2015 Dodge ChallengerPosted on July 22nd, 2014
Millennial muscle car dusts the competition
By Nina Russin
If ever there were a car that breathed testosterone out of every pore, it would be the 2015 Dodge Challenger. Although it competes against the midsized Camaro and Mustang, the newest Challenger is really in a league of its own, with a larger chassis and available 707 horsepower hemi engine that not only dusts its direct competitors, but the Dodge Viper as well. Even Italian exotics will have a hard time keeping up.
Dodge’s product strategy is to combine value with performance, offering the V-6, SXT model priced from $26,995. The top flight SRT Hellcat starts at $59,995.
Buyers can also choose from the R/T with a 5.7-liter hemi engine and eight-speed automatic transmission, the 6.4-liter Hemi Challenger Scat Pack and the Challenger SRT 392, with 485 horsepower and 475 foot-pounds of torque. Two new Shaker models join the clan later on.
Although its design isn’t a drastic departure from the 2009 car, the 2015 Challenger does have some distinct differences. Based on the classic 1971 model, the 2015 cars sport a new split grille, more pronounced hood bulge LED halo headlamps and LED tail lamps.
The profile is essentially unchanged, maintaining its popular character line.
Wizard behind the wow
Considering its masculine nature, readers might be surprised that the Challenger’s chief engineer was a woman. Brenna Kaufman is a twenty-year veteran of the Chrysler brand, having cut her teeth on the 1994 Jeep Grand Cherokee. After working as the assembly plant vehicle engineer for that car, she moved onto seating and interiors before being promoted to senior plant manager for vehicle engineering at the Jefferson assembly facility.
Kaufman subsequently worked on the 2005 Grand Cherokee and Commander, Dodge Nitro, Jeep Liberty, Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger and Challenger.
I asked Kaufman what her top priorities were in developing the 2015 model.
“We needed to upgrade the interior and bring technology up to the twenty-first century,” she replied. Key features on the new car include Chrysler’s Uconnect infotainment system, blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning.
“I also wanted to be careful not to fix what wasn’t broken,” she continued. This is the reason that the body of the car, with the exception of the new hood and hood bulge, is essentially the same as the former model. Changes in appearance come from the new jewelry: headlamps, tail lamps, grille and lower air scoops on the SRT Hellcat model.
“Some people asked us why we didn’t have a handbrake,” said Kaufman. “This isn’t a drift car, and a handbrake would take up valuable real estate in the center console.”
“We didn’t use gooseneck hinges on the trunk lid because it isn’t a priority for this customer,” she continued. “This customer wants a great driving car. We wanted to make the most of the new interior and keep the exterior true to the car’s heritage, but add new lighting technology.”
On the other hand, Kaufman didn’t hesitate to sweat the details when she thought a second look was necessary. For example, members of the design team were concerned when they saw the first mock-ups because the LED lamps showed the individual lighting units. By adding inner lenses, the lights have a sleeker, more cohesive appearance.
Kaufman, who is a mother of two boys, drives a 2015 SRT Hellcat. She calls it her grocery getter. Asked if driving a 707-horsepower car ever gets her in trouble, she replied:
“I learned with the outgoing model to drive the throttle with my big toe. If I forgot to do that, I might be looking at the back end. The Hellcat is similar, except now I’m driving the throttle with my small toe.”
Playing the numbers
The 6.2-liter engine in the SRT Hellcat is one of the biggest blocks to be found in a modern passenger car. Based off the 6.4-liter Scat Pack engine, the cast iron block is too large to fit under the hood of the Challenger?s performance sibling, the Viper.
The engineering target was to make the Hellcat capable of a twenty-minute track session, hence the decision to go with the iron block rather than lightweight aluminum. Every Hellcat engine is dyno tested for 42 minutes prior to shipping.
In order to maximize the air charge from the supercharger, engineers added two electrically driven intercoolers: one for each bank of cylinders. There are also additional air scoops on either side of the grille.
Buyers can choose between a Viper-sourced six-speed manual transmission with an internal cooling pump and external oil cooler or heavy-duty eight-speed automatic transmission. The new automatic transmission has thirty percent greater engine torque capacity than any other eight-speed produced by the company, thanks to the addition of more pinion gears and five more clutch pack discs.
SRT’s launch control comes standard, adding stiffer asymmetric half shafts to keep the chassis flat under hard acceleration. An electronically controlled exhaust valve produces an exhaust note fierce enough to scare the pants off the competition. With drag radials, the Hellcat delivers a 10.8 second quarter mile time out of the box.
To ensure this power doesn’t end up in the wrong hands, the Hellcat comes with two keys: a red key that unlocks its full 707 horses, and a black key for 500 horsepower. The owner can also engage a valet mode by entering a personal security code.
