Rental Review: 2017 Dodge Challenger R/T - Cheap, Fast, and Dirty, but Maybe Not Cheap or Fast Enough

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
by Mark "Bark M." Baruth

“Rumble, young man, Rumble!”

— Muhammad Ali

It’s strange to think that the modern iteration of the Dodge Challenger has now been in production for twice as long as its inspiration. One has to either admire or despair at the way that Dodge has managed to keep this one-trick pony on the lips of the automotive universe, simply by throwing more and more horsepower at it. FCA knows their audience — who cares that the platform is more than a decade old? Just make it faster! Would any of us be surprised to see a 1,000 horsepower Challenger revealed next year? Hell, why not just make it so powerful that it rips itself in half?

But, as with most performance-oriented cars, the real cheddar comes from the volume models. The Deep South is rotten with V6-powered Challys, and the original 3.5-liter, 250-horsepower models are the star of many a Buy Here Pay Here Lot. And while the 2015 and newer Pentastars, which are masterfully mated with the ZF 8HP automatic, can be enjoyable to drive, let’s be the realest here, k? Nobody lusts after a Challenger with too few cylinders. It’s the HEMI rumble that you want. And the Dodge Challenger R/T delivers it, albeit in 5.7-liter form, and it does it at a price that’s right in line with the average new car price in these United States of America.

I selected the Challenger R/T from the rental row at Miami International Airport (Pro tip: if you want the best rental car selection, fly in on a Sunday — NOBODY flies in on Sunday), resplendent in what some might call Rental White, and what Dodge would call White Knuckle, but on a Challenger, it can only be called Vanishing Point White. From the outside, it’s a handsome steed. 20-inch painted rims come standard, and the limited badging — a little R/T here, a little HEMI there — is a tasteful hint that there’s something more than just the Pentastar under the hood.

When placed side-by-side with the Ecoboost Mustang convertible rentals, as it was by my good friends at National, one is quickly reminded of just how big the Chally is. The modern Mustang is already far too large and bloated, but the Challenger outsizes it. This isn’t a bad thing, especially if your pony car schedule includes more cruising than tracking. If you plan to make any use at all of the back seat, the Challenger’s extra bloat will be worth it, and the additional trunk space comes in handy, as well.

A car this immense requires immense presence. Not to worry. To my delight, merely starting the Challenger in the MIA garage caused several surrounding car alarms to go haywire. This is, of course, by design — the rumble of the 5.7-liter V8 is distinctive, easily differentiated from the sixer, and nearly as loud inside the cabin as out.

Oh, no. I mentioned the cabin. Well, might as well get this sad tale out of the way.

It sucks. I mean, it suuuuuuhhhhhhhhhcks. It’s a depressing, sad, defeating place to spend your time. This infotainment screen belongs in a Journey, not in a R/T Challenger. It’s not even purposefully minimalistic, like the stereo system found in the 2012/2013 Boss 302. It’s just cheap —if you want the real uConnect screen, it’s gonna cost you another grand. And it doesn’t get better elsewhere inside the Chally’s interior — materials are visibly bargain-oriented. In fact, there’s only one teensy little redeeming factor contained within.

Okay, this is an admittedly terrible picture, but hopefully you can make out that little “SPORT” button on the console. That button, my friends, is the key to unlocking the aural masterpiece that is the Dodge Challenger R/T. One little push, and bam, the exhaust becomes a cacophonous symphony, thanks to higher shift points from the 8-speed.

But whereas the ZF transmission and the Pentastar seem to be a match made in heaven, the 5.7 and the ZF are more like a match made on Tinder — they never actually talk to each other. The transmission always wants to upshift before your ears think it should. Just when you’re starting to make a nice little ruckus, nope, sorry, we’re shifting now! For true aural enjoyment, you’ll want to take care of the shifting yourself. For hot 0-to-60 runs, you’ll want to follow the expertise of the gentleman in this thrilling video below:

The square 245 all-season tire setup does nothing to inspire performance driving in the hearts of men. The rears will break loose under any significant throttle, and the fronts wash out rather easily. They do, however, make excellent squealy sounds from a standing start, and when driving around the mean streets of Miami, the combination of the roaring 5.7 and the smoke and keening from the tires at red lights will make you an instant target of Dade County’s finest.

Unfortunately, that’s the only time anybody will take note of you in the Challenger R/T. The sheer ubiquitous nature of the Challenger, virtually visually unchanged for a decade, means that a car that might have gotten you some looks back in the day is now the social equivalent of an Altima. Nobody will mistake the R/T for a Hellcat Widebody, either in looks or sound.

