Taking pictures of a concept car at a show is one thing, but I actually drove the new Chal
It was a phone call that I guarantee every Mopar guy from sea to shining sea wishes he would have gotten. I was asked if I would like to drive the new Challenger concept car. You heard me, not just take some pictures of it sitting in a parking lot, but actually get behind the wheel of this thing and drive it. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. This was almost as good as getting a call saying that I had just won the lottery. Scott Brown, Chrysler's West Coast PR rep, was calling to let me know the Challenger concept car was coming to California, and that I was not only going to have a chance to photograph it, but also to actually sit in the driver seat and drive it. I've been thoroughly captivated by the look of the new Challenger concept car, and I recently had a chance to meet and interview the two principal designers, Michael Castiglione and Alan Barrington, but I never thought I would ever get a chance to get behind the wheel.
The location for the Challenger photo shoot and drive was the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department Emergency Vehicle Operations Center (EVOC). This is where cops learn how to drive patrol cars and do the bad-guy-spinning-out-of-control PIT maneuver. EVOC is located 20 miles north of San Bernardino and includes an excellent high-speed track.
When I arrived at EVOC, I saw a group of people huddled around the brilliant orange car. There was no mistaking it; that had to be the Challenger concept that I was going to drive. I had to remember that I was driving the car in order to give you guys an insight into how the car handled, but all I could think was, let me mash the pedal, let me mash the pedal. I was soon to find out the guys at DCX weren't quite ready to let me do that. I made a beeline for the car, running over women and children in the process (not really). the closer I got, the better it looked. I hadn't been able to go to Detroit for its introduction, but I had seen all the photos. it is noticeably bigger than an original Challenger, but it's by no means oversized--let's say it's comfortably robust. The combination of the spectacular orange paint and raw carbon-fiber accents is breathtaking. in fact, the entire body is made of carbon fiber and executed perfectly, but don't expect the production vehicle to be built out of the same material. When you first see any car sitting in a parking lot, stance is everything, and the Challenger concept has it in spades. It's a very impressive vehicle when you finally get to see it in person.
Modern Muscle! There are no bad angles for viewing the Challenger concept. It's exceptiona
I said a few quick hellos to the DaimlerChrysler staff, and then stood by the driver's door like a hound dog waiting for his dish to be filled. I was determined that no one would get between me and the car. When Scott Brown asked if I wanted to drive it, emotional containment was at the breaking point, and my head nodded like a bobblehead doll riding in an off-road vehicle.
As I was getting into the car, somebody asked if I could drive a stick. Of course I could, but even if I couldn't, I don't know if I would have said anything! The disappointment came when they warned me to keep the speed down because the car is fitted with a set of one-off show wheels that are a multipiece design and not what you would call Mopar Muscle stress test rated, therefore, no burnouts or high speed passes. As much as I wanted to see how far through the floorboard I could push the throttle pedal on the 425hp SRT8 Hemi and go through the gears, I knew this was a rare opportunity to drive one hell of a special car, and if I wanted to stay in the driver seat, I'd better follow the rules.
The Challenger concept's big doors gave me easy access to the supportive bucket seats, and the steering wheel is an excellent representation of the famous Mopar musclecar-era Tuff wheel and has an exceptional feel and location. I took advantage of the Challenger concept's power windows to lower all the windows, since this is a true hardtop. Then I sat there for a second drinking it all in: the legroom, the shifter location, the pedal position, and the instrument panel layout. Damn nice!
I reached forward to turn the key, and the powerful Hemi jumped to life. I reached down for the shifter and grasped the modern day Pistol Grip shifter--this shifter is not a '70s-era revolver grip, but a more modern Glock-style grip. I pushed it into first with a solid click and winged the throttle. Instantly, there was a throaty response out of the exhaust; it definitely sounds like a musclecar. As I forced myself to ease out the clutch and pull onto the track, a smile broke across my face as I realized I was actually driving the first new Dodge Challenger to be manufactured in over 30 years. This wasn't some throttled-down, solar-cell-powered "green" car, but a full-on, honkin', 425hp, 21st century, Hemi-powered musclecar. As I accelerated away and shifted into second, I could feel the power on tap. The shifts were short and smooth, and the feel of the modern Pistol Grip shifter is superior. I intentionally slowed down while in Third gear to see how the 425hp engine responded at a low rpm under a load. From an idle, it pulled strongly without a whimper or unfriendly chug. This engine in any of the current SRT8s is superb, but with six speeds of select your own gears, it's even better and a lot more fun.
Under the hood of the Challenger concept is a 425hp engine, the same one that powers the S
As I was driving down the backstretch of the EVOC track, I glanced to the left to see a white Chevrolet pickup truck on the road outside that parallels the track. As I looked over, I could see a young guy hanging out of the passenger window with a big grin on his face and pumping his fist in the air as if he'd just scored the winning goal in a World Cup soccer match. He knew what he was looking at. I tried to be as cool as possible and casually waved back, but I felt like pumping my fist in the air too. I still can't wipe the silly grin off my face.
With its LX underpinnings, the Challenger concept has the solid road feel of an SRT8 Charger or Magnum. But it's more fun to drive with its six-speed manual transmission, and the exhaust has a definite rumble thanks to Flowmaster mufflers.
After what seemed like only a few laps around the track, I brought it back for the next lucky journalist to experience. as I forced myself to get out of the car, one thing came to mind--sweet, really sweet.
I kept asking the DaimlerChrysler executives whether or not Dodge plans to build the new Challenger, and I keep getting the reply that DaimlerChrysler does not talk about future production plans. But their recent record of taking a concept show car into production (e.g., Viper, PT Cruiser, Crossfire, and 300), gives me hope that they will, in fact, build another Challenger. And if it's anything close to the Challenger concept I just drove, put my name on the waiting list for a black one with a black interior.
DaimlerChrysler's marketing team wanted to hear directly what automotive enthusiasts had t
The DCX staff on hand asked us to be gentle because this is the only concept prototype. if