The Dodge Challenger for 2019, part of the third-generation pony car introduced in 2008 as competition for the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro, qualifies as a muscle car with its outlandish horsepower and classic styling.
Challenger, however, has a practical side with a large trunk and seating for three in the rear.
The two-door coupe is available in seven major trim levels, with subtrims available for some models: base SXT, GT, R/T, R/T 392, SRT Hellcat, and SRT Hellcat Redeye.
SXT and GT have a V-6 engine, while the others have increasingly more powerful V-8s, up to the 797-horsepower Redeye.
Variants include Plus, R/T, T/A, R/T Scat Pack and R/T Shaker with extra features, special styling, or performance enhancements. Some features found on upper trim levels can also be added to lower trims as options.
Some changes and additions for 2019 include the retirement of the 840-horsepower Demon and the SRT 392, and the addition of the new 797-hp SRT Hellcat Redeye, a dressed-down version of the Demon.
SXT can now have all-wheel drive, R/T Scat Pack can wear the widebody treatment, and Hellcat has a new dual-snorkel hood for 10 more horsepower.
Some features have been dropped from certain trims, resulting in a lower starting price. Dropped features are now included as options. Challenger base prices for 2019 range from $27,595 to $71,350.
My exciting Challenger was a gorgeous Octane Red (deep wine) R/T Scat Pack with a Plus Package (base price $38,995, Plus Package $1,695) and Black Scat Pack Logo (bumble bee with racing wheels, embroidered in white) Nappa/Alcantara interior.
It was powered by a 6.4-liter 485-horsepower V-8 Hemi MDS engine, paired with a TorqueFlight eight-speed automatic transmission. The Multi-Displacement System with Fuel Saver Technology deactivates four of the cylinders when the throttle is closed or at steady speeds to conserve fuel.
The Plus Package added the Nappa seating, a power tilt/telescope steering column, ventilated front seats, and door trim panels with ambient lighting.
A transmission package ($1,595) upgraded from a six-speed manual and included AutoStick automatic transmission (with manual mode), leather-wrapped shifter knob, steering-wheel paddle shifters, and tip start.
MDS was noticeable when the transmission was in Street mode, when cruising or letting off the throttle, with a sudden change in the tone of the engine, then a slight jerk in the drivetrain when the throttle was reapplied. MDS was automatically deactivated in Sport and Track modes.
Street mode is tailored to daily driving, but still responds energetically when the accelerator is pressed. Sport mode firms up the suspension and steering for better handling, while Track mode modifies shifting for even quicker gear changes. Track mode also responds faster to acceleration – rabbit fast. Active exhaust adds moxie by allowing straight-through mid and rear mufflers for a throaty exhaust note under engine load.
Made for the street or strip, Scat Pack is marketed as being more comfortable and practical for daily use than its Ford and Chevy competition.
The same outrageous exterior colors and graphics packages are available as for its more powerful siblings: Plum Crazy (deep purple, $70), IndiGo (get it?) Blue (deep royal), TorRed (medium red), Go Mango (go-man-go), White Knuckle (the color isn’t outrageous, just the name) -- 13 in all; Bumblebee Stripe on the trunk and rear panels ($495), Shakedown Graphics on the hood and roof ($495), Shaker Graphics on the hood and roof ($495), and Black Hood Pins (stainless steel pins with black bezels on the hood, with Mopar logo, $425). The main difference is the lower price for the less-fancy engine.
Adaptive Speed Control, automatic high-beam control, forward collision warning, and rain-sensing windshield wipers came in a Technology Package ($1,295). A Driver Convenience Group ($1,095) added blind-spot and rear cross-path detection, high-intensity-discharge headlights, and power multi-function mirrors with manual fold-away.
A Widebody Package ($6,000) brought menacing black 20-by-11 inch Devil’s Rim split five-spoke aluminum wheels (deep, heavy spokes with an outward curve), adaptive damping suspension, antilock four-wheel disc six-piston brakes, performance shift indicator, Widebody competition suspension, and Widebody fender flares, which add 3.5 inches. Pirelli all-season performance tires were replaced by P Zero summer tires for $595.
My Challenger R/T had Ready Alert Braking, which senses when the driver quickly removes the foot from the accelerator, then pumps a small amount of brake pressure to prepare the pads for full pressure in emergency situations.
Rain Brake Support functions when the windshield wipers are on by applying a small amount of brake pressure to remove water on the front rotors, with no driver action required.
