Highs: Styling, interior roominess, power. Lows: Driving dynamics, odd engine calibration, visibility.
While I was driving the Challenger SXT, an attractive young woman pulled up next to me in traffic and said, “Your car looks great, and you look good in it.” The Dodge scored major brownie points for that!
Attention-grabbing but familiar
The most compelling aspect of the Dodge Challenger is the styling. My test car was a 2018 Dodge Challenger SXT, the base trim. Whether you get the SXT or the top-of-the-line wide body SRT Demon, attention-grabbing good looks come standard.
When you approach the Dodge Challenger, it is a very familiar face. It should be, it has been on the market virtually unchanged since 2008. The handsome, timeless design doesn’t seem dated. The Challenger has a retro appearance that shares styling cues with its 1970 version. The car looks as good now as it did when I first saw it 12 years ago.
I have sat in a Challenger a good half-dozen times at various car shows, but, somehow, approaching with the intent on driving the Challenger for the first time makes you see the car in a different light. This thing is enormous, and when you open the 4-foot-long driver’s door, it adds to the feeling of enormity, while at the same time signaling a retro vibe of big American coupes of yesteryear.
When I slipped in behind the wheel, the first thing I noticed is what looks like three acres of plastic dashboard. Unfortunately, the top of the dash looks hard and shiny, but when I reached out and touched it, I was surprised to find it is soft. If only the dash looked as good as it felt!
A pebble-textured rubbery material adorns the top of the door panels and that looks good. To be fair, it is possible that my loaner car’s dash may have been treated with a protectant dressing that negatively altered its appearance. The material around the center console, armrest and door pulls is a nice soft vinyl material with handsome exposed stitching. I particularly liked the dedicated niche for securely holding your cellphone.
Small gauges, great infotainment system
The instrument panel is attractive at first, but once the car is on the road, it became apparent the gauges are rather small. The instrument panel’s redeeming feature is a large LCD display nestled between the speedometer and tachometer. I found the display quite useful, but the resolution was on par with an Atari 2600. Think ‘Space Invaders.’
The Dodge boys get a check in the plus column for the infotainment system. While my SXT’s version was basic, it was intuitive and easy to use. I was able to sync my Android phone in under a minute. The audio system sounded good and phone conversations over the Bluetooth were excellent. Unfortunately, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay were noticeably absent, but both are available as a paid option.
The view over the hood is like looking over the bow of an ocean liner. In other words, it is expansive. The big hood slopes downward like a drop of liquid, making it difficult to judge where the car’s corners are located. In the absence of a power bulge or hood scoop, you can’t tell you are in a sporting car by the view outward. Speaking of the view, visibility is poor. The A-pillars are enormous, and they block your view of cross traffic—annoyingly so. Another warning: if your passenger lowers their visor, you will be completely blind on the passenger side.
The oversized seats looked and felt substantial, and I found them comfortable. For taller drivers, a longer seat bottom would improve thigh support, but this six-foot-three-inch-tall reviewer found the support adequate for all but long trips.
Driving the 2018 Dodge Challenger SXT
On the road, I found the car to be calibrated to make driver input feel exaggerated, especially at low speeds. If you are just a little too hard on the gas pedal, your back tires will spin, and just a tap of the brakes will send you lurching forward. It is very difficult to drive this Challenger smoothly. However, if you tend to drive aggressively, you will feel right at home in the Challenger SXT.
The ride was a disappointment. The marshmallow-like suspension on this Challenger makes it feel like a big station wagon from the 60s. The ride is comfortable around town, and it is exceptional at soaking up speed bumps and potholes. But on the highway, the big Challenger pitches and bounces uncomfortably. On backroads I could feel all 3,900 pounds of this beast resisting my commands to change direction. When pushed, the tires howled in protest and nearly rolled off the rims.
Nevertheless, the Pentastar V6 under the hood is excellent! It accelerates smartly and sounds refined in the process. I was never wanting for power. The 3.6L V6 was also frugal returning an average of 20.4 miles per gallon throughout my 300 miles of spirited driving.
Another area where the Challenger excels is trunk space. Not since the ’67 Cadillac has a car had this much trunk space. When you are headed to Costco, this is the car for you. A double tap of the key fob fully opens the trunk, hands free. Closing the trunk is a little trickier. Shorter drivers will find the trunk lid out of reach. There is no strap or hand hold to grab onto. You have to reach up and put your hand on the paint or into the recess of the taillight to close the lid.
There are a few little quirks and ergonomic deficiencies that become apparent after spending time with the Challenger. For example, the turn signal makes a loud mechanical clacking sound that I found annoying. I began avoiding using the turn signals so that I wouldn’t have to listen to the sound.
A boulevard cruiser
The Challenger feels substantial and powerful, the interior is roomy and comfortable, it gets pretty good fuel economy, and it looks great, but it falls short in ride and handling. As a boulevard cruiser the Challenger SXT is a winner, but if you have sporting inclinations you should consider one of the performance variants.
The 2018 Dodge Challenger SXT V6 has a base price of $26,995.
John Berg is a contributing writer for the Alameda Post.