Muscles cars don’t really work in the UK. It isn’t that we don’t enjoy them, or that we don’t understand them. Its much more that we simply aren’t geared up to use them how they were intended. We don’t have quarter mile stretches of dead straight road between traffic lights. We don’t have a plentiful supply of drag strips. There aren’t enough of them around to enjoy a spot of competition. And, most importantly, our petrol is agonisingly more expensive then the dead-dino-juice you get state-side.
All that being said, if you travel to America, a muscle car makes perfect sense. Like someone else’s baby, you can enjoy the good times and then hand it back before the trouble starts and the costs add up. On a recent trip to America, I did just that…
Shortly after childishly asking the gentleman at the car hire desk “what do you have with a V8?” (and after gently explaining that a Nissan 370z does not fall in to that category), I was sat in a menacingly black Dodge Challenger R/T. And it doesn’t take long for this car to really make an impression on you. After pressing the starter button, the cross-plane V8 barks in to life and sits with a low, growling idle. A timid throttle blip creates an eruption of noise from the cold baffles in the exhaust and the entire car rocks from side to side with the engine’s giant inertia. Immediately you have the feeling that this entire car is a vessel simply to house the engine. And that’s how a muscle car should feel.
Reversing out of the parking space brings the first shortfall of the Challenger to light – visibility. Often you will find a car is short on special awareness in one direction or another. Perhaps the rear quarter blind sport is limited or the A-pillar a little too intrusive. On the Challenger, all round visibility suffers. The bonnet is so immensely long (to accommodate the 5.7 litre engine and make provisions for bigger displacements and supercharged brothers) that the front corners are completely unsighted. What’s more, with the nostalgically chunky C-Pillars, and the upwards sloping boot lid, you just have no idea where any of the extremes of the car actually are.
Still, once reversing was over with, that war zone soundtrack from the V8 meant all was forgiven. On to the open road…
When you get the Challenger on to the American interstates, it doesn’t feel as big as it’s footprint suggests. This has a lot to do with the fact that lanes on the freeways are far wider than anything in Europe, and all the cars and trucks around you are equally immense. The Challenger fits right in. It is comfortable to cruise in, oodles of torque at all points in the rev band, and whilst not in Sport mode, surprisingly refined and quiet inside. I feel this would not be the case on a British motorway though… on a British motorway you would dwarf almost every car around (the Challenger is on par with a 7-series in terms of overall size), you would be dodging potholes all over the place and, in general, you would feel like an inconvenience for everyone else on the road.
What the Challenger does though is buck and squirm as it puts that power down to the road.
Turning off the interstate and opening the throttle on that oversized engine you understand what the challenger is about. It is all about changing speed in the most dramatic way possible. At 1.9tons, the 375hp has its work cutout to do any speed changes quickly, but there is some clever trickery happening that means this doesn’t matter. With an official 0 – 60 time just shy of 6 seconds, it’s a quick car by all accounts, but not “euro-quick”. 375hp in a European car would have been paired with a substantial weight reduction and a sub 5 second spring to the status quo 60mph. What the Challenger does though is buck and squirm as it puts that power down to the road. The overly-supple rear suspension allows the back of the car to hunker down under harsh acceleration, raising the nose and furthering the illusion of power and speed. At the same time, the rear tyres scramble for grip under the 400lb-ft of torque and allow a very controllable squirm of its hips as it launches from a standstill. The torque is there all the way to the 5800rpm redline with just a moment of respite during the grunting upshifts. Believe me when I say, this never gets boring.
Unfortunately, the downside to all this straight-line drama is the usual Achilles heel of American muscle cars; cornering. The soft springs on the back allow the car to wobble and hop if you were to show it anything resembling a European road and, lacking an LSD as the R/T does, means you can’t keep things in check with your right foot either. At low speeds, the back will behave itself, but it does not inspire any confidence when things get a bit quicker. No, the Challenger is not one for an Alpine blast; keep things on the drag strip and you’ll get the most out of the car.
Sitting in the Challenger, you are under no illusions that this is an American car. The seats are accommodating and comfortable, the controls are chunky and there is acres of space. The interior is not the most adventurous of places to sit, but it comes with plenty of equipment. The retro binnacle with overtly three-dimensional dials is a fantastic touch, marrying a nostalgic experience with clear readable information. The touchscreen nestled in the centre console offers a host of further information around the engine and performance of the car, and nifty inbuilt features like tyre monitoring, performance timers and mobile phone integration come as standard with the uConnect system. The chunky T-shaped gearshift lever is raised and canted towards the driver, and the shift paddles are positioned well. Rear seating is a token gesture; this is not a practical 4-seater car, and as mentioned before, rear visibility is poor if you do squeeze the kids in the back.
The Challenger R/T is not aimed at a European market. It is poised squarely at the Americans. It is aggressive and snarly in a straight-line, and wollowy and lazy in the corners. It isn’t a car that works in the UK, with our narrow and twisty roads, excess of potholes and extortionate fuel prices, but in the USA, this car makes sense. The warzone-esque soundtrack of the hemi would never get boring, the dramatic way it lunges forward would never get tiresome and its antagonistic styling would never lose its guster. The Challenger is a car that only works in America, but if you get the opportunity, I highly recommend trying it.
|Car||2017 Dodge Challenger R/T||As tested|
|Fuel Economy||15 – 30mpg||19mpg|
|Exterior||Retro and Aggressive styling mean there is no mistaking what this car is all about.||****|
|Interior||Classic American muscle car, comfortable and accommodating with retro touches coupled with new technology.||****|
|Performance||Not on European levels of fast, but dramatic and childishly fun.||****|
|Comfort||Subtle suspension means a comfortable ride and theatrical acceleration but suffers when the road gets twisty.||***|
|Value||Is there a more powerful V8 available for less money?||****|
|Overall||Although this car wouldn’t work on UK roads, the experience you get driving it in America is one to remember.||****|