- 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.
2014 Dodge Challenger
The Challenger's retro style is maybe the most accurate of the reborn pony cars.
The 2014 Dodge Challenger maintains the most loyal interpretation of old school muscle car design that's available on the market today. It's a style that's meant to leave Baby Boomers waxing nostalgic, but through it's blend of classic and cartoonish lines, it manages to appeal to just about any age group.
Its long nose, flat sheetmetal and wild palette of available colors all look the part of the classic muscle cars from the Sixties and Seventies–as do the broad taillights and horizontal grille. Thanks to its small windows and tall haunches, it's decidedly macho-looking, although those design cues leave outward visibility as a very noticeable weakness in the Challenger.
The SRT8 models wear some of the most distinctive, most aggressive details from muscle cars of the past, with functional brake ducts, deeper air dams, and options for striping packages and a Ram air hood. They also receive carbon fiber trim, xenon headlamps and special badging.
Inside, the design isn't what you might expect; it's spare and modern (some with a LCD touch screen), and nearly an about-face to the exterior--to the degree that the available pistol-grip shifter can feel a little out of place.
2014 Dodge Challenger
Quick and satisfying in V-6 form, the Challenger erupts with real musclecar performance in SRT or R/T trim.
While styling looks mostly the same across the Challenger lineup, the difference in performance between each model is substantial. 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. Those with an eye on the drag strip might also note that the Challenger's hefty curb weight and power come up short of the competition.
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 precise. 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.
True muscle-car enthusiasts should of course 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 SRT, 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.
At the most affordable end of the lineup, the 2013 Dodge Challenger SXT has a 305-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 with 305 horsepower, available with a five-speed automatic. Challenger Rallye Redline models add a Sport Mode and steering-wheel paddle-shifters. These models are quite quick, and competitive with the base Mustang and Comaro, but they lack the rocket-like thrust of the V-8 models.
2014 Dodge Challenger
Comfort & Quality
The Challenger's a bigger car than the Camaro or Mustang, and it's most clear in the back seat.
While the Challenger's larger size may create a few issues in the agility department, the interior of the car is better for it. The Challenger is one of the only coupes on the market today with seating for five, and its length and weight help create a smoother, more comfortable ride for the extra passengers.
Ride comfort is excellent for this kind of car, with the suspension mellowing out harsh bumps and jolts well. Very little road or wind noise penetrate the cabin, but V-8 models deliver an engine/exhaust rumble that, while pleasant on shorter or sportier trips, can become droning on longer drives.
Materials throughout the cabin are generally good, though some plastics and switches look a bit cheaper than necessary. LED cupholders, a hand-stitched leather-trimmed shift knob, and available upgrade to Nappa leather dress it up, however.
The front seats will find many fans. Well-bolstered, supportive, yet not too hard, they're great for day-long drives. The Alcantara and leather upholstered seats in the SRT model are even better, combining comfort with breathability and driver security in aggressive maneuvers.
Technically, access to the back seat involves some contortion, and you'll only have two adults try sitting back there, but it's doable. And at 16 cubic feet, the trunk is larger than those of some sedan models.
2014 Dodge Challenger
Safety scores are good--with an asterisk--but visibility is a question mark.
The Challenger hasn't been tested in recent years by the agencies that assess crash-related incidents with new cars. However, the vehicle hasn't evolved much since it debuted, so many of the older ratings still stand, and the Challenger's long list of safety tech helps it score well with us.
The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) tested the Challenger and gave it an excellent five-star crash-test rating, with five-star results for all tests except four stars for rollover resistance. However, the NHTSA notes, "During the side impact test, the driver door unlatched and opened. A door opening during a side impact crash increases the likelihood of occupant ejection."
The IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) has not tested the Challenger, but the structurally-related Dodge Charger has fared well according to the agency.
Outward visibility is one significant concern, given the Challenger's high shoulders, thin wide windows, thick rear pillars, and rather low seating position. One concern for buyers of the 2014 Challenger may be visibility. It can be hard to see blind spots when changing lanes, as well as the rear of the car when backing up, or even the front of the hood when parking.
Items included on all Challengers include electronic stability control; front, side, and side-curtain airbags; and anti-lock brakes. Top-end SRT8 models also get some performance/safety enhancements, with Brembo brakes and Hill Start Assist. A driver's knee bag is also included, and a rearview camera system and blind-spot monitors are available.
2014 Dodge Challenger
SRT and R/T Challengers have prices as aggressive as their styling, but base cars are reasonably well equipped.
The 2014 Challenger can be well-equipped at an affordable price on the lower end of the lineup, but prices jump quickly as you move up in engine size.
The base SXT model includes power mirrors, locks and windows; automatic climate control, keyless entry and start, cruise control, a CD player, and a power driver's seat. Opt for the SXT Plus model, and you get heated Nappa leather seats, fog lamps and park assist. Rallye Redline cars get extra aero work, a lower axle ratio, larger disc brakes and sportier suspension and steering tuning.
There are quite a few special appearance, striping, wheel, and trim packages offered on top of these core trim levels. All told, an SRT can easily 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.
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.
2014 Dodge Challenger
While the six-cylinder Challenger is fairly frugal for its size, the HEMI isn't.
Gas mileage is the Challenger's downfall. We want the V-8s to be more frugal without losing any of their thrilling performance--and we'd like the more efficient V-6s to be a little more dazzling.
There's not much room in the middle with the Challenger, so given our absolute preference for the V-8, fuel economy's a big disappointment.The Challenger V-6 is the better compromise for anyone that needs to drive the big two-door more than on weekends. It manages an EPA-estimated 18 mpg city and 27 mpg highway.
If you opt for one of the HEMI V-8 models, don't expect them to fare very well: The Challenger R/T scores 16/25 mpg, while the manual pulls that down to 15/23 mpg. It's an even more dismal 14/23 mpg for the Challenger SRT8, but on the bright side, kick your right foot back to the floorboards and it'll probably put that blissful smile back on your face.