Electric propulsion has become the new standard for automobiles. Everyone in the industry is collectively working overtime to dish out new methods of sustainable transportation to ensure the survival of our species. The decision is unanimous: gasoline must go. Yet, the Dodge Challenger still exists.
For how long? Who can say. But it can still be had with not one, not two but four available flavors of V8. And one of them pumps out 840 goddamn horsepower. In 2017, an era when zero emission mobility has never been so crucial to our survival, that’s absolutely insane.
But here’s the dirty truth about the Dodge Challenger: during the time I had this T/A 392, everyone, and I mean everyone, from die
That’s because the Dodge Challenger is a reminder of where we come from. It’s a rolling relic of a time that’s slowly vanishing before our eyes. And that makes everyone sad.
This isn’t a car; it’s a 4,200-pound V8-powered middle finger to the future of the automobile. Which is why it deserves its spot on planet Earth.
(Full disclosure: FCA Canada prepared a Dodge Challenger T/A with a manual transmission for me to drive for a week. The car was delivered clean and with a full tank of gas.)
What Is It?
It’s not a Hellcat, nor a Demon, but it doesn’t stop this Dodge from being fun and totally badass nevertheless.
T/A stands for Trans-Am, an SCCA racing series from the 1970s in which the old Challenger would compete in back in the days. The package is more-or-less a throwback to that era and comes in the form of aesthetic add-ons and some cool bolt-on performance bits that end up doing more noise than actually making the Challenger go any faster.
The T/A can be had in both 5.7 and 6.4-liter variants. I had the latter. It slots right under the SRT 392 in the Challenger lineup. In T/A form, the 6.4-liter’s power figures remain untouched at 485 horsepower and 475 lb-ft of torque.
That number may not sound as magical as 840, but the T/A does wear some Hellcat-inspired design cues that should work at giving that Mustang driver in the other lane a bit of a scare before deciding to take you on.
All Challenger T/As get a massive and functional center-mounted hood scoop, which feeds air into a conical “P-flow” style air filter. As with the Hellcat, the T/A gets two air intake holes punched right through its headlights.
Old school hood pins help keep the hood shut, but still require pulling on the clamp to release it. And all T/A’s get a matte black hood, roof, trunk and side stripe, as well as retro Challenger T/A handwritten lettering.
Finally, a performance exhaust, only available for the 6.4-liter cars, ensures you’ll piss off your entire neighborhood every morning on your way to work. And a sweet combo of wider, vadered-out wheels as well as massive Brembo brakes complete the “get the fuck out of my way” package.
You might also rejoice over the fact that the default transmission for the Challenger T/A is a TREMEC six-speed manual. That’s the one I had.
Why Does It Matter?
With the advent of electric cars and autonomous driving just around the corner, honest-to-goodness, naturally aspirated sports cars with a stick shift are becoming harder and harder to come across. The Challenger T/A is such a car.
And while its direct competitors, the Camaro and the Mustang, have morphed into full-fledged sports coupes that can now outlap some European exotics at the Nürburgring, the old and heavy Dodge Challenger is the only true muscle car we have left. It’s here for the drag races, baby.
Fundamentally though, the reason this car still exists and keeps getting more and more powerful each year is because Dodge is selling quite a few of them. Americans bought over 64,000 of these things last year. So don’t blame Dodge for its existence, blame people. It’s not bad for a platform as old and paid-for as this.
Meanwhile, Subaru only sold about 4,000 BRZs, and Nissan only wishes it could ship as many Maximas as Challengers.
I didn’t expect to like the Dodge Challenger as much as I do now. Each time I’d see a V8-powered one on the road, it always seemed to be nothing more than an all-show-no-go douchebag mobile, annoyingly revving out its obnoxiously loud engine at every street corner, burning up its rear tires furiously the moment it finds an empty parking lot.
But once I got behind the wheel of this super large American coupe, fired up its low-strung, bellowing V8, depressed its smooth and easy clutch pedal, and got the heavily fortified manual gearbox into gear, I quickly felt at ease with the brute. This car may look scary at first glance, but it’s actually a big softy.
The T/A is also very loud. So loud in fact, that while I was casually driving around in traffic in it, enjoying the subtle exhaust pops it would fart out as I’d let go of the gas, a police interceptor quickly stormed up in my rearview mirror, followed me for a full mile, closely inspecting the car’s exhaust to make sure it was legit, and took the time to properly identify me in the event that I would wreak havoc
k in the area later that night.
The officer didn’t pull me over, but it was enough to remind me how easily this car can unsettle the force.
And that’s the thing I love the most about this car. You don’t want to be polite when driving a Challenger. All you want to do is let it loose in the wild, and binge on the intoxicating, yet highly addictive decibels that spew out of its massive dual exhaust pipes.
Suddenly, I had become the douchebag. I was revving the shit out of its engine the moment I’d encounter a Prius or a Leaf, blipping the throttle when approaching intersections just to spawn a reaction. People despised me. Planet Earth wanted me gone. And I didn’t give one flying fuck.
