If a retro-styled American muscle car is what you crave, you don't have to spend Hellcat money to get Hellcat fun — the 2015 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack costs less but is easily as entertaining.
Dodge scored a major public-relations coup this summer when it introduced the 2015 Challenger SRT Hellcat, a 707-horsepower monster muscle car that set even the non-automotive press abuzz with its arrival. It became the hit of the summer of 2014; everyone was talking about it — but when it comes down to it, your chances or driving or buying one of these rare beasts are slim. They're a bargain for a King of the Hill muscle car, but they still cost more than eighty grand — if you can find one at that price. Thankfully, Dodge is making a variety of 2015 Challengers, equipping them all with some interesting technology and powerful engines, and pricing them much more within reach of the general public (see the 2014 and 2015 models compared here).
The R/T Scat Pack Challenger is one of those, with last year's 6.4-liter SRT V-8 engine under its hood and a host of performance parts for considerably less money than a Hellcat. Has the Hellcat spoiled us? Or is a 485-horsepower sports coupe at almost half the Hellcat's cost entertaining enough?
Exterior & Styling
There's no middle ground with the Challenger's styling — either you love the retro look or it's not at all your thing. For 2015, the Challenger gets only minor exterior revisions. New headlights with LED halo rings; a new grille, bumper, and hood meant to ape the 1971 Challenger (as opposed to last year's car, which drew inspiration from the 1970 Challenger); new LED taillights; and some new wheel patterns are the extent of the outside changes. They clean up the shape a little bit, and surprisingly did get noticed by bystanders who correctly identified my Sublime Green coupe as a 2015 model. Unfortunately, the question they all shouted at the car was "Is that a Hellcat?!" It makes me think Dodge should have made the Hellcat more visually distinctive. I predict anyone not buying the '15 Hellcat will experience some buyer's remorse at least once a week by having to shout back: "No, it's not the Hellcat." I eventually stopped denying it and told them it was.
How It Drives
I must truly be getting jaded in this job, as 485 hp no longer seems unusual. But it is still impressive, pumped out by the massive 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 that's now optional on the R/T model (this is the engine that was only available in the SRT last year). It can rocket the car from zero to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds, a figure I measured myself using the Challenger's Launch Control on-board timers in the Dodge Performance Pages app, a fantastic program that allows you to rip off repeated drag-strip times and record your achievements to share with friends. The engine is mated to either a six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic transmission; mine had the new eight-speed auto, and it did a fine job of getting power to the rear wheels with smooth, strong shifts that didn't seem nearly as clunky as the old five-speed automatic transmission did in the last SRT vehicle I tested. The revised T-handle shifter action is also improved. No longer requiring tilting motions for selecting gears, it now slides down through the various gates like an automatic transmission handle should.
Fire up the big engine using the push-button start, and a hearty rumble emanates from the pipes poking out the rear bumper. It's loud, but not brutally oppressive, like the Hellcat's sound. The only unusual noises come when the fuel-saving cylinder deactivation cuts in at cruising speeds, noticeably changing the exhaust tone from a smooth rumble to an oddly dissonant, unpleasant buzz. The four-cylinder mode can be defeated by keeping the car in Sport mode, but then fuel economy inevitably suffers. Throttle response becomes more immediate in Sport mode, however, becoming almost too jumpy for around-town driving. The steering is heavily boosted, and while the power assist is adjustable via the Performance Pages system controls, it serves only to increase effort, not feedback. There's no masking the fact that this is a big, heavy coupe with a lot of mass and momentum.
That mass may contribute to a better ride than the Challenger's competitors, though, smoothing out bumps admirably despite the 20-inch wheels and low-profile tires. The sizeable wheels and tires house sizeable brakes — optional Brembo four-piston calipers up front that come with the Scat Pack package. Overall, the Challenger is more of a drag-strip brawler than a circuit-track racer, due to its hefty weight, but Dodge has seen fit to equip it with technology that will ensure it no longer embarrasses itself should an owner decide to take one to a club track day.
There are really only two other cars on the market that can be compared with the Challenger R/T Scat Pack: the 2015 Chevrolet Camaro SS and the Ford Mustang GT. The Camaro handles better than the Challenger, especially with the optional 1LE package that's meant to improve cornering, but the Camaro's 426-hp, 6.2-liter V-8 isn't quite as powerful as the Challenger's. There will be an all-new Mustang for 2015, so driving impressions are still forthcoming, but on paper the Challenger wins the power battle by besting the top V-8 in the Mustang GT by 50 hp. How the Mustang handles will be interesting to see, given the switch from the last generation's live rear axle to a new fully independent setup, but both cars are physically smaller than the new Challenger, inside and out.
Fuel economy for the Challenger R/T Scat Pack is dismal by Toyota Prius standards, but surprisingly respectable given the massive motor under the hood. The car is rated 15/25/18 mpg city/highway/combined, and I was able to coax 20 mpg out of it in a combination of highway cruising and stop-and-go city traffic. The Camaro SS is rated about the same, at 15/25/18 mpg for the 6.2-liter V-8 despite using a six-speed automatic transmission. No fuel economy figures are yet available for the 2015 Mustang, but the 2014 model with a six-speed automatic and the 5.0-liter V-8 was rated 18/25/20 mpg, and the new one is likely to improve upon that.
