The Car Connection Dodge Challenger Overview
The Dodge Challenger is a two-door coupe that's been a hallmark of the Dodge brand since the 1960s. Today's version is a coupe spin-off of the Charger sedan—and it does one of the best impressions of a vintage muscle car we've seen, with its long, broad hood and high decklid.
Despite its roofline, the retro-styled, two-door four-seater has a back seat big enough to beat some sedans.
The Challenger's rivals include Ford's Mustang and Chevrolet's Camaro. Unlike those two models, the Challenger remains offered only as a coupe, with no convertible option.
This year, the Challenger heads to the drag strip with the purpose-built, 840-horspower Challenger SRT Demon. It holds numerous Guinness World Records and is the only car you can buy that only has a single seat. The rest of the lineup sees a bunch of minor trim and package changes.
MORE: Read our 2018 Dodge Challenger review
For most of us, the zenith of the lineup remains the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat. With 707 hp and 650 pound-feet of torque on tap, it's the most powerful production muscle car ever, dwarfing the former Shelby GT500 and its 662-hp rating.
The awesomely powerful 6.2-liter supercharged HEMI V-8 in the Challenger SRT Hellcat won’t always make it a complete handful to drive, thanks to a dual-key-fob system. The black fob limits the car’s output to a mere 500 horsepower; opt for the red fob, and you’ll get the full 707 hp. The same potent powerplant also makes its way into the 2016 Charger SRT Hellcat sedan.
An optional 8-speed transmission (a manual is standard), uprated suspension and brakes, and classic, 1971 Challenger-inspired interior design are also part of the Hellcat package.
Dodge also continues to sell an SRT model powered by a naturally aspirated 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 called SRT 392, as well as a pair of Scat Pack models with the same engine, and versions with the 5.7-liter Hemi and 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6. All engines benefit from an 8-speed automatic transmission, and all but V-6 models can be had with a manual transmission. Although the Hellcat steals most of the attention, the Scat Pack is an interesting option, combining the biggest SRT engine with standard R/T components for a significant savings compared to the SRT 392 and an appealing horsepower-per-dollar figure.
Partway through the 2015 model year, Dodge added a shaker hood option back into the Challenger lineup. It is available on both the R/T and Scat Pack models. Like the original shaker Challengers and those offered in a limited run for 2014, these cars have the eponymous scoop peeking through a hole in the hood, with the inlet able to visibly shake compared to its surroundings when the engine revs.
The revived Challenger
The current generation of the Challenger was reintroduced in 2007, with a simplified lineup and engine range: the SE, a base V-6 model with 250 horsepower; the R/T, with a 5.7-liter HEMI rated at 375 horsepower; and the SRT8, with a 6.1-liter Hemi rated at 425 horsepower. This new range was styled to look much like the classic Challenger, though it was considerably larger, weighing more then 4,000 pounds and featuring 17- to 20-inch alloy wheels. Nevertheless, it provided classic muscle-car feel and performance.
For the first years of its revival, the Challenger was available with a five-speed automatic or pistol-grip six-speed manual (on R/T and SRT8 only). Key features standard across the range included front and side-curtain airbags, a power-adjustable driver's seat, a four-speaker CD/MP3 stereo, cloth seating, and power accessories. The R/T model, in addition to upgrading the engine, added a unique appearance package, an advanced traction-control system, fog lamps, dual exhaust tips, and electronic stability control. The SRT8 built further on this package with more aggressive exterior styling, its own chassis tuning, upgraded interior elements, and SRT8 badges inside and out.
For 2011, the Dodge Challenger gained a new base engine—Chrysler's excellent corporate 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, making 305 hp—as well as some improved interior materials and standard automatic climate control. The options list also grew to include a Garmin navigation system, Sirius Travel Link, and a UConnect Web option.
Top Challenger SRT8 models also got a big boost for 2011, with their engine expanded to 6.4 liters (392 cubic inches, for those who keep tabs that way), making 470 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque.
For 2012, a new 900-watt Harman Kardon audio system option was added. Challenger SRT8 392 models for the 2012 model year also offered an adaptive suspension with normal and sport modes; a heated steering wheel and steering-wheel shift paddles were added as well.
Rolling into 2013, a new Rallye Redline edition was introduced, with red exterior accents and a Radar Red Nappa leather interior, plus black chrome 20-inch wheels, a performance suspension, and a shorter axle ratio. Also, the available UConnect system offered improved Garmin navigation.
At the 2013 Chicago Auto Show, the 2013 Dodge Challenger R/T Redline was introduced, bringing a somewhat edgier and more aggressively styled spin on the Challenger R/T.
For 2015, the Challenger saw its first truly major update since it was relaunched as a 2007 model. With subtly refined exterior styling, new powertrains, upgraded suspension, and an all-new and far more pleasant interior, the Challenger took a leap that kept it competitive with the Camaro and Mustang.
For 2016, the Challenger added a new Blacktop Appearance group with black accents, available Plum Crazy paint, and, for the UConnect infotainment system, a drag-and-drop menu, Siri Eyes Free, and "Do Not Disturb" feature.
Changes for 2017 were limited to some updates to the Challenger's already impressive infotainment system, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. Additionally, a new Challenger GT variant was added to the lineup with the model's first application of all-wheel drive—but the GT was only available with an automatic and with the V-6 engine, slightly dimming its sporty appeal.
Model year 2018 will go down in history: Dodge's new Challenger SRT Demon is the first purpose-built, street-legal drag racing car in decades, and it's unlike anything else you'll find on the market.
Dodge Challenger history
The first Challenger dates back to 1970, though there was a long hiatus between that model and today's. Sold through 1974, the original Challenger was available in four hardtop models: Challenger Six, V8, T/A, and R/T. Convertibles were offered in 1970 and 1971 only. Engines ranged from a 225 cubic-inch V-6 to a 230-hp, 318 cubic-inch V-8; a 340 cubic-inch V-8; and the 290-hp, 383-cubic-inch V-8. All models came standard with a three-speed manual transmission except for the 383 cubic-inch V-8, which was only available with a TorqueFlite automatic.
The R/T featured a 383 cubic-inch Magnum V-8, rated for 335 hp initially, but later revised to 300 hp. The R/T could also be upgraded to a 440 cubic-inch Magnum, a 440 cubic-inch Six-Pack and a 426 cubic-inch Hemi.
Dodge also sold a Challenger-badged version of the Mitsubishi Sapporo from 1978 through 1983. It had front-wheel drive, was much smaller than the original, and was powered only by four-cylinder engines.