Test Drive: 2017 Dodge Challenger T/A 392

Demons and Scat-Packs and RT’s and Hellcats, oh my!

Hitting the rev-limiter in a tunnel? Be sure you’re wearing a bib: the sound effects will put gearheads from all walks into a state of slobbering euphoria on par with waking up from a day’s worth of dental surgery.

Whatever the need in a go-fast Mopar, there’s a Challenger just right for your tastes and budget – not to mention a never-ending torrent of special-edition models packed with collector-car flair.

A recent one of these is the 2017 Dodge Challenger T/A – a model to commemorate the Trans Am racing cars of the seventies. Special graphics are applied, as is a unique satin finish which covers the roof, trunk and hood. Said hood gets hood-pins for further old-school looks, and the T/A wears the same hood scoop and air-catcher lights as the Challenger Hellcat.

In fact, Challenger T/A is a uniquely selected collection of ingredients from the Dodge performance parts bin, and the intake system and hood aren’t the only Hellcat-derived tweaks.

The tested T/A 392 also borrows the Hellcat’s wheels, superhero-sticky P-Zero tires, and massive Brembo braking system, with components that wouldn’t look out of place on a commercial airliner. You get a fixed suspension, not an adjustable one, though it’s lowered, and features special T/A tweaks. Big-bore sports exhaust is standard, too. For a laugh, pop down for a look beneath, and check out the small, coffee-can sized mufflers.

Wrap all of this noise and grip and power up in some Green Go paint and a rear spoiler and front splitter, and the tested Challenger T/A 392 proves a vehicle ideal for the driver who wants to cause a stir.

Here’s the tester in a nutshell: The 392 V8. The big brakes. The big stereo. The gnarly sounding sports exhaust. The big wheels. The gooey tires. The killer paint-job and cosmetics and hell, even those hood-pins. Configure your T/A like the $61,000 tester, and you’ve got an ideal package for maximized bang for the buck. This machine is about $20,000 less than a Hellcat, and about 98 percent as much fun to drive. Plus, you can get yours (like the tester) with a six-speed manual, for an extra $1,000. If you think an automatic HEMI-powered Challenger is about as appetizing as carbonated cottage cheese, you’ll have no problem shelling out the extra fundage.

Pick your engine: available are HEMI V8 units in 5.7 or 6.4 litres of displacement. The tester got the latter – good for 485 hp, which is more than you need. If you’re short on demerit points, consider the smaller V8, because the 392 is a doozy.

Prod the engine start button, and it burbles to life, exhaling with enough volume to send nearby wildlife dashing for cover. Neighbour-guy reported that the rumble during high-idle on a cold morning rattled a toothbrush off of his bathroom counter.

Acceleration is nearly overwhelming – you get three short gears, then two taller ones, and sixth, for cruising. The gearbox is massively entertaining: smooth but heavy, and highly mechanical. It’s a manly shifting experience, with a clutch that’s firm and holds plenty of power, but isn’t overly tiresome in traffic. The proper rhythm left-leg, right-arm rhythm takes some effort before gear changes come without driveline lash – it’s a somewhat demanding gearbox in this regard – but here’s a hint: the faster and harder you work this six-speed box, the smoother it is.

In fact, much of the Challenger T/A’s best stuff is strutted when you succumb to the charms of its powertrain and drive the bejesus out of it. Turn on Sport mode. Activate the Super Track Pack via its dedicated button, to customize various system settings. Heck, there’s even a countdown timer built into the computer to help you practice drag-race launches while sharpening your reaction times. (I’m not sure, on a scale of 1 to 10, where this feature lands in regard to voiding your warranty). Point is: this machine is built to entertain.

