Dodge Challenger

Old and muscle-bound, yet far from weary

NATHAN PONCHARD

FIRST OVERSEAS DRIVE

AUSSIES love muscle cars.

Thatís what the doorman at our swanky San Francisco hotel tells me when I pull up alongside Bentleys, Escalades and S-Classes in Dodgeís facelifted Challenger. And yet he utters those words without turning his nose up at this retro slice of Detroit iron.

The reborn Challenger isnít new to this world Ė it launched in February 2008 Ė but it was refreshed for MY15 with a í71 Challenger-inspired restyle, an eight-speed auto (replacing an old five-speeder), a new interior with a TFT centre display, and an 8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen.

Americans canít seem to get enough of its menacing look and Coke-bottle hips. Since its í08 rebirth, Challenger has increased sales every year, culminating in 51,611 last year, not far behind its 1970 record of 76,935.

Available in eight trim levels, from boggo V6 SXT to ballistic supercharged V8 Hellcat, the Challenger is the sort of car America does best. Simple yet muscular, with just two doors and enough practicality to swallow super-sized Yanks and their gear.

Ours is an SXT Plus, which means enough trick kit to tickle the visual senses, including fat 20s.

But Chryslerís workaday 3.6- litre Pentastar V6 does the talking.

The 227kW atmo V6 is no Ferrari Dino, but comes with eight ratios and enough va-va-voom to save embarrassing the Challengerís bouncer-on-steroids look. What it doesnít do is sound inspiring, with a fairly thrashy top end. A little acoustic tuning wouldnít go astray, though judging by what we saw on San Fran streets, no one buys the V6. They all go for the 280kW Hemi V8 or bigger, in some of the brightest colours ever invented, then fit even larger rims and pump up the exhaust.

For a slave-to-fashion Yank coupe, the Challenger drives pretty well, with a precise and nicely weighted electric steering set-up, and respectable grip and balance. Itís practical too. Big, frameless doors make it easy to manoeuvre into its generous two-person rear seat with quite liveable head, leg and foot room, as youíd expect given its 2950mm wheelbase. Even better, Challengerís 459-litre boot is big enough to swallow a pair of suitcases side-by-side.

The new dash is a massive improvement, with some of the coolest retro dials around, and the trim in our SXT Plus is terrific. Red leather with perforated centres, plus seat heaters, exposed stitching and cool faux-metal inserts that look surprisingly real.

Yet by far the best news is that Fiat Chrysler Australia is putting the acid on Detroit to build the Challenger (and Charger sedan) in right-hand drive, starting with the 362kW V8 SRT and blown 527kW Hellcat. Aussie petrolheads are gonna love this thing. espectable

Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Kerb weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Dodge Challenger SXT Plus 3604cc V6 (60į), dohc, 24v 227kW @ 6350rpm 363Nm @ 4800rpm 8-speed automatic 1735kg 6.5sec (estimated) 10.2L/100km $US29,995 Not confirmed for Oz

PLUS & MINUS

At 5m long, itís big; V6 is a bit thrashy; rear vision; average economy Show-stopping style; cool interior; huge model choice; practicality

Custom job

IF YOU think Mini has the customisation thing sewn up, Challenger will prove you wrong. Fourteen different interior colours and trims, including retro houndstooth cloth, nine wheel options, seven stripe combinations and a host of retro-inspired colours make Challenger a muscle-car fanaticís dream.

It also has various suspension tunes, including a Super Track Pack, available even on the V6, that features Bilstein dampers, thicker sway bars, uprated brake pads and three-mode stability control.