2017 Dodge Challenger: ‘Strongest Muscle in America’

By Mike Blake - Carlisle Events
Thursday, September 7, 2017

Dodge entered the American “Muscle Car” Wars with the 1970 Challenger, debuting in fall 1969 with a Chrysler “E-body” short-deck, long-hood platform it shared with the Plymouth Barracuda. With powertrain choices that ranged from a 145-hp 225-cubic-inch I-6, to a 426-ci HEMI V-8 that thundered out 425 horses (there was also a larger 440-ci V-8 that produced 390 horsepower), Challenger’s first run ended in 1974.

Back as a retro-luxury-musclecar in 2008, Challenger recreated its 1970 look as an old-school muscle street machine with a long nose, front end skirt and hood scoop, in a sedan package. Following a re-design in 2015 that built on the 1970s architecture, Challenger added a few trim and wheel options last year, and this year, with its 707-hp HELLCAT and other trims that stampede out from 305 to 485 horses, the Challenger is being marketed by Dodge as “the most powerful muscle car ever,” and “The Strongest Muscle in America.”

New for this year are all-new Dodge Challenger T/A and Challenger T/A 392 models; heritage-inspired cosmetic styling advances to several HEMI-powered trims; wider, 20 x 9-inch and 20 x 9.5-inch wheels with high-performance Goodyear and Pirelli tires; increased stopping power with ultra-high performance Brembo brakes; Satin Black exterior graphics; sport seats; a new directed cold-air hood system; a cold-air induction system, and “Air Catcher” headlights inspired by the Challenger SRT Hellcat.

Also new are performance bolstered seats and Dodge performance steering wheel with available die-cast paddle shifters; standard Active Exhaust; FCA’s fourth-generation Uconnect infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration; standard Houndstooth cloth upholstery, and a new 8.4-inch touchscreen with navigation offers multi-touch gestures with pinch, tap and swipe capability.

With 10 models and 13 variations offered, the rear-wheel drive Challenger is assembled in Brampton, Ontario, Canada, with a unitized steel body, a 1971-style split grille, projector headlamps with halo light-emitting diode surrounds and LED tail lamps. In the rear are a body-colored rear spoiler and dual-chromed exhaust tips integrated into the lower rear fascia. My 4175-lb. test Challenger R/T measured an aerodynamic 197.9 inches in length, 75.7 inches in width and 57.5 inches in height on a 116.2-inch wheelbase, providing running ground clearance of 5.2 inches.

Regarding power, 2017 Challengers are available with four engine choices and either manual or automatic transmissions. The 6.2-liter supercharged HEMI V-8 that muscles-up the Challenger HELLCAT with 707 horsepower and 650 lb.-ft. torque, is EPA rated at 13mpg in the city and 22mpg on the highway. A 6.4-liter HEMI V-8 is also available that delivers 485 hp / 475 lb.-ft. torque and is rated at 15/city and 25/highway. The 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 and its 372 horses and 400 lb.-ft. of torque that powered my test Challenger, is EPA rated at 16/city and 25/highway; and a 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 is also offered, delivering 305 hp / 268 lbs.-ft., rated at 19/city, 30/highway (RWD).

My Challenger R/T test car was musclecar quick, both on the highway and on the track. I took on the dragstrip in a 6-second-flat (hand-timed) zero-to-60-mph dash, and a 14.4-second quarter-mile. For comparison, the top-of-the-line trim, Challenger SRT Hellcat with its 707-hp 6.2-liter supercharged HEMI V-8 has been factory tested in a 3-second 0-60mph sprint and a National Hot Rod Association-certified quarter-mile elapsed time of 11.2 seconds with street tires (10.8 seconds on race slicks).

But my Challenger R/T and its 375-hp 5.7-liter HEMI engine mated to a Tremec 6-speed manual transmission will garner way more sales, so I tested it that way and was more than satisfied with its performance. While there is slight hesitation when pedal stomping at speed to pass or overtake a hill on the interstate, it is undeniably powerful and attacks the highway confidently while being smooth and a head-turner around town.

Gentle for passengers, Challenger’s independent front and indy five-link rear suspension smoothes out most irregularities and while there is some float at high speed reminiscent of 1970s road feel, the available SRT-tuned suspensions in Sport Mode gives a track-worthy feel.

Inside the 2017 Dodge Challenger is a performance-focused cockpit, featuring world-class materials, execution and technology, also inspired by the interior of the 1971 Challenger. The cabin seats five and is accommodating with 39.3 inches of front headroom and 37.1 inches in row two; leg room of 42.0 inches in front and 33.1 inches in the rear, and shoulder room of 58.5 and 53.9.

Safetywise, the 2017 Dodge Challenger has earned a five-star overall safety rating from NHTSA and includes more than 70 standard safety and security features.

The base Challenger SXT and its 3.6-liter engine starts at $26,995 and the line-up runs through 10 trim versions, topping off at the SRT® Hellcat at $64,195 base. My review R/T is third up and gets the 5.7-liter HEMI to base at $32,995. Mine had the fun-to-drive 6-speed manual transmission (an automatic 8-speed trans would have added $1500). The Cold Weather Group option added a 180-amp alternator, heated front seats and heated steering wheel for $495; the Driver Convenience Group added Blind Spot and Rear Cross Path Detection, High Intensity Discharge Headlamps, ParkSense® Rear Park Assist System, power multi-function mirrors with manual fold-away and remote start system for $1295; we upgraded the audio with a 276-watt amplifier and six premium speakers with the $795 Sound Group; and a power sunroof added $1195. Finally, a modern R/T hood stripe was added for $495. Destination charges of $1095 put my 2017 Challenger R/T at $38,365, but incentives of up to $4250 may be available in some regions, so check out your local dealer for applicable incentives.

> Visit www.CarlisleEvents.com for more on the automotive hobby.

Mike Blake, former editor of KIT CAR magazine, joined Carlisle Events as senior automotive journalist in 2004. He's been a "car guy" since the 1960s and has been writing professionally for about 30 years.

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