Not many. The car does wallow about worryingly when going a bit fast on a country road, as if Dodge did it on purpose to give the Challenger the scary-as-shit feeling from the old cars. It handles well, but feels heavy and not what you would call “confidence inspiring”.
The Challenger also has an awkward seating position. The seats are hard, and there’s constantly a huge lump around the middle of the seat which protrudes straight into your back preventing the car from being truly comfortable for a road trip.
It’s also really large, and visibility kind of sucks, especially out the rear, making it hard to park. When you live in a city like Montréal that’s swarming with cyclists and parking spaces are nonexistent, you hate this car and end up blipping the throttle deeper and deeper out of anger.
Honestly, once you’ve peeled away all the power, the noise and the drama from the Challenger, it’s actually a decent car. It’s easy to drive – as long as you’re not trying to park it. And that suspension is so compliant over the rough stuff, that there are no unwanted rattles inside the car, and no cheap-feeling chassis quibbles neither.
It also doesn’t feel like a bad quality product in there. It feels well assembled. The Uconnect infotainment system is simple and easy to use, and the entire cabin is quiet as hell.
There’s also a usable trunk and rear seats. Accessing the rear bench is a bit tricky being a two-door and all, but thanks to opulent doors, ingress and egress is doable, even if you’re a big human like me. Once back there, you should do fine as far as head and leg clearance go. But don’t be claustrophobic, because no one will see you scream for help through those tiny little rear windows.
I’d daily the Challenger T/A 392 if it wasn’t for its god-awful fuel economy. I was lucky if I got 20 mpg on the highway. I guess that’s the price to pay for six-point-four liters of displacement.
Because the Challenger T/A 392 has 485 horsepower and because my tester was fitted with the Super Track Pak, which adds a lowered suspension, Bilstein shocks, a three-mode stability control and a launch control system, I just had to bring it to its natural element: the drag strip.
Over there I found out that the best way to properly launch the Challenger T/A 392 and prevent it from squatting there peeling off all the rubber it has left, isn’t by completely removing traction control, but rather leaving it in Sport mode, set the launch control system to about 3,000 rpm, dump the clutch, and raise hell.
And man, does the damn thing pull hard. In. Every. Single. Gear.
That lump of iron Dodge calls an engine growls and shrieks as it shoves you violently into your seat all the way to its 6,400 rpm redline. The sound is much more raw and mechanical than the Hellcat’s turbine whining blur. You hear the intake grabbing giant gulps of air, and the exhaust rumbling underneath your seat.
This is all engine. No supercharger or turbo helping it out, just 6.4 liters of raw Detroit muscle echoing down Sanair Super Speedway’s full mile straightaway as the car thundered down the track at blistering speeds - braaaaaaaagghh!
Does it feel slower than a Hellcat? It does. But don’t worry, the T/A is still fast, and sounds equally pissed off.
In Sport mode, the engine is “optimized” to deliver maximum performance. And the TREMEC gearbox feels solid, like it can take power shifts for days. As I dumped down the gears, plowing through the track, the Challenger kept leaping forward in anticipation, as if telling me “is that all you’ve got chump?”, but always remained stable, never trying to throw me out of my line, unlike that Mustang GT that was trying to keep up in the other corridor. Which I beat.
Again, that’s where the Challenger’s suspension tuning gets its merits. It can both be soft and cuddly on a broken country road, but will handle the immense heaps of power you throw at its rear wheel without a breaking a sweat.
As I crossed the quarter-mile mark, lights flashing, signaling me it was time to slow down, I had pulled the stunt in 12.85, and my dopamine levels were through the roof. Meanwhile, the Challenger was just warming up.
The Dodge Challenger T/A 392 is a good value if what you’re looking for is the maximum amount of performance for your dollar. Remember, a Hellcat costs at least $60,000 or so, and chances are you’ll never really exploit all that available power in your lifetime.
Also, I drove a Hellcat, and it’s kind of a handful.
The T/A 392, on the other hand, not only offers a better balance of performance and everyday usability, it sells for a mere $44,995 ($58,490 CAN). Even with a few options added on like the Super Track Pak package and Alpine premium sound system, it’ll set you back $46,330 ($63,320 CAN). That’s cheap considering the amount of power, street cred and acceleration you’ll get from your car.
If you can muster the gas bills, then I’d say go buy one now with a stick before they’re all extinct.
I may not have been the king of the drag strip with my T/A; some modded GT-R’s and Corvettes pulverized me, but I did kill a few Mustangs and humiliated some Hondas. At the end of of the evening, my big guy had held its own quite well, I had gotten a shitload of fun, everyone loved the way the car looked and instantly recognized its bellowing V8 when I was ripping through its gears down the strip.
The day we’ll be drag racing in our silent, egg-shaped electric cars, we’ll miss the Dodge Challenger’s endearing qualities.
William Clavey is an automotive journalist from Montréal, Québec, Canada. He runs claveyscorner.com.