Can the Dodge Challenger replace your mid-size sedan?
This is the 2015 Dodge Challenger Scat Pack and we’ve been here before. But while we’ve sampled the Dodge Challenger Scat Pack before, there’s on crucial question we’ve never really addressed — can it replace your mid-size sedan?
At first blush that might seem like a silly question, but it’s a concept that might actually have some legs. After all, the Challenger is essentially a two-door take on Charger sedan, and that’s a solid jumping point in terms of both cabin and cargo space.
So with that question seared in our minds, we set about treating the Challenger Scat Pack like any other ordinary sedan for an entire week.
The test subject
For our evaluation Dodge sent us the latest version of its 2015 Challenger Scat Pack complete with a retro-inspired Shaker hood. The Scat Pack Shaker Package includes a long list of add-ons, including heated and ventilated front seats, heated and power-adjustable steering wheel, leather upholstery and, of course, a 6.4L HEMI V8 sticking through the hood. Further extras on our test car included an upgraded 9-speaker stereo and an 8.4-inch touchscreen infotainment system with navigation.
Like all Scat Pack models, our B5 Blue example was powered by a 485 horsepower, 475 lb-ft of torque version of Dodge’s 392 V8. Spec’d like a proper muscle car, our tester came equipped with a six-speed manual.
The obvious shortcomings
As far as we can see, there are three major barriers to entry if you’re considering ditching your Camry or Accord for the Challenger Scat Pack Shaker.
The first and most obvious is literally a barrier to entry — the Challenger only has two doors, which is exactly two fewer than you’ll find on any sedan alternative, so accessing the rear seat does take a little bit of extra effort.
The second is price. As seen here the Challenger Scat Pack will set you back nearly $46,000. In comparison, a fully-loaded Honda Accord Plug-in tops out at about $40,000, and the Accord includes a bevy of very expensive and very complicated electronics. Stick to the conventionally-powered mid-size sedans and you’ll struggle to cross the $35,000 mark. It should be noted, however, that a bare bones Scat Pack model lists from $39,000 while a lesser Challenger R/T can be had for $32,000, so it becomes a more apples-to-apples price comparison the further down the spec sheet you go.
And that brings us to the last issue — economy. Or rather lack thereof. While most mid-sizers will flirt with 40 mpg on the highway, the EPA says the Challenger’s 6.4L V8 is good for just 23 mpg out on the open road. Worse yet, the Challenger and its HEMI V8 will hit you up for premium grade at the pumps.
If you’re one of those people that commutes to work solo or with just one passenger, living with the Challenger won’t have a major impact on your daily routine.
Although the cabin of the Challenger Scat Pack is designed to be on the sporty side, it’s not done annoyingly so. For example, the Challenger Scat Pack’s front buckets are bolstered, but not to the point that it’s difficult to get into or out of it. And those sports seats aren’t aren’t just a thin layer of fabric over a rigid shell like you’ll find in some performance cars; the Challenger offers the same kind of honest-to-goodness comfort you’d expect from a big American sedan.
Anyone stepping out of a mid-size sedan and into the Challenger should also be pleased with the coupe’s materials. Soft touch plastics grace the doors and dash, and we’re really fond of the faux metal trim that adorns the center console. And, unlike the last Challenger Scat Pack we tested, our Shaker tester came fitted with full leather seats rather than a leather/suede hybrid, which should prove more durable and easier to clean over the long haul. That’s a plus if you routinely haul around the kids or a dog.
The interior design of the Challenger might be a little radical for your average Camry driver, but everything is actually well laid out and straightforward to use. The Challenger’s 8.4-inch UConnect touchscreen is mounted high on the dash and angled toward the driver, making it easier to read and use while behind the wheel. HVAC control are mounted farther down, but chunky buttons and a large dial make changing temperature settings a breeze. We’re not sure if Dodge designed it this way, but the volume control is an easy finger’s reach when your hand is on the shift knob in first gear, making muting the radio while at a stop extremely easy.
On an equipment level, we doubt anyone would have any qualms about leaving a mid-size sedan for a Challenger. Just about anything you can order on a Ford Fusion or Nissan Altima you’ll find here, including Bluetooth connectivity, navigation, Wi-Fi hotspot and heated and ventilated front seats. Adaptive cruise control can be fitted to automatic cars, but you’ll have to make do, as we did, with standard cruise control if you get the six-speed manual.
Trunk space isn’t an issue for the Challenger, with the two-door offering the kind of boot space you’d expect from a full-size sedan. Two golf bags or a week’s worth of groceries will fit with plenty of room to spare.
But while the Challenger checks many of the same boxes as your average mid-size sedan, there are, of course, a few disadvantages.
While the front two seats of the Challenger offer plenty of room for people, there isn’t a lot of room for their things. Storage is pretty much limited to a small-ish center console and the glovebox. And if you order a manual gearbox, the Challenger’s cup holders are pretty much useless.
The Challenger’s backseat actually provides a livable amount of head and leg room, but claustrophobia could be an issue. The Challenger’s thick C-pillars create a cocoon-like environment that could be uncomfortable for some. Those C-pillars also make it difficult to reverse out of a driveway or parking spot. Luckily the Challenger comes with an available backup camera and rear traffic alert system, because you’ll need it.
