Introduced in 2009 just as the Magnum wagon was being axed, the Dodge Challenger became an instant hit. That’s pretty incredible considering how bad the economy was at the time—not to mention the Chrysler Group. With the return of the Chevy Camaro a year later, Detroit’s Big Three renewed their battle for muscle car supremacy.
Dodge used a much different approach than its rivals, mind you. Their idea was to focus on pure power more than anything else, including handling and ride quality—just like in the glory days of muscle cars. Many people questioned the move, but that didn’t stop the company from enjoying a lot of success with the Camaro.
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Today, Dodge’s obsession with performance is widely established and recognized, and obviously the Challenger and Charger are the driving forces. The Journey and Grand Caravan were let go in recent years, despite their relative popularity, as they diluted the brand’s image.
The end of the line is coming, though. And fast. Both the Challenger and Charger will bow out after 2023 due to emission regulations (ironically, the Durango midsize SUV is safe) and also because the current platform inherited from the W211 Mercedes-Benz E-Class has maxed out. Oh, and there’s this thing called electrification, which will result in a new battery-powered Charger taking over next year.
Dealers are fighting for every single unit coming out of the Brampton assembly plant in Ontario, which will stop making the Charger/Challenger and Chrysler 300 on December 31, 2023. These cars have never been more valuable than they are now: a 2023 Challenger Scat Pack 392 carries about the same price as a Challenger SRT Hellcat model back in 2018 or 2019. Owners can make an outrageous amount of money by flipping the most extreme and most sought-after models.
The man who generously loaned us his Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye Jailbreak for a test drive got a pair of offers for $200,000, which he declined. For the record, it’s the most powerful Challenger you can find except for the almighty Demon 170, limited at 300 units packing up to 1,025 horsepower and sprinting from 0-60 mph in 1.66 seconds.
Standing in front of this mouthful of a car with 807 ponies hiding under the hood is admittedly an intimidating experience. Now imagine firing up the engine, especially with the available red ignition key that unlocks full power. Nicely finished in B5 Blue with racing stripes and flared fenders, the Challenger you see here is equipped with pretty much all the bells and whistles Dodge has to offer from the factory and even a few dealer-installed accessories. It turns heads, gets honked at and receives thumbs up wherever it goes. So much for finding a quiet place to snap a few pictures. At least the tinted windows provide a little bit of privacy.
We chose to hit the track at Mécaglisse in Notre-Dame-de-la-Merci, about 90 minutes north of Montreal, not only to get away from all the attention but also to push the gas-powered Challenger for one memorable final time.
Docile? It Depends…
The monstrous Dodge can be docile and even civilized when driven casually in Auto mode. Except for the exhaust note, which is anything but subtle. We’re not kidding: despite the stiff suspension, massive tires and large sway bars, this beast does have some good manners on the road. The seats are designed to accommodate the average American driver, with equal doses of comfort and support, while the solid body structure confirms the automaker’s improvements in build quality since 2009.
On the other hand, interior fit and finish is clearly not what you’d expect from such an expensive car. Cheap plastics, boring colours and dubious topstitching (optional) make for a disappointing cabin, one that compares unfavourably with those of Jeep and Ram. The modern yet retro-styled instrument cluster is still attractive, just like the 8.4-inch centre touchscreen complete with multiple performance-related apps.
Following a quick photoshoot, we went for a few hot laps behind the wheel of the Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye Jailbreak. Of course, testing the car’s limits on a tight track with no long straightaways like Mécaglisse proved impossible. We also didn’t want to return it to the owner with completely worn-out tires.
The hair-raising adrenaline rush produced by the big Dodge coupe comes from its acceleration prowess and surprising agility. Sure, it’s nowhere near as nimble as a Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE or Ford Mustang Shelby GT500, but more so than we remembered. We’re not saying anyone should get a crack at it, because this 807-horsepower Challenger requires skilled hands. However, the way the chassis, tires, transmission and all that muscle come together is really impressive.
Adding another dimension to the experience are the wicked sound effects that fill the ears at higher revs. The raucous exhaust is one thing, but we must say the supercharger whine is probably as loud as a locomotive. What a treat. Enjoy in moderation if you don’t want to be popping Tylenols, though.
The discontinuation of the Dodge Challenger as we know it marks the end of an era. The Ram 1500 TRX, Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat and Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 do stick around (for now), but if we had to pick, some of these monsters would have disappeared well before the Challenger. The current craze surrounding the final Chargers and Challengers has us thinking most performance enthusiasts feel the same way. Even law enforcement units are fighting to secure Charger Pursuits, knowing that they’ll soon have only SUVs and pickups to work with.
Fancy a Challenger? The time is now or never. By the way, the 6.4-litre HEMI-powered Scat Pack 392 models (485 horsepower) are extremely desirable, too, particularly the “Last Call” special edition known as Swinger. Unlike the Hellcats, they can be ordered with a six-speed Tremec manual transmission, which is more fun. Same thing for models equipped with the 5.7-litre HEMI. The automatic transmission does a fine job overall, but if you’re shooting for a classic modern-day muscle car, it’s no substitute for a stick. Just so we’re clear: this is your last chance at owning a manual Dodge.