2015 Dodge Challenger

“The horsepower wars are alive and thriving, and the Dodge brand’s arsenal is reloaded with the new 2015 Challenger.”

The quote comes from the public relations folks at Dodge. It’s not hyperbole, but an absolute fact. Suddenly it’s 1971 all over again.

Back in the 1960s and early 1970s, claims of big horsepower and tire-smoking performance — mostly of the straight-line variety — were commonplace among Ford, Chrysler and General Motors. However, with the insurance industry clamping down with onerous premiums and government mandating power-robbing emission controls, the party was short-lived. That was especially true for the original Challenger, which survived only five model years from 1970-1974 before flaming out.

It has taken decades, but Detroit’s Big Three automakers have rediscovered the good old days and the 2015 Dodge Challenger is yet another prime example.

Amid a renewed and resurgent Ford Mustang and top-selling Chevrolet Camaro, the Challenger has found itself fighting a tough battle ever since its 2009 model-year revival. Being a shortened derivative of the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger sedans, the Challenger is the biggest and heaviest of the bunch, which at first blush places it at a performance disadvantage.

A refresh helps, though. In terms of style, the 2015 model relies more heavily on the car’s first-generation heritage. It still appears similar to the 2014 edition, but there’s a new hood and a nose that incorporates a circa 1971-style grille. Out back are massaged quarter panels and a bumper that doesn’t stick out quite as much as before. A split-taillight design and integrated exhaust outlets are also evident. There are now nine different wheel styles available.

There’s also a much-needed makeover to the Challenger’s interior. There’s new retro-influenced seat coverings, plus a heated and ventilated leather-covered sport-seat option. The dashboard, gauges, steering wheel and 8.4-inch touch-screen/backup camera are also new, as is the “high-sill” floor console reminiscent of those found on Challengers of old.

But it’s under the hood where things get very interesting, and in a big hurry. Although the base 305-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6 and 375-horsepower 5.7-liter “Hemi” V-8 (standard with R/T trims) return unaltered, the output of the 6.4-liter V-8 has been increased to 485 horses from 470. This engine, which remains the mainstay for the Challenger SRT, is also fundamental to the R/T Scatback and 392 Hemi Scatback Shaker (referring to the engine-mounted hood scoop) models.

The big news, of course, is the limited-production Challenger SRT Hellcat with its supercharged 6.2-liter V-8. This monster is rated at 707 horsepower (although some suspect it makes much more) and 650 pound-feet of torque. Take that, Camaro ZL1 and Mustang GT500 … and everyone else for that matter as Chrysler says the 6.2 is the most powerful production V-8 engine on the planet.

The screen in the center console has a variety of “Performance Pages” to help you set up the Hellcat for your desired purpose. Here, you can adjust the “launch control” as well as the suspension settings.

The Hellcat also comes with two keys: one limits power to about 500 horses; and the second puts all 707 under your right foot.

An eight-speed automatic transmission (replacing the previous six-speed unit) is standard in V-6 Challengers and optional for all V-8s, which come standard with the six-speed manual. Even the Hellcat can be had with the automatic.

If fuel economy is important to you, the V-6 achieves 19 mpg in the city and 30 on the highway (previously 18/27), which is significantly better than any V-8 Challenger.

Dodge claims zero-to-60-mph times ranging in the low six-second range for the V-6, to the mid-three-second range (yikes!) for the Hellcat.

Pricing begins at $28,000, including destination charges for the base model, but you’ll need to more than double that amount (to $61,000) for the Hellcat.

Chrysler is projecting significant growth in the performance specialty segment in the next few years, and the revived Dodge Challenger lineup proves the automaker is as ready to rumble as it was at the start of The Big Three’s horsepower hijinks.

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