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The 2013 Dodge Challenger R/T Classic: Reminding Us What Muscle Cars are All About

The 2013 Dodge Challenger R/T is the most affordable V8 powered rear wheel drive sports car sold in America today but with 375 horsepower and a standard 6-speed manual transmission – the Challenger R/T Classic offers the excitement of the American muscle car without the gigantic price of the more powerful cars on the market today.

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Back in the 1970s, the Hemi Challenger was the top of the line option with a price to match and what the previous generation of muscle car lovers knew as the “Hemi Challenger” back in 1970 would translate to the Challenger SRT today. Big power…and a big price. Fortunately, the availability of the “entry level” 5.7L Hemi below the monster 6.4L (and before it the 6.1L) Hemi in the SRT models has brought about a Hemi that is far more affordable relative to the rest of the market whereas the 1970 Hemi Challenger was not. The modern Challenger R/T with the 5.7L Hemi is not the most powerful muscle car on the market; in fact with “only” 375 horsepower it is one of the least powerful V8 models but it is also the least expensive V8 muscle car available today. More importantly, the 2013 Challenger R/T packs all of the tire shredding, gear banging, high performance fun that a buyer expects with a price that puts it in a far more approachable price range than the Street and Racing Technology models or many of the more powerful models from the competition.

My 2013 Dodge Challenger R/T test car was of the R/T Classic variety which means that it was equipped with a set of old school looking R/T stripes along the side, a vintage looking Challenger script logo on the fenders, unique 20” wheels, functional air inlets on the hood, HID headlights, unique leather and suede seats with an embroidered R/T logo and 3.92 rear gears. All of those goodies with the stunning Plum Crazy paint, the 5.7L Hemi and the 6-speed manual transmission carries a price around $34,000 while optional features like the upgraded sound system package with 368 watts and 7 speakers from Boston Acoustics, Navigation, the Super Track Pak, the power sunroof and the optional polished aluminum R/T Classic wheels (as opposed to dark pocketed wheels) bring the total price as tested to $39,565. However, if you could do without the sunroof, the shinier wheels and the added infotainment goodies, you could get into a comparable 2013 Challenger R/T Classic for under $35,000.

The Exterior
One of the greatest features of the modern Dodge Challenger that was first introduced for the 2008 model year is the fact that there isn’t a whole lot of differences between the base V6 model and the top of the line, 470hp Challenger SRT. Shy of badging, the wheels and a spoiler here and there, all of the modern Challengers look just as muscle as the next whereas some of the competition’s less powerful models look vastly less aggressive than the more powerful models. Just look at the Ford Mustang GT compared to the base V6 models – there is no denying the vast difference in sporty styling and there is an even bigger difference when you also consider the Shelby GT500. However, the Challenger R/T boasts the same powerful good looks at the top of the line Challenger SRT from front to back and that is a very, very good thing.

The Challenger has been criticized by some for being bigger and bulkier than the Ford Mustang and the Chevrolet Camaro but what some consider to be a fault is a big reason as to why many modern Challenger owners love their cars. This isn’t a vehicle that has been downsized so that it fits better on European roads – this is a car built for America where we have big, wide lanes and we don’t care how much space we take up in the parking lot. The Challenger is big and wide with a very flat profile from the front or the sides that just screams “American muscle car”. As you can probably tell already, I love the look of the modern Challenger because it is big – just like the old models – but it has a distinct look of its own so this is a car designed with the past in mind rather than a car that is designed to look like a part model. The front end with dual headlights flanking a very simple upper grille opening, all of which is tucked under an angry looking brow created by the hood and the prominent front fascia looked incredible when it debuted as a concept car back in 2006 and with only minor changes since then, the Challenger is still a great looking muscle car.

My only real complaint is that the Challenger tail lights are kind of blah in comparison to what we see on many other modern Dodge products but with a new generation Challenger due out in the next year or so, I would expect to see something more exciting lighting up the rear end – hopefully something that is as blissfully distinct as the Dodge Charger “race track” taillight setup. There is nothing wrong with the Challenger’s tail lights…they just aren’t as exciting as those found on the Charger, Dart or Durango but those models have all been refreshed much more recently than the Challenger. When the next generation Challenger drops (hopefully sometime in 2014), I fully expect to see more than just your standard rectangular lights but in the long run, the biggest problem with the exterior design being a not-so-exciting set of tail lights is a small hurdle to clear – especially when you consider how fantastic the rest of the car looks.

