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2018 Dodge Challenger Review

2018 Dodge Challenger Review
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The 2018 Dodge Challenger can be anything you want: a docile all-season touring car, just the thing for Friday night car shows, a track-tamer, or a drag strip champion.

The 2018 Dodge Challenger is all-American muscle with a personality to match.

This year, Dodge has grown the Challenger’s lineup to 16 different trims, starting with SXT and working its way through the all-wheel-drive GT and V-8 R/T to the real stormers of the group, the SRT 392, SRT Hellcat, and SRT Demon. The street-legal drag-racer Demon’s the big news for 2018, but there’s also a new widebody kit for the Hellcat, a newly standard rearview camera, and available Brembo brakes for R/T models.

The Challenger’s swagger isn’t the only thing that’s a throwback about this big coupe. It rides on a Mercedes-Benz-derived platform that dates back to the 1990s and even the Challenger itself hasn’t been fully redesigned since 2009. Still, Dodge has done a heck of a job keeping it up-to-date and enhancing its performance appeal. With up to 840 horsepower on tap in the new 2018 Challenger SRT Demon, this coupe is unlike anything else on the road today.

The lineup starts with the 305-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6-powered SXT and GT, which both come exclusively with an 8-speed automatic transmission. R/T and T/A models sub in a more appropriate 5.7-liter V-8 rated at 375 hp. A 485-hp, 6.4-liter V-8 is shoehorned into the Challenger R/T Scat Pack, T/A 392,  392 Hemi Scat Pack Shaker, and SRT 392 Challengers. For most of us, those naturally aspirated V-8s offer more than enough power and they’re available with 8-speed automatic and 6-speed manual transmissions.

We thought Dodge was loony (but in a good way) when the SRT Hellcat with its supercharged, 707-hp 6.2-liter V-8 showed up a couple of years ago with a choice between 6-speed stick and 8-speed automatic transmissions. Now, Dodge has gone far further with the 840-hpChallenger SRT Demon. It’ll lift its front wheels nearly three feet off the ground as it lunges through the all-important quarter-mile in a world-record 9.65 seconds, Dodge says. Thankfully, buyers get a day at the Bob Bondurant School of High-Performance Driving with the $86,000 SRT Demon—although that’s kind of like saying you’re qualified for neurosurgery after a semester of Biology 101.

What’s perhaps most impressive about the breadth of the Challenger’s lineup is its depth. Even V-6 models provide decent thrills and upwards of 30 mpg, plus a roomy, comfortable cabin that can be outfitted with dressy Nappa leather and up to 18 Harman Kardon speakers. For the most part, they’re quiet and composed on the highway and can hold their own when the road gets twisty. Although curb weights top 4,000 pounds for all but the base SXT, the Challenger corners well with decent road feedback. While its Chevy Camaro and Ford Mustang rivals have shed weight and tamed Germany’s famed Nurburgring in an effort to be true American sports cars, the Challenger proudly waves its stars and stripes bravado on its sleeve.

The 2018 Dodge Challenger would look just as at home in 1971 as it does today, and that’s all right with us.

Retro never goes out of style when it comes to the 2018 Dodge Challenger.

This big two-door, with its wide hips, low-slung roof, and unmistakable swagger, is still a head-turner. We’ve given it a couple of extra points for its exterior and one for its driver-centric interior, bringing it to an 8 out of 10. 

Dodge makes all versions of the Challenger look suitably muscular. From the front, their deeply inset grilles and headlights are throwbacks to the late 1960s and early ‘70s. The Challenger masks its size reasonably well from the front, but its big rear haunches and slab sides serve as reminders that it’s a very large two-door. Park one next to the comparatively sinewy Camaro and it’s obvious that this is a boulevardier—albeit one that handles remarkably well.
Even the Challenger SXT has the right look with several available graphics and wheel packages that work well. Work your way up the food chain and the Challenger gets more aggressive, but it’s not until you reach the purpose-built Challenger SRT Demon that things really look different.

It’s squat, with fender flares that look like they’ve been cribbed from a 1990s SUV. A massive, functional hood scoop stands by ready to gobble up Ford Fiestas. And the tires—oh, the tires. At the rear, those fat arches hide enormous, street-legal Nitto drag tires.

The “Mad Max” widebody look is also available on the Challenger SRT Hellcat for 2018.

Inside, the Challenger is a throwback specifically to one model year: 1971. Its dashboard cants toward the driver and flows nicely into the high center console. Optional houndstooth cloth upholstery on some trim levels completes the look, but there’s no shortage of technology here, either.

The 2018 Dodge Challenger offers the most comprehensive muscle car lineup ever.

The 2018 Dodge Challenger cements its reputation as a straight-line runner this year, but it can also scoot its way around a corner far better than its hefty size and curb weight suggests.

