2013 Dodge Challenger R/T Road Test and Review: Introduction
The Dodge Challenger is regularly lumped together with the Chevy Camaro and Ford Mustang into an American muscle/pony car classification that, when the vehicles are pitted against one another in comparison, shows the Challenger coming up short. Such comparisons are often performed on drag strips and racetracks, where the big, heavy, and less powerful Challenger tends to look like the doughy, pasty guy sweating breathlessly at the gym.
Lemme ask you a question: When was the last time you drove a car on a drag strip? Or on a closed racetrack?
Yeah, that’s what I thought.
The Challenger’s natural competitors might be the Camaro and Mustang, but these are three distinctly different automobiles appealing to different kinds of people. Once the Chevy fan boys, Dodge fan boys, and Ford fan boys have been weeded out of the buying pool, the one you choose is entirely dependent on who you are, how you want to be seen, how you plan to use the car, and whether you want a convertible top or not.
In my experience, the Camaro looks terrific and is an accomplished athlete, but it lacks polish and is ridiculously hard to see out of. The Mustang offers tidy dimensions that afford it a nimbleness on canyon roads and it sounds terrific when revved, but it is looking old, lately forced to rely on design gimmicks to tide it over until a new ‘Stang arrives for 2015. And neither is particularly practical.
Of this trio, the Challenger is my favorite. Part of the reason might reflect empathy. I am, after all, the doughy, pasty guy sweating breathlessly at the gym. Part of the reason is that I don’t like to drive the same car everyone else has, and everyone else has a Camaro or a Mustang. Part of the reason is that the Challenger is unapologetic about its mission, which is to look and feel like an old car, to tug at the heartstrings with nostalgia. And part of the reason is that I can carry my family inside of it without folding everyone up like origami, while simultaneously stuffing its giant trunk with our stuff.
For more of my reasons for recommending the Dodge Challenger, read on.
2013 Dodge Challenger R/T Road Test and Review: Models and Prices
The 2013 Dodge Challenger is sold in SXT ($26,790), Rallye Redline ($30,690), R/T ($30,990), and SRT8 392 ($45,770) trim levels. The SXT and Rallye Redline models have a 305-horsepower V-6 engine. The SRT8 392 is equipped with a 470-horsepower, 6.1-liter V-8 engine that rockets this heavyweight to 60 mph in less than 5 seconds.
The Challenger R/T models are also equipped with a V-8 engine, displacing 5.7 liters and making as much as 375 horsepower. Within the Challenger R/T lineup, Dodge offers the standard R/T, the R/T Plus ($32,990), and the R/T Classic ($34,990). New packages for this model include the R/T Blacktop Package and the R/T Redline Package, each priced at $1,995.
My test car was the Challenger R/T Plus, painted Granite Crystal with red fender stripes and a two-tone Slate and Radar Red leather interior. Options on my car included a Super Track Pak with suspension, steering, and braking upgrades; 20-inch aluminum wheels with P245/45ZR20 Goodyear Eagle F1 Super Car summer performance tires, and a stability control system with three driving modes, including the ability to turn it completely off. Additional upgrades for my car included an upgraded Boston Acoustics sound system with a Uconnect touchscreen infotainment and navigation system. The window sticker amounts to $37,060.
2013 Dodge Challenger R/T Road Test and Review: Design
- Blacktop Package with Gloss Black exterior trim, a matte Graphite body stripe, and Gloss Black 20-inch wheels
- R/T Redline Package with Gloss Black wheels accented with Redline Red, a Graphite and Redline Red body stripe, and a body-color grille surround
- Five new exterior paint color choices, including Plum Crazy and Hemi Orange
Gaze at a 2013 Dodge Challenger for a long enough period of time, and the modern world shimmers and fades, transporting you to the Nixon era. Crank up Guess Who’s “American Woman,” fire the ignition, and you are ready to rock and roll, bell-bottoms, mutton-chop sideburns, and all.
Time travel continues when you open the door and step inside, where a Pistol Grip shifter, large round gauges, big flat seats, an oversized steering wheel, simplistic controls, and an old-school dashboard design await. Contemporary switchgear and technology, however, teleport you right back to 2013 and dark-rinse skinny jeans, The Black Keys, and Obamacare.
Retro is rapidly fading from the automotive design lexicon, but I, for one, love that the 2013 Dodge Challenger unabashedly borrows from history in liberal doses.
