It was a minor player in the dawn of the pony car era, but as Dodge rolls into its second century, the 2015 Challenger looms as a powerful presence, upstaging Ford’s Mustang and the Chevy Camaro with a potent array of engines, including one that packs the biggest kick of all.
The power lineup starts with 305 horsepower, the output of the 3.6-liter V6 that propels the basic Challenger SXT, and now includes the new Hellcat V8, a supercharged 6.2-liter variant of Chrysler’s naturally aspirated 6.4-liter V8. It’s rated for a prodigious 707 horsepower, the most powerful passenger car engine ever offered by Chrysler and also the most powerful in the contemporary pony car corral.
Engine options for the rest of the 2015 Dodge Challenger pale a bit in comparison to the Hellcat, but are heavy hitters in their own right: a 5.7-liter Hemi (372 hp) and the 6.4-liter Hemi, aka the 390 (485 hp). Chrysler’s 8-speed automatic transmission is available across the board, and new to the Challenger inventory for 2015. It’s the only transmission offered with the basic SXT model, while a 6-speed manual is available with most of the V8s.
The sheetmetal surrounding all this power is new, but that’s not readily apparent. Dodge has been faithful to the original Challenger styling, and that continues to be true of the redesign, with one proviso: the current Challenger was faithful to the 1970 original. The 2015 version is faithful to 1971. That model year, its second on the market, marked the zenith of Challenger performance, the final year with the option of 426 Hemi V8 muscle.
The design distinctions between 1970 and ’71 were subtle, and that’s true of the 2015 update. The front and rear fascias have been restyled, a thinner split grille slot (this varies according to trim levels), deeper airdam, an LED halo surrounding the quad headlights, a bigger power bulge in the new hood, a new Shaker hood option, and LED taillights.
But like the transition from 1970 to ’71, the Challenger’s 2015 profile is essentially the same as 2014. That’s also true of the structure, although the rear axle housing is cast aluminum, rather than iron. And the retro theme is amplified visually by color choices drawn from the glory years, high-impact heritage hues, according to Dodge: B5 Blue, Tor Red, and Sublime. The last one is an electric green that’s probably visible even in dense fog. There are also seven heritage-inspired stripe options.
While the exterior maintains close ties to the early ’70s, the all-new interior is a blend of retro design and contemporary technology. There are 14 different interior package choices. Highlights under this heading include a new 7-inch TFT cluster nestled between the tachometer and speedometer with programmable information via Dodge’s Performance Pages feature; a new 8.4-inch touchscreen option with Chrysler’s U-Connect telematics; driver selectable operating modes; a variety of performance tracking features; and a new rearview camera. An S3 card slot, auxiliary audio input and USB outlet are integrated into a new media hub housed in the center armrest.
The front seats have been redesigned, with upholstery choices ranging from cloth to Nappa leather, and the option of heating and cooling for those clad with hides. There’s also a performance seat option with heftier thigh and torso bolstering for the front buckets. Dodge claims more rear-seat legroom for the Challenger versus Mustang and Camaro, but this distinction seems academic.
Essentially a two-door version of the Charger sedan, the Challenger is a big car by pony standards, and it’s heavy, most models weighing more than two tons. The SRT and Dodge chassis engineers have done a commendable job of tuning the suspension to manage the mass, and the brake packages seem equal to arresting it from high speeds with minimal drama and zero fade. And of course 707 hp can do wonders when it comes to minimizing mass, an original pony car theory that still applies.
We still revere the pony cars of yesteryear. Cars like Hemi Barracudas regularly command auction prices running north of the $1 million frontier. While the original muscle era produced some memorable power-to-weight ratios, the latest Challenger lineup, particularly the Hellcat version, puts them on the trailer. And in addition, the contemporary Challengers add a couple of capabilities that were all but absent in the originals: they’ll stop and turn.
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