The tamest Challengers—the SXT and GT—use a 3.6-liter V-6 that can be found in everything from the Ram 1500 pickup to the Chrysler Pacifica minivan. Here, it’s rated at 305 horsepower and 268 pound-feet of torque and it is paired exclusively to an 8-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. While the SXT is rear-wheel drive, the GT shuttles power to all four corners. The V-6 provides decent oomph with a high degree of refinement, but it feels a bit like putting ketchup on potato chips; something’s not quite right here. A V-8 belongs under this hood.

The GT has its own suspension setup that’s pleasantly firm without being punishing. It is a pleasant four-seasons muscle-style coupe, but it feels like the answer to the question nobody was asking.

Step up to the Challenger R/T and T/A models and you’ll get a 5.7-liter V-8 rated at up to 375 hp and 410 lb-ft with the standard 6-speed manual. Opt for the 8-speed automatic and you’re down to 372 ponies and 400 torques. Either way, this engine provides enough extra power and a NASCAR-worthy soundtrack to make it a worthwhile upgrade over the base V-6.

If that’s not enough, the 6.4-liter V-8 in Challenger R/T Scat Pack, T/A 392, and SRT 392 Challengers comes in at a thunderous 485 hp and 476 lb-ft and can likewise be paired to 6-speed manual or 8-speed automatic transmissions. It’s noticeably more powerful, especially as the tachometer needle swings toward redline.

Nearly 500 hp is plenty, even for a 4,300 pound vehicle like an unladen Challenger SRT 392. But for the folks at Dodge, it’s not nearly enough. The 707-hp SRT Demon packs a supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 that helps it rush through the quarter-mile in a hair over 11 seconds. That’s awe-inspiring, but it’s not the top of the Challenger heap. Enter the 2018 Challenger SRT Demon, certainly the most outrageous sub-$100,000 new car on the market. Its force-fed 6.2 cranks out 840 hp and 770 lb-ft and it’s geared specifically for ferocious straight-line acceleration.
The Demon vaults to 60 mph from a stop in just 2.3 seconds and the NHRA certified it at a 9.65-second quarter-mile sprint. A special drag setting for its adaptive suspension helps clamp down its Nitto drag tires for easy, repeatable straight-line performance. It hold several Guinness World Records for a performance car, including our favorite—how high it lifts its front wheels off of the ground during acceleration. Sure, there’s not exactly a lot of competition, but who cares?

Dodge Challenger ride and handling

That’s not to say that the Challenger is totally out of its element when it comes to tackling a curvy road. Just as their engines offer varying degrees of thrust, the wide range of Challengers on offer each have their own personality with different takes on suspension tuning. Challenger SXTs are the softest of the group, but they’re also the most compliant. The Challenger GT is surprisingly firm and rides about like a base Challenger R/T. Step up to the SRT-branded models and things can get a little firm, albeit with a noticeable reduction in body lean during cornering.

Only the Challenger SRT Hellcat has conventional hydraulic power steering, while the rest of the lineup features user-adjustable electric steering. Though not dripping with road feel, the electric setups are accurate and direct. A revamped Performance Handling Package tightens up the suspension on R/Ts even further and also adds four-piston Brembo brakes.

There’s no disguising the Challenger’s heft; only the base SXT comes in under 4,000 pounds unladen. Strong brakes on all variants reel things in nicely on all models, with the Brembo-branded units available on R/Ts and standard on SRTs delivering the best combination of power and feel.

Comfort & Quality
No mere brute, the 2018 Dodge Challenger is quite comfortable inside.

The 2018 Dodge Challenger is a large coupe with a remarkably roomy, attractive interior. We’ve rated it at 6 out of 10, giving it points for its stretch-out space up front and nice materials selection, but peeling one back for its predictably tight second-row access.

Given the Challenger’s nearly 17-foot length, it’s not much of a surprise that it delivers good space inside for four or even five in a pinch. Rear-seat riders have more room here than in just about any other two-door on the market thanks to the Challenger’s long wheelbase, but it can feel claustrophobic and access is only for more dexterous types. Up front, well-bolstered seats with firm padding aren’t much of a throwback to the flat, contour-less seats once endemic to muscle coupes—unless they’re upholstered in the delightfully retro houndstooth cloth upholstery optional on certain Challengers.

At 16.2 cubic feet, the Challenger has a decently roomy trunk for a two-door, too, but liftover is high.

Soft-touch materials abound inside and the Challenger can be upgraded with buttery nappa leather or grippy synthetic suede upholstery, too.

Most models are fairly quiet on the road—except for the SRT Demon with its weight-saving sound deadening delete. But who wants silence a quarter-mile at a time?

The 2018 Dodge Challenger’s safety scores are mixed and it lacks some of the most advanced technology.

Short on advanced safety tech, the 2018 Dodge Challenger doesn’t score particularly well here.

