Portland, Ore. ? The arrival of new 2015 Dodge Challenger goes a long way toward proving Tim Kuniskis?s point that ?Dodge is becoming a performance brand.? Kuniskis, the President and CEO Dodge and SRT, made that comment while introducing the 2015?Dodge Challenger to a group of automotive journalists recently in Portland, Ore.
The ?performance? claim is backed by a gathering of engines, platform architecture and interior appointments that combine to create the 2015 Dodge Challenger, which is one of the most exciting new muscle cars in automotive history.
Dangling the idea of a 707 horsepower Hellcat engine in front of anyone who knows anything about cars will make them sit up and take notice or at least make their right foot twitch. Of course, few will actually spend the $60,000 plus to put a Hellcat in their garage, but when you look down the list of other available engines, there is a lot of other horsepower to be excited about.
The new Challenger actually has a model for nearly every budget. There are 10 models from the SXT through the R/T variations, the Scat Packs, the SRTs and of course the star of the line, the SRT Hellcat. Base prices run from as low as $27,990, including the destination charge, for the SRT to $38,490 for a 6.4-liter Scat Pack to as high as $60,990 for the SRT Hellcat. And to make the prices even more appealing, Dodge officials say the 2015 base model Challenger has nearly $4,000 in added content over the 2014 model.
The Challenger?s design closely emulates the original 1971 Challenger model but with a smoother, more tailored look, a more aggressive front fascia and larger power-bulge (aluminum) hood. Quad projector headlights with LED halo rings that peek out from under a more pronounced brow to give it a distinctive daytime signature. Hellcat models also have extra air extractors on the hood and ram-air intakes through the driver-side parking lamp.
The interiors are appointed with more upscale features and higher quality materials than previously seen in Challenger models. All the cars have a high level of standard features and each model up the price ladder obviously gets more. Mid- and upper-level models have additional available equipment packages, too adding popular new technologies like parking aids, blind-spot monitoring, Rear Cross Path detection, remote start, rain sensitive wipers, automatic cruise control and Forward Collision Warning.
The Challenger has the available Dodge Uconnect and navigation system with the 8.4-inch touch screen. This system has become one of our favorites in the industry. The touch-screen icons are large, well organized and Hellcat fast — when you touch an icon it reacts instantly not like some systems that seem to think about it first.
The SRT models have standard performance pages built into the Uconnect system. The screens provide drivers with performance statistic including dynamic handling, braking, engine horsepower, engine torque and acceleration. The information can then be saved to a USB memory stick or uploaded online to the Mopar Owners Connect page where it can be shared with others. Many of the functions can be controlled by voice commands making it easier to time runs. The pages, which are available on all models, also allow the driver to configure steering effort, engine and transmission response, launch control and some other driving functions.
The Challenger interior holds four adults or a snug five, but like most coupes, however, rear seat access requires extra coordination and flexibility. The trunk on the other hand seems massive for a car in this class with 16.2 cubic feet of cargo space making it larger than many sedans.
Most of the public interest is in the super powerful Hellcat model, which is billed as the ?most powerful muscle car ever, but we were impressed by all the engines, even the base model with its 305-hp 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine. It?s quick, making a 0 to 60 mph run in only 6.0 seconds. Combined with the new standard new TorqueFlite eight-speed automatic transmission and paddle shifters, the car was great fun to drive and it?s expected to get up to 30 miles per gallon on the highway.
We sampled all the available engine choices including the 375-hp 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, the new 485-hp 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 and the new 707-hp supercharged 6.2-liter Hemi V-8 Hellcat. The Performance levels of the V-8 engines were especially impressive with 0 to 60 mph times of 5.5-seconds, 4.1-seconds and in the mid to high 3 second range respectively. The Hellcat has one very interesting feature that allows the owner to maintain more control over the stable. Start the car with the black key fob and the engine output is limited to 500 horsepower. Start the car using the red key fob and the driver has access to the whole herd ? 707 hp.
Other notable Hellcat numbers included a quarter-mile time of 11.2 seconds and 125 mph. (With drag radial tires it has a NHRA-certified time of 10.8 seconds. To put that number in perspective, that is the same quarter mile time as a Porsche 911 Turbo.) Chrysler says the top speed is limited to 199 mph, but unofficially we heard it will do 207 mph. We like speed, but those numbers are scary.
Journalists had a chance to sample the straight line quarter mile acceleration at the Portland International Raceway and mostly what we saw was a lot of tire smoke when hot dog drivers or inexperienced drag racers tried to accelerate too fast.
The new eight-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission (which is developed with ZF) is standard on the V-6 models, while all the V-8s come with a standard six-speed manual with a heavy-duty version of the eight-speed automatic as an option. The manual has a fuel-saving function with a fuel-saving 1-4 skip-shift sequence.
Driving on the twisty roads through the Columbia River Gorge, we sampled the V-6 and the 5.7-liter Hemi models and thought the handling was good, but there was some body lean and they felt a little bulky on the narrow roads. One of the available packages easily flattens the handling as we discovered on the track. We thought the new electric steering system was precise and communicative.
Later in the day at the Portland International Raceway we had a chance to drive the car on the 1.967-mile road course. We always appreciate when a manufacturer arranges for track time for the high performance cars ? otherwise, it?s difficult to get a full appreciation for the car. Driving several different Challengers on the track confirmed excellent handling and brakes especially on the SRT models that were equipped with the legendary Brembo brake system.
In addition to driving on the track, we both took a ride with a much more experience driver to check out the full potential of the Hellcat model. Barb rode with a professional race driver in the Hellcat with the automatic transmission and Bill rode with the chief Challenger development engineer driving a manual transmission and the cars played follow the leader for several laps. The engineer, who had spent hundreds of hours driving the Challenger at speed, was fast, smoothly drifting the corners and getting excellent times. Interestingly, on the straight stretches the race driver actually pulled away from the manual transmission car because the automatic transmission shifted so much faster than the engineer was able to shift the manual transmission car. The engineer admitted, if he were buying the Hellcat, he would buy the automatic.
Until someone else comes out with something better, any discussion of muscle or performance cars should start with the 2015 Dodge Challenger.
Buying a performance car is a complex process of selecting the features that best suit the driver?s style and personality. The 2015 Dodge Challenger can be custom tailored to an amazing degree and at a wide range of prices. Learn more about this amazing car at http://www.dodge.com/en/reveal/challenger/
Since the Challenger debut, Dodge has announced a Hellcat version of the Charger which will have a similar level of performance as the Challenger ? we?ll have more on the Charger Hellcat at a later date.