Also see the second opinion (below) by Bob Golfen
For the 2015 model year, Dodge’s Challenger challenges the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro in eight versions, which is the same number of gears offered by the automatic transmission of the Challenger R/T that I’ve been driving lately.
The R/T (short for Road and Track) is just two steps up from the basic SXT model. Here’s the lineup: SXT, SXT Plus, R/T, R/T Shaker, R/T Plus, R/T Plus Shaker, 6.4-liter Scat Pack, 392 Hemi Scat Pack Shaker.
Yes, there is a ninth version, the 707-horsepower SRT Hellcat, but it is such a different animal it gets its own genus and species nomenclature.
What makes the R/T of interest is that it’s the least-expensive Challenger available with a Hemi V8 engine. In the R/T, it’s the 5.7-liter with 375 horsepower and 410 pound-feet of torque.
The car we’ve been driving is pretty much the no-frills version. No GPS. No back-up camera. No leather. No heated seats. Power only on the driver’s seat.
Our car was equipped with only two options: Satellite radio, which adds $195 to the sticker, and that 8-speed automatic gearbox, which adds $1,400 but also makes the car less fun to drive for the enthusiast, especially one who wants to buy the basic Hemi version and then add some aftermarket parts to make the car live up to the Track part of its R/T badging. What those folks would want is the basic $31,495 car with its standard six-speed manual gearbox.
They’ll also want something other than the standard all-season tires, even if they are mounted on 20-inch rims.
While the standard Hemi may fall 332 horsepower short of the Hellcat, it’s 400-pound-feet of torque (410 in the stickshift version) maxes out at just 4,400, so this car is no slouch off the line. And with eight gears ready to roll, the R/T is more than willing and eager when you want to pass traffic on a two-lane or freeway. The new electric power steering makes lane changing a joy.
For the 2015 model year, in addition to the new eight-speed auto, EPS and a new cast-aluminum (and weight-reducing) rear axle housing, the Challenger has gotten some cosmetic work, including what Dodge calls a “heritage muscle-car” style split grille, a more pronounced power-bulge hood, and LED headlamps and new LED tail lamps.
The interior also has been redone, and the redo was inspired by the interior in the 1971 Challenge, Dodge says, noting that not only is the instrument panel something Baby Boomers and Millennials can like, but there’s even a Houndstooth-patterned cloth material in the seat cushions and back.
Second opinion by Bob Golfen
This big, beefy muscle car may have the retro styling of the ’60s original, but it certainly drives a lot better. Besides the bulging Hemi power – which, let’s face it, was pretty much all the mid-century Challenger R/T had to offer aside from its looks – the new Challenger actually steers, handles and brakes with a measure of agility, much more than you’d expect from its two-ton heft.
Challenger R/T is fun to drive whatever the circumstances, whether you’re savoring its pounding acceleration or charging around the curves of a back road. It’s even fun in traffic, where you can enjoy the glances of appreciation and envy from other drivers.
Sure, the Challenger SRT Hellcat with its monster 702 horsepower is getting all the attention, but the R/T has plenty going for it. Plus, it should be a more user-friendly machine that won’t land you in traffic court every time you hit the gas. Not that the R/T doesn’t have enough power for most performance addicts this side of the drag strip. The 372-horsepower, 400 pound-feet Hemi V8 has a lot of guts and will pull you past legal speeds in a rush.
With this strong engine, the eight-speed automatic transmission seemed like a bit of overkill, especially under moderate acceleration when it seems to click off a gear every two seconds. The way to wind it out with partial throttle is via the manual-shift feature. But the eight-gear payoff is when you open it up, kick down a couple of gears and take off with a throaty roar.
The fuel mileage is not bad, either, considering the R/T’s weight and power, and can be at least partially be attributed to the eight-speed. Despite my heavy-footed driving, the on-board computer told me I was getting nearly 20 miles per gallon overall.
Still, I would prefer the available stick shift version, which would be more fun and add a bit more Hemi muscle – 325 horsepower and 410 pound-feet of torque – although it loses some of that fuel mileage, according to the EPA.
Although the basic R/T that I drove was missing many of the optional features and gadgets, there was enough here to entertain, inform and amuse. For instance, scroll through the driver-information center and you’ll find such things as a calculator for G-forces, zero-60 times, braking-distance and engine performance. Fun stuff.
The interior is accommodating, although back-seat passengers might feel cramped once they crawl back there. The driver’s position is spacious, though, even for this too-tall test driver. Small drivers might feel overwhelmed by the large scale as they peer over the huge dashboard and broad hood. The doors are also gigantic, and they can be unwieldy in a tight parking space.
Challenger R/T is large and loud, and there’s nothing subtle about its style or performance. While that’s not what every car enthusiast desires, especially those more attuned to European or Japanese driving experiences, the old-school muscle-car fans can rejoice that the Challenger R/T is better than ever.
2015 Dodge Challenger R/T
Vehicle type: 5-passenger coupe, rear-wheel drive
Base price: $31,495 Price as tested: $34,085
Engine: 5.7-liter Hemi V8, 372-horsepower @ 5,200 rpm, 400 pound-feet of torque @ 4,400 rpm Transmission: 8-speed whatever
Wheelbase: 116.2 inches Overall length/width: 197.9 inches / 85.8 inches (including mirrors, 75.7 without)
Curb weight: 4,082 pounds
EPA mileage estimates: 16 city / 25 highway / 19 combined
Assembled in: Brampton, Ontario, Canada