Big and heavy, the 2016 Dodge Challenger offers more touring comfort than other muscle cars. The Challenger is a two-door coupe, but it’s a bigger car than the Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang. A diversity of models and a variety of engines lets owners choose a comfortable daily driver, a dragstrip battler, an outrageous Hellcat, or a colorful reminder of the past.
Exterior design follows patterns from the classic original Challenger, launched back in 1971. Challenger has always been the largest, most blocky-looking American muscle car, intensifying its road presence. Revived for 2008, the modern version is more touring coupe than raucous plaything: vigorous but comfortable, delivering a surprisingly supple ride.
Following a freshening for 2015, a new Blacktop Appearance group is available for the 2016 Challenger, with black accents and available Plum Crazy paint. The Hellcat gains Laguna leather.
Picking a favorite isn’t easy, with 10 versions available: Challenger SXT, SXT Plus, R/T, R/T Plus, R/T Shaker, R/T Plus Shaker, R/T Scat Pack, 392 Hemi Scat Pack Shaker, SRT 392, and SRT Hellcat. Customization options mean no two Challengers need be identical.
A 305-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 comes in the Challenger SXT. The 5.7-liter Hemi V8, standard in R/T, is rated at 375 horsepower and 410 pound-feet of torque. Next up, in the R/T Scat Pack and SRT 392, is a 6.4-liter Hemi V8 that produces 485 horsepower and 475 pound-feet. Top dog is the supercharged 6.2-liter V8 in the SRT Hellcat, whipping up 707 horsepower and 650 pound-feet.
All four engines mate with an 8-speed automatic transmission, with Sport Mode and paddle shifters. A 6-speed manual gearbox remains available for V8 models. Like all three competitors, the Challenger has a rear-wheel-drive layout with independent rear suspension. Suspension tuning varies according to model. The 2016 Challenger SXT is a little firmer than the 2015 version.
Despite its size and retro look, access to the back seat is awkward, and visibility is poor. Fuel consumption wins no prizes, either.
Safety ratings score well. The National Highway Traffic Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives a five-star rating overall, with a four-star rating for frontal impacts and five stars for side impacts.
Bold and brawny, the Challenger might even be branded beautiful, depending on whose eyes are doing the gazing. The basic body shape features a long nose, flat decklid, and thick roof pillars inspired by the 1970s versions. Big and wide, Challenger is more connected to its automotive ancestors than Mustang or Camaro.
A split grille sits within a slim front opening, with projector headlamps surrounded by LED halos. The functional “power bulge” hood may be fitted with various scoops. LED taillamps have a glossy piano black surround.
The spacious front seats feel like they belong in a luxury car: soft yet supportive, though thinner occupants might lack side support. The driver faces a modern dashboard, filled with soft-touch surfaces and a contemporary instrument cluster, with a simple interface.
Of the three retro American muscle coupes, the Challenger is the only one to seat five. Squeezing into the back seat demands some acrobatics, due in part to the tapering roofline, and only two adults will actually be comfortable. A third party won’t appreciate the protruding center hump.
At 16.2 cubic feet, the trunk is larger than those of some midsize sedans.
The Dodge Challenger is quick when traveling in a straight line. The Challenger can cope with a curvy road course and is fun to drive on a racing circuit, though it will get left behind by a comparable Camaro or Mustang. Still, in any form, the Challenger handles well enough to feel secure. Nimble it is not, but a Challenger should please anyone who craves this particular brand of American performance.
Ride comfort is a bonus with any Challenger. Even the aggressive SRT Hellcat is surprisingly comfortable, only somewhat firmer than lower-level models. Though the cabin is quiet, some engine noise seeps through when accelerating hard with the V6, or anytime other than gentle low-rev cruising with a V8 model.
The Challenger is quite easy to drive, even the Hellcat, considering how much power lurks beneath the hood. Beware of secondary motions in the Hellcat, however. Pushing the Hellcat on a curvy road demands careful judgment. Challenger SXT and R/T models suffer nosedive during hard braking.
We’ve not been pleased with the electric power steering used on all but Hellcat models. Especially with a V8, it lacks feedback, which can require many small adjustments over choppy pavement.
Dodge’s V6 that comes with the Challenger SXT offers enough start-off vigor to feel like a muscle car, plus plenty of high-revving passing power. The V8-powered Challenger R/T is stronger, especially while passing, but it falls short of Camaro and Mustang. Upper models feel considerably quicker, and also provide greater stopping power, courtesy of Brembo brakes.
Challenger models do not guzzle gas as much as you might expect. The Challenger SXT is EPA-rated at 19/30 mpg City/Highway, 23 mpg Combined. Challenger R/T with manual transmission manages 15/23 mpg, 18 mpg Combined, 16/25 mpg or 19 Combined with automatic. Hellcat? 16 mpg Combined.
With such a variety of models and engines, the Dodge Challenger can fill many roles. Each is more flamboyant and exhilarating than most any midsize model.
Driving impressions by Kirk Bell, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.