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Why We’ll Miss the Dodge Challenger

Why We’ll Miss the Dodge Challenger

I’m excited about the future of cars. As an automotive journalist, I’m in the front row, watching as today’s most brilliant minds innovate new ways of propelling, powering, and perfecting the vehicles we love. We’re on the precipice of a paradigm shift, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since we switched from hoof power to, well, the other kind of horsepower.

Changing times mean things get left behind. In my profession, I’ve driven gasoline-powered Bugattis, Ferraris, McLarens, Lamborghinis, Porsches—jaw-dropping vehicles that celebrate the final days of internal combustion with a bacchanal of speed. I’ve loved every moment with them. But the car I’ll miss the most, more than any carbon-fiber exotic, is the Dodge Challenger.

That’s right: A domestic muscle car, best known for its indecent output, shouty paint colors, and perpetual association with sideshows and street takeovers. It’s the car you can identify by ear wherever doofuses do donuts in the dark—a vehicle that’s gone largely unchanged since its introduction in 2008, when Taylor Swift was an up-and-coming country music star and the banks had yet to be bailed out.

The 2023 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack Widebody “Last Call” Swinger Special Edition

Bob Sorokanich

If I’m feeling nostalgic, it’s because I’ve just said my goodbyes. I recently spent time behind the wheel of the 2023 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack Widebody “Last Call” Swinger Special Edition, a name longer than any text message I’ve sent this week.

Dodge has managed to keep the Challenger (and its four-door muscle-sedan sibling, the Charger) feeling fresh since the Obama administration thanks to a constant rotation of new badge-and-sticker packages. It’s a skill the automaker has been perfecting for decades, reaching back through Stellantis, Fiat Chrysler, and DaimlerChrysler to the days when this member of the Big Three was simply called . . . Chrysler. The 2023 model year is the last hurrah for the traditional Challenger and Charger, and Dodge is living it up with seven “Last Call” special editions before the long-promised (and certainly controversial) replacement arrives with an all-electric drivetrain.

Hence the Swinger Special Edition. On paper, it’s nothing special—no supercharged Hellcat or Redeye or Demon, just the familiar 6.4-liter naturally aspirated Hemi V-8. My car had the beefy six-speed manual, thank heaven, but aside from the brushed-gold shaker hood scoop, a smattering of special-edition badges, and an admittedly goofy “Swinger” tail stripe, it’s just another stickered-up Scat Pack.

A close-up of the rear side panel on a 2023 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack Widebody “Last Call” Swinger Special Edition.

Dodge has managed to keep the Challenger feeling fresh since the Obama administration thanks to a constant rotation of new badge-and-sticker packages.

Dodge

The existence of the Hellcat lineup, including the 707 hp Challenger Hellcat, the 797 hp Hellcat Redeye, the 807 hp Super Stock, the 840 hp (on race gas) Demon, and the 1,025 hp Demon 170—turns every Dodge sighting into a binary exercise. You either bought a Hellcat, or you fumbled. I’m as guilty of this thinking as anybody, checking for the signature feline fender badge whenever a loud Mopar snorts by. My long-suffering fiancée has heard me mutter “just a Scat Pack” so often, she could probably identify one blindfolded, and she doesn’t even have a driver’s license.

It’s silly thinking. The 485 hp Scat Pack is just as much fun as its supercharged siblings. Oftentimes, it’s more fun, because you can accelerate hard with slightly less chance of turning your rear tires into vapor. Sometimes.

The Challenger is flawed. Even the narrow-body version—one full inch wider than the none-too-svelte Chevy Camaro—is a handful to maneuver in tight quarters. Add the Widebody package, a $6,000 option, and you create a muscle car that needs air-traffic-control to park. I spent my week with the Swinger roaring around the choked streets of New York City. Once, I snugged the car into a curbside parking space, tires nearly kissing the sidewalk—only to get out and find no room left for any four-wheeled vehicle to pass on the far side. Finding suitable docking took the better part of an hour, during which the real-time fuel-economy display plummeted into single digits.

The front interior of the 2023 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack Widebody “Last Call” Swinger Special Edition.

Sitting behind that mile-wide dash, with uproarious oversteer available at the twitch of your toe, you feel like a kid again.

Dodge

Also, it’s been around forever! The Mustang has gone through three iterations on the Challenger’s watch. The Camaro went from dead to revived to redesigned to slated for death again. In that span, Dodge gave the Challenger one significant styling update and zero sheet-metal changes. It’s so unabashedly retro, it’s tumbled over into timelessness. The Challenger’s bluff silhouette is as classically cool as a pair of Levis. The Mustang and Camaro, constantly chasing up-to-the-minute styling updates, end up looking a little Ed Hardy in comparison.

Complaining about the Challenger misses the point. This is a cartoon car oozing with personality. Perched behind that mile-wide dash, with uproarious oversteer available at the twitch of your toe, you feel like a kid again. The Challenger experience is exactly what your 10-year-old self imagined driving would be like.

No modern car embraces silliness like this. I love the Mustang and Camaro—I’m in awe of their capabilities and their range, the way each can shift from hushed, plush highway cruiser to apex-chasing track razor with the touch of a button. Each is an athlete, painstakingly trained over decades to go toe-to-toe with Europe’s finest. They’re your CrossFit friends, with definition on muscles you didn’t know existed.

The Challenger is so unabashedly retro, it’s tumbled over into timelessness; its bluff silhouette as classically cool as a pair of Levis.

Dodge

The Challenger, on the other hand, is your buddy who drinks the thank-you six-pack before he moves your couch. It’s the towering Golden Retriever who thinks everyone at the dog park wants to play fetch. It’s not optimized for anything, except for evoking optimism behind the wheel.

Look around you. You’re reading this on an electronic device sold on the promise of never-ending productivity. Every modern contraption justifies itself through time saved, tasks achieved, to-do lists vanquished. We’ve lost our zeal for pointless amusement, fun for fun’s sake.

I review high-performance cars for a living. For a gearhead, it’s beyond a dream job—it’s a job I didn’t even dream could exist. But every sports car, supercar, and exotic machine I sample comes with a list of KPIs. Such-and-such tenths-of-a-second quicker to 60 mph. Yadda yadda faster at the Nürburgring. Torsional rigidity improved by who-cares percent. Capable of a new lap record, if you can arrange for an empty race track and ideal weather conditions. Impressive? Absolutely. Remarkable? Undoubtedly. Fun? Fun doesn’t come with a target number.

The 2023 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack Widebody “Last Call” Swinger Special Edition

The Challenger experience is exactly what your 10-year-old self imagined driving would be like.

Bob Sorokanich

The next supercar, hypercar, or electric rocket–like sedan I drive will be astounding. It will push the envelope, shift the paradigm, raise the bar, and embody the cliché. It’ll be quantifiably better than the competition, and I’ll be grateful that my job lets me experience it. But when I’m relaxing in my twilight years, I won’t remember which automaker briefly held the crown in a self-important numbers race. I’ll remember the joy I felt driving cars whose fun couldn’t be captured on a spec sheet. I’ll remember those moments when pedal and shifter and too-loud exhaust coalesced into a symphony of intangible glee. The Dodge Challenger was—is—a pointless and frivolous machine. I’ll miss it forever.

Source: Robb Report

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