Dodge Challenger – The Green Missile

The Dodge Challenger R/T I was given
The Dodge Challenger R/T I was given

Recently I was given a Dodge Challenger R/T to drive for 5 days. I enjoyed it immensely, so I decided that should be my next review.

The Dodge Challenger R/T is the mid-range Challenger, above the SXT and SXT Plus, but below the T/A, SRT, and Hellcat. There are a lot of trim levels on the Challenger. It’s powered by a 5.7L Hemi V8 (yep, really) making 375bhp and 410lb-ft of torque (280kW and 556Nm), sent to the rear wheels. This is not the most powerful vehicle I’ve driven, but it’s close.  The Challenger in this guise has a 0-60 time of 5.1s, and a top speed of 155mph, electronically limited. The lower model cars have a 3.7L V6, while the top of the range features a 6.4L V8. Features between version of the car are much the same across the range. The car I had was fitted with the 8-speed ZF automatic. It had something I still find odd, but which seems quite normal on many cars – a footbrake. Instead of a handbrake or an electronic parking brake, the ‘handbrake’ is one pressed on/off with your foot. I still find these very peculiar, although it is common enough.

 

As with my last review, the first thing to talk about is the bad parts. Let’s address the elephant in the room. My car was bright, eye searing green. It looks loud in photos, but I can tell you that photos do not do it justice. It was incredibly bright. There are several other colours available that I feel would be much better choices, but there’s a certain charm to the car being green.

The next thing is that this car is enormous. It’s the size of an SUV in length and width, so it takes up a massive amount of space on the road, and it is incredibly heavy. Which leads to…

The Challenger is horrendously impractical. Yes, it has an enormous boot. But the rear seats (it’s a 2+2) are tiny and completely unusable, which is incredible given the size of the car. The boot, despite being massive, is very far off the ground, no low access at all. The car is also about 50% blind spots – somehow, despite everything, it’s just hard to see out of. My car didn’t have a reverse camera, just parking sensors, so I reversed it as little as possible because I didn’t want to damage it. Coupled with the size, this generally makes parking it an interesting experience.

The last point is fuel economy. This is a difficult one for me, because the fuel economy of the car is bad, but it’s in fact comparatively good for a V8, and so compared to other V8 powered cars making similar power, it’s actually pretty good. The car, over the days I had it, averaged 18mpg around town (21.5mpg UK, 13L/100km) and 24mpg (29mpg UK, 9.8L/100km) on the freeway. This is not bad fuel economy for a V8, in part due to the car having cylinder deactivation – when cruising, half the cylinders are disabled, making the car a 4cylinder, and therefore much more efficient. The on-the-spot efficiency of the car in this mode is around 30mpg (36 mpg UK, 7.8L/100km) which is remarkably good. But, since this is a general car blog, I have to say that comparatively, the fuel economy wasn’t that great.

The Challenger's profile and interior
The Challenger’s profile and interior

So, it’s huge, impractical, and mediocre levels of efficient. Let’s talk about the good stuff.

The Challenger may be massive, but the enormous engine makes up for this in so many ways. First, the thing you notice before you even move, is the noise. The V8 roar is one of my favourite sounds on Earth, and the Challenger’s sound is masterful. Absolutely sublime, and I would put my foot down whenever possible just to hear the V8 roar up the rev range. The other part about it is just how much power there is on tap. Because the car isn’t turbocharged, the power is available in a much more linear fashion, so when you put your foot down there’s no lag, just a building of relentless power pushing you along. It was very, very easy to spin the wheels when pulling off from a traffic light. Equally, because there’s so much power available, overtaking others even at freeway speeds is completely effortless – put your foot down at any speed, and there’s still more power in reserve to get you going. This is intoxicating. The entire time I was driving the Challenger I had a massive grin on my face. It’s not especially grippy in the twisty mountain passes – it’s not a small German hatchback – but I was surprised by how well it handled.

The Challenger is also eminently comfortable. I drove 500 miles in two days, and the Challenger is a perfect vehicle for freeway cruising. The (front) seats are large, nicely adjustable, and very comfortable. I feel that you’d probably not want to cram two people into the back seats for that duration, as they might wish to kill you once their limbs have unfurled.