All that being said, there’s an excellent case to be made for the base model of the Challenger R/T as a daily driver. With all the incentives currently offered, a Chally just like my rental can be had for $31,430, and that’s before a single bit of negotiation takes place. Add a real infotainment system and some summer tires, and you’re still at just over $33k — or, in other words, exactly the average US new car transaction price. For that, you get a car that will run a mid 13 in the 1/4, sounds like the business, and gets, well, horrible gas mileage. I averaged about 19 mpg. However, it can actually be used for four adults, and will allow you to put more than one suitcase in the trunk.

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
Mark "Bark M." Baruth

More by Mark "Bark M." Baruth

Join the conversation
2 of 59 comments
  • Smokingclutch Smokingclutch on Sep 28, 2017

    I've had a 2010 Challenger R/T Classic in Hemi Orange for six-and-a-half years and just under 66,000 miles. At the time, the SRT8 had the 6.1L and only 50 hp more. The chassis and brake upgrades were nice, but not for what was, at the time, a $9,000 difference, out the door. I've had precisely two problems with the car in the time I've owned it. One, the clutch would occasionally not fully disengage. Turned out it was an issue on some 2009 and 2010 six-speed Challengers. Chrysler had a service bulletin on it and the dealer fixed it by lubricating the splines on the input shaft of the transmission. No cost to me, of course. The other issue was a torn rubber seal at the front of the hood. This turned out to be a common issue; Chrysler released an updated part and this was replaced under warranty. Even here in Orange County, California, the car gets regular compliments and positive feedback. The relatively minor exterior changes since the car's introduction mean most folks still think it's a new car. (Regular maintenance and detailing helps, too.) The fact that some people seem to think it's no more interesting than an Altima are a testament to the fact that it's still selling well for a two-door coupe, but their experience isn't mine. The large back seat makes the car quite practical for two couples to go out to dinner; of course, with Uber and Lyft, I rarely drive when going out on the weekends. Maybe more people will choose coupes in the future if they aren't having kids (as my wife and I are not) - I know I have no intention of owning a four-door of any stripe as my primary vehicle in the future. The trunk holds as much as you could reasonably need for a couple to take a long road trip vacation; if you need more, the rear seats fold down. I do prefer the newer Challenger interior in some ways (especially the steering wheel, ventilated seats, and better UConnect with a larger screen and Bluetooth audio streaming), but the older dash design leaves the interior with a more spacious feel. I've considered trading it on a either a new Hellcat or a Shelby GT350, but I'm enjoying the lowest cost years of car ownership right now; it's paid off, but still fairly new and with low mileage, and I recently bought a house in Orange County, which is not a cheap endeavor. My only real complaints are that it doesn't have Bluetooth streaming for music - just for phone calls - and that it's sometimes a bit hard to park. I've owned mostly Japanese cars (mostly Mazdas with two Civic Sis thrown into the mix) but I have been very satisfied with the Challenger, enough that I'd own another.

  • Edsel Maserati Edsel Maserati on Oct 01, 2017

    It's sort of acquired the status once enjoyed by VW Bugs. It barely changes, it keeps going on, and it often gets a smile. A buddy of mine just rented an orange Hemi recently and his wife posted a heroic picture of him leaning against it on Facebook. The car clearly made him happy as hell. His wife thinks he's now going to buy one. I'd love to know the regional sales statistics on this car. I barely saw any in the NY Tristate/Connecticut area. The 300 was seen often enough, but not the Challenger. Nor did I see any in San Francisco. But Austin, Texas? Man, it's everywhere. The 392 Hemi that I drove for a week early in its production run got horrible gas mileage. And it seemed beefy. But I liked it. The rear-seat passengers never say anything about crawling behind the front seat to get there? I've got to say, whoever came up with the nickname "Chally" ought to be chained to the bumper and dragged a few miles.

  • KOKing "One of the most interesting parts of this situation is that Stellantis, and by extension, the Chrysler Group, is increasingly considered a foreign company instead of a traditional American automaker."Does that mean Simca and Hillman are coming back?
  • Redapple2 34 yr in Michigan salt?
  • Mike-NB2 Zero. Not interested at all. I often don't have my phone with me, and if I do, I completely ignore it. Unless it were to catch fire, of course. But I'm old, so that has to be taken into account too.
  • Urlik It’s only important to me for navigation. OEM’s do Nav all wrong and charge for the privilege. While once they charged big money for map updates, they charge subscriptions for the privilege of a worse Nav than you have on your phone.The other stuff mirroring brings is mere gravy.
  • Rna65689660 Zero interest