The Dodge Challenger is one of the most audacious vehicles available today, period.
It has a swagger that’s hard to beat, embarrassing riches in horsepower, and loads of undeniable charm. But it’s also old as sin, a gas-guzzler in an era of electrification, and only good in a straight line, all of which – among other reasons – means the Challenger’s time is coming to an end.
To ensure it goes out in the only way it knows how (loudly and proudly), Dodge has released a series of so-called “Last Call” special edition models that embody what the iconic muscle car is all about. Tested here, the 2023 Dodge Challenger Shakedown amps up everything there is to know and love about this old-school muscle car.
The Challenger is a triumph in muscle car design, and this Shakedown special edition adds even more personality. With the shaker intake poking out from the long hood, offset matte black and red racing stripes, aggressive widebody fender flares, hood pins, red brake calipers, and more, the special edition model epitomizes everything I love about muscle car design. It’s in your face and unapologetic, and it makes me feel impossibly cool behind the wheel.
Inside, faux carbon-fibre trim, contrast red stitching, and red seat belts give the cabin some added personality to match its ostentatious outward vibes.
With its legendary naturally aspirated 6.4L Hemi V8 sending 485 hp and 475 lb-ft to the rear wheels, this Challenger has abundant power that instantly turns me into a rage-filled goon. I consider myself a responsible driver, but behind the wheel of this Challenger, I feel like I should have an exorcist on speed dial.
Driving Feel: 7/10
In its unique way, the Challenger is one of the most engaging cars I’ve ever driven. Even with suspension upgrades, the Challenger is far from a corner-carving, precise weapon of a sports car, but it still offers a lot more fun and engagement than some other cars that are more than double its price.
The screaming engine and grumbling exhaust alone are enough to make me have outbursts of villainous laughter, but the added engagement of the manual transmission, and looking through the windshield to see the air intake rumbling around, adds additional levels of involvement you simply can’t get elsewhere.
The six-speed manual feels clunky at first but is satisfying and becomes surprisingly easy to use. The clutch is forgiving, and as long as you’re not being too ham-fisted through the corners, you’ll emerge on the other side with a big smile on your face. The Challenger is not an appliance you simply drive from A to B; this is an entirely engrossing experience that comes with a big responsibility, and its imperfections are what help make it so fun.
The Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro have transcended their muscle car roots to become well-rounded, thoroughly modern sports cars. While both are more precise from behind the wheel, they’re not as much fun, nor as silly and entertaining than the Challenger.
The Challenger is unashamed of its old-school label, so it’s not a showcase for the latest technology or gadgetry. There’s nothing unique to get excited about on the tech front; there’s no wireless phone charger or head-up display, but it does have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (both need a wired connection). All the best features to help on a drag strip. The Challenger comes with line lock and launch control, as well as a lot of customizability for different drive modes and loads of trackable performance data. It includes lap timers and tools to help drivers unlock quicker times at the drag strip.
Many of the safety features I consider mandatory (blind-spot monitoring, forward collision warning, and adaptive cruise control, for example) are available but not standard.
For a coupe, the Challenger’s immense practicality was a surprise. The trunk is massive, with 459 L of space, the rear seats can be folded down to make more room for long items, and even the door pockets are big enough to hold my large water bottle (which is required because putting it in the cupholder would block access to the shifter). It’s roomy inside, and while I would be hesitant to put people in the back seats, the option is there if they’re needed.
The growling V8 is fun on an open road, but the noise drones on the highway and gets old quickly. With its huge wheels and stiff suspension, the Challenger also crashes violently over railway tracks and broken pavement, and the adaptive damping doesn’t help as much as it should to hide the car’s mammoth weight. The big, cushy, couch-like seats are comfortable, however, and front-seat occupants get plenty of headroom. Strangely, the pedal-activated parking brake gets in the way sometimes, but I think it’s hilarious and only adds to the old-school vibes.
The Challenger’s user-friendliness is one of its unexpected highlights. The infotainment system has an intuitive interface that’s easy to navigate, the layout and menus make sense, and the screen is crisp and responsive. I appreciate having physical buttons for many of the climate controls, and while it adds an extra complication to have the heated seats and steering wheel controls accessed through the touchscreen, neither is ever more than one or two taps away.
Fuel Economy: 5/10
This shouldn’t be a surprise, but I just respond with an “LOL” whenever someone asks me about the Challenger’s fuel economy. Officially rated to chug 16.4 L/100 km of premium fuel in the city, 10.4 on the highway, and 13.9 combined, I was averaging 15.1 L/100 km after about 345 km of predominantly highway and suburban testing. But if you want a V8-powered Challenger, this is the life you sign up for, and budgeting a gut-punching amount of gas money is part of the process. This coupe does not make it easy to drive efficiently. And don’t forget to budget extra cash for all those tires you’ll be shredding.
The R/T Scat Pack trim this tester is based on starts at a reasonable $62,595 plus $2,095 destination. This tester adds many options that drive the price up to an uncomfortable sum of more than $85,000. That price seems steep for such a low-tech car, but the bonkers dollars-to-fun ratio makes it all seem worth it. It helps that many of those add-ons are performance upgrades like better brakes and adaptive dampers.
The Dodge Challenger will be discontinued at the end of this year, and the next version will be fully electric. While that’s sure to be cool when it arrives, something tells me that it won’t be able to exude the same levels of charm and driving engagement that this gas-powered V8 model has provided us for the last 15 years. This is an old-school, rip-snorting V8-powered, rear-wheel-drive, manual-transmission muscle car that I’ll miss dearly. It’s the end of an era, and this final Challenger is the best exclamation point we could ask for on this exciting chapter of muscle car history.
|485 hp @ 6,100 rpm
|475 lb-ft @ 4,100 rpm
|16.4 / 10.4 / 13.9 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
|2023 Dodge Challenger R/T Shakedown Special Edition
|Price as Tested
$20,880 – Customer Preferred Package 23N, $8,000; Plus Group, $2,895; Technology Group, $895; Carbon and Suede Interior Package, $800; Harman/Kardon Sound Group, $1,495; Shakedown Special Edition, $5,000; 6-Speed Manual Transmission, $1,000; UConnect 4C Nav w/8.4-inch Display, $795