Improving With Age: The 2015 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus

Front 3/4 view of 2015 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus
The 2015 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus.
Incredibly, it's been five years since our last week in a Dodge Challenger. Walking up to the '15, I was stunned by how great it looks.  Like an old friend you haven't seen in a while.  And, like many of those old friends of the human variety, the Challenger looks that good after all this time (an eternity in the automotive world) because she's had some work done.

Rear view of 2015 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus
2015 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus.
The Challenger debuted as a 2009 model with styling inspired by the 1970 Challenger, though on a much larger scale (the modern-day Challenger is built off the Dodge Charger/Chrysler 300 platform). And despite running changes to engines, options and trim, there it pretty much sat.

For 2015, the styling updates a bit, now inspired by the 1971 Challenger (what took one year then takes seven now).  They did a better job this time.  44 years ago, the updates made a clean design seem fussy.  Now, the chrome inserts to the grille and the new taillights give the Challenger some sizzle, aided by greater emphasis on the curved character lines along the sides.  Those are important, because, as noted, the Challenger is a big car...very tall from the doorsills to the windows...and on last year's and earlier models, especially in a light color, it could look very slab-sided.

Amazingly, there are now ten distinct Challenger models. Our tester was the one-step-up-from-base SXT Plus.

Interior view of 2015 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus
2015 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus interior.
If you think that means your $29,995 buys you spartan accomodations, think again.  The refinements for 2015 include a very stylish new interior, with a combination of analog and digital instruments that are state-of-the-art, very comfortable seats, a 7-inch reconfigurable display with backup camera, an AM/FM/SiriusXM audio system with 6 speakers, 276 watts of power and an effortless Bluetooth audio streaming connectivity.

Heated and ventilated front seats also come standard. The driver's seat is a six-way power unit with a four-way power lumbar support. The leather-wrapped steering wheel with controls is also heated. The HVAC is a dual-zone automatic climate control. Automatic projector headlamps, fog lamps and power folding mirrors? All standard.

The wheezy 250-horsepower V6 of five years ago has been replaced by Chrysler's excellent 3.6-liter 24-valve V6, which now makes 300 horsepower.  Those extra 50 horses make a huge difference. Opting for the six in a Challenger is no longer to declare you don't care about performance. 0-60 can be had in six seconds flat. The new eight-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly, never hunts around for the right gear, and makes a major contribution to fuel economy, with an EPA estimate of 19 city/30 highway.  And those numbers are definitely in the ballpark, with our experience being 25 miles per gallon for a combination of urban streets and freeways and one 180-mile roundtrip Saturday afternoon drive on a rural interstate.

By the way, there's some serious usable space in the Challenger, too.  That Saturday drive was to pick up a gorgeous old mirror Navigator had found on Craigslist.  A few inches too tall to fit in the trunk lying on its back...the wrong dimensions to even attempt getting it through the doors.  But...the rear seats in the Challenger fold down, allowing it to go in the trunk and a bit forward.  Problem solved.

Our tester went easy on the options...$500 for the optional Phantom Black Tri-Coat Pearl Exterior paint (which was gorgeous...I wouldn't balk), $795 for the Driver Convenience Group (HID headlamps, blind spot and rear cross-path detection and a remote start system), $1,195 for a power sunroof and $695 for the upgraded audio system, which adds HD Radio and GPS navigation.

Bottom line with $995 destination charge:  $34,175. Exactly three grand more than the as-tested price of the one five years ago.  And it's such a vastly improved car.  Bravo, FiatChrysler.