If you like the retro style of the Challenger's exterior, you're going to love what they've done with the place inside. The 2015 receives a completely redone cabin that's even more retro-styled than the outgoing 2014 model, which didn't have much style at all. The low dash now has distinctly nostalgic shapes that mimic the 1971 model, from the trapezoidal console to the way the center storage bin's door opens. The gauges are round and feature a classic font style, while the ubiquitous Chrysler 8.4-inch Uconnect touch-screen resides within easy reach. The overall look and material quality are vast improvements on the outgoing Challenger, finally bringing the car up to date with modern competitors — which will be vitally important when the 2015 Mustang shows up. What the Challenger has that the Camaro and Mustang don't is space — lots of it. Passengers can spread out in luxurious width; there's no feeling of being crammed into a tiny sports coupe here. Even the backseat is usable for two adults, or even three small ones in a pinch. The seats are wide but feel surprisingly flat, despite the look of dramatic bolsters that come with the R/T trim. They're comfortable and supportive, however, even after sitting in them for hours. The only space issue comes from above: The moonroof option takes a good several inches out of the cabin's height, so any driver over 5 feet, 10 inches is going to want to skip that option if they don't want their head to touch the ceiling. Visibility is only fair — the short windshield and massive rear pillars still provide better views than a Camaro, but this is a sports coupe, and a low-slung roofline is part of the deal.
Ergonomics & Electronics
Massive interior improvements come with commensurate boosts to the Challenger's gadgetry. Chrysler's Uconnect system is front and center, and it remains one of the best multimedia systems you can buy: simple to use, with easy-to-find functions and voice commands that work quickly and reliably. The only nitpick might be how it puts some functions, like seat heaters, in an on-screen menu instead of giving them dedicated buttons, but they're still easy to find and use, even popping up briefly when the car is started. The optional nine-speaker audio system sounds fantastic. It may even be a little too powerful: I had to turn the bass down in order to hear songs properly, something I've never done in any car I've tested.
Best of all is the Dodge Performance Pages app. The program runs through the touch-screen and allows you to monitor and modify myriad performance aspects of the car. You can adjust steering effort, transmission shift pattern, throttle sensitivity and more through sliders on the screen, as well as activate the launch mode and even adjust what RPM it holds the engine to before blasting you into orbit. The performance data recorder is there, as well as real-time engine output meters. Such a feature has a real danger of being gimmicky on paper, but the app turns out to be easy to use, useful and entertaining to boot. The sophistication of the system beats the Chevrolet MyLink in the Camaro, but we'll have to see what Ford comes up with for the next-generation Mustang — MyFord Touch is already pretty slick, suffering only from interface issues these days.
Cargo & Storage
The Challenger's size benefits it greatly when it comes time to haul anything, from massive packs of paper towels from Costco to full-size suitcases to the airport. The Challenger features a generous 16.2-cubic-foot trunk, far larger than the 11.3 cubic feet in the Camaro or the 13.5 cubic feet in the 2015 Mustang. But the numbers don't indicate the ease of cargo-hauling in the Challenger: With an enormous lid, it's easy to fit large, bulky objects into the trunk, whereas trying to stuff a big suitcase into the trunk of a Camaro is simply impossible. If you need more room in the Challenger, just drop the 60-40 split backseat to expand the trunk.
The 2015 Dodge Challenger had not been crash-tested by either the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as of publication, but the results of any government testing will appear here. Because it hasn't been fully redesigned, it's likely the 2014 Challenger's test results (shown here) will apply to the 2015. The new electronics in the Challenger have allowed for the introduction of many new safety systems, with optional automatic distance-keeping cruise control, forward collision warning, rainsensitive wipers and blind spot detection with cross-traffic alert. Backup sensors and a rearview camera are optional on the base SXT, standard on all other trim levels. Features like remote start continue to be offered. See what comes standard here.
Value in Its Class
Dodge has rearranged some of the packages for the Challenger, making more equipment standard and eliminating the previous base model, the SE. The new starting point is the SXT, which begins at $27,990 including destination fee and brings you the V-6 and the eight-speed automatic. If you want a Hemi V-8, you'll need to move up to the R/T, which starts at $32,490. My test car was the R/T Scat Pack, which starts at $39,490. Add in a $1,500 leather interior, the $995 Technology Package (which gets you adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning), $795 for the Driver Convenience Group (bi-xenon headlights and blind spot detection), a $595 stereo upgrade, $1,400 for the automatic transmission, $1,195 for the headroom-robbing moonroof and $695 for the Uconnect navigation package, and it comes to a grand total of $45,665 — not at all unreasonable for a car with this level of equipment, performance and style. Option one up your way here.
The Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang are the main competitors out on the street, but those two really have more in common with each other than with the Challenger. They're shorter, lower and lighter than the Challenger, resulting in superior handling but inferior interior room. None of these cars is truly a track star, but the Camaro comes closest, with variants specifically designed to be used on circuits instead of drag strips. Ironically, the one car that's best at cruising the boulevard (the Challenger) is the one that doesn't have a convertible option — a major competitive disadvantage. If you're okay with a hardtop, the Challenger presents a comfortable alternative to the cramped Camaro and Mustang.