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Review: 2019 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack

We spend a week with a 6.4-liter middle finger to downsizing.

Make a list of all the cars, trucks, and SUVs sold new in the United States that come with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Grab a drink and get comfortable, because you're going to be here for a while. Now, make a list of the new cars powered by a naturally-aspirated V8. This should only take you a few seconds. The list gets even shorter when you take pickup trucks out of this exercise.

Buckling under immense regulatory pressure, car companies are seeking ways to shrink the engines in their portfolio. V8s become V6s, V6s become turbo fours, and turbo fours become smaller turbo fours. One brand doggedly resists this trend: Dodge. The Detroit-based firm is finding itself increasingly isolated as it proudly carries the V8 forward, though, and it has hinted that it will need to join its rivals on the downsizing wagon sooner or later. What is it up to, and why hasn't it gotten with the program yet? We spent a week with the 2019 Challenger R/T Scat Pack to find out.

Gray coupe, red rocks

The Scat Pack's Hemi is a 6.4-liter middle finger to downsizing.

It makes 485 horsepower at 6,100 rpm and 475 pound-feet of torque at 4,100 rpm the old-fashioned way: with sheer displacement. You won't find a supercharger or a turbocharger anywhere in the engine bay. Electric motors power the front windows and the windshield wipers, not the wheels. Rear-wheel drive and a six-speed manual transmission come standard, and buyers can pay extra for an eight-speed automatic. Our tester came with three pedals. We wouldn't have it any other way in a car like this.

Good engines always have personality; it's part of what makes them more than the sum of their oil-covered parts. The Challenger's V8 is raucous and rebellious. It fires up with a growl that shakes the whole car. We guarantee you'll want to rev it just to hear it bark after you start it for the first time. It's not just audio drama, though. The Challenger puts on one helluva show when you bury your right foot in the throttle. It's seriously quick. Quick to the point where you can't drive it at full throttle without spinning the rear tires, even in second gear. It's quick to the point where we felt we would have needed to go on a drag strip to fully experience it, much like the ideal way to get acquainted with a BMW M3 is on the Nürburgring.

We settled for driving it at six- or seven-tenths of its potential. Our time with the Challenger started in downtown Las Vegas when the city was run over by #mobility worshippers who had made their annual pilgrimage to praise the CES gods. That's no place for a brash muscle car. We set off for the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, and took advantage of the fact that the government was broken to sail right past the entrance without stopping to part with $15. There, we finally got to experience the Challenger beyond four-second throttle bursts between the lights on Las Vegas Boulevard.

The Challenger feels right at home in the desert; it may as well have been built for this Mars-like landscape.

It's a big car, and it tips the scale at a not-insignificant 4,308 pounds, so you're forgiven for assuming it takes a corner like a drunken frat boy. We kind of did, too. However, equipped with the optional Widebody package, it handles better than you'd think. While we still wouldn't call it a corner carver, or consider challenging (pardon the pun) a Miata on a slalom course, it's happy on the winding roads that meander through Red Rock Canyon. Adding 3.5 inches to the Challenger's width let Dodge fit foot-wide Pirelli tires that deliver a terrific amount of grip. The chassis isn't thrilled with sudden changes in direction, and not sending the back end sideways requires careful throttle inputs, but the Scat Pack is sharper and tighter to drive than we expected.

Confidence-inspiring brakes (including six-piston Brembo calipers up front) slow the Challenger down, and the 392-cubic-inch V8 pulls it out of a turn in a snap. Clutch in, next gear up, clutch out, and gas. We could do this all day. It helps that Dodge resisted the urge to make the shifter too rubbery or too short; it has a nice analog feel to it, and the throws are relatively long.

Our Challenger was painted in Destroyer Gray, one of the more discreet colors on the palette, yet we didn't fly under the radar. As we cruised through Red Rock, people waved at us, took photos of us, asked us to rev the engine (which we did), and one tried to race us (sorry, M5 dude, not today). Even the wild burros turned their heads as we sped by, though they were probably more intrigued by the bellowing exhaust note than by the retro-inspired design. Who knows; maybe they're secret car geeks with clever usernames to hide their true identity.

