Author’s Note: This piece was written prior to the reprehensible and cowardly terrorist attack that took place during the overall abhorrent events in Charlottesville, VA. It is not intended as commentary on that event, it was not inspired by that event, it just a piece about some cars I enjoyed driving. If its political discourse you’re looking for I’ll kindly point you to my Twitter.
You know what I’m not at all a fan of? Being lied to. Happens daily, in all kinds of ways and on all kinds of levels. Between friends, between lovers, between governments, between societies. There are little lies with large consequences and big lies that are hardly worth a second thought because they are so obviously false. We face so much outright lying that seeking truth can be downright exhausting and this is what liars count on. When a certain level of exhaustion hits, apathy sets in and once that happens it’s a long road back to being engaged and passionate.
But, sometimes all a person needs is a big dose of truth that skips the head and goes right to the heart. It reboots the system, brings a new clarity to the big picture and it is most often delivered via an unlikely source. You know, like a big dumb yellow or green car.
Alright, it’s unfair to call the Challenger dumb, old fashioned is more appropriate. After all it rides on a modified variation of a platform that has been around since the early 2000s and it’s a modern update of the classic Challenger shape.
Still, it’s a more compelling option than ever thanks to its straightforward approach to selling itself. It is here to prey on your most basic instincts and to flood your brain with nostalgic thoughts. Fine with me, at least it does so without pretense.
What’s particularly great is Dodge has added and improved technology where it counts, inside the damn car. UConnect is still my favorite infotainment system because it is simple and in my experience, problem free. A big 8.4" screen in the dash isn’t for everyone or every car, but it fits the Challenger.
Pull up the Performance Pages app and try to imagine them displayed on a smaller screen mounted atop the dashboard or in the gauge cluster. It doesn’t work. Sure it’s information a driver can use, but how often do you need to know your 1/4 mile braking distance or lateral G figure? It’s there for the cool factor and there’s not much more to it than that.
The argument could be made that the Challenger T/A as a whole exists only for the cool factor and there’s certainly something to that stance. However there’s more to it than an retro appearance pack and $295 optional hood pins. Cars don’t have a soul, but the T/A does have soul.
I know this because both the T/A and T/A 392 repeatedly dragged me out of the comfort of my home and onto the streets of Los Angeles. The cars beg to be driven and not necessarily driven hard. Whereas the other modern muscle cars are best enjoyed when pushed, the Challenger is happy to cruise. This can be partially attributed to it being larger and more comfortable than the competition, but that’s not the whole story.
No, there’s this other element to the Challenger that will have you looking for reasons to get in and go for a drive. It’s the overall vibe of the car, it’s something foreign to most of my generation. What is it? Entertainment. Pure, simple entertainment delivered by the act of driving. Not setting lap times, not drag racing, not even hooning in an open parking lot. Just driving around and listening to music, letting the rest of the world fade away.
A Mustang is sexier, a Camaro is more technically proficient, but the Challenger is more entertaining at any given moment. The T/A has an exhaust that sounds exceptional on throttle anywhere north of 3,500 rpm and emits a terrific blaaat on shifts. However it’s also enjoyable when you’re just cruising around, emitting a low bassy burble that is most noticeable with the windows down. Fortunately the generously sized doors encourage you to let fresh air in and resting an arm atop the frame feels perfectly natural.
The T/A 392 comes standard with an active exhaust that’s deeper in tone and much louder than the T/A pipes when pushed. And though it’s not quite as pronounced as the whine of the supercharger in the Hellcat, you can hear the cold air intake wolfing down air fed to it by the hollow center inner headlamps. It’s a small detail, but adds a little something special to the symphony conducted with your right foot.
Naturally there is plenty of power to play with and it’s always there as both the 5.8L Hemi V8 in the T/A and 6.4L Hemi in the T/A 392 make due without forced induction. Whether in the T/A or T/A 392, it’s fun to watch the needle climb on the analog white face retro style gauges and climb quickly at that. The T/A is plenty, but the T/A 392 is plenty with a side of more. 6 piston Brembos, a Mopar cold air intake, sticky high performance summer compound tires, more is just what you want.
While shooting the “Go Green” T/A, a security guard came out from the depths of the glass structure I’d parked in front of just to admire the damn thing. I let him rev it up a couple times in exchange for a little more time taking my photos and a big smile broke over his face as the cracks and pops bounced off the building walls. Before I left the elderly guy shook his head and said “when I grow up I gotta get me one of these”. I’ve come to share his sentiment, though I don’t want to wait until I “grow up”.
There are very few new cars that I’d spend my money on, but the Challenger is one of them, albeit with a stick shift. It’s got a useable trunk, it’s comfortable, you can get decent(ish) gas mileage if you work at it. Most importantly it’s fun to drive. If fun isn’t part of the equation, then what’s the point of shelling out all that money for a new car? If you’re going to swallow that bitter depreciation pill, you’d damn sure better enjoy every aspect of the vehicle.
Each time I got behind the wheel of either T/A I was instantly put in a better mood. Sure they encouraged a bit of bad behavior and the rear wheels were forced to part with a fair amount of the rubber around them, but that’s all part of the equation. A little bit of misbehaving can go a long way in restoring some optimism and instilling a zest for life. It’s comforting to know that there’s at least one automaker who seems to share that sentiment.
Andrew Maness is a creative type who is especially good with words and photography. Not much of a painter though. Contact him at email@example.com and follow his automotive exploits @theroadlessdriven on Instagram.