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2015 Dodge Challenger: This one makes your jaws drop

2015 Dodge Challenger muscle car - Portland, Oregon media test drive - along the Columbia River Gorge
2015 Dodge Challenger muscle car - Portland, Oregon media test drive - along the Columbia River Gorge
- photo by ALAN GELL

WOW! This was a head-turner for automotive journalists. The new 2015 Dodge Challenger really does have that 'wow' moment when the pedal is pushed down and you feel like you are in a race car, twisting and turning – doing laps on a race track.

2015 Dodge Challenger musclecar
- photo by ALAN GELL

Actually, I was among a select group of journalists invited to Portland, Oregon just a few, short days ago. We not only took these new Challengers up and down the Columbia River Gorge area, but spent an afternoon at the Portland racetrack. Dodge had arranged for us to put these street-ready, showroom-ready cars to the test, not only on regular driving areas, but on a racetrack, which required those fireproof head coverings and racing helmets. WOW, again. It was an awesome experience.

So, the question is, “Why did Dodge do this?” The answer is simple, really. They need to show that these new Dodge Challenger cars are up to the 'challenge' of not only looking great, but driving great. They can be used for taking the family to church, commuting to the daily job, as well as visiting an area race-track on the weekend.

At the opening introductory remarks, the Dodge representative commented about the 2015 Challenger, saying that the top-of-the-line Hellcat model caused interest to really break loose. “That is what a HALO car is supposed to do.” So, what is a HALO car? It really is a unique and unusual automobile that is designed to draw attention to the brand name. It might be their 'flagship' vehicle. For many years, the term was used to describe the sexiest sports car in the company stable. It is a car that makes your jaws drop. This new 2015 Dodge Challenger Hellcat is definitely a HALO car. It made our jaws drop.

There are definitely a lot of great vehicles on the market now. It appears that the timing is right for a car that will not get lost on a mall parking lot. The horsepower wars appear to have been stirred up and this may well be the second 'age' of American muscle cars. The 2015 Dodge Challenger and Challenger SRT deliver There is a lot of throw-back to the 1971 Challenger, both in exterior and interior designs, and these are all good changes. The past few years, sales of the Challenger nameplate was lack-luster. With all the changes and the tremendous horsepower, that is all about to change.

There is a 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 that delivers 305 horsepower, matched with either a 6-speed manual or 8-speed automatic. The 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 pops out 375 horsepower and is matched with either an 8-speed manual or the same 8-speed automatic. There is a new 6.4-liter HEMI V-8 that has 'best-in-class' 485 horsepower, matched with either the 6-speed manual or 8-speed automatic. Finally there is a new 6.2-liter supercharged HEMI Hellcat engine that spits out 707 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque. Although the new Hellcat model with that supercharged 707-hp engine gets most of the attention, those other models can really hold their own with muscle-car enthusiasts.

Dodge is producing several iconic heritage models that should prove to be of major interest to many. These include the R/T Shaker and R/T Shaker Plus that use the 5.7-liter HEMI V-8. There is a new 6.4-liter Scat Pack model that has an estimated 485-hp. There is also an exclusive new 392 HEMI Scat Pack Shaker that combines all that power with a multitude of heritage cues as well as that iconic Shaker hood.

The interiors have been very noticeably upgraded. It has a high-sill center console as well as a driver-focused instrument panel. There are 14 different color and trim offerings. The console features an 8.4-inch touchscreen. There is even a new Dodge sculpted steering wheel that fits the driver's hands better. The seats have been redesigned with more cushioning and contours.

The top-of-the-line Hellcat model is very customizable and is still designed to be driven as a daily commuting vehicle. You can 'dial' the suspension down to a street mode drive or up to a race-track mode. The engine is powerful and the exterior looks are just as menacing. An oddity with this Hellcat model is that there are two keys – a red one for racing and a black one for everyday driving. Maybe that is a misnomer, because the black one still allows the engine to achieve 500 horsepower, but maybe that is enough for simply getting back and forth to work or to the store. I probably would not suggest that a parent allow a teenager to have access to the red key.

The Challenger SXT is definitely an attainable dream race car. The R/T starts at just over $31K. The SRT powertrain has a new block, a new head, and has twin air coolers. In fact, about 92% of the engine is all-new. It is built in Saltillo, Mexico. The manual transmissions are the same as used in the well-known Viper.

Of course, there is a whole lot more to these new Challenger models, such as a boat-load of safety and security features, adaptive cruise control, electric power steering, updated suspension, electronic shifter functions, forward collision warning, projector fog lights, and nine wheel options. There is a mobile phone app that allows Challenger owners to unlock or lock the doors as well as start the engine. There is a host of other advanced high technology features.

All that other stuff is great, but the high-powered drive, whether in the base model, mid-level model, or top model Hellcat, is marvelous. Unless you are pushing the pedal to the metal consistently, you probably can come close to that 30-mpg mark with some judicious driving. Pricing is much better than anticipated, generally from the mid-30's to slightly above $50K, depending upon the models, engines, colors, wheels, and more. My overall driving impression for this wonderful HALO car is a three-letter word, WOW.