As an enthusiast, I should be cynical about the 2014 Dodge Challenger SRT. Sure, it has a 470 horsepower 6.4-liter Hemi V8. But despite that, it's handily outrun by a Mustang GT, which has significantly less power and a much lower price tag. It's also longer, wider, and taller than the Chevrolet Camaro and the Ford Mustang, and it weighs more than 4,000 pounds. The interior is as bland as a rice cake, and there are too many chintzy bits in there from the bad old days of Dodge, too. Oh, it also costs about $50,000, the same as a well-equipped BMW 3 Series.
Even if you take away the whole enthusiast-bias part, the Challenger has problems. Rear visibility is always bad in low-slung coupes like this, but wow, you can't see a darn thing out the rear window in this car. It's width, length, and narrow windows make it hard to park, or even change lanes, and there's no backup camera or blind spot sensors to help extend your own perception. The navigation system is straight out of 2005, Bluetooth is wonky, the USB connection is absurdly slow, and it's terrible on gas.
And I can easily overlook all of it.
This is one of the most engaging, entertaining, and downright sexy cars you can buy. So what if it's heavy? This thing moves, blasting to 60 mph in about 4.5 seconds, and it will do an honest 170-mph and more if given enough room. It also sounds absolutely incredible the whole time; this big V8 may just be the best sounding domestic V8 there is. The transmission is a slick-shifting 6-speed manual with a fantastic pistol-grip shifter -- the 5-speed automatic is terrible -- and the clutch is smooth and easy to use, especially considering that it has to contend with 470 lb-ft of torque. Opt for the manual and you also get a limited slip differential, which helps put power to the ground and ensure your burnouts produce nice, parallel black stripes. Press the "Sport" button on the dash, and the shocks firm up significantly, taming the heavy body and turning this massive car into a surprisingly nimble back-road handler. The SRT-specific seats are firm and supportive, but also comfortable enough for hundreds of miles at a time.
And that's one of the keys to this car. It's actually practical in its own odd way. Unlike the Camaro and Mustang, you can fit three across in the back seat. It's cramped, but for short hops, that's one more person than you can carry in its competitors, and it makes the Challenger a little more realistic for more people. It also has a huge trunk. When in non-Sport mode, the suspension is surprisingly compliant. Couple that with a sixth gear that's a pure fuel saver and a quiet highway ride, and the Challenger is the perfect car for a long road trip, something I've proved to myself first-hand.
The best news about the Challenger is that some of the quibbles I have about it are about to be fixed. The 2015 Challenger was just unveiled at the New York Auto Show, and it gets a new interior, revised head and taillights, a backup camera, a new 8-speed automatic, and a few other upgrades and changes. Interestingly, the 392 cu.-in. V8 is no longer the SRT option, but part of the regular Challenger lineup. This hints at even bigger things for the SRT, such as an oft-rumored supercharged V8 making north of 600 horsepower. Will we be watching? You bet we will.
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