2020 Dodge Challenger Review

2020 Dodge Challenger - Challenger welcomes a golden era


It's a Golden Anniversary for the Dodge Challenger, a retro-esque choice for those of us too close to our own personal Golden Anniversaries/Birthdays and/or Golden retirement.   

Challenger debuted as a 1970 model year vehicle from the Dodge Brothers in part to numb the hoopla surrounding pesky domesticated muscle cars from Ford (Mustang) and Chevrolet (Camaro) arriving earlier in the psychedelic '60s. All three live on today with Challenger the only one to offer all-wheel drive as an option in two lower trim levels. Challenger measures in as the largest, easily qualifying it as the 'family' choice of the trio with accommodating room in row two for adult travelers.

The 2020 Challenger marches forward with a third-generation, LX platform introduced way back when George W. Bush occupied the White House.  The intervening years signifies a long gap between redos.  Don't expect a monumental update for 2021 either. During a Covid-19 inspired, on-line get-together Zoom style, Tim Kuniskis, head of passenger cars for FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles), spoke of a next-Gen Challenger platform as, "Not in the near Term."

With the Dodge brand waving good-by to the mid-size Journey five-door wagon and versatile Caravan minivan at the end of the 2020 model year, Dodge dealers return for 2021 with three offerings:  four-door Chargers, two-door Challengers and durable three-row Durango crossovers.

All this with the current back drop of domestic rivals shelving long-established sedans like the Ford Taurus and Chevy Impala along with traditional two-door coupes to free up production slots for perky, flavor-of-the-month crossovers.  

Back in 2010, four-door sedans and two-door coupes (traditional cars) represented 49 percent of vehicles sold in America.  Fast forward nine years and that number precipitously drops to 28 percent.  

This suits Kuniskis just fine with his Challenger and Charger muscle cars surviving as 'Big fish in a small pond." Both Challenger and Charger represent 'Want' cars, instead of 'Need' choices.  Buyers select Dodge because of a 'want,' of horsepower excitement and driving delight. Basically, GM and Ford have surrendered the domestic large sedan/coupe segment to Dodge, creating a marketing opportunity full of power potential.

And Dodge knows how to keep interest in a platform still eye-appealing after a dozen years thanks to a stretched rectangular-ized front end grille with overhangs and circular headlights tucked inside at each end providing a 3-D effect up front complete with length, width and depth.

Long side doors and sizeable, flat-top trunk lid carry extra weight when compared with smaller coupes, and sometimes require heartier oomphs to close tightly. Once open, trunk volume kicks in at 16.2 cubic feet, with strut-like hinges conveniently located outside the cargo hold, easily besting Camaro and Mustang storage potential. The "Hellraisin" dark purple exterior added a smoke-ish visual to our tester.  Its long hood included a trio of functional scoop/vents soothing the engine compartment with cool fresh air.

The engine sounds the part of a muscle car thanks in part to active exhaust amplification. The accelerator pedal only takes a gentle tap before lunging forward into anticipated action.  Consider Challenger the comfy Muscle Car suitable for daily driver use.

Challenger and its four-door platform-sharing cousin, Charger, unveiled a host of ultra-high horsepower opportunities during the past decade, one-upping Camaro/Mustang with a good old-fashion, all-American horsepower arms race.  The 2020 model year brings increased shift point calibration to its Supercharged 6.2 Hemisphere high-output V-8 cranking up a ridiculous 807 horsepower, now the quickest and most powerful volume muscle car engine delivering a zero to 60 mph acceleration in a wispy 3.25 seconds.  

In total, Challenger offers four engine selections: one V-6 and three V-8s. A 3.6-liter V-6 delivers 303 horsepower mating to a 'Torqueflite' eight-speed automatic transmission (SXT and GT trims). R/T trims include a 5.7-liter V-8 promising up to 375 horsepower and teamed with a standard six-speed manual transmission. The R/T Scat Pack trim delivers a 392 cubic-inch HEMI V-8 and 485 horses with the six-speed manual.

Horsepower numbers than escalate through the stratosphere compliments of a 6.2-liter Supercharged HEMI V-8 with 717 horses in SRT Hell Cat trims. A high-output variant of this same engine delivers 797 horsepower in Hell Cat Red Eye models and finally, the aforementioned SRT Super Stock with Supercharged 6.2 HEMI V-8. An eight-speed automatic transmission lists as a $1,595 option in SRT and R/T trims. Only SXT and GT offer the all-wheel drive option with performance-specific rear-wheel excitement standard across the board.

