Car Review: 2014 Dodge Challenger R/T Shaker

I had a meeting at Harley-Davidson Canada’s head offices last week. The Booth manse being particularly blessed with snazzy wheels lately, I had the choice of taking an Audi RS 7, Lamborghini’s amazing Aventador or a Dodge Challenger. Said RS 7 is a young sophisticate’s dream, all sultry shape and silly performance. The Lambo, 700 horsepower of Italian fury and Filippo Perini-penned sharp-creased angles, is every schoolboy’s fantasy. The Challenger, meanwhile, is blessed with less power — if ever 375 horsepower could be considered lesser — and a substantially smaller price tag.

But, the Challenger just happens to be the most authentic of the current pony car resto-resurrections that we traditionalists do so love and, being the first of the “Shaker” models (so very faithful to the famed 1970s Challenger R/T), this one evoked even more rampant nostalgia than normal. It also just happened to be painted orange — Header Orange in official Dodge marketing-speak — with black striping, Harley-Davidson’s official colours. Guess which one I took?

2014 Dodge Challenger R/T Shaker

2014 Dodge Challenger R/T Shaker
Chris Balcerak, Driving

Meeting all manner of Harley-Davidson personnel, they would not have even raised their heads from the corporate ledgers — their’s being very profitable indeed, by the way — for a German luxury car, no matter how many turbochargers or horsepower it boasted. But a piece of American muscle history? You’d have sworn I rode in on a gold-leafed Electra Glide with Willie G. himself riding shotgun.

How do modern muscle cars stack up against the originals?

Harley and Chrysler — at least the portion of the Italian/American automaker that produces the Challenger — share much in common. Both are modernizations of veritable American icons, their inners all modern and fuel injected, the retro-styling hiding a sophistication (and, it must be said, an environmental friendliness) that the originals couldn’t even dream of. They are thoroughly modern examples of internal combustion dressed up as yesteryear’s heroes, all wrapped up in styling so faithful to the original that their adherents can, if they find rose-tinted glasses thick enough, actually transport themselves back to the simpler time they crave.

And it is this faithfulness to the original, Dodge’s ability to recreate the original ’70s icon in modern garb, that is the Challenger’s calling card as this car is, from a purely performance oriented point of view, the lesser of the three modernized pony cars sold by the Big Three.

One can't help but get a sense of sweet nostalgia looking at this ride.

One can’t help but get a sense of sweet nostalgia looking at this ride.
Chris Balcerak, Driving

Indeed, read any road test of the big Dodge on the blogosphere and the naysayers lament its overweight chassis, relatively subdued engines (at least compared to the powerhouses coming out of Ford and Chevy lately) and handling that is best described as sporty sedan (it is built on the same platform as the 300 sedan) rather than cutting edge sports car.

And, they’d be right. I’d even throw in a criticism of the interior that, while extremely well accoutred and featuring excellent materials/craftsmanship, looks like it too could have been lifted from the company’s flagship sedan. This, I am assured, will be corrected for the 2015 model year, but the fact remains that, if you are buying a car simply for performance — both in a straight line or around a corner — you’d be much better off in a Mustang or a Camaro. Chevrolet’s new Z/28, for instance, is nothing short of phantasmagorical, actually justifying comparison, if you can believe it, with Porsche’s 911 or even Nissan’s outrageous GT-R.

Nor is the new Shaker edition of the Challenger about to alter the balance of power. Yes, it’s powered by a “Hemi” V8, but it’s the 375 horsepower 5.7-litre version rather than the more powerful 6.4-litre item, though even that comparatively fire-breathing option pales in comparison to the Camaro’s ZL1 and the various Cobra editions of the ‘Stang. And, thanks to its sedan roots, hefty 1,852-kilogram curb weight and comparatively soft suspension, the Challenger — Super Track Pack and 20-inch tires or no — is more of a Jaguar-like GT car than corner-carving Z/28.

Unfortunately for Chevrolet, it turns out that giant-killing performance — especially of the twisty road kind — isn’t always why people buy current American muscle cars (a quick visit to Harley, which has never been a leader in performance, might have clued them in on that little detail). Indeed, again judging from the blogosphere, all of the Challenger’s loyal fans — and they are legion — are well aware that, compared with the top-of-the-line Camaros and Mustangs, their car is something of a cruiser, yes blessed with a fairly powerful V8, but outgunned nonetheless in both the engine and chassis departments.

2014 Dodge Challenger R/T Shaker

2014 Dodge Challenger R/T Shaker
Chris Balcerak, Driving

And they’re just fine with it. Time after time, comment after comment, the same theme is reiterated. The reason that modern day Challenger fans are so loyal is that it has the one thing Chevrolet’s Camaro lacks: Authenticity. Indeed, happy R/T owners openly admit that their car is bigger, heavier and slower than the competition. If they are indeed looking for rationalizations, they’ll note its superior rear seat room — a surprising quality to be looking for in a muscle car, you must admit — and its superior ride compared with the Ford and Chevy. But eventually the consensus always returns to the same theme; while the Camaro looks like it was penned by a 16-year-old Transformers fan playing with Plasticine, the R/T was obviously designed by a devoted Mopar fan with a healthy respect for tradition. Drive what you love and love what you drive is a common theme on Challenger threads, adherents obviously not at all bothered by any possible performance deficit.

Dodge, of course, is trying to narrow that performance gap. Next year’s Shaker edition is rumoured to be getting the 6.4-litre, 470-hp edition of Chrysler’s Hemi. The company also just announced an even wilder Hellcat version of the Challenger, the addition of a supercharger seeing horsepower swell to a seismic shifting 620 hp.

But even if it’s unlikely this breathed-on version of the iconic Dodge will be able to bridge the handling gap to the new Z/28 version of the Camaro, it matters not. It will at least be closer in performance and it would seem that, when your car looks this good, closer is more than good enough.

The 2014 Dodge Challenger R/T Shaker is powered by a

The 2014 Dodge Challenger R/T Shaker is powered by a “Hemi” V8, 5.7-litre engine that produces 375 horsepower.
Chris Balcerak, Driving

The Specs

Type of vehicle Rear-wheel-drive sports coupe
Engine 5.7L overhead valve V8
Power 375 hp @ 5,150 rpm; 410 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4,300 rpm
Transmission Six-speed manual
Brakes Four-wheel disc with ABS
Tires P245/45ZR20
Price (base/as tested) $38,095/$53,035
Destination charge $1,595
Fuel economy (L/100 km) 14.0 city, 8.5 highway
Standard features Power door locks, windows and power, heated mirrors, dual-zone air conditioning with micron air filter and solar sensor, UConnect 276-watt AM/FM/CD/MP3 player with six Boston Acoustics speakers, Sirius satellite radio, Bluetooth streaming audio, steering navigation system, hand-free communication, cruise control, UConnect information display, tilt steering wheel, leather seats, power front seats, heated front seats, auto headlights, dual front air bags, dual front side air bags, side curtain air bags, Anti-lock Braking (ABS), Electronic Stability Control, Tire Pressure Monitoring system, ParkSense rear parking assist system

About David Booth