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2020 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack Test: Still Old, Still a Thrill

The Dodge Challenger hasn’t changed much for well more than a decade, but that’s not all bad.

2020 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack Widebody

LOS ANGELES—It blows my mind to think the Dodge Challenger, in its present form, has been with us for 13 years. That's 2.5 times as long as the original Challenger's run. And really, what's changed since 2008? The interior has gotten better—if you remember the 2008 Dodge Challenger, there was no place to go but up in that regard—and the styling has been revised a bit, and the engines have gotten more bonkers, to the point that the 485-horsepower terror I drove for this 2020 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack test represents the dead-ass middle of the lineup.

You would think—OK, sorry, no need to project; I should say I would think—I'd by now be out of things to say about the Challenger; I've probably reviewed at least a half-dozen of the damn things since 2008. And yet I found myself exceptionally pleased to see this latest re-lipsticked pig, and thrilled as ever to test drive it.

I should mention I took this 2020 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack Widebody for a test run not long after reviewing an accessorized Chevrolet Camaro SS, and after taking a refresher drive in a Ford Mustang GT 5.0. The Challenger thrilled (and thrills) me in its own special way, and not just because I'm an old-Chrysler fanboy, although I am. (If it's got a whiny gear-reduction starter, I want to drive it). What I like about the Challenger is the fact, of all of today's modern muscle cars, it best bridges the gap between old and new.

2020 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack Test: Remembering the Truth About Old Muscle Cars

Allow me to go off on a tangent for a moment: Old muscle cars—perhaps I should say pony cars; the two really aren't the same thing—were way worse than you remember. Yes, they looked cool and they were loud, but they were also hard to start, ran like crap until they warmed up … and then promptly fouled their own plugs and overheated. They had awful steering, terrible suspensions, inadequate brakes, and vinyl seats you'd practically fall out of if you took a turn too fast—provided you didn't slide into a utility pole first. Fast? They felt that way, but the vast majority of them couldn't beat a modern-day V-6-powered Toyota Camry in the quarter mile.

Today's Camaro and Mustang are thoroughly modern cars. So is the Dodge Challenger: Basically, it's an old-school muscle car without the headaches. My test car, a Challenger R/T Scat Pack Widebody model (that's Scat Pack as in Dodge's nickname for its 1968-71 muscle car lineup, not scat as in animal droppings, although you have to wonder what the hell the marketing folks were thinking) ran a 485-hp, 6.4 liter V-8 that'll push the Challenger through the standing quarter mile in less than 13 seconds, quicker than the quickest of the original E-bodies.

It has the soundtrack of an angry God who has the power to turn rear tires to dust with just a twitch of His accelerator foot. It'll do all the stupid muscle car stuff, like making U-turns without any steering input. It even has a line lock, and if you don't know what that is, you're too young for us to converse.

2020 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack Test: Blending Old and New

But unlike an old-timey muscle car, this one changes direction promptly when you turn the big round thing in front of you, and stepping on the middle pedal stops the car, not your heart. How bad were old muscle car brakes? A friend had a '69 Charger with four-wheel non-assisted drum brakes. Years back, he once told me, he took his car to a Chryslers at Chelsea event and got it up to 120 mph or so on the company's oval. When he was flagged to come in, he stepped on the brakes and nothing happened. He wisely blew past the exit and let drag slow the car to double-digit speeds where the brakes would have some effect. Incidentally, Chrysler referred to this braking setup as "heavy-duty police brakes." Brings a whole new meaning to "Stop in the name of the law", doesn't it?

Anyway, back to the new Challenger—what I like best about it is that while it drives like a modern car, it doesn't feel entirely modern.

Let's say I had a time machine, and let's say I zapped a Camaro owner from 1971 into our modern world and set him behind the wheel of a modern Chevrolet Camaro. Let's pretend he wouldn't be busy flipping out about where the hell he is and wondering why everyone is so obsessed with their tiny hand-held TV sets, and how come you can't smoke indoors?

Actually, the more I think about it, the time machine is a terrible way to illustrate my point, because if I had one I'd go to 1974 to buy up all of the old muscle cars that languished, unwanted, on dealer lots, but are now worth a fortune. I'd also nab a set of spare hubcaps for my 1969 Dodge Polara. Really, I'd just nab a spare Dodge Polara for my Dodge Polara. Also, a bag of M&Ms. No red ones because back then we all thought they caused cancer. You know, I really ought to just drop this whole time-machine tangent, but this story is already past its deadline and I'm going with what I got.

So, back to our hapless Nixon-era Camaro driver: If I popped he or she behind the wheel of a modern Camaro, I'm sure they would be thrilled, but I don't think they'd find much in common with the car they left behind. But a Challenger owner? I think this person would see a lot that was familiar. And that is the point I have dragged you through a thorny 250-word thicket to make: There is a nice mix of old and new here.

2020 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack Test: Just the Right Amount of Retro

Of course, there's the styling, which really is a much better homage to the original than what you see with the Mustang or Camaro. That classic E-body shape lives on in the Challenger, but the Widebody model's fender flares give it a cool restomod look—and no rare original Challengers had to die to make that happen.

One of my favorite bits is the automatic transmission shifter, a cut-down T-handle that pays homage to the original Mopar "Slap Stik" shifter. Banging that T-handle around is a lot more fun than using the steering-wheel-mounted paddles. There's only one steering-column stalk, just like the days when the right side of the column was reserved for a transmission shifter. The font on the gauges is a perfect '60s throwback.

One throwback I can do without is the overstuffed driver's seat: I felt like I was going to roll right out of it—off of it, really—in every curve. Expert tip: If you buy a 2020 Dodge Challenger, you're going to want to double up on those cheeseburgers until the seats wear in.

Also, there's the hair-trigger throttle, which is fine when you're doing muscle-car show-off stuff, but it makes the 2020 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack feel restless and impatient in traffic. Everyone who sees you in this car assumes you're a testosterone-fueled jerk, and the Challenger's throttle response almost forces you to leave each traffic light just the way they expect you to.

Still, I had great fun in the 2020 Challenger, peering down that long hood and careening through my favorite curvy roads at speeds no first-gen Challenger could ever muster, all while leaving a glorious bellow of V-8 exhaust in my wake—the same experience I've enjoyed in Challengers for more than a decade now. There may be nothing terribly new and notable about the Dodge Challenger, but it's as fantastic as ever.

2020 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack Highlights

  • Scat Pack is the top-line non-SRT Challenger
  • Optional Widebody package
  • Optional Shaker hood scoop

2020 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack Pros

  • Throwback styling recalls the classic 1970-74 Challenger
  • Fast and noisy, and brilliant in the curves
  • Throwback styling cues make it feel like a well-executed restomod

2020 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack Cons

  • Hair-trigger throttle response
  • Old-school overstuffed front seats
2020 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack Widebody
2020 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack Specifications
ON SALE Now
PRICE $40,490 (base)
ENGINE 6.4L OHV 16-valve V-8/485 hp @ 6,100 rpm, 475 lb-ft @ 4,100 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, RWD coupe
EPA MILEAGE 15/24 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 197.5 x 78.3 x 57.7 in
WHEELBASE 116.0 in
WEIGHT 4,236 lb
0-60 MPH 4.5 sec
TOP SPEED 185 mph (est)