Intoxicating power

BY Kelly Taylor. Oct 20 14:35 pm

Throaty, burbling with raw power and a rumble that intoxicates. The engine vibrating, its nostrils poking through the hood, seemingly wanting to rip itself from its moorings and be free. The rear wheels, breaking loose on demand, almost begging to be transformed into billowing clouds of vaporized rubber.

Joy, thy name is Hemi Scat Pack Shaker.

The 392 Hemi Scat Pack Shaker joined the Dodge Challenger lineup as another in a long line of homages to the muscle-car era. It may not be a Hellcat, but it might just be a Hellkitty.

Under the hood is a 6.4-litre Hemi V-8. While it doesn’t approach the 707 horsepower of its devil-inspired Hellcat sibling, its 485 hp and 475 pound-feet of torque are well-suited to daily drivability, with hell-raising fury only a tap of the throttle away.

The engine is a fascinating mix of old and new: It’s a pushrod style, but those rods and lifters push on sodium-filled exhaust valves and hollow-stem intake valves. The block is cast iron, but the heads are forged aluminum. The shaker hood hints at a carburetor, but the fuel delivery is sequential, multi-port, electronic, return-less fuel injection. The exhaust note is gloriously retro, but the system includes dual, close-coupled catalytic converters with quad-heated oxygen sensors.

Power is delivered through the rear wheels via either an eight-speed automatic or a six-speed standard, a $1,000 option. The tester was, righteously, equipped with the stick.

For all its power, the Hemi Scat is actually fairly easy to drive. The clutch isn’t overly heavy, the shifter not overly tractor-ish, the power not overly difficult to tame. That you get instant street cred from the kids on skateboards, the bikers on Harleys and the bored dads in their minivans is just a bonus.

Fiat Chrysler might talk about the target market being children of the 1950s looking to recapture their youth, but honestly, the target market is anyone in the midst of a full-blown mid-life crisis. Even Freud might approve, though he might try to pin it on Oedipus.

There are a few issues with all Challengers that would make them a challenge as a daily driver. The first is visibility. Really, there isn’t any. At least not while attempting to reverse. The greenhouse is so closed in at the rear you have to rely on your mirrors, your sixth sense and your back-up camera. Fortunately, the rear-view camera has a wide-angle lens.

While the Hemi Scat Pack is powerful, it’s not exactly nimble. That may in itself be retro, too, since the original Challenger was little more than an exercise in straight-ahead acceleration.

There’s nothing overly wrong with the car’s handling — it’s relatively predictable and a fishtail is easy to save — but it’s not a car built for supreme handling.

There’s much to like inside the Challenger. The U-connect touchscreen infotainment system works well and is enough to overcome my typical objection to touchscreens in cars. I don’t know whether it’s deliberate, but the bezel surrounding the screen works nicely as a rest for your thumb, making it easier to hit the right button on the screen the first try.

Seats are comfortable and supportive, and the suede finish grips your clothing for added support in corners. I found the position of the accelerator pedal, though perfectly placed for snicking off perfect heel-and-toe downshifts, can lead to fatigue of the foot, particularly the muscles inside the instep. Cruise control is a welcome toy for long drives.

Fit and finish of the hard pieces — dash, touchscreen surround, etc. — is excellent, but I was struck by a bit of slop in some of the knobs. An odd omission is the lack of an electric parking brake, with that particular binder handled with the standard pedal and pull-handle release. Another retro throwback, perhaps?

Many of these foibles are of no consequence to the typical buyer, who simply appreciates how much higher-quality the entire package is than its retro forebears.

Do I have to say the fuel economy is rather lousy? Isn’t it obvious? And in the end, does it really matter?

kelly.taylor@freepress.mb.ca

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