First drive 2015 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus: Yes. Yes. Yes

The 2015 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus (Photo: Greg Engle)

The 2015 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus (Photo: Greg Engle)

A few years ago the buzzword in the auto industry was retro. There was the PT Cruiser, the Prowler, the HRT; all of which were polarizing at best. Then Ford retooled the Mustang in 2005 and had a hit on their hands. In 2008, Dodge reintroduced the Challenger, and five years later Chevy reintroduced the Camaro.

Few would argue that the retooled Mustang was anything less than a hit; the Challenger not so much, the Camaro, well it seems to resemble nothing like the original Camaro.

For 2015 however, Dodge has tweaked the Challenger and my oh my have they done well. We have driven Mustangs, lusted after them, loved them, proposed marriage to them. The Camaro and the older Challenger, not so much. But when we were recently delivered a 2015 Challenger to drive for a week, we had to stop and simply take it all in. Our first impression can be summed up thusly: Wow

Dodge did some visual updates on the Challenger for 2015. The new model is more retro and relies heavily on inspiration from the 1971 Challenger.  There are now LED halo-ring headlights, with turn signals that are integrated into the gorgeous front end that sports split-port grille inserts and smoother lines along the front and the back.  There are also 20 inch wheels that are perfectly matched to the new look.  While there are several paint combinations that use stripes, the SXT Plus we had was a beautiful straight non-striped jazz blue metallic color.

The stunning exterior carries over to the interior as well.  We had never seen the interior of the older Challengers, but this redesigned interior is even more retro and it is indeed like traveling back in time.  The RPM gauge and speedometer are round with a font reminiscent of the muscle cars of old. Sure there is a modern electronic screen in between but why use it?  There are polished aluminum inserts and leather-wrapped surfaces everywhere giving the interior a very upscale look and feel.

There are eight separate trim levels for the 2015 Challenger: SXT, SXT Plus (the one we had), the R/T, R/T Plus, R/T Shaker, R/T Plus Shaker, 6.4-liter Scat Pack and 392 HEMI Scat Pack Shaker. There are so many customization options , with a range of new paint colors, including retro shades like Sublime Green and B5 Blue. At the end of the day, no two Challengers need be identical.

By the way, there are also 14 different interior color and trim selections are available on the 2015 Challenger.  Our interior had a black and pearl scheme with pearl Nappa leather with Alcantara suede on the heated and ventilated seats that also have redesigned side bolsters and improved cushioning.  Our model had the updated 8.4-inch infotainment system that we’ve had experience with before and truth be told is one of the best in the industry.

The real fun however begins when the engine fires up.

Dodge got the attention of the automotive press when it announced that the Challenger SRT Hellcat will be offered with a 707-horsepower engine. (!).  So it was a little disappointing when we learned that our SXT Plus was powered by the 3.6-liter, Pentastar V-6 unit rated at 305 horsepower.  You can have the lesser models than the Hellcat; the R/T variants get the 5.7-liter Hemi with 375 horsepower and 410 pound-feet of torque; the 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 will deliver  485 horses and 475 pound-feet of torque into the Scat Pack and 392 Scat Pack Shaker models before moving up to the Hellcat.

Our first trip with the 3.6-liter engine though changed our minds right away.   The power is more than adequate for everyday driving; we’ve driven cars with far more horsepower and it seems that at some point there can actually be too much ponies under the hood for everyday driving.

This year the Challenger gets the all-new eight-speed automatic that shifts exactly when needed.  We found the small button on the dash marked “Sport” after a time.  We hadn’t noticed it at first, but engaging that mode and dialing up our favorite radio station, which just so happened to be playing the Doors, quickly took us to automotive nirvana.

The “Sport” mode in the Challenger SXT Plus unleashes a totally different driving experience. The engine note becomes a growl, and the throttle response is like a cheetah extending its claws and dashing across the open savannah chasing after prey.  It was really unlike anything else we had experienced in a car, ever.  In the “Sport” mode, the Challenger rockets off the line leaving traffic behind and a smile on your face.  It short, it becomes heaven with a gearshift.

This entire experience becomes even better when you see the price: The MSRP for a base model SXT Plus is $29,995. Our model had up charges for the Uconnect, the Technology group which includes blind spot mirrors, a back-up camera, adaptive cruise control with collision warning, and navigation. There was also the great sounding Premium Sound group and a power sunroof.  All that took our MSRP to a still very affordable $36,395. With features that normally cost a great deal more, the Dodge Challenger SXT Pus is nothing short of an outstanding value.

After spending a week with SXT Plus, seeing how practical it can be, with room for five adults, and a very roomy trunk combined with decent fuel mileage of 19 city, 30 highway and 23 combined,  the Challenger is a winner. It’s a grand slam home run to win the seventh game of the World Series in the bottom of the ninth inning.

We didn’t like this car, we loved it.  So much so that we are seriously considering buying one, and if you are in the market for a fun practical car that can deliver performance and decent gas mileage at a reasonable price, you should be considering it too.

The 2015 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus
MSRP: $29,995
MSRP (as tested with Driver Convenience, Technology Premium Groups and power sunroof): $36,365
Engine (as tested): 3.6-liter, Pentastar V-6 unit , 305 horsepower, 268 lb.-ft. of torque; Transmission, TorqueFlite eight-speed
0-60 time: 5.4 seconds
MPG (EPA estimated) 19 city, 30 highway, 23 combined
MPG (as tested in mixed conditions): 24

Exterior Dimensions

Wheelbase    116.0 Inches
Track, Front    63.0 Inches
Track, Rear 63.1 Inches
Overall Length    197.7 Inches
Overall Width    75.7 Inches
Overall Height    57.1 Inches

Interior Dimensions
Head Room    39.3 Inches
Legroom    42.0 Inches
Shoulder Room    58.2 Inches
Hip Room    54.6 Inches
Head Room    37.4 Inches
Legroom    32.6 Inches
Knee Clearance     1.2 Inches
Shoulder Room     53.9 Inches
Hip Room    48.6 Inches
Curb Weight: 3,834 lbs.
5-year / 100,000-mile powertrain limited warranty
3-year/36,000-mile basic limited warranty
5-year/100,000-mile roadside assistance

Greg Engle