Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Dodge Challenger, the white ghost

ABLE TO HIT 60 mph in less than 6 seconds, this is the view most people will see of the Dodge Challenger. Photo by Alexander Weitzman

March 18, 2011 | Leave Comment

Retro is in, as demonstrated by the 2011 Dodge Challenger R/T. Although the body remains the same, many improvements have made their way into the 2011 model.

First is the new 305 hp V-6, a bonus of 55 hp from the prior V-6. There is a new horsepower war among the entry level V-6s in the pony car segment. Suspensions have been redesigned, improving both ride and handling with things like negative camber, montube shocks and hydro bushings. And a new electro-hydraulic steering have been added to improve fuel economy and feel.

Externally, the Challenger remains the same with the closest look to the prior generation pony cars of the 1970s. The look is almost an exact replica. And the orange halo driving lights are especially cool. But in reality it is a much larger vehicle based on the C300 chassis and as a result it sports a huge wheelbase of 116 inches (The C300 wheelbase is 120 inches, but the chassis is nearly identical). Consequently the Challenger is a big car stretching out wheesl over 190 inches and it is wide at about 75 inches, nearly weighing 4,000 pounds.

However, any performance losses that you would normally associate that with are totally negated the Challenger R/T’s wonderful and legendary 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 that belts out 375 hp along with 410 pounds of twist. It is now connected to a new six-speed Tremec manual transmission that would normally be a delight, but second gear was a little balky sometimes, hampering the 0-60 mph times. Being a press car they sometimes get hammered a bit by carpenters who use a sledgehammer on finishing nails.

Formally only a five-speed manual was offered with the R/T and the automatic is also a five-speeder right out of the C300 again.

The Hemi engine is quite the animal from its raspy, voracious sounds to its prodigious power. Knocking off 0-60 mph took an average of 5.33 seconds even with the hampered second gear shift. Because of the lower gearing, it required an extra shift to third gear to hit 60 mph as the engine is redlined at only 5,800 rpm, which is a lower number than the SRT/8 6.1 Hemi (soon to be a 6.4 Hemi or 392 Cubic inch). If the gearing would have been a bit taller or the redline at 6,300 it would have hit 60 mph in second gear and lowered the 0-60 times to the 5-second flat range or maybe lower. Smoking the tires was no problem and with an engine this powerful, hookup is everything.

Passing performance was also exemplary with a 50-70 mph run taking 2.58 seconds all in third gear and the same run up a steep grade only slowed that time by about half a second to 3.19 seconds.

Variable valve timing is now standard in the 5.7 Hemi as is fuel saver technology, which allows the engine to run on only four of its eight cylinders when power demands are low. However, the technology may have been implicit in the Challenger’s ungainly throttle response. Sometimes when hitting the throttle it seemed to lag for a couple of tenths of a second before responding strongly.

But there are benefits to this new technology. After a week of hammering of my own, the Challenger still returned 18 mpg overall and on the highway it returned a solid 27.6 mpg with the cruise control set at 70 mph on a level highway. EPA says the Challenger should return 15/24 city/highway. Who says a muscle car can’t deliver reasonable fuel economy.

Handling would have been more sports-car-like with the Super Track PaK, an option I recommend if you are a sporting driver. The Track PaK does add beautiful 20X8-inchweheels, the six-speed manual, better brakes, limited slip differential, pistol grip shifter and  some other items. The Super Track Pak adds improved high performance shocks and steering gear, three-mode ESC with full off, Eagle F1 three-season tires and improved brake linings even over the Track Pak.

Notwithstanding,  even though the car was not equipped with the track Pak, it performed admirably in the braking tests, stopping from 40 mph in just 39.5 feet.

But even without the basic Track Pak, handling was good, considering the size of the car and its intended use as being a “sports car.” There was some body roll and some understeer when pushed hard in the corners. Not a deficiency whatsoever, but just not as flat as an SRT/8. If you want a more thrilling ride, opt for that Super Track Pak. Tracking was excellent as was off- and on-center feel. Turn-in was crisp.

Ride quality was excellent for this type of vehicle. It was firm, but there was no kickback through the steering and it was extremely smooth on the super slab, loafing along at 2,000 rpm at 70 mph. It was quiet until you put your foot in it and then it became very aggressive and raspy with that wonderful V-8 sound that is required for such a car.

Safety included great brakes plus all the acronyms such as ESC, ABS, EBD, BA and all the other alphabet soups that come with vehicles these days. Of course there are at least six airbags.

Inside is a large interior with spacious seats that perhaps could use a bit more side bolstering. Sliding in the seats was a bit of a problem because of their size and shape. The rear seats were quite spacious, which says something about having a 116-inch wheelbase. Ingress and egress, of course, was limited by having only two doors. But how many times are you going to carry four passengers. Blind spots were minimal comparatively speaking especially in the “C” pillar. Remember this is not a true hardtop as there is a “B” pillar that is well hidden by the design team. The original Challengers were true hardtops with no “B” pillar.

Instruments were well laid out in the somewhat retro dash. Perhaps there is a little too much plastic, but the quality is excellent. Nice job. The center stack is also easy to use. Special note must be made for the Boston Acoustics speaker system which made some pretty sweet sounds using another acronym, AC/DC.

Challenger also has the largest trunk in the class with over 16 cubic feet, larger than most mid-size sedans. Taking your buddies golfing would be easy. Or if on a long road trip, the Challenger would accommodate your whole closet so our spouse would love it (hint, a great selling point).

Pricing starts at a base price of $30,860 for the R/T which is a lot of car for the money, plus destination charges of $ 725. My tester came with a limited list of options, driving the price to $41,160. Although the white Challenger looks like a blast from the past, it is truly retro and modern, making it a wonderful choice for those who want to have their cake, eat it too and not get fat. There are other colors like famous Hemi orange, Sublime green color and Plum crazy purple that also look great! Another Dodge/Chrysler homerun.

Alexander Weitzman


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