Test drive in Portland, Oregon
At a recent media event, I had the opportunity to drive the 2015 Dodge Challenger 6.4-liter Scat Pack on surface streets, highways and rural roads around Portland, Oregon as well as do a few hot laps on the track with a member of the engineering team.
Being old enough to remember the first muscle car era, the new Challenger comes closer to those cars than anything else on the market.
The original muscle cars were based off full-sized models. Pony cars such as the Mustang and Camaro came later. The theory was that racing a car on Sunday would help to sell it on Monday. By stuffing a big engine under the hood, adding a heavy-duty transmission and brakes, what had started out as the family’s grocery getter became the king of the dragstrip.
The ’71 Dodge Challenger shared its E body with the Plymouth Barracuda. With its 110-inch wheelbase and expansive engine bay, the body was large enough to stuff a 426/425-horsepower hemi engine underneath.
While much of automotive engineering has changed since 1971, some things have not. Cubes are still cubes. Big engines make big power.
A bigger car can hold a bigger engine, and thanks to modern engineering, get somewhat respectable fuel economy. The biggest difference between the newest Challenger and the classic model that inspired it is ride and handling. The classic muscle cars did one thing well. They could accelerate in a straight line and on a dry track, stop before anything untoward happened. The newest Challenger can serve as a daily driver, albeit one that turns a lot of heads.
The exterior on the test car is called sublime, but in reality it’s a retina searing green that I would imagine glows in the dark. Both the name and color designation come from classic Mopars of the 1960s and 70s. With a palette that also included plum crazy, go mango and panther pink, I always wondered how many of the designers back then had had close encounters of the psychotropic kind.
With its bright green exterior and thunderous exhaust, it wasn’t much of a problem getting smaller vehicles to skitter out of the way. But despite its raucous nature, the 2015 Challenger is quite civilized. Although a 485-horsepower engine demands respect, acceleration is by no means dicey.
With the eight-speed automatic transmission, highway fuel economy is 25 mpg, assuming the driver doesn’t get too jiggy behind the wheel.
The addition of blind spot monitoring is a boon for anyone who plans to commute through dense traffic. With its high beltline and thick pillars, the Challenger has some rather large blind spots, especially in the rear corners. The blind spot monitor illuminates LED signals in the side mirrors when vehicles in adjacent lanes pass through these areas, preventing potential accidents.
The electric power steering system bears remarkable resemblance to a traditional hydraulic unit, with none of the lag and numb feeling some competitors suffer from. Steering feel is pleasantly heavy at speed but not overly so, and there’s plenty of assist on the low end for maneuverability.
Formula style paddle shifters enable the driver to manually select gears for more aggressive performance. The test car also comes with the newest version of Dodge’s performance pages. The technology is uber cool, enabling the driver to modify the steering, stability control and suspension tuning from the cockpit. He can also view engine horsepower and G-forces in real time.
Aside from its rumbling exhaust note, noise intrusion to the interior is minimal. The advantage of a longer wheelbase is that the Challenger can easily accommodate adult passengers in the back seat. Both rows of passengers should have no problems conversing on the highway.
A comfort mode makes the track-tuned suspension streetable. On the track, Bilstein shocks and Brembo brakes can take all the punishment a driver might send their way. Twenty-inch aluminum wheels offer a hearty footprint for high-speed driving
High tech interior
With the Hellcat’s sub-$60,000 MSRP, one might expect some compromises to the interior. That was certainly not the case for the new Challenger. In fact, sitting inside the car, one would expect a much higher price tag.
Standard convenience features on the Scat Pack test car include premium cloth performance seats with Ballistic 2 inserts and tungsten stitching, leather wrapped tilt and telescoping steering wheel with shift paddles and redundant controls, satellite radio, Bluetooth, Uconnect with emergency assist, a 180 mph speedometer, a six-speaker premium audio system and 8.4-inch touchscreen.
The Hellcat adds SRT Nappa leather performance seats with red inserts, leather wrapped steering wheel and shifter, special badging, LED illuminated cup holders, light black chrome door handles, a thin-film-transistor driver information display, a 200 mile-per-hour speedometer with tachometer and red face gauges, keyless entry and start and remote start for cars with automatic transmissions.
I found the power driver’s seat easy to adjust with plenty of lower back support thanks to the four-way lumbar adjustment. Infotainment controls were easy to access from either front seating position and intuitive to operate.
Although the rear seat isn’t as easy to climb into as it would be in a sedan, the door opens wide enough for reasonable access and egress. The trunk is quite spacious: large enough to slip a bicycle inside with the front wheel removed and rear seats folded flat.
Now in production
The 2015 Dodge Challengers are now in production at the Brampton, Ontario assembly plant and begin rolling into dealerships this fall.
Like: A true modern muscle car with more power than any of its competitors, excellent ride and handling.
Base price: $26,995
As tested: $46,665
Horsepower: 485 Hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 475 lbs.-ft. @ 4200 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 15/25 mpg city/highway
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