Gobs of available options, large and small, allow purchasers to refine and define Challenger to their liking within a huge range of pricing.

The lowest-priced trim, a rear-drive 2020 SXT V-6 checks in at $28,095. At the spectrum's other end, the 807-horsepower SRT Super Stock tips the scales at $79,595; all before adding fun-time options.

50th Anniversary Commemorative Editions are offered in 2020 R/T and R/T Scat Pack trims, adding approximately $5,000 to the bottom line. In addition to commemorative 50th Anniversary badging inside and out, expect 'Gold School' wheels with larger tires, a satin black hand-painted hood/deck lid and Nappa leather/Alcantara suede performance seats.

Another variable offered and found in this week's tester is a 'Widebody' amalgamation available in R/T Scat Pack.  These versions provide an additional 3.5 inches of width thanks primarily to bolder, circular fender flares. Adaptive damping suspension, aluminum wheels and performance Brembo brakes up front and back also join the package.  In 2020, Challenger also offers Widebody nuances in SRT Hellcat and SRT Hellcat Redeye with the 2021 model year promising additional model availability.  

Starting price for our R/T Scat Pack and its 392 cubic inch (or 6.4 liters for the metric-minded) V-8 checks in at $38,995.  Our bottom line fell to $56,450, including a $1,495 destination charge, $6,000 for Widebody template, automatic transmission and lots more. One option highly recommended is the $1,295 driver convenience group including a radar-enhanced blind spot and rear cross-path detection system.  Small static side windows and coupe design create noteworthy side blind spots; extra detection aids the pilot.

Dodge provides a user friendly in-dash audio system via the fourth-generation of FCA's UConnect infotainment system with integrated voice command and Bluetooth compatibility.  The flat, in-dash, 8.4-inch, touch-sensitive color screen (considered large in 2008, now skewing medium in 2020) features large, easily interpreted icons and pinch-zoom capacity.  Smartphone compatibility with Apple's Car Play and Android Auto comes standard.  

Another engineering mini marvel present in many FCA vehicles are secondary volume and station preset elongated toggle ovals mounted on the steering wheel's back side, allowing finger tips to choose freely while stationed  in a natural drive-ready placement, enhancing the audio experience. Another option for audio adjustment consists of a sizable, old-school dial below the 8.4-inch screen.  Circular HVAC dials and assorted push buttons are nearby to chill and heat the interior.  The center screen also offers a second way to regulate climate a-la the touch-and-swipe method.

The easy-read instrument panel includes two large circular beveled analog dials with 3-D stretched typeface flanking a multi-paneled digital center window controlled via steering wheel face buttons.

Extended fuel economy does not fit into Challenger's job description and highly-tuned internal combusted V-8 engines.  Expect 15 miles per gallon city and 24 mpg highway with the 392 ci V-8 teamed with automatic transmission and recommended premium fuel to satisfy the 18.5 gallon tank.

2020 Dodge Challenger

Price as tested:  $56,450

Wheelbase:  116.2 inches

Length:  197.9 inches

Height: 57.5 inches

Width: 79.2 inches

Engine:  392 cubic inch V-8

Horsepower:  485 horsepower

Powertrain warranty:  Five years/60,000 miles

City/Highway economy:  15 mpg city,  24 mpg highway

Curb weight: 4,314 pounds

Built: Brampton, Ontario, Canada

Dave Boe

Dave Boe, a lifetime Chicago area resident, worked at the Daily Herald, Illinois' third-largest daily newspaper, for 24 years. In 1989, the Daily Herald began a weekly Saturday Auto Section and he was shortly appointed editor. The product quickly grew into one of the largest weekend sections in the paper thanks to his locally-written auto reviews, the introduction of a local automotive question-and-answer column, a new colorful format and news happenings from Chicago area new-car dealerships.

Five years later, a second weekly auto section debuted on Mondays with Boe adding an industry insight column and introducing a "Love Affair with Your Car" column where readers sent in their own automotive memories for publication. During the next 10 years, the number of weekly auto sections Boe edited and coordinated grew to five and featured expanded NASCAR racing coverage, a dealer spotlight/profile feature and a Car Club Calendar where grass-roots automobile clubs could publish upcoming events for free. Boe also introduced more local automotive columnists into the pages of the sections, all of whom were seasoned members of the well respected Midwest Automotive Media Association. In 1997, Boe earned the Employee of the Year award from the Daily Herald.

Boe is a founding member and current president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association. He has degrees in Journalism and Business Administration from Northern Illinois University.