Test Drive: 2015 Dodge Challenger Scat Pack

The Dodge Challenger is a model whose recent to-do list has included becoming lighter, tauter, smarter, more user friendly, more high tech, and easier on the eyes. Updates for 2015 have aimed to maintain Challenger’s persuasive position in the face of increased heat from Ford and Chevrolet, while advancing the machine’s muscle-car feel on all fronts.

If you’re so inclined, Challenger encourages sitting back, one-handing the steering wheel, and feasting on a pail of deep-fried poultry.

And it’s a true muscle-car feel: on offer from the only throw-back model from the big three that still feels, in a charming number of ways, like an old-school hot-rod. Your writer came into existence decades after the muscle-car era, though numerous friends older than I own new Challengers because, they say, the styling and feel most closely remind them of the old ones.

Challenger is a big-guy coupe. Seats and door openings are big-guy friendly, trunk capacity rivals family sedans, and drivers sit behind a mile of dashboard, and another mile of hood ahead of that. Rear seats are comfortable once settled into, and even the driving position seems fine-tuned for relaxed cruising with room to spare. If you’re so inclined, Challenger encourages sitting back, one-handing the steering wheel, and feasting on a pail of deep-fried poultry. The roofline is still low, and the windows are still narrow, but the spacious feel and coupe-ish outward view remain alive and well.

The visible parts of the cabin are all new, with a slick and high-tech interface in the instrument cluster, and another in the centre stack, bringing the on-board infotainment in line with other Chrysler products. New textures and trim are flaunted, and the super-slick UConnect infotainment system takes centre stage, providing easy navigation between hundreds of functions without causing frustration and getting users Russian-level angry.

It’s a cabin that’s more curvaceous, more upscale and more luxurious all at once, with higher-end materials, fewer square panel intersections, and a flowing, swoopy and deep center console, all angled towards the driver, with a six-speed shifter sticking out the centre. It’s tidier, more current, and still instantly Challenger at a glance.

From the outside, Challenger remains instantly recognizable despite calling an arsenal of styling tweaks online to soften and modernize its retro look. New fascias, revised taillamps, a re-sculped hood, and various new wheel and stripe options are flaunted for a street-smart flare that’s clean and updated. The tester packed numerous appearance upgrades, including the newly-available Shaker hood, to turn heads with some functional throw-back novelty factor.

Said Shaker hood sits atop the 392 HEMI SRT V8, using 6.4L of highly-effective displacement to generate 485 horsepower. This engine was once reserved for the top performing SRT8 model, but can now be specified via the RT Scat Pack, for SRT8 power levels at a lower price. Where the SRT8 is a track-ready weapon, the RT scat pack with the big HEMI is more of a rocket cruiser, and ideal for someone after top output without the extra cost.

There’s power everywhere, but the big V8 really breathes when you get it spinning past 4,000 revs, and the sound is pure Detroit: you can picture the hearty and throbbing exhaust pulses reflecting back to you off of nearby buildings on a muggy big-city night, even if that’s not the case.

Gears are browsed via a tough and beefy six-speed stick that operates with a gentle but positive effort and doesn’t feel flimsy or delicate. It’s all controlled by a grabby clutch with decent feel and hearty weight, though not so much that it becomes tiresome in stop and go traffic. There’s a charmingly mechanical feeling to the whole setup.

Beneath Challenger’s skin, the abundant updates enhance, and more importantly, maintain the underlying Dodge Challenger character that your writer has found so attractive over the years. Chassis tweaks, lightened axles, a retuned suspension and steering system, improved brakes and enhanced bushings have all been specified, but she still feels like a Challenger through and through. This is a good thing for shoppers after a retro highway cruiser that’ll do double duty as a rough and tumble hot-rod performance car.

For highway cruising? Big comfortable seats, abundant room around the driver, and a feeling of sitting deep and low in a big, wide coupe lay the basis for cruising comfort. Noise levels are kept nicely in check, the constant hum from the tailpipes is delightful but modest, and the suspension soaks up all pavement imperfections at highway speeds with little more than a tight, soft undulation of the body over the wheels. Leave it in sixth, and there’s enough low-end torque to climb and pass without a downshift, too. It’s laid back.

For hot-rod performance, just drop a few gears and put your boot to the carpet. The noises cause cussing, gears one through three are tightly spaced, with only a few RPM shed between each, and there’s just enough power to make the rear wheels squirm for grip at full rip. Use the throttle to push the Challenger through some corners, and the car slides and squirms gently and predictably around beneath you. It feels big and heavy in corners, but enormous grip levels and fast steering will plaster a grin on your yap as if you’re driving something half the size.

Amusingly, the transmission is synchronized to deliver the smoothest shifting at full throttle when you’re rushing the gearbox, especially in the first few gears. And, notably, the new Brembo brakes offer fantastic feel, absolutely instant bite from the slightest touch on the pedal, and massive stopping power that see Challenger as eager to get stationary as it is to get up to speed. Plus, as it tends to go with Brembos, these brakes won’t disintegrate like gas-station toilet paper after some hard use.

The high-tech, high-performance and ultra-precise brakes serve as a unique contrast to the rest of the driving experience. There was always this raw, “grab it by the scruff” sort of feel to driving a Challenger hard. The car didn’t try to cover up its bigness or weight, it just powered through it in a way that appealed to the gear-head’s most primal desires to use grip and power and torque to pilot a great big hunk of steel and plastic around.

There’s much love of that feeling, dialed into older copies of the new-age Challenger, and despite the improvements and revisions for 2015, that feeling is largely maintained in the latest. It’s grin-inducingly rough and tumble, delightfully rough around the edges in the right places, and completely unique, through and through.

Complaints? The trunk is poorly finished, with exposed hinges, loose trim panels and exposed carpet seams failing to live up to the quality flaunted in the cockpit, and drive the Challenger hard, and she’ll put the fuel away something fierce. Plus, poor outward visibility makes proper mirror setup vitally important. Finally, though the gearbox feels great when you’re ripping through gears like Christmas morning wrapping paper, it can feel charmingly clumsy when driven gently.

End of the day, here’s a hot-rod highway cruiser that’ll hold its own when the going gets twisty, while turning in hours of comfortable cruising and a serious dose of old-school American firepower in a convincing package.

Warranty:
3 years/60,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 3 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 5 years/100,000 km roadside assistance

Competitors:
Chevrolet Camaro SS
Ford Mustang GT

2015 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack Shaker
articles_PricingType 2015 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack Shaker
Base Price $46,995
Optional Equipment Preferred Package ($3,000), Black Fuel Filler Door ($250), Convenience Group ($495) Premium Sound ($1,500), Scat Pack Appearance Group ($695) Six-Speed Manual Tremec ($1,000), Uconnect Navigation ($700), Matte Grey Aluminum Wheels ($800)
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,695
Price as Tested $57,230
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 8.0
8 Exterior Styling
8 Performance
8 Interior
8 Comfort
8 Fuel Economy