Amidst the hurricane of hype swirling around electrified powertrains, it’s easy to miss the fact that we are living through a golden age of internal combustion engineering.
Government regulations and market trends have forced some automakers to reduce engine sizes and supplement power with turbochargers or electric motors. Meanwhile, other manufacturers have taken the challenge in stride, opting to instead find ways to produce as much horsepower as they can while still meeting federal greenhouse gas restrictions.
Dodge has led the high-octane charge in recent years, first introducing the 707-horsepower Challenger SRT Hellcat in 2015 then following it up this year with the 840-horsepower Demon. Yet, while these twin halo cars epitomize the brand’s pursuit of performance perfection, they are priced beyond the budget of the average car buyer and are thus out of touch with the company’s horsepower to the people creed.
At the heart of the 2018 Challenger lineup is the T/A edition, a package that marries old-school styling to robust, 21st-century equipment for a price that won’t break the bank.
Since Dodge relaunched the nameplate nearly a decade ago, a big part of the Challenger’s appeal has been its classically-derived appearance. T/A stands for Trans Am and is an homage to the limited release 1970 Challenger T/A 340 model that was built primarily so Dodge could modify it and compete in the Sports Car Club of America’s Trans-Am Series.
In addition to the essential Challenger front fascia, with its wide grille and four circle headlamps, the fourth-generation reboot features a matte Black Satin hood with a large Air Grabber scoop, matching black graphics running from just below the C-pillar to the outer headlights and a rear spoiler with a T/A decal. Dodge takes things a step further by applying the black paint to the roof and decklid.
For an extra $295, Dodge will throw in a set of black hood pins to add to the T/A’s racing-ready appearance. Typically used to secure lightweight aftermarket hoods, which are designed specifically for drag strip performance and often made out of fiberglass, Dodge’s hood pins are more for show than anything, but they were certainly a conversation starter during my time with the Challenger.
Fortunately, Dodge did not apply the retro stylings on the exterior of the T/A to the interior, leaving it with modern niceties such as power seats and dual-zone climate control. The driver and front passenger seats are both well cushioned, equipped with mild side bolster, covered in Houndstooth Performance cloth and embroidered with the “T/A.”
Also, I was able to fit two adult passengers in the backseat and both were comfortable enough to nap during the majority of a three-and-a-half hour trip from Washington, D.C. to Jersey City, New Jersey. The trunk had room for the light luggage of four people and while 16.2 cubic feet of cargo room isn’t a ton of room, it’s still significantly better than the Ford Mustang’s 11.4 cubic feet and the Chevrolet Camaro’s 9.1.
For this year, Dodge has upped the ante on the infotainment system inside the Challenger T/A , upgrading the standard offering from a 5-inch touchscreen to a 7-inch display with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Fiat Chrysler’s Uconnect 4 system. My test vehicle was equipped with a $1,095 technology package that includes an 8.4-inch infotainment screen with GPS navigation and smartphone connectivity.
While giving the T/A its first inspection, the first thing that struck me was how heavy everything was; from the doors to the hood to the trunk lid, every moving part had a heftiness to it. Ranging between 3,900 and 4,450 pounds, the Challenger is the heaviest of the three American muscle cars and I’d venture to say the T/A is on the heavier end of the scale, although I’m not aware of my test vehicle’s exact curb weight.
It certainly felt like two tons of metal while driving, especially while trying to navigate a traffic-choked Manhattan in the midst of a Friday rush hour exodus. The massive hood encroaching upon my sightline didn’t make driving bumper to bumper any easier.
However, once I finally escaped the city and found myself on an open road, everything changed. Though the steering remained heavy and the suspension taut, the Challenger T/A was far more comfortable to drive at 60 mph than 15 or 20, and the car’s weight actually worked to my advantage, helping me plow through late-summer deluge without fear of hydroplaning into a New Jersey marsh. Although, with its bulky bow and boisterous motor, perhaps the T/A would feel right at home gliding across water.
Powered by a 5.7-liter Hemi V8, the T/A is ready to let out an intoxicating purr with the slightest bit of acceleration. After tapping the Sport mode button on the center stack, I watched as the tachometer spiked in harmony with my heartbeat.
In addition to the Air Grabber hood scoop, the T/A also makes use of a secondary air collection system hidden within the inside headlights. Surrounded by LED lights, the two inner headlights are hollowed out in the middle, leaving a space for outside air to flow in and feed into the Mopar Cold Air Intake System to keep the engine running smoothly.
For an extra $7,600, shoppers can upgrade to a T/A 392, which comes supplied with a 485-horsepower, 6.4-liter Hemi V8 as well as a set of six-piston Brembo brakes in place of the base T/A’s standard performance brake package or optional four-piston Brembos and a high-performance suspension system. However, a new for 2018 Performance Handling Package makes four-piston Brembos and the sportier suspension an option for all 5.7-liter Challengers.
Mechanically, the only glaring issue I experienced with the T/A was with its 6-speed manual transmission, which tended to stick a bit when moving between low gears. Also, the shifter doesn’t stand straight up but rather is angled toward the driver, meaning accessing fifth and sixth gear required me to angle my elbow up in the air and swing way out to the right.
With the addition of the SRT Demon, Dodge has an unprecedented 16 versions of the Challenger available for purchase in 2018. That’s more than half as many flavors as Baskin-Robbins. So why should someone opt for the T/A? Especially when the same powertrain can be had in the R/T for a $4,400 cheaper?
Well, if value is what you want, the R/T or the all-wheel-drive GT are probably your best bets; both are around $34,000 after delivery fees and before dealer incentives, putting them right around the average transaction price for a new vehicle. One provides a 375-horsepower V8 engine while the other offers a powerful V6 and all-wheel drive.
Happy T/A customers are going to be those who prioritize style first and performance as a close second. Factoring in the 20-inch forged aluminum wheels, which run an extra $1,095 on the R/T, the $700 Super Track Pak to get the sport suspension and whatever else it costs to get the Air Grabber hood and paint work, you’re paying well over $4,400. So, for what you’re getting, it is a deal.
Whatever version you opt for, don’t be surprised if you end up paying more than MSRP because of Dodge’s multitude of available add-ons. My test vehicle came with a sticker price of $42,265 thanks to more than $3,739 worth of add-ons. The only one that I would recommend getting is the $1,295 Driver Convenience Group, which includes high-intensity discharge headlights and a blind spot warning system, which is necessary given the small rear window in the Challenger.
On the plus side, there are some good incentives being offered for this rapidly aging coupe, with the Edmunds.com Price Promise tool showing between $2,000 and $2,500 worth of discounts being given throughout the country.
It’s not a Hellcat and it’s definitely no Demon, but the Dodge Challenger T/A still packs a hellacious amount of power that should satisfy most devilish driving urges.