Chrysler-patented Knock Back Mitigation is designed to cure a common problem for high-performance cars with big brake rotors – keeping the brake pads from being knocked back into the caliper under hard cornering. The system uses the same pad-wiping software as Rain Brake Support, giving a faster response, shorter braking distance, and better brake feel in hard use.
Round headlights and daytime running lights were integrated into the wide gloss-black grille, which sported a red R/T badge and a Challenger script badge. An SRT front splitter extended below the wide front bumper, and a satin black SRT Performance Spoiler (duck tail, $695) helped reduce lift for increased stability at higher speeds.
Bright rectangular exhaust tips were integrated into the wide black lower bumper. Slim horizontal combination taillights spanned from the outer rear fascia into the trunk lid, surrounded by black, along with the rear Dodge badge set on gloss black.
The eye-catching performance hood had pronounced heat extractors, door handles were illuminated, the front fenders wore red and yellow Scat Pack Bee 392 badges, the fuel-filler door was black (set in a black bezel labeled “FUEL”), and black brake calipers peeked out of the massive black wheels. A Scat Pack Bumblebee Stripe option ($495) added one wide and one narrow strip to the trunk lid and rear quarters.
Large, wide-opening doors made entry and exit easy to the front and rear, except in tight parking spaces. The doors were heavy, which could be a problem when parked on an incline.
The interior was roomy, with a lot of front legroom (42 inches) and headroom (39.3 inches). The rear seat offered room for three, bigger than the competition, but still was not made for large adults, with 37.1 inches of headroom and 33.1 inches of legroom. A LATCH system allows up to three child seats to be installed.
The leather-trimmed front seats had comfortable Alcantara inserts and prominent seat and side bolsters, and were heated and ventilated. Rear outboard seats had Alcantara, while the middle seating position was hard and narrow, with almost no legroom. Amenities in the rear were limited to air vents (on the console), seatback pockets, and two cupholders on the fold-down center armrest.
Storage in the front was limited to two cupholders in front of the medium-sized center console bin with a 12-volt outlet, two USB ports, and an auxiliary plug; a cell-phone cubby beside the shifter; small bottle holders on the doors; and a very small stretch net with a 12-volt outlet on the raised passenger side of the center console.
The dash and center console were trimmed with new Dark Dub Plate finish, and new Liquid Titanium trimmed the heated steering wheel, shifter and cluster bezels. After much research, I concluded that Dub Plate referred to subtle grooves resembling the surface of a vinyl record.
Visibility in the front was adequate, with some difficulty judging the front corners (not good for such a powerful out-of-the-gate vehicle). With large blind spots and limited rear visibility, the standard rearview camera with a wide display, ParkSense rear park-assist system, and the optional blind-spot warning and rear cross-path detection were a big help.
The trunk opening was large, with 16.2 cubic feet of cargo space – only slightly less than the Charger full-size sedan. The liftover, however, was deep, due to the large signature Dodge rear fascia. The rear seatbacks folded 60/40 to enlarge the cargo space, although they didn’t fold flat.
Uconnect 4C with Navigation ($795) had an 8.4-inch display for music info and climate controls, AM/FM radio, and integrated Voice Command, including hands-free calling, voice command for radio, Bluetooth streaming audio, Easy Prompts and voice command for navigation.
SiriusXM Travel Link and SiriusXM Traffic Plus included a five-year trial subscription. Premium navigation features one-step voice destination, Junction View, 3-D landmarks, city models and digital terrains.
Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and HD radio were included, with a drag-and-drop menu bar. SiriusXM Guardian had a 12-month trial, with enrollment required. Basic SiriusXM accessibility is standard, as well as a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hot spot.
Controls for the drive modes and the Performance Pages (readouts for information such as “intake air temperature”) were exclusively on-screen, requiring a little searching or a visit to the owner’s manual.
For the more adventurous driver, Line Lock engages the front brakes, but leaves the rear wheels free for a burnout (no thanks). There is also improved Launch Control, which increased hold time from five to 10 seconds for optimal launch and consistent straight-line acceleration. I pushed the button in the driveway, and my Challenger lurched as if ready to go.
The Challenger R/T Scat Pack is highly customizable, providing 9/10 of the fun and craziness of the Hellcat at nearly $20,000 less. It has its own basso profundo exhaust soundtrack, announcing your arrival.
Although large and heavy, my tester was fun to drive, especially watching the reactions of people around me. Street mode was best for my purposes, with Track mode being – naturally – too aggressive.
With $14,260 in options and $1,345 destination charges, my thrilling Challenger delivered for $54,600.
The automotive columns of Emma Jayne Williams have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 2007. Contact her at email@example.com.