The 2013 Dodge Challenger R/T Classic package benefits from a set of old school twin stripes that start up front and run along the top of the fenders and doors before ending on the rear quarter panel with a large “R/T” logo in addition to script Challenger logos on the fenders and unique 20 inch wheels. Even considering the mighty SRT, the look of the R/T Classic in Plum Crazy Purple with White stripes is – in my opinion – the best looking modern Challenger. It might be a bit too understated for some (especially SRT owners) but I love the look of the car shown here and shy of MAYBE the bright green Boss 302 Mustang, I’ve never had a car turn heads everywhere that I went like the Plum Crazy Challenger R/T Classic. In an area where there is no shortage of new Challengers, the R/T Classic package painted bright metallic purple is a showstopper for all of the right reasons. It’s purple – and it’s freakin’ awesome.

The added features of the 2013 Dodge Challenger R/T Classic package aren’t all that elaborate but they go a long way in making one of the meanest looking muscle cars on the road today even cooler – with a flare of vintage styling and a bright purple paint job that only a Mopar muscle car could wear.

The Interior
The modern Dodge Challenger is often picked on for being bigger than the Mustang or Camaro but one place where that works to the car’s advantage is in interior space. The front seats have ample space and adjustability so whether you are 4’10” or 6’10”, the driver’s seat of the Challenger R/T Classic will offer you plenty of leg, knee, hip, shoulder, elbow and head space. The Challenger is based on the Charger sedan and that translates well to packing great front seating space in every dimension and – surprisingly – the Challenger offers impressive rear seating space. Ive spent a fair amount of time in the new Mustang and Camaro and neither of those vehicles offer enough rear seating space to comfortably seat an adult but the Challenger can realistically seat four adults. I mean, if you have a 6’10” driver and front passenger those in the back might be a bit squished in but with the front seats adjusted to comfortably seat two 6 foot tall adults, the back seat will comfortably seat two adults of slightly smaller stature. That sounds silly but that is something that you cannot expect of the other two American muscle cars right now so if you have any plans to haul around more than two people (including the driver) – the Challenger is the only real choice.

In terms of amenities, the 2013 Dodge Challenger R/T Classic offers comparable gadgetry to the top of the line SRT models but those who have spent much time in the newer Dodge Charger might find the Challenger to be more minimalistic. The black leather front seats are heated (but not cooled) and while there is a touch screen to control the infotainment system, it is nowhere near as impressive as that setup found in the more recently refreshed Dodge models. Like the tail lights, there is nothing wrong with the infotainment setup but it falls short of the system offered in the Charger, Dart and Durango. Fortunately, the navigation system is still remarkably simple to use and with the addition of the 7 speaker Boston Acoustics sound system, the Challenger R/T Classic can really belt out the tunes…although I spent more drive time with the stereo off as the purr of the Hemi V8 was all of the music that I needed. While the Challenger R/T doesn’t feature a buttonfest like some newer models, the driver does get a nice spread of controls on the steering wheel for the speed control, the sound system, the hands free phone system and the driver’s information center – which happens to be one of my favorite aspects of many new Chrysler performance models. While the Challenger driver info center offers all sorts of useless junk like coolant temperature, tire pressure, vehicle speed and such, it also has a 0-60 timer, a braking distance timer, an eighth mile timer and a quarter mile timer. This means that you can find out what your Challenger R/T should run on the drag strip without having to actually go to the track and I absolutely love this feature in all of the Chrysler Group products in which it is offered. I don’t know why every performance car on the market today doesn’t feature a similar system but the Challenger does and that is one of the few high tech features that helps to make this car so much fun to drive.

The 2013 Dodge Challenger R/T Classic offers the roomiest interior of any of the American muscle cars where it really matters and while it doesn’t pack a ton of high tech items (that drive up the price), it does have a solid sound system and the ability to measure its own performance which, on its own, adds a tremendous level of intangible awesomeness to this brawny Mopar muscle car.

The Drive
As I have mentioned above on multiple occasions, the 2013 Dodge Challenger R/T Classic is powered by the 5.7L Hemi V8 that has become the “base” V8 for all Chrysler Group vehicles below the 6.4L Hemi in the SRT variants of the Charger, Durango, 300C and Grand Cherokee. This mill sends 375 horsepower and a whopping 410lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels by means of a proper 6-speed manual transmission while the 3.92 rear gear helps to provide impressive acceleration for a “base V8”. During my testing with some practice getting away from the line, I was able to hit 60 miles per hour in 4.96 seconds with some quick shifting and a good launch that was hard enough to get out quick without spinning the tires. While working my way down to that 4.96 time, most of my runs had me hitting 60 in 5.1 seconds and I would consider that to be a more realistic “average” time but with some good practice, sub-5 second times are possible in the right conditions and with a driver as awesome as myself. That equates to a quarter mile time in the mid 13 second range with some practice but this car launches well enough that even newer racers should be able to put this brawny Mopar muscle car into the high 13s.

