatic transmission – manuals are also reserved for the R/T and SRT trims – cycles through its eight speeds quickly and without fuss. It does a fine job of keeping the V6 on its game, and its T-shaped shifter is one of the better electronic controllers out there.
Handling with the SXT Plus’s upgraded 20-inch wheels was stable and predictable, with notable steering feedback and direct-feeling brakes. Body roll is clipped to a minimum. Even in its mildest SXT form, the Challenger encourages you to probe its limits.
As you go further, the Challenger’s bulk does make itself known. Its 75.7-inch width is in line with that of the Mustang and Camaro, and it’s about the same as a mid-sized sedan’s, but it is accentuated in the Challenger by the low driving position and curved bodywork. You get used to it after a while, but there still can be times when you wish you could shrink the surrounding package by a fifth or so.
Of course, styling is a main pull for the Challenger, and there are lots of neat details. The hood is curvy…
…and the rear spoiler is formidable.
The test car’s $795 Driver Convenience Group includes HID headlights with LED rings…
…and Blind Spot and Rear Cross Path Detection, which shows up as an illuminated triangle in the rear-view mirrors.
I wouldn’t want to be without the latter feature, as the Challenger has particularly thick C-pillars that create a sizable blank in rear visibility.
Other neat touches include this molded vintage logo on the console lid’s underside.
The Challenger’s interior is a welcoming environment, with supportive seats and friendly ergonomics.
The gauges are a nice mix of new tech…
…and retro detailing.
The test car added $695 of navigation and satellite traffic services to the Challenger’s crisp 8.4-inch screen. As usual, Chrysler’s Uconnect was clearly intuitive.
Standard on the SXT Plus is a sweet-sounding, 276-watt Alpine stereo with six speakers.
Those red door panels made a strong impression on all passengers, and the frameless windows were a boon for taller folks who might normally have whacked their head on what would have been a curved-in frame. The corresponding red stitching is a nice touch.
An array of connections await in the deep console bin.
A couple of nettles came in the form of a visor clamp that found its way into a taller driver’s line of sight…
…and the convex bodywork put the door handles at an awkward angle.
Those are minor concerns in a car that is thoroughly well-sorted; even my BMW-driving friend had to admit that the Challenger’s combination of butchness and tractability was one he’d consider. That’s high praise from someone who would never profess to wanting an American car.
It goes back to a muscle car’s basic appeal. Today’s versions are much more than the one-note stoplight draggers of yore, and this V6 SXT felt like a well-balanced driving partner.
And, there was no denying this Challenger’s curb appeal, as I could barely squeeze off a few photos before someone would stop and look, or even call out their praise from a passing car. You wouldn’t get that with a mid-sized sedan, but you would with the Challenger, and its continued popularity proves that this classic combination of virtues is still a compelling one.
Tell us in the comments – what do YOU think of the Challenger’s enduring appeal?
2015 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus
Base Price: $29,995
Price as Tested: $34,175
Power Sunroof: $1,195
Driver Convenience Group: $795
High Intensity Discharge Headlights
Blind Spot And Rear Cross Traffic Detection
Remote Start System
Uconnect 8.4AN AM/FM/SXM/HD/BT/NAV: $695
Sirius XM Traffic / 5-year Traffic Service
Sirius XM Travel Link / 5-year Subscription
Phantom Black Tri-Coat Pearl Exterior Paint: $500
Destination Charge: $940
Agility and balanced handling
Intuitive Uconnect interface
Considerable exterior size
Bulky body contours