A British Gearhead Gets a Taste of American Muscle

A British Gearhead Gets a Taste of American Muscle

As a UK-based car journalist (working on CarGurus’ sister website, PistonHeads), my exposure to American cars has been limited. But the impression I’ve been left with is that those models just below the top of the range seem to be closest to European tastes.

Cars like the Ford Shelby GT350 and Chevy Corvette Grand Sport provide the best compromise between performance and enjoyability, offering just the right amount of flair without overwhelming the driving experience with a surfeit of power.

By that logic, the Dodge Challenger Scat Pack Widebody should be right on the money. Sure, it’s not a Hellcat, but 485 horsepower and 475 pound-feet of torque going through a 6-speed manual transmission and the rear wheels sound like plenty to me.

And would you just look at it? From where I’m sitting, this Challenger represents the last bastion of the true American muscle car. It may have checked out for a while there in the ‘90s (though you could say the Chevy Camaro and Ford Mustang would have been better off doing the same), but its modern iteration stays truest to the model’s origins. So, despite the age of the current design, its classic proportions are still holding up well, size and weight be damned. While its rivals have crept ever further into sports coupe territory in search of a broader appeal, the Challenger remains unapologetically old school.

The Hellcat, Demon, and Redeye have all grabbed headlines around the world, but could the Scat Pack actually be the one to own? A recent trip to California gave me the perfect chance to find out.

The Scat Pack is a fairly common sight on the road there, which is unsurprising, given that Dodge has shifted around a million of them since production began. But despite the manufacturer reckoning that roughly a quarter of all the Challengers it sells today are of the Redeye, Hellcat, or Scat Pack varieties, Widebody examples are still a rare find. This bestows the Scat Pack I’m driving with a presence that sets it apart from the rest. The Widebody may be only a body kit, and an expensive one at that, but it’s surely worth every cent, completely transforming the standard car’s rather upright stance into something altogether more purposeful. 

The Challenger’s scale remains evident from within, resulting in several pros and cons unfamiliar to a European driver. For starters, there’s space. So much space. The seats are wide and comfortable, yet supportive. There’s room enough in the back for two adults, and you could probably fit another three in the trunk. Even on expansive US roads, though, the Challenger Widebody feels every inch its size. The last time I had this much hood in front of me, I was trying to thread a Rolls-Royce Cullinan through the Sussex countryside.

Luckily the Challenger’s steering is much more direct, imbuing its driver with the confidence to place the car comfortably. Then there’s the performance. I’ve always subscribed to the notion that the more of a car’s performance you can realistically use on the road, the better. No, the Scat Pack isn’t a Hellcat, but its acceleration is such that you can actually get up and down through the gears on a spirited drive, rather than burying your right foot for 5 seconds and losing your license for 12 months.

The Challenger’s smile-inducing surge may propel you forward from low enough revs that you’ll never find yourself chasing the redline, but this is still a car that asks to be driven. And when every action is accompanied by that addictive V8 score, my smile is bigger still. Pulling up outside a restaurant in Carlsbad, a man calls across the street: “What exactly is that, bro? A Hellcat?” “Ahhh, a Scat Pack! I’ve never seen one before; it sounds mean!”

A local Cars and Coffee provides a similarly warm welcome, although several attendees find it hard to mask their disappointment at the revelation that it’s “only” a Scat Pack. This is a theme that repeats itself more regularly than you might hope if you’d spent a good chunk of your own cash on the car. It wouldn’t bother me one bit, but if it started to wear on an owner, I’d completely understand.  

I’d hope they could get past it, though, because driving the Scat Pack Widebody is a truly special experience. There are no journeys that are simply A to B in this car; it’s hard to think of a reasonably priced European equivalent that imbues its driver with a similar sense of inherent rightness and nostalgia when behind the wheel. Sure, driving a Lamborghini through Italy or a 911 on the autobahn elicits an equal feeling of the right car, right place, but the Challenger is only $55,000 as tested, and could still be had with the Widebody kit for $10,000 less than that. Powering along the I-5 at a steady pace, peering out across the scooped plateau of the Challenger’s hood as the sunset reflects off its surface and the engine thrums away beneath it, it’s impossible not to be enamored. Something just feels right.

Would I buy one if I lived here? It’d definitely make the shortlist. Could I cope with the disappointment if people mistook it for a full-fat Hellcat? It doesn’t happen that often. A knock at the door heralds the arrival of Dodge’s driver: “I’m here to collect the Hellcat outside,” he says. Oh well, I still love it all the same.

For more car news, check out these articles:

  • Driving the 2020 Outback: Subaru Gives the People What They Want
  • 5 Award-Winning Used Trucks & Crossovers
  • Driving the New CX-5 Proves Mazda Can Compete as a Premium Brand

The post A British Gearhead Gets a Taste of American Muscle appeared first on The CarGurus Blog.

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