In terms of equipment, I have to say that the Challenger surprised me with what was available. The R/T has dual zone climate control as standard, and comes with uConnect, an 8.4” touch screen featuring a very complete infotainment system. My car had nav included, and it’s one of the best navigation systems I’ve used. uConnect also supports both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, which is nice to see as a standard feature. The system supports SiriusXM satellite radio, as expected, and has full Bluetooth compatibility including control of music from the system. There is a USB port and an Aux in, too. One interesting quirk about this particular system was that on the rear of the steering wheel, where one might expect to find paddle shifters, was in fact the next/prev and volume rockers. This was incredibly confusing, and since they’re not visible I continuously forgot which side was which. I don’t understand why they were placed there, but I thought it was a silly location – why not on the front of the steering wheel in a logical fashion?

The Challenger, as a modern car, featured a great multi function screen in the middle of the dash that displayed all kind of useful information, although I, as usual, set it to display fuel economy and left it at that. The Challenger has a TPMS that actually tells you the tyre pressures of each wheel. On the electronic gizmos, the car features Cruise control, of course, and automatic headlights, but manual wipers.  I tend to prefer this as I don’t generally get on with automatic wipers. The Challenger I was driving had the optional sunroof, which was a great addition to the car.

To summarise:

+Incredible amounts of power

+Very well equipped

+Comfortable

+That V8 noise

-Massive

-Not practical

-Not very fuel efficient

Overall, though, I absolutely loved my time with the Challenger. The intoxicating V8 was completely addictive and it was much more fun to drive than I was expecting. I feel the Challenger could benefit from a reversing camera, however, to help counter the visibility problems.

 

VW GTI – The first review

My 2011 VW GTI
My 2011 VW GTI

I think it probably makes sense to talk about my current car first. For the past year, I’ve been driving a 2011 VW (Golf) GTI. In the US the Golf name is dropped for the GTI.

The 2011 GTI is powered by a 2-litre turbocharged Inline 4 engine, making 200bhp and 207lb-ft of torque (155 kW and 280 Nm), with a 0-60mph time of 6.9s and a top speed of 149mph (240km/h). Mine is a 5 door, although a 3-door variant exists. The GTI is the ‘mid-range’ hot hatch – sportier than the Golf, but sitting below the Golf R. All three cars share much of the same equipment, although the Golf R is AWD rather than FWD. My car is fitted with the 6-speed DSG automatic gearbox with paddle shifters on the wheel.

First, let’s talk about the bad. Usually people start with the good, but I feel understanding the bad parts of a car is almost of more use. I will say that I love my GTI, but it’s a 6 year old car and it rattles an enormous amount. Half the time it seems like most of the internal parts rattle. Also, as a 6 year old car, the radio is touch screen (resistive rather than capacitive) and supports Bluetooth and A2DP (Bluetooth Streaming) but does not support AVRCP (BT Control) so I cannot control my phone’s music from the car.

Finally, and by far the biggest thing, is that servicing costs are not especially cheap. It’s a German car, so things don’t go wrong often, but when they go wrong, they really go wrong in spectacular fashion. About 2 months after I bought the car (with around 65,000 miles on the clock) the engine essentially exploded. This was traced to a fault in the cam chain tensioner, which had stopped working, causing the cam chain to get out of timing sync, which essentially grenaded my engine. That was a very expensive thing to learn. PSA: get your timing chain tensioner inspected before 60k miles, and make sure your car has if you’re buying on of similar mileage.

Honestly, though, that is about it for the bad. So let’s talk about the good.

The GTI is a fantastic car to drive. 200bhp doesn’t sound like a lot in the modern era of supercars reaching 700+ and even hot hatches having more than 300, but it is plenty enough. The car is quite capable of hustling down your favourite nearby country road, glued to the corners, putting a massive smile on your face. And then if you need to cruise 300 miles on the freeway, it’s perfectly comfortable for longer journeys too. The seats are enveloping but not tight, incredibly adjustable, and remarkably comfortable. And you can fit five people in the car! The car’s DSG is one of the fastest shifting gearboxes I’ve ever used, and paddle shifters mean you don’t even take your hands off the wheel if you’ve decided to change gear manually.

