published Saturday, September 29th, 2012

Test Drive: Dodge Challenger triggers muscle memories

The Dodge Challenger R/T rekindles the spirit of the 1960s and 1970s muscle cars. 
Staff photo by Mark Kennedy
The Dodge Challenger R/T rekindles the spirit of the 1960s and 1970s muscle cars. Staff photo by Mark Kennedy

FAST FACTS

Model: 2012 Dodge Challenger R/T.

Exterior color: Stinger Yellow.

Interior: Dark Slate Gray.

Engine: 5.7 liter V-8 Hemi.

Horsepower: 372.

Transmission: five-speed automatic.

Fuel economy: 16 mpg city, 25 mpg highway.

Dealer: Crown Chrysler Dodge Jeep.

Price (as tested): $36,785.

Exterior: Our test car, a Stinger Yellow Dodge Challenger R/T, has a 372 horsepower V-8 engine.

Interior: The Challenger has more interior room than some other cars in its class.

Second Opinion

Editor's note: Twelve-year-old car enthusiast Jack Fortune rode along on the Dodge Challenger Test Drive and offers his opinions.

Q. Jack, what did you think of our Dodge Challenger R/T test car?

A. Well it definitely had some POWER!! And the handling was more than I would've anticipated. It was quite spacious considering it was only a coupe. It did have some tendency to punch me in the back of the head on acceleration. Overall, it was pretty awesome.

Q. Are there any cars similar to the Challenger that modern muscle car fans might want to drive?

A. I would think of the BMW 650i convertible. Why? Because it weighs about the same as the Challenger, and it has about the same engine, horsepower and overall performance. Its kinda my go-to car if there isn't a Challenger around. So, the 650i is my choice, besides the Challenger's obvious rivals: the [Ford] Mustang and [Chevrolet] Camaro.

Q. How did you learn so much about cars?

A. I don't know, I just swooped up data about them here and there. Some of it, I just asked my father about.

There is something about the full-throated howl of the Dodge Challenger R/T's Hemi engine that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up and dance.

Maybe it's the thought of launching from zero-to-60 mph in under six seconds. Or perhaps it's the realization that 372 snarling horses are gathering under the hood.

The Challenger is a pure boy-toy: a throwback to the long-hooded, rear-tire smoking, adrenaline inducing muscle car coupes of the 1960s and 1970s.

Fittingly, a 12-year-old car enthusiast, Jack Fortune, joined me on this week's test drive. (See Jack's take on the Challenger on page C?.) Larry White, of Crown Chrysler Dodge Jeep, loaned us the key fob to a Stinger Yellow Challenger R/T equipped with a 5.7-liter V-8 engine.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

Dodge makes a base, six-cylinder Challenger, called the SXT, for those who want muscle-car looks without the actual muscle. There's also the SRT8 trim level with a monstrous 6.4-liter V-8 engine for speed freaks. Our mid-trim V-8 Challenger R/T is a good compromise, as it can hit 60 mph in 5.8 seconds, according to the automotive website edmunds.com.

On our test drive during rush-hour traffic on I-75, our Challenger felt a bit like a caged animal. Drop the throttle and the Dodge coupe downshifts and emits a thundering V-8 growl that puts other drivers on notice that there's a big dog on their tails.

Equipped with a sweet, five-speed automatic transmission (with paddle shifters available), the Challenger R/T is actually a comfortable cruiser when not being pushed to its performance limits. Meanwhile, the 160 mph speedo is a constant reminder of what's possible in this retro-rocket. Because of the low roof-line and raked windows, rear visibility is sometimes a challenge.

STYLING AND DESIGN

More that one auto journalist has noted that the Challenger looks like something off a Hot Wheels track, which is meant as a complement. Our Stinger Yellow tester has dual white side stripes, a design cue straight from the early 1970s.

While the modern Ford Mustang and Chevy Camaro both have design echoes from the muscle-car era, the Challenger looks like it could actually have burned rubber in 1971. The mile-long hood and low roof-line taper into a fast-back rear that makes the Challenger looked coiled for action.

Inside, the Challenger is sport-car Spartan, but its firm leather seats and handsome three-spoke steering wheel make it a comfortable place to spend time. With the front seats strategically positioned, the rear seat has room for two adults, a real plus in this class.

Our test car came equipped with push-button ignition, 20-inch aluminum wheels, a six-speaker Boston Acoustics Sound system and a sports-tuned suspension.

BOTTOM LINE

The Challenger R/T bases for just under $30,000, and our highly-optioned test car carries a sticker price of $36,785. For the true, muscle-car experience opt for the V-8 versions, the R/T or the SRT8.

Now, if they only made a CB radio with Bluetooth.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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