It has been 2 years since I last drove a Hemi powered Dodge Challenger around the road course at Pocono Raceway and I still hadn’t gotten around to driving one on the street until a few weeks ago. I was interested to see if the car still turns heads here in Durham region, where its muscle car war rival the Camaro, is built. I was also looking forward to treating the neighbors to a bit of V8 rumble. Especially the GM engineer down the street who drive’s a 6 cylinder Camaro!
A while back we spent some time with a 6 cylinder Challenger SXT and found that the Mopar platform is by far the most family oriented of the 3 traditional domestic muscle car competitors. Unlike the Mustang and Camaro, the Challenger’s back seat comfortably seats 3 kids, even when 1 is a teenager. Likewise, family life is easily accommodated by the Challenger’s massive trunk that easily swallows a couple of hockey bags.
Some might argue that a muscle car isn’t a family car, but not everyone can afford a weekend only toy in the garage, but they still want to have some fun with their daily driver. The Challenger nicely combines the pony car heritage while offering a nice dose of practicality.
As Tom Williams found a few months back, the Challenger still has the power to crane necks, at least in the RT model. Our tester looked stunning in Deep Water Blue Pearl, which was perfectly accented by the classic black full length RT striping. Completing the look was the 20″ chrome wheels that sparkle like jewels beneath the deep blue. The combination did more than turn heads, it drew compliments almost everywhere I parked it.
For 2010, the Challenger RT boasts a 5.7 L HEMI V8 that produces 376 horsepower and a whopping 410 lb/ft of torque. In our case, that power made its way to the rear wheels through a 6 speed manual transmission. For you nostalgic types, that gearbox is made by Tremec, who also produced transmissions for the Trans Am race cars back in the day. Sadly, the shifter is a bit vague feeling, meaning that one actually has to pay attention to what gear one is in. On the bright side, with all that torque, it doesn’t really matter what gear you are in as there is enough grunt in any gear at just about any speed. So much so that engineers have included a feature that forces the driver to shift from first gear directly into fourth to allow for improved fuel economy. Personally, I could do without the skip shift feature, as I would rather enjoy second gear than get great gas mileage!
Around town, the RT feels like an old muscle car. It feels big and maybe a bit imposing (in a good way) but like most rear wheel drive cars it has a pretty tight turning circle, so parking lots aren’t as much of a stress factor as they are in a Camaro. On the highway, the big V8 just lopes along smoothly, getting surprisingly good fuel economy. In our week with the car, we managed to acheive 10 l/100 km combined city and highway driving and by no means was there any attempt made to save fuel. The HEMI sounds so great that one just has to crack the throttle at every possible opportunity.
On rural 2 lane roads, the suspension feels a little bit soft and the front end wanders a bit as the front end rises on moderate to hard acceleration. This feeling was a little disconcerting at first, but then I found myself on a series of deserted back country roads. Through the Mopar I began to channel my inner Kowalski as my afternoon drive begin to feel like a scene from Vanishing Point. On these empty backwater roads, the Challenger came to life. This is not a track car, it is a car that is just dying to gobble up vast stretches of country roads. Leaving a stop, hard on the throttle, the front end rises hard at the rear tires scramble for traction on the crumbly old tarmac. Up through the gears, the speedo jumps madly as the car rockets forward. When the wide twisty bits appear, using just enough brakes to unsettle the back end, the RT is easily steered with the throttle. Even onto a gravel surface, the softer suspension settings seem to be designed to soak up a bit of roughness as the car is completely drama free.[nggallery id=101]
Through the back road experience, the sensory experience of retro inspired interior, V8 propulsion and an unmistakable roof line brought me back to the high school years when a few friends and I drove Mopars. There was even a white 1970 Challenger, just like Kowalski’s steed. In fact, Kowalski would feel right at home behind the wheel of the 2010 Challenger RT with one exception: The brakes work!