Reviews

A Palm Springs Weekend in a Dodge Challenger T/A

Defrost with a summertime roadtrip

How’s the weather? Chances are things are probably a bit frosty if you aren’t stationed in the southeast or southwest tips of the U.S. After freezing our posteriors asunder in Detroit during this year’s Detroit auto show, I’m reminiscing back to a sweltering July weekend in Palm Springs, when I explored the mid-century modern California city in a Go Green Dodge Challenger T/A.

Almost ten years on from its introduction, the modern Dodge Challenger remains an impossibly ostentatious car. It’s a slab-sided brute often adorned with loud exhausts, bright paint, and big wheels, offered as a rolling tribute to the thunder-filled machismo summer days of the 1960s and 1970s. More so than Chevrolet or Ford, Dodge embraces this exuberance, offering enthusiasts an unprecedented lineup of vintage-inspired packages for every palate and penchant.

For the majority of the Challenger’s time on the market, those who couldn’t afford to cross the sizable price gulch between the R/T and the SRT models were left behind. The Scat Pack arrived in 2015, bringing the big-honkin’ 6.4-liter SRT engine to the masses, but didn’t offer much in the way of style aside from bigger wheels and a few badges.

In 2016, the Woodward Dream Cruise was the chosen venue for the debut of the Challenger T/A, showcasing a host of new aesthetic affects pulled straight from a then two-year-old SEMA concept. Where the slightly more expensive Scat Pack plays its 485-hp cards close to its chest, the T/A pulls no visual punches, wearing sweet retro T/A graphics on the sides. The hood, roof, and trunklid are satin black, darkening the exterior along with unique 20-inch Mopar wheels. Up front, a set of optional factory-installed hoodpins are a useless but very welcome piece of flair, while the rear decklid spoiler wears “Challenger” badging in classic cursive script.

While you can order the T/A package with the mighty “392” engine, my tester found motivation through the R/T’s 5.7-liter V-8, the smallest and least potent V-8 of the lineup. It didn’t get much more exciting inside thanks to the eight-speed automatic transmission’s T-handle shifter sticking up through the center tunnel.

At this point, I’d driven ‘em all–SRT 392s, Scat Packs, GTs, and Hellcats. Going through the “cool car” motions wouldn’t pass muster as wheeling an automatic R/T around tight canyon roads would reveal nothing new, nor would a relaxed cruise up the coast. In Go Green, the T/A is effortlessly American, blending modern proportions with classic Americana aesthetic. Here, style is the substance, so I needed to take the Challenger somewhere it would fit in.  So, on a very, very hot mid-July Saturday morning, I packed up and fueled the T/A for a sprint over to Palm Springs to meet contributor Ronald Ahrens for a tour of the fascinating city.

Located roughly 120 miles east of Los Angeles, Palm Springs remains one of U.S.’ most enigmatic cities. It’s drenched in 1950s and 1960s aesthetic, from the rows of perfect straight-edged mid-century homes to an almost sculptural Chase bank wearing architecture penned by local legend E. Stewart Williams—driving through the picturesque neighborhoods is like taking a swim in David Hockney’s “A Bigger Splash.”

This is a place that worships style and color, so the T/A was right at home burbling up and down the rock-lined roads that connected some of the most architecturally significant houses in America. Ahrens is an exceptionally knowledgeable tour guide, so our drive takes us from celebrity houses like Sinatra’s Twin Palms hideout and Elvis’ honeymoon home, onto the wonderfully stylistic Parker hotel.

We didn’t spend much time outside the Challenger thanks to a heat index reaching up to 120 degrees. When we did venture out into the desert sun, the remote start feature kept the A/C working hard to maintain its (and our) cool.

After capturing the green T/A out in front of the city’s eccentric homebrew sculpture garden known as “RoboLights” and exploring some of the more significant houses in the rocky hills, we pointed the satin black hood north to Joshua Tree, where burgers and entertainment awaited us at Pioneertown.

Out on open desert roads, the T/A came to life. With the eight-speed automatic transmission, the 5.7-liter spins out 372 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque, enough for a 0-60 sprint that falls somewhere in the low-to-mid five-second range. It isn’t oppressively quick like the Hellcat, but the 5.7-liter sounds excellent and provides more than enough grunt to get in some serious trouble. When you do turn off the arrow-straight freeway, the T/A benefits from a stiffer struts and “heavy duty” brake lines, changes that manage the bulk noticeably better than a pedestrian R/T.

It’s not just the name that’s a bit weird–the entirety of Pioneertown is disconcerting. The mostly uninhabited town began life as a set for Western films in the 1940s, eventually settling in as a tourist oddity for looky-loos and tourists passing to-and-from Palm Springs. Standing out from amongst the dirt-covered buildings is Pappy and Harriet’s, a relatively hidden watering hole and musical venue that has played host to a varied roster that includes Paul McCartney and Vampire Weekend.

One burger and history lesson later, we roared back to Palm Springs to drop Ahrens off before rumbling home to Los Angeles. The thunderous T/A might seem as an odd choice for such a calm diversion, but for what the retro package represents, it was perfect. It’s stylish, striking, and classic, a perfect getaway vehicle when the desert calls.

2018 Dodge Challenger T/A Specifications

ON SALE Now
PRICE $38,950 (base)
ENGINE 5.7L OHV 16-valve V-8/372 hp @ 5,200 rpm, 400 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, RWD coupe
EPA MILEAGE 16/25 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 179.9 x 75.7 x 57.5 in
WHEELBASE 116.2 in
WEIGHT 4,147 lb
0-60 MPH 5.1 sec
TOP SPEED N/A

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