How can the Dodge Challenger be more competitive?

Dodge Challenger Scat Pack R/T Shaker

It’s no secret we love the Hellcat versions of the Challenger and Charger.  But are they enough to truly make Dodge competitive in the performance car market?  We have all seen the “Dodge Brothers” commercials showing the ‘Cats doing burnouts alongside the Viper.  The ingredients are there, to be sure, but what recipe does MOPAR need to use to ensure that their Challenger can successfully…um…challenge Mustang and Camaro?  Especially in a time when their rivals have new versions in Ford dealerships and coming soon to Chevy dealers?

The Numbers

When you talk automotive “competition” with regard to sheer numbers, there are basically two elements to consider.  There are bare knuckle performance numbers like horsepower, torque, 0-60, lateral Gs, lap times, drag times, curb weight, etc.  And then there are the all important sales figures.  You can have superiority with the former, and be a complete failure with the latter.  Just look at the Viper.  Since our focus is on the performance side, we’ll start with the boring bit, sales figures.  The Challenger is getting killed, pure and simple.  The Mustang and Camaro both surpassed 80,000 cars sold in the United States in 2014 .  The Challenger came in at 51,611.  That’s an ass whoopin.  To digress for a moment, I noticed during my research that, when compared to a lot of other “performance cars”, it’s a pretty decent showing.  The FR-S and BRZ sold 21,566 combined in 2014.  The Nissan 370Z?  7199 units sold in 2014.  The venerable Miata sold 4745 last year.  They sold more Snuggies.  Probably.  So while the Challenger gets its large rear end handed to it by its main rivals, it could be worse.

So how does MOPAR compete with Ford and Chevy?  Do lap times on the Nurburgring matter?  Ford and Chevy both seem to think so based on their level of testing at the infamous German track.  Most people are screaming at their monitor at this point “The Challenger is too heavy!”  Generally speaking, the screamers are correct.  The 2014 SRT-8 was over 4100 pounds.  Even the lighter V6 SXT iterations were over 3800 pounds.  But when you look at the competition, they aren’t really that heavy.  The 2015 SS Camaro surpasses 3900 pounds  The ZL1 is well over 4000 pounds    Even the new clean sheet design Mustang is around 3700 pounds.  At least the Challenger comes with a useable back seat!  It’s pretty gigantic in comparison, some 2″-3″ more leg room than the Ford or Chevy respectively.  So on sheer numbers, it’s not as outclassed as we thought.
Dodge Challenger Scat Pack R/T Shaker

Image: Dodge.com

The Track

But weight is just a number.  It’s what you do with it that matters, right.  Sounds like something someone says when they know their heavy car is about to get beat ’round a track.  And slower it is, Motortrend came out with one of the earliest comparisons between the 2015 pony cars.  They brought a 1LE SS Camaro, an R/T 6.4 Scat Pack Challenger, and a new Mustang with the Performance Pack.  The Challenger had the most expensive base price but the least expensive price as tested and came with the most power, but the most weight by 400 pounds!  It had the fastest quarter mile, but took the longest to brake.  Lap times were consistently slower by 1-3 seconds, which is an eon in track time.  Same story with lateral G numbers, they were lower.  Of note, the Dodge that MT had was sporting the 8-speed automatic, but I don’t think that would have made up the gulf in any of the major performance tests.  So why choose the Dodge over the other two?  Well that depends on what you want it for.  I submit that if you want a muscle car to cruise the street, maybe take a run down the 1/4 mile strip, the Dodge is your car.  It’s more comfortable, has the retro look nailed, and is priced very competitively for what you get.  Plus, Hellcat.  But if you want a fast GT car that can also spend some on an autocross or road course, the Mustang and Camaro are the way to go.  Or you throw all that crap out the window and pick the one from the company you grew up liking.  Sort of like politics, doesn’t really matter which one is better, this is just how you always vote.

Motortrend Camaro Mustang Challenger

Image: Motortrend

The Diet

So that brings us to the question, how can the Dodge Challenger be more competitive?  They bring the power, but also bring the weight.  Rumor is that the 2017 Challenger will shed 300 pounds and several inches all around.  So it’ll be lighter and dimensionally smaller.  I’ll be interested to see how their engine choices change, will they have a turbo option as well?  But what if you own a Challenger already, or found a killer deal on a used one.  Can you do a serious weight reduction on your Challenger?  Would you even want to?  Is it worth the effort?  It’s certainly possible, the modern version of the Challenger has been around for several years and those looking to Lotus up their Dodge have weighed some of the heavier bits.  Although that website won’t come up anymore, perhaps a business model of sitting around weighing shit wasn’t profitable.  Regardless, good work like this should help the average owner target some weight and either remove or swap out some bits.  Of note, swapping in an aluminum block for the cast iron piece supposedly saves around 80 pounds over the front wheels.  Damn, that’s pretty good.  There are a bunch of folks online who claim to be down around 3500 pounds which is a significant weight savings over stock.  Of course you need to build to a purpose.  Are you just looking to go faster?  Knock yourself out, remove ALL the things.  Just realize that all that lightness comes with some many comfort penalties.  Maybe you don’t care nothing ’bout that, and are prepping for a certain race series?  Then pay attention to the rules, you might find yourself in a class you didn’t expect running against cars that were already light from the factory.

Blackforest Motorsport Dodge ChallengerBlackforest Dodge Challenger at VIR via Itsracingtime.com

The Summary

So what is the point of all this blogging nonsense?  Well, it appears that, for a modern muscle/pony car to sell well, it needs to be smaller and lighter.  Was the reason for the extra 30 thousand Mustangs and Camaros sold based on that factor?  Perhaps, but I assure you it wasn’t to related to quicker lap times, we all know that the entry level model sells in greater numbers a lot of the time.  So the V6 Camaro and the new Mustang (which is killing it with regard to sales during the beginning of 2015) are more attractive to that buyer looking for a sporty 2+2 and the big Challenger isn’t making their radar.  So if Dodge can change that for the 2017, maybe they will reclaim some of the market.  I admit though, I’ll be a little sad to see the big girl go away, but I bet I could get a great deal on a used SRT-8.  I already have a few ideas of how to make it lighter.

Header image: Topspeed.com