Most importantly, the Dodge Challenger R/T Classic is a mild mannered enough to serve as a daily driver so this is a car that packs a ton of driving excitement but you can also drive it every day without it being too much work. This car is a blast to drive whether you are driving a half hour to work, cruising for a few hours on a weekend day trip or roaring down the quarter mile with a clutch that is sporty yet forgiving and a shifter that provides plenty of assistance in moving from gear to gear so if you are new to the third pedal – the Challenger R/T isnt going to make you suffer until you get a good grasp of the process. Mind you, a new driver (or a driver new to shifting on his or her own) is probably going to eat through a whole lot of tires with 410lb-ft of torque easily overpowering the rear wheels but once that new driver gets the hang of driving this car, it is sheer bliss. As soon as you successfully nail your first hard launch and slam through second and third gear on your way to the century mark on the speedometer, it becomes very clear why the Challenger R/T sells so well. It isn’t the fastest muscle car available or even the fastest Challenger but it provides just as much “muscle car feel” as the Challenger SRT – just with 95 less angry ponies under the hood.

The one place where the size and weight of the 2013 Dodge Challenger R/T Classic hurts performance is in tight cornering so while this model won’t do quite as well as the SRT variant on an autocross course or tight road course, it still handles very nicely on the open road or a twisty country road…just like the original (actually probably a touch better). My R/T Classic came with the Super Track Pak which adds a sport tuned suspension system which improves tight cornering enough that most drivers won’t have any complaints and while those with more road racing experience may find fault in the tight corners, this Challenger is an incredible confident feeling car in almost every driving situation and in those tight turns – you can still have lots of fun letting the rear end slide. Best of all, the size of the Challenger R/T Classic actually makes it more stable feeling on the highway at higher speeds while providing a great feel for the road. Where other rear drive American performance cars feel light on their toes and a bit shaky at high speeds on the highway, the Challenger feels delightfully planted so it serves as a very comfortable car for long highway trips…or when blasting down the highway at insane speeds (or so I’ve been told).

The 2013 Dodge Challenger R/T Classic is everything that a muscle car should be. It has a throaty, powerful Hemi V8, a 6-speed manual transmission, a sport tuned suspension that does a great job of balancing ride quality with handling and it costs less than the least expensive V8-powered Ford Mustang or Chevrolet Camaro. You won’t find the fancy high tech suspension goodies of the Challenger SRT but you also won’t find the lofty pricing of that SRT package so those who want the feel of an American muscle car on a budget – this Challenger will keep you grinning from ear to ear and you will never want to get out of the driver’s seat. Truth be told, I was sad every time that I get to where I was headed because the Challenger R/T with the 6-speed manual is just so damn much fun to drive.

The Final Word
If you want to have the fastest and most powerful Dodge Challenger on the block, you will need to save up a few thousand more pennies for the 470 horsepower SRT models but if you want the thrill of American muscle and the roar of the mighty Chrysler Hemi for just over $31,000 – the Challenger R/T is for you. Also, those who are looking to spend a few more thousands for a Challenger that reflects the styling of the old school models, I would strongly recommend the R/T Classic package as – inside and out – this is my favorite configuration of the models powered by the 5.7L Hemi.

I love the classic R/T stripes along the side, the suede and leather seats and, most importantly, the 3.92 gears that help make this the best performing Challenger with a 5.7L Hemi. Finally, in my years of testing, Ive learned that no other American rear wheel drive performance car on the market offers REAL seating for four adults like the Challenger so while Ford and Chevy have gone to selling only pony cars – Chrysler continues to sell the Challenger in a very similar form to what buyers loved back in the 1970s. This car is 100% perfect for someone who doesn’t want to have the fastest muscle car on the block but they want to be able to experience the thrill that muscle cars offered back in the day without the $40k+ price of the SRT.

Like the Challengers of the vintage era with high performance (non-Hemi) V8s, a low price and plenty of interior space, the 2013 Dodge Challenger R/T Classic succeeds for all of the same reasons as the high volume V8 Challengers of yesteryear. Some people might automatically think that you need the SRT V8 to have big fun but spend a few minutes driving a new Challenger R/T – particularly with the 6-speed manual transmission and 3.92 rear gears – and you will see that this model offers an incredible amount of bang for the buck.

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