“Rumble, young man, Rumble!”
— Muhammad Ali
It’s strange to think that the modern iteration of the Dodge Challenger has now been in production for twice as long as its inspiration. One has to either admire or despair at the way that Dodge has managed to keep this one-trick pony on the lips of the automotive universe, simply by throwing more and more horsepower at it. FCA knows their audience — who cares that the platform is more than a decade old? Just make it faster! Would any of us be surprised to see a 1,000 horsepower Challenger revealed next year? Hell, why not just make it so powerful that it rips itself in half?
But, as with most performance-oriented cars, the real cheddar comes from the volume models. The Deep South is rotten with V6-powered Challys, and the original 3.5-liter, 250-horsepower models are the star of many a Buy Here Pay Here Lot. And while the 2015 and newer Pentastars, which are masterfully mated with the ZF 8HP automatic, can be enjoyable to drive, let’s be the realest here, k? Nobody lusts after a Challenger with too few cylinders. It’s the HEMI rumble that you want. And the Dodge Challenger R/T delivers it, albeit in 5.7-liter form, and it does it at a price that’s right in line with the average new car price in these United States of America.
I selected the Challenger R/T from the rental row at Miami International Airport (Pro tip: if you want the best rental car selection, fly in on a Sunday — NOBODY flies in on Sunday), resplendent in what some might car Rental White, and what Dodge would call White Knuckle, but on a Challenger, it can only be called Vanishing Point White. From the outside, it’s a handsome steed. 20-inch painted rims come standard, and the limited badging — a little R/T here, a little HEMI there — is a tasteful hint that there’s something more than just the Pentastar under the hood.
When placed side-by-side with the Ecoboost Mustang convertible rentals, as it was by my good friends at National, one is quickly reminded of just how big the Chally is. The modern Mustang is already far too large and bloated, but the Challenger outsizes it. This isn’t a bad thing, especially if your pony car schedule includes more cruising than tracking. If you plan to make any use at all of the back seat, the Challenger’s extra bloat will be worth it, and the additional trunk space comes in handy, as well.
A car this immense requires immense presence. Not to worry. To my delight, merely starting the Challenger in the MIA garage caused several surrounding car alarms to go haywire. This is, of course, by design — the rumble of the 5.7-liter V8 is distinctive, easily differentiated from the sixer, and nearly as loud inside the cabin as out.
Oh, no. I mentioned the cabin. Well, might as well get this sad tale out of the way.
It sucks. I mean, it suuuuuuhhhhhhhhhcks. It’s a depressing, sad, defeating place to spend your time. This infotainment screen belongs in a Journey, not in a R/T Challenger. It’s not even purposefully minimalistic, like the stereo system found in the 2012/2013 Boss 302. It’s just cheap —if you want the real uConnect screen, it’s gonna cost you another grand. And it doesn’t get better elsewhere inside the Chally’s interior — materials are visibly bargain-oriented. In fact, there’s only one teensy little redeeming factor contained within.
Okay, this is an admittedly terrible picture, but hopefully you can make out that little “SPORT” button on the console. That button, my friends, is the key to unlocking the aural masterpiece that is the Dodge Challenger R/T. One little push, and bam, the exhaust becomes a cacophonous symphony, thanks to higher shift points from the 8-speed.
But whereas the ZF transmission and the Pentastar seem to be a match made in heaven, the 5.7 and the ZF are more like a match made on Tinder — they never actually talk to each other. The transmission always wants to upshift before your ears think it should. Just when you’re starting to make a nice little ruckus, nope, sorry, we’re shifting now! For true aural enjoyment, you’ll want to take care of the shifting yourself. For hot 0-to-60 runs, you’ll want to follow the expertise of the gentleman in this thrilling video below:
The square 245 all-season tire setup does nothing to inspire performance driving in the hearts of men. The rears will break loose under any significant throttle, and the fronts wash out rather easily. They do, however, make excellent squealy sounds from a standing start, and when driving around the mean streets of Miami, the combination of the roaring 5.7 and the smoke and keening from the tires at red lights will make you an instant target of Dade County’s finest.
Unfortunately, that’s the only time anybody will take note of you in the Challenger R/T. The sheer ubiquitous nature of the Challenger, virtually visually unchanged for a decade, means that a car that might have gotten you some looks back in the day is now the social equivalent of an Altima. Nobody will mistake the R/T for a Hellcat Widebody, either in looks or sound.
All that being said, there’s an excellent case to be made for the base model of the Challenger R/T as a daily driver. With all the incentives currently offered, a Chally just like my rental can be had for $31,430, and that’s before a single bit of negotiation takes place. Add a real infotainment system and some summer tires, and you’re still at just over $33k — or, in other words, exactly the average US new car transaction price. For that, you get a car that will run a mid 13 in the 1/4, sounds like the business, and gets, well, horrible gas mileage. I averaged about 19 mpg. However, it can actually be used for four adults, and will allow you to put more than one suitcase in the trunk.
The case against? There are several, the first of which can be found on the same lot as the R/T. The Scat Pack gets you the bump from the 5.7-liter to the 6.4-liter, as well as the associated 110 horsepower, for only $4,000 more after incentives. If you don’t need the increased power, then you might as well bump down to the Pentastar and save yourself over $5,000. The 5.7 doesn’t seem to serve much purpose in the Challenger lineup.
Secondly, Ford’s and Chevrolet’s entries in this space are no slouch, and similar money for either a Mustang or Camaro will get you a GT or SS. The R/T Challenger will never see the headlights of either, not on a dragstrip or a road course. Of course, you can’t see anything in a Camaro, and the backseats of the Mustang, while functional, are not anywhere near as livable as those in the Chally.
For my money, I’d step up to the R/T Scat Pack for daily use, or perhaps investigate the T/A for more recreational purposes. But as a rental car, for a man traveling by himself, it would be hard to spend your $35 a day and have any more fun than I did in my Challenger R/T.
[Images: © Mark “Bark M.” Baruth/The Truth About Cars]