2013 Dodge Challenger R/T Road Test and Review: Comfort and Cargo
- No changes for 2013
If the Challenger isn’t quite as fast or quite as athletic as its two primary competitors, it makes up for these deficiencies with useful, practical size that is greatly appreciated in a daily driver. A family of four can legitimately enjoy a ride in the Challenger, even take it on a cross-country trip. See the U.S.A. in a Chevrolet? Not me. I’ll take this Dodge, please.
Riding on a shortened version of the same platform that underpins the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger, the Challenger isn’t quite as roomy in the back seat as its 4-door sedan cousins, but there’s still legitimate room for four people of 6-foot stature, and the folks riding in back sit high enough and far enough forward that the rear quarter windows effectively eliminate claustrophobia. It sure would help, though, if Dodge replaced those hard plastic front seatbacks with soft ones.
The driver’s seat offers excellent comfort for doughy, pasty types like me, but I can see how smaller people might feel like they’re wearing clothes a couple of sizes too large. The enormous and thick-rimmed steering wheel contributes to the effect, as do giant gauges. In any case, I drove the Challenger from the northwestern L.A. suburbs to downtown San Diego, spending three consecutive hours in the saddle, and comfort was never a problem.
Loading the Challenger’s trunk is, umm, challenging due to the tall 33-inch liftover height. But the cargo hold itself is enormous, measuring 16.2 cu.-ft., which is larger than many family sedans.
2013 Dodge Challenger R/T Road Test and Review: Features and Controls
- Improved Uconnect navigation system
Chrysler says it has improved the Uconnect navigation system in the 2013 Challenger, and that might be true, but the system’s graphics and response time still can’t match the excellent Uconnect 8.4 system offered in the Charger, Dart, and other Dodge models. Nevertheless, Uconnect technology is easy to understand and operate, rarely requiring use of the owner’s manual to determine what’s what.
That praise applies to all of the Challenger’s controls. My test car was not a stripped-down model, but most of the features were located where I expected to find them, and operated the way I expected them to. Dodge has paid plenty of attention to detail with regard to the switchgear’s materials and textures, from the rubber wraps on the climate control knobs and the solid yet fluid way they rotate, to the quality rubber dials used to control air flow at the vents.
Furthermore, the quality of the materials used, and the cabin’s construction, is exemplary for a car like this. The plastic pillar covers are textured to match the cloth headliner, the soft-touch upper dashboard and door panel materials are uniform in terms of gloss and grain, and the entire interior exhibits rock-solid construction. Try to wiggle a Challenger’s center console, even a little bit. It simply does not give.
The only disappointments, and they disappoint only by virtue of the fact that all other components feel good when used and display rock-solid fit, are the combination turn signal and wiper stalk, which clicks and clacks a little too much, and the cheap sound the center console lid makes when it is closed.
2013 Dodge Challenger R/T Road Test and Review: Safety and Ratings
- No changes for 2013
Just as the Challenger’s interior offers unexpected passenger room and quality, the list of standard safety features also holds surprise. For example, the car’s 4-wheel-disc antilock braking system includes rain-brake support and ready-alert braking features in addition to a brake assist system. Plus, all except the Challenger SXT models have ventilated rear disc brakes to match the standard ventilated front disc brakes. Hill-start assist is standard, along with traction and stability control.
My test car also had rear parking assist sensors, but what would really be helpful given the lack or rear visibility is a reversing camera system.
2013 Dodge Challenger Crash-Test Ratings:
In crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the 2013 Challenger receives an overall rating of 5 stars, the highest score possible. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) had not crash-tested a Challenger as this review was written.
2013 Dodge Challenger R/T Road Test and Review: Engines and Fuel Economy
- No changes for 2013
The 2013 Dodge Challenger R/T is equipped with a 5.7-liter V-8 engine and a choice between a 6-speed manual gearbox and a 5-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode. When equipped with a 6-speed manual gearbox, this V-8 generates 375 horsepower at 5,150 rpm and 410 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,300 rpm. Choose the optional 5-speed automatic, and horsepower dips a bit to 372 while torque falls to an even 400 lb.-ft.
One benefit of choosing the automatic, aside from making the car viable for people who never learned how to use a clutch pedal, is Fuel Saver Technology for the engine, which allows it to operate on fewer cylinders under low-load driving conditions in an effort to conserve fuel.
According to the EPA, the Challenger R/T with the manual transmission is rated to get 15 mpg in the city and 23 mpg on the highway, for a combined rating of 18 mpg. The automatic does slightly better at 16-city/25-highway and 19 mpg in combined driving. During my round-trip travel to San Diego, which included a rousing romp across the Santa Monica Mountains, I averaged 22.3 mpg with the manual transmission.
