Many film buffs consider Richard Sarafian’s Vanishing Point an existentialist masterpiece. Kowalski had no real reason for going balls-out to San Francisco– other than the drive itself. Pistonheads argue that Kowalski’s ride, an arctic white 1970 Dodge Challenger, was reason enough. Yes, well, Mopar’s E-body entry to the late sixties ponycar parade was short-lived. Dodge only moved 165k units before ‘The End” flashed-up on the factory floor. With today’s Pentastar losing market share faster than a celebutante shedding clothes at a pool party, the recreated Challenger is carrying a lot more weight these days. So, is there any there there?
Judging by the number of hurdles jumped to secure a test drive, Dodge has a hit on its hands. (At least initially.) If you don’t have a deposit in hand or know someone on the inside, “Shopping ‘Til You Drive” requires expert perfidy and cozenage. With first-born promised, I noticed two things about the new Challenger. First, Chrysler totally aped Dr. Z’s Mercedes key fob design. Second, even in base trim (and an ugly color), the “secretary special” V6 Challenger SXT Challenger looks fat phat. Sitting on 18” alloys, my Deep Water Blue Canada-spec SXT hid the 800 lbs. and six inches thirty-eight years have bestowed upon the Challenger.
Ditching Dodge’s cross-haired corporate countenance for the quad-lamped front end ensures the Challenger eats Mustang’s leftover lunch. Follow the bulged hood back to the husky rear haunches and it’s obvious that this is retro rodding done right. In an effort to keep it real, the designers used the side mirrors from the Carl Cameron original. The only thing missing from the V6’s visuals: a twin pipe exhaust.
Pop the Challenger’s locks, grab the door handle and cue-up memories of [much] earlier German influences. The frame-less glass curtsies upon entry. And that’s when your smile starts to fade.
Where Mr. Mehta’s Challenger SRT8 offered details to delight, entry-level Challenger buyers will be less enthused. The somber slate surrounding me was decidedly dearth. The SXT forgoes the upper models’ faux fiber finish for retrograde polymers. While Pentastar plastics have become softer to the touch, aside from some lighter gray strips on the wheel, the lack of trim left me feeling achromatopsic.
The Challenger’s leather-trimmed tiller is as big as the London Eye. No amount of tilting and telescoping could lower the steering wheel to a comfortable level. The big and round theme continues to the centre stack, where glove-friendly HVAC and radio controls are an arm’s reach away. Tuning-in KOW is easy but, sadly, with only four speakers, heeding any of Super Soul’s warnings isn’t. Fortunately, Dodge found some extra nauga hides for the arm rest, which felt just like baby bear’s bed. Slide the armrest forward for optimal comfort and tell your company to drink-up or hold their coffee in their lap; their cupholder just got pwned.
The Challenger’s cabin may not have that sense of occasion thing wired, but it makes a reasonably practical daily driver, offering more front shoulder room, rear legroom and trunk space than Ford’s Mustang.
It’s rumored that VP director Sarafian overdubbed the Challenger’s Hemi-related audio with a the roar of a Mustang V8. Today’s Challenger needs the same soundtrackectomy. The 3.5-liter V6 is as quiet as a mouse at idle and just perceptible at full bore. No matter. On the upside, out on the two-lane blacktop, the SXT provides enough grunt (250hp, 250ft/lbs of torque) to tackle on-ramps and left lane passes with ease.
Light-to-light Lotharios will look to the V8 upsell, but the SXT is no fools’ gold. While next day delivery from Denver to San-Fran is out of the question, the electronically-controlled, dual-tuned intake helps this beast feel faster than it should be. To quell torque slip and reduce visits to the pumps, The Dodge Boys mated the Challenger’s cog-challenged [four speed] slushbox to an e-nannied converter clutch. A row-your-own tranny would work wonders for making the most of the Challenger’s on-tap power AND give you something to hold onto, but the autobox gets the job done.
Despite the advantage of a multi-link rear end, corner carvers need not apply. Scrub enough speed with the Challenger’s ABS-equipped four-wheel discs, hand-over-hand that giant wheel, and the Challenger remains cool and confident. Push it to seven tenths and you’ll be glad for the auto-locking doors. While this pony car’s suspension puts a similarly equipped live-axle Mustang to shame, avoid Belle Isle and head on over to Woodward instead.
The pony car market has been Ford’s field since Sainte-Therese closed the Camaro’s doors. The freshly massaged Mustang is still in testing. GM’s dragging out the release of their new hotness for yet another year. With V6 variants leading the Mustang way, Dodge has a serious Challenger in the SXT. That said, today’s new car market seems headed for a singularity. For anyone looking to pilot a stylish rear wheel-drive ride to the vanishing point, the reborn Challenger is as good as any, and considerably better than most.