In order to really put the Challenger to the test, we spent the week ferrying around a two-year-old in a forward-facing car seat. The Challenger’s deep back bench made it a little tricky to get Junior in his seat, but there’s plenty of room back there for the seat and a pair of dangling legs. All the appropriate LATCH and seat anchors are present and readily accessible.
The last time we tested the Challenger we were still in rear-facing mode, and that made things a lot more difficult. So if you have really little ones, it might be best to ignore this whole premise and keep the sedan.
We’d also be remiss not to mention a few other things we’ve noticed while testing the Challenger over the years. It’s not exactly a secret, but the Challenger’s rear drive and big power make it a handful in inclement weather, particularly when the mercury starts dipping into the freezing range.
Icy conditions can also make it difficult to even get in the Challenger. Like a lot of other coupes on the market, the Challenger’s frameless side windows drop slightly when you open the door and then roll back up when you close the door. If ice jams the window you can still open the door with some force, but it won’t seal properly when you close it, meaning you’ll either have to drive around with a draft or thoroughly de-ice the window seal.
On the road
Sporty cars typically offer the same kind of ride comfort as falling down a flight of stairs, but the Challenger Scat Pack is surprisingly comfy. In reality, the Challenger’s ride isn’t much stiffer than the one you’d get in a Toyota Camry SE. And while it certainly isn’t a sports car, the Challenger carries its weight well and can hold its own in the bends, which isn’t something that can’t be said about every mid-size sedan.
The Challenger is a bit wider than a typical mid-sized four-door, so navigating tight quarters can be a little trickier. You’ll also have to be conscious of the Scat Pack’s chin spoiler, which could easily be dinged up by a tall curb.
One thing you definitely won’t find in the mid-size sedan segment is a stonking V8 engine paired with a six-speed manual. Yes, the Hellcat’s 707-horsepower makes the Scat Pack’s 485 horsepower rating look somewhat puny, but nearly 500 ponies is more than enough for public roadways.
The 6.4L V8 has plenty of grunt down low, but it’s also a bit of a screamer in the upper range. Keep your right foot buried and the Challenger’s growl transforms into a visceral roar, with the tach needle leaping toward the redline like a hungry cheetah chasing a gazelle. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again; the 392 reminds us a lot of Mercedes’ old 6.2L V8, and that is pretty high praise. The Challenger may not be the best handling car out there, but we challenge you to find a car that’s more fun on a highway on-ramp.
The steering weight in the Challenger Scat Pack is pretty much bang on for everyday driving, with a Sport mode available if you prefer things a little heavier. The six-speed manual has a good feel and the clutch pedal isn’t too heavy. We also like the Challenger’s optional eight-speed, so we could see selecting that gearbox if your daily commute involves any kind of stop and go traffic.
Thanks to the 2010 Hyundai Sonata, the entire mid-size sedan segment has evolved from humdrum to couture chic. But even so, nothing in the segment that stands out quite like the Dodge Challenger.
There is just something about the styling of the Challenger that makes it, and subsequently you, feel special. It’s almost as if someone actually made that giant Hot Wheels car you dreamed about as a kid. It’s impossible to walk up to the Challenger Scat Pack Shaker and not have a big, dumb grin smeared across your face. And life is just better with an engine sticking out of the hood. It just is.
But that being said, there are one or two drawbacks to the Challenger’s unique looks. One is that you’ll get attention everywhere you go, particularly from the kind of people that believe the mullet is still in vogue. It’s also difficult to pull up the valet of a nice restaurant or make a school run in the Challenger without feeling a little juvenile. You might as well step out wearing a backwards hat a Spiderman T-shirt. But those are just small prices to pay for driving around something so cool.
So after spending an entire week driving to daycare, to the grocery store, to softball, to Home Depot, to the playground and everywhere between, what’s the verdict on the Challenger as a mid-size sedan alternative?
For a good number of people out there, we could certainly see the Challenger taking the place of a typical sedan. The Challenger ticks many of the same boxes as an average mid-sizer — like a comfortable ride, advanced tech features and a spacious trunk — and it has the added benefits of retro-good-looks and an available V8 engine. And the Challenger just makes you feel like you’re driving something special. When was the last time you got that sensation from a Chevy Malibu?
But if you routinely use your backseat for adult passengers, giving up a sedan for the Challenger could be a bit of an issue. The second row is just fine for kids (and in fact, we didn’t even really mind using the Challenger with a car seat) but we certainly wouldn’t want to be stuck back there for any length of time.
It may not be perfect, but the Challenger is one of the few coupes out there that could handle the workload of a mid-size sedan.
2015 Dodge Challenger Scat Pack Shaker base price, $37,895. As tested, $45,780.
Scat Pack Shaker Package, $4,600; Sound Group II, $595; 8.4-inch Uconnect with Navigation, $695; Gas Guzzler Tax, $1,000; Destination, $995.
Photos by Drew Johnson.
Can the Dodge Challenger replace your mid-size sedan? Reviewed by Drew Johnson on June 19 We’ve been asked literally zero times, but here is the answer. Rating: 4