Give it the beans and the T/A really comes to life – and what you feel from the driver’s seat during hard use is unique. On one hand, the T/A is a very sensitive car. Not “sob in a corner because someone called it chubby” sensitive, but sensitive, big-time, to your inputs. Just a tiny bit more or less throttle, or brakes, adjusts its angle in a fast corner. Just tiny little inputs on the steering guide it from bend to bend. Steering is so quick, you just tighten up the muscles in one side of your hand, or the other, to effect a change in course. There’s less of a power curve from the engine, and more of a power slab, meaning plenty of juice is available with a tiny squeeze on the throttle.

Plus, the Challenger has a long wheelbase, which slathers everything with a smooth and predictable feel. The giant Brembos provide more than enough stopping power, and are fairly easy to modulate – despite a long pedal stroke and lower-than-expected precision at the pedal. Still, these brakes work better the harder they’re used. And finally, with the T/A’s lowered, tweaked calibration of Challenger’s recently revised suspension, it handles its weight, and nukes body roll, about as well as you’ll ever see in something this hefty.

“But American cars are big and fat and handle like a bungalow full of coleslaw!” shout the import fanboys.

This is incorrect: simply, Challenger T/A is enormous, but also flat, tidy, and more athletic than anyone who doesn’t drive one probably thinks. It’s a big green conquest of engineering over mass – a brute built to respond immediately to even the tiniest requests.

And that’s the real charm of driving the any of the hopped-up Challengers, and especially this one, hard: the sensation of using tiny little inputs to neatly guide this much mass around never gets old.

And sure you drive the Challenger T/A with more force than careful calculation. It’s more of a rocket launcher than a sniper rifle. More of a sumo wrestler than a ninja. But, grab it by the scruff and show it who’s boss, and your grin will be visible from space.

A few notes.

First, sports exhaust is standard. Also it’s L-O-U-D. Much of the time, it’s an obnoxious middle finger in the air to anyone nearby who likes peace and quiet, which is fantastic. Hitting the rev-limiter in a tunnel? Be sure you’re wearing a bib: the sound effects will put gearheads from all walks into a state of slobbering euphoria on par with waking up from a day’s worth of dental surgery.

Best of all, it always sounds like the noise is reflecting back to your ears off of the streets of Detroit on a muggy summer night. Thankfully, when cruising at speed, the revs are low, and the exhaust quiets down for the most part.

Second, despite all the speed and grip and noise, it’s a worthy road-trip ride – and I went on a three-hour road trip with a little old lady to prove it. A family friend named Doreen is 85, and has owned numerous sports cars over the years. She’s a Ford gal and loves her Cougars and Mustangs, but she said the T/A was a “lovely” drive. She also used a word I can’t write here when I showed her how it sounded at full song. The gist? It rides better than it looks like it rides – a little jouncy and busy on rougher roads but a beauty of a highway cruiser. Adult-ready rear seats are comfortable once settled into, and the trunk is big enough for a four-person complement of luggage, too.

Sure – it thoroughly enjoys fuel, isn’t particularly classy, is hard to see out of, and requires very careful parking, thanks to that front spoiler. But for pure entertainment value, with a healthy dose of all-American performance and sound effects, wrapped in killer looks and totally daily driveable, the Challenger T/A nails it.

2017 Dodge Challenger T/A 392
Engine Displacement: 6.4L
Engine Cylinders: V8
Peak Horsepower: 485 lb-ft @ 6,100 rpm
Peak Torque: 475 lb-ft @ 4,200 rpm
Fuel Economy: 15.6/9.6/12.9 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space: 458.7L
2017 Dodge Challenger T/A 392
Base Price $49,695
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,795
Price as Tested $63,125
Optional Equipment $11,535 – Preferred Package 23x $7,000; Technology Group $250; Driver Convenience Group $995; Sound Group II $495; six-speed manual $1,000; Mopar Hood Pin Kit $400; P-Zero Summer Tires $695; Uconnect $700
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.7
9 Styling
9 Powertrain
8 Quality
7 Comfort
7 Practicality
7 Drivability
8 Usability/Ergonomics
6 Fuel Economy
8 Features
8 Value