2013 Dodge Challenger R/T Road Test and Review: Driving Impressions
Given the Challenger’s yesteryear styling, 4,082-lb. curb weight, and emphasis on underhood muscle, one might deduce that this Dodge is a straight-line sort of machine, one that goes fast only when the road ahead lacks twists and turns. That’s not the case, but the Challenger isn’t a canyon carver, either. How could it be, given its size and heft?
Let’s start with the Challenger R/T’s 5.7-liter V-8 (372-375 horsepower), which provides impressive acceleration and an appropriate muscle-car rumble. This engine isn’t as stout as the 6.2-liter V-8 installed in the 3,860-lb. Camaro SS (400-426 horsepower) or the 5.0-liter V-8 found under the 3,618-lb. Mustang GT’s hood (412-420 horsepower), and is charged with motivating a heavier car. Nevertheless, it is a satisfying power plant, though Camaro and Mustang owners are likely to convey more than a drip or two of sarcasm when they ask a Challenger R/T’s owner: “That thing got a Hemi in it?”
My test car had the 6-speed manual gearbox, and it took me more than a few miles to get the hang of the hair-trigger clutch, but ultimately I found it easy to shift this car in drive-thru lines, in city traffic, and on some of my favorite mountain roads. With this transmission, I frequently noted and appreciated the car’s standard hill-start assist system. Also, I found that the Challenger’s retro-style “Pistol Grip” shifter fell readily to hand and felt terrific in my palm.
Together, the V-8 engine and manual transmission provide the Challenger R/T with quick, if not outright fast, acceleration for merging into traffic, passing slower vehicles, or just melting the rear tires and having a good time.
If I have a complaint about the Challenger’s dynamics, it relates to the car’s electro-hydraulic power steering. First, the steering wheel really is quite large, even for a big car like the Challenger. Second, the steering occasionally feels a little bit too light on-center and a little bit slow off-center, but these characteristics do serve to heighten the overall retro effect of the car while regularly quickening the driver’s pulse.
What’s not at all retro is the Challenger R/T’s performance-tuned suspension and performance braking components. The independent front and rear suspension design is equipped with larger front and rear stabilizer bars than a Challenger V-6, and in combination with the Super Track Pak’s upgraded brakes and summer performance tires, give the 2-ton coupe surprising resistance to brake fade and remarkable grip in corners. The limiting factor in terms of tossing the big Challenger into a turn, especially a hairpin, and especially one located in a canyon with cliffs and rock walls, is the car’s substantial girth, which regularly proves to be a liability on narrow two-lane roads. Get the Challenger onto a wider highway with higher-speed sweeping curves, and it’s a happier camper.
I spent most of my time behind the wheel plying Southern California freeways, where the Challenger proved itself comfortable, quiet, and remarkably composed. It would be easy to drive a Challenger all day, with a spouse and children aboard, and nobody would be uncomfortable, or need to yell over the din of wind noise, road roar, or engine rumble. That’s something that cannot be said for the Challenger’s primary competitors.
2013 Dodge Challenger R/T Road Test and Review: Final Thoughts
Buying a new Challenger is like buying a resto-mod from the factory, complete with a warranty, contemporary technology, modern safety equipment, and dramatically improved handling and fuel economy compared to the original. There’s an unexpected refinement to this car that’s lacking in the Camaro and Mustang, an isolation factor that makes the Challenger a terrific companion for the daily drive on the city streets, suburban boulevards, and freeways where most muscle-car owners spend the majority of their time.
This Challenger R/T isn’t a track rat, but its not supposed to be. Instead, it is a versatile, practical, everyday kind of car equipped with plenty of attitude. While I like and appreciate both the Chevy Camaro SS and Ford Mustang GT for what they are, and what they can do, my choice among this trio is the Challenger R/T.
2013 Dodge Challenger R/T Road Test and Review: Pros and Cons
- Retro design wrapped around modern mechanicals
- V-8 rumble and acceleration
- Roomy interior and trunk
- Long-distance comfort
- Quality materials and construction
- Impressive crash-test rating
- Decent fuel economy
- Wide-load dimensions
- Exterior door handles hard to grip
- Tall liftover height for trunk
Dodge supplied the vehicle for this review
2013 Dodge Challenger R/T photos by Christian Wardlaw
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