So, practicality. The GTI is a hatchback, so there’s plenty of boot space – enough for a full week’s shopping, or a few small suitcases. The rear seats fold down when you need more space. Under the boot floor is a space saver spare wheel, as well as a polystyrene tray with loads of cubby holes – useful for storing stuff like a first aid kit out of the way! As mentioned, 5 people can fit in the GTI – although maybe not on a 300 mile road trip, the people in the back might get a bit cramped. There are air vents to the back seats so your rear passengers can get some air conditioning in the back. The 5 door is obviously much more accessible to passengers since the rear passengers get doors to themselves. Fuel economy is pretty good, averaging 25mpg (30mpg UK, 9.41l/100km) around town in stop/start traffic, and 33mpg (39.5mpg UK, 7.13l/100km) on the highway.

In terms of features and equipment, the GTI is relatively well equipped although not exactly by modern standards. It features manual a/c, electric windows with auto up/down on all four windows (seriously, why is this not standard everywhere? It should be universal!), a decent enough touch screen radio with support for Sirius XM, Bluetooth, a 3.5mm aux in, and the strange proprietary VW Media Port of that era, which supports iPod cables and the like. The latter is stored under the central armrest. There’s a nice trip computer in the dash that features all the standard things you’d expect. The car includes a tyre pressure monitoring system, although it will only inform you if pressure is too low, not the exact tyre pressures. The car does not have automatic headlights or wipers, and lacks parking sensors or a reversing camera. In 2017, this seems surprising, but in 2011 it was less so. It includes a sunroof that honestly is my favourite feature of the entire car. I don’t think I’d have a car without one ever again.

The car has a few electronic driving aids – ABS, and a few Traction Control systems, which can be partially disabled by a button on the centre console, although not completely disabled. For all but the most hardcore, this will be fine.

To summarise:

+Perfect mix of practicality and sportiness

+Fabulous to drive

+Relatively well equipped

-Old

Yes, that seems like an odd negative, but that really is it, in my opinion. The car is great, but as the last generation car from 2011, it suffers from the fact that there have been technological innovations since 2011 as other things have become more standard.

Please let me know what you think, reader. Your feedback is appreciated and will help me to write this blog!

An Introduction

Hello, reader! My name’s Oli, and I love cars. Figured it was best to get that out the way first. I’ve loved cars ever since I was very small, and love driving. I’ve had the privilege of travelling for work quite a lot, which means I’ve had a lot of experience driving a lot of different cars – many for only a few hours or days, but often that has been enough to give a good outline of the vehicle.

I’ve wanted to talk about the cars I’ve driven for many years – so this is going to be a starting point.

So, for the very first post, a list. This will be grouped by how much time I’ve spent driving the cars.

Long term (multiple months or more)

  • Mk1 Renault Clio – 1998
  • Mk1 Ford Ka – 2001
  • Mk6 Ford Fiesta – 2007
  • Mk3 Mazda MX-5 – 2006
  • Mk3 Ford Focus – 2016
  • Mk6 VW (Golf) GTI – 2011

Short term (multiple hours or more)

  • Germany
    • Opel/Vauxhall Adam – 2014
    • Mk7 Ford Fiesta – 2014
  • Qatar
    • Skoda Fabia – 2014
    • Suzuki Alto – 2015
    • Suzuki Swift – 2015
  • UK
    • Hyundai i40 Touring – 2016
    • Renault Kadjar – 2016
    • Mazda 2 – 2016
    • Nissan Primera – 2000(?)
    • Mini Cooper Convertible – 2012
    • Mk4 Mazda MX-5 – 2016
    • Jaguar XE – 2016
  • USA
    • VW Jetta – 2016
    • Ford Mustang – 2016 (V6, V8)
    • Chevrolet Cruze – 2017
    • Mitsubishi Lancer – 2017
    • Nissan Versa – 2017
    • Toyota RAV4 – 2017
    • BMW 528i – 2017
    • Hyundai Sonata – 2017
    • Dodge Challenger – 2017

Test Drives (less than 1 hour)

  • BMW i8 – 2016
  • BMW i3 – 2016
  • Toyota GT86 – 2016
  • Audi TT Convertible – 2016
  • Tesla Model S – 2016

Eventually my hope is to have written reviews of all the cars listed here, but that’s quite a long term goal!