- SRT feels ready for the drag strip
- Retro-modern look
- Engaging manual gearbox
- Ride comfort
- Usable back-seat space
- Too-light steering
- Back seat is tough to access
- Exhaust note can be fatiguing
The 2014 Dodge Challenger feels like a retro-themed touring car in V-6 guise, but choose one of its HEMI-powered models and you have a tire-scorching muscle car on your hands.
The 2014 Dodge Challenger doesn't just recall the musclecars of the past--it relives that past with every scan of its shape, with every twist of the key. It's a brawny retelling of the original Challengers that's more faithful, we think, than the current Camaro or Mustang.
And yet, with that retro-perfect sheetmetal put aside, the Challenger is also a big, comfortable touring two-door. It has a supple ride and modern infotainment options that make it a great long-distance driver, though the low gas mileage could make those trips a little pricier than expected.
The Challenger looks the biggest and stoutest of the muscle cars, and while it's really not much heavier it doesn't drive with the crispness of the Camaro or the leanness of the Mustang. The combination of a longer wheelbase and somewhat more forgiving suspension tune, especially in V-6 form, give the Challenger more of a presence on the road--and a little less precision. Part of that has to do with the Challenger's steering, which is simply too light. Ride quality is very well damped, and SRT models now offer an adaptive suspension with normal and sport shock modes.
The lines of the Challenger evoke classic muscle from the flat hood--with a HEMI V-8 available to slip underneath it--to its long nose, flat hood and deck lid, and vivid paint colors. The most aggressive--and to our eyes attractive--model is the SRT line, which adds deeper air dams, functional brake ducts, and even an optional Ram Air hood and racing stripes.
Its slightly larger size pays dividends inside, where the Challenger is the only one of the muscle coupes to offer seating for five. Technically, access to the back seat involves some contortion, and you'll only have two adults try sitting back there, but it's doable. In front, nice supportive seats and plenty of headroom (much more than the Camaro, thankfully). And at 16 cubic feet, the trunk is larger than those of some sedan models.
The interior design and materials, however, border on the Spartan, with acres of black plastic and a slightly cut-rate feel that has always been this car's Achilles Heel. The severe feel of the interior can make some of the options, like the pistol-grip shifter, seem out of place, but if nothing else, it's all very functional.
At the most affordable end of the lineup, the Challenger SE has a 305-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 with 305 horsepower, available with a five-speed automatic. Challenger Rallye Redline models get a Sport Mode and steering-wheel paddle-shifters. These models are competitive with the base Mustang and Comaro, but true muscle-car enthusiasts should leap for the R/T models, which pack a 375-horsepower HEMI V-8, along with a throaty, gorgeous rumble. But for the full monty of muscle-car goodness you'll need to get the SRT8, with a "392" engine (6.4-liter) that makes 470 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque, with either a manual or an automatic transmission.
While the Challenger hasn't been rated by either of the U.S. agencies, it includes a good set of safety equipment, like a driver knee airbags and options for a rearview camera, Bluetooth and blind-spot monitors.
The base Challenger SXT includes automatic climate control; power windows, locks and mirrors; a CD player; and cruise control, as well as a trip computer, Keyless Enter-N-Go, and a power driver's seat. SXT Plus models add soft Nappa leather seats, heated front seats, ParkSense park assist, fog lamps. On top of that, a Rallye Redline edition adds an exaggerated 'bad-boy' look (red Nappa leather inside and black-chrome wheels outside) plus a lower axle ratio, performance suspension and steering tune, and larger disc brakes. Features farther up the model line include a Boston Acoustics premium sound system and HID headlamps, and options include a navigation system (with a clean, simple interface) and in-car wireless Internet, through a plug-in cell-network data dongle.
All told, an SRT can total more than $50k, which arguably makes it something other than a muscle car. If this is a car that pushes all the right nostalgia buttons, that might be just fine.