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Dodge Challenger SXT 2016 review

EXPERT RATING
7
Jack Pyefinch road tests and reviews the V6 Challenger SXT with specs, fuel consumption and verdict in Los Angeles.

Falling in love with a car at first sight is illogical, ridiculous and, if you drive cars for a living, unprofessional.

But sometimes it can't be helped. My first glimpse of the brutish black and blue Dodge Challenger we're test driving in one of the world's most car-crazed cities, Los Angeles, came across a crowded car park, and all I could really see was the colour and the roof line, but that was enough.

There's something potent and powerful about the design of this car - the hulking width, the mean nose, the fierce look of intent - and it brings to mind just one word - tough.

It's what muscle cars should be, of course, and the Challenger has echoes of our own classics, like the XY Falcon, from its wide, flat boot-lid to the racing stripes and the retro-style gauges. Being in it genuinely does make you feel cool, and a little bit dangerous. This killer Dodge could make even Christopher Pyne look tough. Almost.

Part of the magic is what designers call its greenhouse, which basically describes the glass area of the car. The Challenger's is tiny, and kinked at the rear, which looks great, but makes the visibility from inside the car a challenge, particularly with the big fat A-pillars and small, sloping windscreen. It feels a bit like driving around in Kylo Ren's helmet - it looks great but it's not hugely practical.

Even in LA, where the streets are replete with cars like this, it turns heads.

Looks, of course, aren't everything, even for a muscle car, and it takes less than a minute for some of the lustre to come off as I go to open the boot (which turns out to be surprisingly enormous). The first physical contact with the car is best described as the opposite of that quality feel and heft you get from European marques.

The Challenger feels a bit thin, and plasticky around the edges. It's an impression sadly reinforced by the interior, which features familiar cheap-Jeep buttons and a similar dash feel (although the retro dials are spot on, and look fantastic).

What no Jeep has, of course, is a Sport Track Pack button (there's a Sport button, too, but all it seems to do, hilariously, is turn off the traction control).

This allows you not only to use Launch Control, but offers a whole screen of options and read-outs, and the ability to adjust your "Launch RPM Set-Up" before pressing the "Activate Launch Mode" button. It sounds like KITT from Knight Rider talking smack, and fits in with a certain negative reputation that American motorists have for being obsessed with getting off the lights quickly, and not much bothered about corners. Or anything else to do with driving.

Unfortunately, the SXT model we're driving isn't fitted with the big phat Supercharged 6.2-litre V8 Hellcat engine (yes, really, they call it a Hellcat) with 527kW, which makes Ferraris and Lamborghinis look underpowered. With that under the bonnet, Launch Control is no doubt an unforgettable event, smacking you from zero to 60mph - as they measure it - in 3.9 seconds, and on through the quarter mile in 11.9 seconds.

If straight-line speed is your thing, you'll fall instantly in love with that Challenger.

Our car has to make do with a 3.6- litre Pentastar V6 with 227kW and 363Nm, which is somewhat less than a car like this deserves. The SXT is willing enough, and smooth in its power delivery, but planting the foot produces a great rushing of noise (it sounds like they've borrowed the exhaust note from the soundtrack of Grease, during the drag-race scene) and not much else. Acceleration is adequate rather than exciting and the 0 to 60 time is a vastly removed from the Hellcat 7.5 seconds.

What the clever marketeers, who can offer this entry-model version to Americans for as little as $US27,990 (around $A38,000), know is that this car is far more about perception than reality. Buyers want to look good in a Challenger even more than they want to go quickly in one. The best moments in this car will be at low speed, crawling past plate-glass windows to admire yourself or watching the jaws of strangers drop low.

The ability to inspire love at first sight is a powerful marketing tool for a car.

Even in LA, where the streets are replete with cars like this, it turns heads, and it passed the ultimate valet-parking test at The Line - a fiercely trendy place in the exciting Koreatown district, it's such an Arctically cool hotel that they don't even need to plug their fridges in. The parking attendants clucked their tongues and exhale whistled every time we pulled up, congratulating us on our choice of manly machine, and even deigning to park it "up top", rather than underground, so people could look at it on the hotel forecourt.

As is often the case with American cars, the Dodge has flaws that feel strange to us, like steering so light that it feels almost like a remote-control system, a ride best described as jouncy and seats that somehow manage to feel both overstuffed and under-supportive.

Throw it at a corner and you won't be scintillated by its sharpness, or the tactility of its feedback, but nor will you be appalled. Modern American cars are far closer to world class, or at least world-recognised standards, than they've ever been.

Verdict

It may surprise you to hear that Dodge already has a presence in Australia, and if it does you really must visit their website, because it's a laugh to hit the tab listing the available models and find just one, the Journey.

It seems initially mystifying that the company has chosen this fairly dull SUV as its only offering, instead of the Challenger, but the logic is actually admirably simple. The Journey, which is largely a Fiat Freemont, is made in right-hand drive, while the Challenger is not.

But it will be, in the future, and Dodge in Australia (aka Fiat Chrysler Australia) has its hand so high in the air to get that car here that it's visible from space.

If the company can get a new Challenger - which will no doubt look much like the current one, and the one before, and so on - here it will change its profile in the Australian market overnight. And if it can sell them at anything under $40,000, even with a slightly unexciting V6, they will sell like crazy.

The ability to inspire love at first sight is a powerful marketing tool for a car.

Would the new Challenger be your ideal muscle car? Let us know in the comments below.

EXPERT RATING
7
Stephen Corby
Contributing Journalist

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