I knew I was being suckered, but for once I didn’t mind. ‘We don’t have anything left in the class you requested, but for an extra $20 a day I can give you a brand new Dodge Challenger V8,’ said the clerk at the car rental counter in Miami. ‘It’s either that or a mini-van.’ Words and photos by Mark Dixon.
OVERDRIVE / Other Cars / Mental rental
The Challenger turned out to be the R/T model, so new that it still carried the factory’s wax markings on the side glass and alloy-wheels. It packed the 375bhp Hemi option and when I hit the starter, it woofled into life with a surprisingly mellifluous burble – although 375bhp seems almost poverty-spec when you can order a Challenger SRT Hellcat with 717bhp. Whatever, this would do very well for our trip to the REVS Symposium in Naples, Florida, featured in last month’s Drive-My. First, though, my partner Paula and I would be heading north-east to Sarasota for a couple of days R ’n’ R before driving back south to Naples. Whichever route we chose, it was going to be mostly flat and straight, and a maximum speed limit of 65mph was never going to tax the Hemi. But the view out across the suggestively humped bonnet can’t help but make you feel good, and at a relaxed 2000rpm the Challenger is a pleasant freeway companion.
What seems like occasional rough running is due to the V8 shutting off four cylinders when it doesn’t actually need them. Cadillac pioneered this back in the 1980s with its V8-6-4 engine; now, as then, low emissions come at the expense of refinement.
Compared with the Bullitt Edition Ford Mustang that was featured in Drive-My, the Challenger feels a bigger, less wieldy machine. It’s comfortable up front, with excellent seats, although accessing the rear is no easy task and the boot won’t take as many deceased mobsters as you might expect. But when a car looks as good as this, who cares? The Challenger is surely the most successful of the 21st-century retro-themed muscle cars, and has ride and handling refinement that its 50-year-old namesake could only dream of.
A week of being sensible eventually proved too much: I had to try out the 0-60mph timing facility – yes, really – that’s offered on the digital dash display. On an empty stretch of asphalt, I put left foot on brake, and brought the revs up with my right. Coming off the brake while simultaneously goosing the throttle produced a hitherto unsampled cacophony of V8 thunder as the rear tyres spun and the car squirmed from side to side before sling-shotting forwards. The timer stopped at five-point-two seconds which, for a first attempt in a car loaded with two people and their luggage, I didn’t think was too shabby. And that was with the transmission left in Drive; no fancy-pants manual shifting was involved here. And to think I could have had a mini-van instead.
Left and below Half a century on, the idea of laying rubber in a Dodge Challenger still appeals; new one records your efforts, too; beware reptiles with big teeth.