We came to the City of Roses to test drive the 2015 Dodge Challenger. But that was really a misnomer. Yes, we drove the Challenger — well, three of them — but the real news here was brand expansion rooted in horsepower. Dodge wants to reassert its heritage as a mainstream performance brand, and with the 2015 Dodge Challenger, it takes a big step in that direction by offering a product for just about every power niche when the new Challenger goes on sale in the third quarter.
Dodge offers a literal avalanche of variants. When the new Challenger goes on sale in the third quarter, trim lines will include the SXT, SXT Plus, RT and RT Plus, RT Shaker, RT Plus Shaker, Scat Pack and 392 Hemi Scat Pack. The variants are so numerous they rival the powertrains on pickup trucks.
But at the heart of this Dodge Challenger product assault are the engines, and all four of them get no less than 300 horsepower each. This menu of muscle cars is topped by the 707 horsepower 2015 Challenger SRT Hellcat. It is in a class by itself, and we’ll deal with that particular model in greater detail later this week.
Power for the lineup starts with a 3.6-liter V6 that makes 305 horsepower and 268 pound-feet of torque; this is the lone Challenger engine that has only one transmission, an eight-speed automatic. Then there is the 5.7-liter V8 HEMI that makes 372 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque, but that output is when it is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. With a six-speed manual gearbox, the horsepower is bumped up to 375 with 410 pound-feet of torque. That incremental uptick in power makes a difference to a true enthusiast. This engine has a cylinder shut off system for fuel savings when it is mated to the eight-speed automatic transmission. It has an EPA rating of 16 mpg in city driving and a respectable 25 mpg on the highway.
The 6.4-liter HEMI developed by Dodge’s Street and Racing Technology Team (SRT) was more direct. With an eight-speed automatic or the six manual, this engine made 485 horsepower and 475 pound-feet of torque. We secured a 2015 Dodge Challenger 6.4L HEMI Scat Pack for the drive on historic U.S. 30 to the Crown Point Vista. It is the first purposely built scenic highway in the U.S., and the section we were on cut through the heavy foliage of the Columbia River Gorge. It was a winding, tight-turn, two-lane highway with tree-formed canopies and speed limits of 25 or 30 mph along this section. In other words, it was no place to unloose a car with almost 500 horsepower.
Still, there was much to learn about our test car. The six-speed manual transmission needed to be shifted firmly, especially when cross-gate downshifting, which was done often because of the slow-moving traffic and sightseeing pedestrians.
The car was well-behaved. At low speeds, the engine was almost silent, sight lines were great, the sport bucket seats were soft like easy chairs, but they provided plenty of back and lumbar support. We didn’t check, but the back seats looked like they could accommodate two adults in reasonable comfort.
This was a barebones Scat Pack Challenger. It doesn’t have a navigation system, or sunroof, or premium sound system, but it does have 20-inch aluminum wheels, satellite radio, Bluetooth and USB and auxiliary jacks. We plugged in our iPhone and played our own music. And then there was that engine; it was sonorous.
Dodge used styling cues from the 1971 Challenger. There’s a new fascia design, as well as a power bulge in the hood and a new vertical split grille. Windshield washer outlets are now placed under the hood for a cleaner look. The quad headlamps have a more detailed look, the trapezoidal front air dam is wider, and on HEMI models, a new duck bill fascia spoiler improved aerodynamics.
The 2015 Challenger will be available in 11 exterior colors and there will be seven different exterior stripe and logo combinations depending on the trim line. Additionally, there will be 14 interior colors and trim options.
In the interior, Dodge has dumped the vertical center stack and moved to a horizontal layout. The Challenger featured a standard 7-inch thin film transistor (TFT) reconfigurable gauge cluster and an 8.4-inch Uconnect touch screen (a 5-inch screen is also available). But it framed them both with a curved bevel that made it appear like one unit and it didn’t seem too wide. It’s sort of form fitting and gives the driver the feel of being in a cockpit.
We drove a 2015 Dodge Challenger R/T Plus back from the Portland International Raceway. It had an eight-speed automatic transmission, and the 372 horsepower 5.7-liter V8 boasted a lot more equipment than the 6.4L HEMI Scat Pack, including UConnect, a sunroof, 20-inch hyper black wheels, a premium sound system and R/T Classic Package.
Because of equipment, the less powerful 5.7-liter HEMI V8 is more expensive than the 6.4-liter HEMI, $44,755 versus $39,490. Tinker with equipment and transmissions, and you can get a Challenger that should be financially comfortable.
The bottom line for both versions of the car we test drove was that either could be an everyday driver, as long as the pavement was relatively dry, meaning no heavy snow, for the rear-wheel-drive Challenger.
Prices start at $26,995 for the 305 horsepower V6; they rise to $31,495 for the 5.7-liter HEMI V8 and $38,495 for the 6.4-liter HEMI V8. The 707 horsepower Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat starts at $59,995.
These prices do not include the $995 freight charge, and there will be gas guzzler taxes ranging from $1,000 to $2,100 depending on the engine, but the levy can be reduced by taking the automatic transmission.
Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com.