We've all seen reviews of top-of-the-line cars and trucks, but how many people actually buy them? So you're on a budget. Welcome to The Regular Guy, where regular guys and gals can read about the cars normal people buy.
I love the way the 2015 Dodge Challenger looks. It is, bar none, the most '70s muscle car-looking new vehicle money can buy. The Chevrolet Camaro, Ford Mustang and Fiat 500 all make passable work of paying homage to their roots, but when a Challenger passes by, particularly when it's accompanied by the throaty roar of a Hemi V-8, you can almost hear the blaring disco trumpets and funk guitars from the "Vanishing Point" soundtrack.
Naturally, when I first saw the Challenger SRT Hellcat—seriously, 707 horsepower!—I fell in love. That is until I priced one out with Dodge's handy monthly payment calculator. Even when I plugged in the lower interest rates my bank offers, there was no way I could afford a $62,000 car that cost more $850 a month in payments (on a 6-year loan), plus several hundred more per month for insurance and property taxes. It was looking as if my dream of reliving the '70s with a newer, more reliable car was going to cost as much or more than my monthly rent in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Sure, as there were then, there are people now who would gladly move to a trailer (next to a filling station) in a sketchy but low-rent area to afford such a car, but if you're most people, you probably aren't willing to go that far. Even the other V-8-powered Challenger models, although they have plenty of power on tap, require staggering payments every month. It seemed as if the days of Dodge muscle cars standing as an everyman competitor to the competition from Ford and General Motors were gone. Or were they?
That's where the Challenger SXT comes in. I know what you're thinking; Blech! That's the V-6 model. Heaven forbid! That was my first thought, too. When I told friends I was trying one out, my words issued forth in the form of an apology. I had seen - or heard, rather - Challenger SXTs around town. The flat buzz that wheezes from the car's exhaust during full throttle acceleration doesn't fit the its otherwise muscley persona.
But the SXT still looks like a Challenger, and feels like one when you're in the driver's seat, staring down its long snout. If you can tune out the anemic V-6 noise that screams for attention like a panhandler bleating out the well-rehearsed list of travails that led him to this low point - Dodge offers a nice Alpine stereo system that can help with this - the SXT is a fantastic car.
Don't get me wrong - if you have visions of drag strip glory in your imagined future, this is not the car for you. But if you like the aesthetic of a '70s-muscle car and are keen on having it in a package that's affordable and practical, the SXT is a solid option.
As with other trim levels, the SXT looks and feels pre-Watergate, but has a more trustworthy suspension than the corner wallowing straight line kings of old. You can take a corner or sharp curve quickly in the modern day Challenger interpretation without worrying about excessive body roll throwing the car into a ditch, guardrail or building. Dodge offers track packages that offer stiffer suspensions and bigger brakes and wheels, but if you're not going to be driving on a track, why bother?
The Challenger is a big car, which makes it great as a road trip car. It also has a relatively large trunk and a useable back seat. The back seats fold down, and I was able to stretch out full-length and take a nap when I got tired of driving. The infotainment system - underpinned by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' UConnect system - is a solid OK. It works. It didn't always remember that I had turned off the radio and HVAC systems before shutting down the car, which led to a few rude fan/static awakenings when I started the car after being away for a while. The menus that appeared on my base model's tiny-but-adequate screen weren't always straightforward to navigate, but then not many are. Someday, automotive computers - in the cars everyday schmoes like myself can afford - will be as nice as the tablets Apple sells. Until then, there' always the option of plugging in a smartphone and letting it do the work for you.
The SXT's worst feature is also its best: the 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6. Rated at 305 horsepower and 268 pound feet of torque, the engine is no slouch. The car's instrument panel display screen has a feature that will allow the driver to test its 0-to-60 mph launch. I managed a 6.1-second run, which wasn't bad at all, especially when you consider that the top-of-the-line 1970 Challenger was only a few tenths of a second faster. The car will hit triple-digit speeds without issue, and its 8-speed automatic transmission gets it there with firm, smooth shifts at both part- and full-throttle.
Of course, you're not going to be bragging about 0-to-60 times and top-end speeds if you own a V-6-powered Challenger. That would be silly, and if you're actually buying at the SXT level, you're probably not that sort of person. You're simply going to enjoy driving a sleek-looking car that gets reasonable fuel economy. The EPA rates the SXT at 19 mpg in the city and 30 on the highway. My real-world driving—which was admittedly right foot-heavy—netted me about 21 mpg around town and 28 on the highway (the latter at speeds of around 90 mph).
You might think this particular model is destined for the rental car lot, and perhaps it is. But despite its bantamweight mill and less-than-stellar infotainment cred, the base-level SXT offers an enjoyable driving experience with a look that screams, "I'm American as hell!" Would I buy one myself? Maybe, but still there's a gland or something buried deep in my brain that shuts out rationality and secretes copious amounts of squander-impulse chemicals when it hears the Stygian rumble of a scantly muffled V-8 engine. That, my friends, is a force that's difficult to ignore.
By the numbers: 2015 Dodge Challenger SXT
MSRP: $28,485 (includes $995 destination charge)
Power and drive wheels: 3.6-liter, 305-hp V6, rear-wheel drive
Transmission: 8-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy: 19/30 city/highway
In showrooms: Now