It’s a five-star overall from the NHTSA, but independent crash-testers don’t agree and we’re dismayed that Dodge doesn’t offer automatic emergency braking as an option.

All Challengers come standard with six airbags, anti-lock brakes, stability control, and a rearview camera. Standard on all but the SXT, R/T, and Demon is a rear park-assist system. Blind-spot monitors, forward collision warnings, and rear cross-traffic warnings are optional on almost every version of the Challenger.

The optional Technology Group available on many Challengers bundles forward collision warnings, automatic windshield wipers, automatic high-beam headlights, and adaptive cruise control. Automatic emergency braking is not on the Challenger’s options list.

The NHTSA scores this big coupe five stars overall, albeit four stars for frontal crash and four stars for rollover. The IIHS, meanwhile, doesn’t have quite the same strong impression. The insurance industry-funded group faults the Challenger in the small-overlap test, where it earns a “Marginal” score. It’s also subpar in the roof strength test, where it scores “Acceptable.”

The IIHS has not yet tested the Challenger’s headlights.

Prepare to spend hours picking the right options for your 2018 Dodge Challenger. It’s one of the most customizable new cars on the market.

Well-equipped from the get-go, the 2018 Dodge Challenger can be optioned up with about the same high degree of customizability as its 1960s namesake.

We nearly awarded an extra point to give it a perfect 10 for the “killer app” that is the Challenger SRT Demon.

The Challenger is available in a dizzying array of combinations; plan to spend considerable time narrowing down just what works for you since the odds are slim of finding two identical Challengers on a dealer lot. A total of 15 trim levels are on offer, beginning with the reasonably well-equipped SXT. Even the Challenger SXT includes 18-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a power driver’s seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The Challenger GT is positioned as an all-season touring car and comes equipped with lots of luxuries for the money in addition to its standard all-wheel drive. An upgraded 8.4-inch infotainment screen, heated and ventilated leather-upholstered seats, Alpine-branded audio, and rear parking sensors are among its highlights.

From there, the Challenger R/T is the gateway to V-8 performance. We’re smitten with the idea of a lightly optioned R/T, but the sky’s nearly the limit once you start loading on features like a heated steering wheel, 18 Harman Kardon speakers, 20-inch alloy wheels, and a couple of packages that sub-in ever-stiffer suspensions matched to beefier Brembo brakes. The Challenger R/T can also be equipped with a genuine “shaker” hood with cold-air induction or with the larger 392 V-8 engine.

Step up to the SRT level and you’re fully committed to Detroit performance (by way of Ontario, Canada, where these coupes are built). The Challenger SRTs include more niceties, too, like HID headlights with automatic high-beams, stickier 20-inch performance tires, and even fancier leather upholstery.

At the top of the heap sits the Challenger SRT Demon. On paper, it’s shockingly basic in order to save weight: it comes standard with only a driver’s seat and two stereo speakers. But for those who want to actually drive their drag cars on the street, Dodge will sell you back a full complement of seats for just $1. Leather and 18 Harman Kardon speakers are on the options list, but we think that outfitting your Demon with all these luxuries kind of defeats the go-fast, take no prisoners point.

Fuel Economy
The 2018 Dodge Challenger’s available 8-speed automatic transmission helps it be less thirsty than you may expect.

The 2018 Dodge Challenger is surprisingly thrifty—if you want it to be.

We’ve based our score on the 5.7-liter V-8 in Challenger R/T and T/A trim levels with the optional 8-speed automatic, but this coupe’s figures are all over the place. It’s a 6 out of 10.

The thriftiest Challenger is the SXT with its standard 8-speed automatic and rear-wheel drive: 19 mpg city, 30 highway, 23 combined on regular unleaded. The all-wheel drive Challenger GT comes in at 18/27/21 mpg with the same engine and gearbox.

Next up is the 5.7-liter V-8. Dodge says to use premium unleaded with the slightly more powerful stick-shift configuration and that mid-grade is acceptable with the automatic. Manual models come in at 15/23/18 mpg and the automatic is better at 16/25/19 mpg.

Stop reading at this point if you are truly concerned with fuel economy. Challengers with the 6.4-liter V-8 require premium fuel and come in at 14/23/17 mpg with the manual transmission and 15/25/18 mpg with the automatic—still not terrible figures, but hardly something to brag about.

Challenger SRTs are predictably far more likely to guzzle their required premium unleaded. The 707-hp Challenger SRT Hellcat’s supercharged, 6.2-liter V-8 gulps down at a rate of 13/21/16 mpg with the standard manual and 13/22/16 mpg with the optional automatic.

Dodge says that owners of the Challenger SRT Demon can use both premium unleaded and 100-octane race fuel if they choose. Surprisingly, the Demon is rated at 13/21/16 mpg, but the EPA certainly doesn’t take drag racing into account.

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