‘Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em,’ blogs intrepid road warrior, Dan Scanlan.
There are many who say that old school rules when it comes to musclecars. Pair a 375-horsepower HEMI V-8 with a six-speed stick in a shape that’s instantly recognizable as a ponycar and you are In like Flint!  And if it generates 410 pound-feet of torque and sits on gorgeous 20-inch black chrome alloy wheels, all the better.

But in a world where sophistication trumps cubic inches, is there still a place for a musclecar that says 1970s like Burt Reynolds and Aramis?

Well, Dodge knows the world is changing, so it has redesigned the Challenger for 2015 with more vintage 1971 design cues. Under the skin comes some stiffening and engineering changes as well as – hold your breath – a 707 horsepower SRT Hellcat. But until the fall, we get the same old Challenger, this one the R/T Redline, and an offer from Dodge – pay and play now and trade to a ’15 Challenger for the same payment. Let’s play now, since I don’t have to pay!

Until we sample the Hellcat, the SRT8 we drove is the most powerful Challenger around, with 470-horsepower at 6,000 rpm, and a 0-60 time in 4.6 seconds. So how did our test car with the base (if that applies here) 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 engine do?

We liked the fairly short throws and precision of the six-speed Tremec TR6060 transmission with pistol grip shifter. Clutch pedal action was light and precise. We could launch with just a tad of wheelspin with traction control left on to a quick 60-mph in 5.5 seconds. Tap off traction control and we could smoke the tires at will, yet the car was very controllable and easy to keep straight with excellent throttle control to get traction back.

When we weren’t hooning around, fuel mileage on regular was up to 20-mpg in mostly highway driving, the engine loafing along at a quiet 1,500-rpm at 70-mph. The gearbox does do a dreaded first- to fourth-gear shift when you ease it off the line, but it was smooth and we could beat it with a touch more gas. We did like the Hill Start Assist that holds the brakes for two seconds to help you drop the clutch and go without rolling back. We never noticed the engine shift to four-cylinder mode when less power is needed to improve fuel economy.

Like the 88-lpound- heavier SRT8, our 8,000-mile-old Challenger R/T felt its 4,082-pound weight in its loping ride. But it offers a nicely firm suspension that is well buffered on rougher roads, yet fairly tight in control. With the Dodge Charger sedan platform underneath, but a bit shorter and riding a tad lower, the Challenger offers a multilink short/long-arm front suspension and independent rear suspension combined with a stiff body shell that was quiet at speed bar a bit of wind and tire noise. Bend into a turn and it felt almost flat. It loved to hang on neutrally on exit ramps too, quite secure. Bumps in mid-turn didn’t unsettle the car, and the stability program kicks in subtly only if it senses tail-out action.

Tossed around our skidpad, we could hold the tail out nicely in control with traction control working. And on our business park road course, the steering felt solid as the coupe’s tail stayed planted in 90-degree turns with just a touch of power oversteer when powered out. The steering offered good feedback and feel, if a bit overboosted. The brakes offered instant bite, acceptable pedal control and solid short stops with only minimal fade after repeated simulated panic stops from 60-mph.

It is a great world where musclecar maniacs still have three revivals of classic ponycars around – 50 years of the Ford Mustang, plus the design tweaked Chevy Camaro and the Dodge Challenger, resurrected in 2008 to bear the smooth look of its 1970 predecessor. That 2008 revival’s shape has remained relatively untouched since, but that’s OK since it is a very clean attractive shape that has aged well. 

Four glaring headlights flank a slim recessed black grille with white rim. The simple chiseled bumper lives near a deep lower center intake over a classic Trans-Am racecar-style black lower air dam flanked by inset foglights. The long hood gets classic hood scoops is just like the original R/T, with HEMI badges for bragging rights. But while there are holes on the hood’s underside for the scoops, the black plastic grilles are blocked – no working hood scoops. Lipped flares frame five-spoke black chrome wheels with red lines wearing P245/45ZR20-inch Goodyear Eagles. 

The Redline Edition option also adds a red and graphite side stripe that starts on the front fender, then flaring along the rising rear fender. The Challenger’s retro shape is seven inches longer than the Camaro, and nine inches longer than the outgoing ‘14 Mustang.

Open those long doors and the interior is relatively unchanged from 2008 – padded black and with textured silver trim on the center dash and console and Redline red inserts on the doors.

You settle low into red leather bucket seats that hold well, although I wish they were a bit more body hugging. The driver’s seat offering six-way power seat bottom adjustments, power lumbar and manual seat back adjustment. There’s good visibility out the front and side, while the thick C-pillar makes for a blind spot when passing.

The one-piece padded foam dashboard is done in low gloss dark gray with a matte black instrument panel fascia, the whole shape a bit ho-hum. There are chrome rings around the white-faced (ice blue-lit at night), 140-mph speedometer and 8,000-rpm tach top center, flanked by gas and temperature gauges. The speedometer houses a dated green LCD digital vehicle information display with trip computer as well as radio, navigation turn-by-turn info, oil pressure and a 0-60 mph timer that also logs your best time.

Dash center, a dated looking Uconnect touch-screen display with a navigation system, plus Sirius weather/radar, traffic, gas, stock and sports info. Both front seats slide forward easily to get two adults into back seats. Rear seats split to access a wide flat trunk with a spare under the floor next to rear-mounted battery. Trunk has high liftover.

A base Challenger R/T starts at $29,995, while our R/T started at $30,495 with standard performance steering and suspension, keyless entry, cruise control, 18-inch alloy wheels, auto-dim rearview mirror, air conditioning, power driver’s seat and keyless start.

Our $1,995 Redline package added the stripes, black chrome alloy wheels and 20-inch performance tires and 3.92 rear axle ratio. The $595 Super Track Pack added Z-rated rubber and a track-tuned suspension, while $2,000 added an option package with heated leather bucket seats, 276-watt Boston Acoustics amplifier with six speakers, alarm, rear parking sensor and power heated side mirrors. We also had the $600 audio upgrade with seven Boston Acoustics speakers and 368-watt amp, $1,095 moonroof and $1,095 Uconnect system with navigation. Final price with destination: $38,870.

As for that lease program, the “Double-Up” for Charger and Challenger lets customers lease a 2014 for 12 months, then return one year later and get the same lease payment on a
’15 Charger or Challenger.

The Challenger R/T Redline is a clearly retro, cleanly designed ponycar that just looks right on those smoked black wheels. It sounds great and moves out quickly, while offering decent road manners. But it does need to go on a diet and get a bit tighter in size and moves.

For the latest on Dodge’s Challengers, please visit http://www.dodge.com/en/challenger/