Purists among Mopar fans may still be lamenting Dodge’s decision to bring back the Charger as a sedan instead of the much-beloved coupe that enjoyed an up-and-down run in the Muscle Car world for over two decades starting in the mid-1960s.
Bad enough that the company had turned the Charger’s fifth generation into a front-wheel drive hatchback by the mid-1980s. (What were they thinking?) Even the legendary Carroll Shelby couldn’t save that one.
But a Charger sedan?
What was next, a “Baby on Board” sticker in the rear window as standard equipment?
Well, purists’ opinions aside, the Charger is enjoying a nice little run since its reintroduction in the 2006 model year, and its status among full-size sedans has been validated by its No. 1 ranking in the Large Car segment of the J.D. Power’s APEAL (Automotive Performance Execution and Layout) Study for a third straight year in 2013.
Meanwhile, the Dodge Challenger is here to satisfy the appetites of Muscle Car zealots. When Dodge designers revived the Challenger, they took their styling cues from the early 1970s models that were the stuff of Muscle Car legends.
The Challenger, which disappeared after 1983, returned in 2008 as a somewhat bulkier version of its predecessors. It was available only in SRT-8 trim with a 6.1-liter, HEMI V8 under the hood, and the only transmission available was a five-speed automatic with manual shift mode capability.
Along with a slightly smaller (5.7 liter) V8 for a new R/T trim, a V6 power plant was added to the lineup in 2009, and two years later a six-speed manual was offered. Dodge renamed the base model the SXT and added steering-wheel paddle shifters to automatic transmission versions in 2012.
For 2013, the Challenger lineup remains virtually the same from last year. It’s offered in SXT (V6), R/T (5.7-liter V8), and SRT8 392 (6.4-liter V8) versions.
If you are more economically minded, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the SXT offers the best fuel economy of the bunch -- 18 miles-per-gallon city, 27 highway -- and the SRT8 packs the biggest punch. Maximum horsepower in the SRT8 is 470, same as the torque.
The R/T offers a nice compromise with fuel ratings at 16/25 and power at 372 hp and 400 lb.-ft. of torque when mated with the five-speed automatic and 375 and 410, respectively, with a six-speed manual transmission. Unlike the SRT8, which drinks premium fuel (91 octane is recommended), the R/T gets along with either 89 (recommended) or 87 (acceptable) octane.
Automatic transmission versions have paddle shifters that provide for manual selection of gears. But to get the full feel of what the Challenger is all about, you need to go with the straight stick. You simply have more control on how the power gets to the Challenger’s rear wheels, plus working a clutch helps you keep your attention on your driving.
The Challenger is not just about power, however. The R/T also gets a performance-tuned suspension that makes the ride stiffer but without a notable decrease in comfort. The engine sounds from the dual exhausts are music to a gearhead’s ears.
The Challenger’s interior is what you pretty much expect from a Muscle Car. Though it falls short of being what you might call “spartan,” there is a masculine aura about the cabin. The steering wheel has a nice heft to it, and though the audio system works off a touch screen, the climate control is operated by turning large knobs at the bottom of the center stack.
The front seat is roomy enough, and the back is not overly snug. As with most two-doors, though, getting back there is the trick.
Also, as with many two-doors, rear visibility is limited, the Challenger by not only the smaller rear and rear-side windows but by its oversize C pillars. This is a vehicle that desperately needs a rearview camera, but none is offered.
Pricing for the Challenger runs from an MSRP of $28,385 (including destination charges) for the SXT with an automatic transmission to $47,185 for the SRT8.
Sticker price on the R/T is $31,985 with another $1,995 tacked on for the Redline Group options. The latter includes 20-inch wheels, some color accents, and a T-Grip gear shifter in the center console that has the feel of a piston grip in your right hand. It doesn’t sound like much, but they are nice touches, especially the wheels.
So if you are one who mourns the loss of the Charger coupe, take heart! Mopar Muscle still exists in the Challenger. But if you want one, don’t dally. Speculation has it the Dodge brand may be on its way to being phased out in the next couple of years, which is a shame because it seems to be getting things right now.