Red Rock Canyon is a loop. As much as we would have liked to hop on for a second ride, we needed to get back to Las Vegas sooner rather than later, so we followed directions towards the highway. The steering doesn't have a ton of on-center feel at high speeds, but apart from that the Challenger is happy to cruise along at 75 mph. While the engine is never silent, drop the stick in sixth and the eight cylinders quiet down as they spin lazily somewhere in the bottom portion of their rev range. The suspension is firm but not rock-hard, so it filters out smaller imperfections in the pavement while letting the bigger ones reach the passengers' spines. Note that models equipped with a six-speed manual transmission are not available with adaptive cruise control. It's offered as an option on automatic versions.

Fuel economy is, well... exactly what you would expect from a 6.4-liter V8. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rates it at 14 mpg in the city, 23 mpg on the highway, and 17 mpg in a combined cycle. We got worse in all three areas because our foot was a little bit heavy that week. Can you blame us?

Room to roam

The high-octane theme continues inside. Dodge designed every part of the interior with enthusiasts in mind. The seats are supportive yet comfortable, and they're embroidered with the Super Bee logo. The same logo briefly appears in the screen embedded into the instrument cluster when the ignition is turned on. Even the infotainment system's background is a diagram of a V8 engine. Spoiler alert: there are several cool Easter eggs, too. The Dodge Brothers logo is hidden under the central arm rest, and the icon that tells the driver when a door is open is shaped like a Challenger, complete with hood scoops.

The materials and the build quality are both okay, they didn't strike us as particularly good or particularly bad. However, our $52,065 test car lacked features like auto-up windows (it had auto-down).

It's no secret that the Challenger rides on a platform that traces its roots back to the Mercedes-Benz E-Class - remember DaimlerChrysler? The two cars are worlds apart when it comes to handling and design, but we got a few whiffs of Benz-ness from behind the driver's seat. The parking brake is a foot-operated unit, for example, and it feels just like the one Mercedes put in its cars before going electronic. The wiper/turn signal stalk is pure Mercedes, too.

The Challenger's XL dimensions make it much roomier than the Ford Mustang and the Chevrolet Camaro, its main rivals. Its 16.2 cubic feet of trunk space equate to two big suitcases, a carry-on, and a backpack. Two adults travel comfortably in the front seats, and average-sized adults can conceivably ride in the back seats without getting into the fetal position, though the front seats, the high belt line, and the thick roof pillars will block their view of the outside world. Rear visibility is poor because the Challenger has blind spots the size of Luxembourg, but that's a fair price to pay for the heritage-infused lines.

Tech for gearheads

The Uconnect infotainment system is easy enough to navigate via the 8.4-inch touch screen, all of the menus are clearly labeled and it responds quickly to input, but it prevents the front passengers from entering an address into the navigation system when the car is moving. We know, this is in the name of safety, but guess what? When asked to come to a full stop to type in their next destination, 95 percent of motorists will simply reach for their phone.

-- Ronan Glon (@EuropeanCarNews) January 23, 2019

If there's anything that can reconcile muscle car fans with in-car technology, it's the Performance Pages app baked into the Uconnect infotainment system. It provides real-time information about the car, its drivetrain, and its surroundings via several driver-selectable interfaces. For example, the driver can choose to display separate gauges that show the engine's power output, the steering angle, the g-forces, and the current speed. Or, the app can display a graph that shows how much torque and horsepower the engine makes (again, in real-time). It's one of the coolest tech features we've seen in a late model car; we played with it every time we went out for a drive.

Leftlane's bottom line

The Scat Pack represents a nearly compromise-free middle ground in the Challenger line-up.

It bridges the chasm between the entry-level, V6-powered model and the high-end, high-horsepower Hellcat. If fuel economy is an absolute priority, the V6 makes sense. If all-out performance is a priority, the freakishly powerful Hellcat is the one you want to spend your money on. They're two ends of the same spectrum. If you're looking for a muscle car that doubles as a fast, comfortable daily driver, stop walking through the Challenger's trim level hierarchy when you reach the Scat Pack.

Reflecting on the week we spent with the Challenger, there's a final thought we can't get out of our mind. We're genuinely glad it still exists. It's the purest expression of the muscle car ethos available new in 2019. It's outdated and outclassed in several areas, yet it's a wonderful thing that gets performance junkies hooked after the first mash of the throttle. We need cars like this. May it live long.

Photos by Ronan Glon.

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