Posts Tagged Dodge Charger

Drive your heroes

2015 Dodge Challenger SRT HellcatThe phrase “don’t meet your heroes” can apply as much to cars as to people. Just as individuals often don’t live up to their admirers’ heroic ideals, cars that people like me obsess over don’t always live up to the hype.

Whether it’s a sleek looking supercar that turns out to be an utter nightmare to drive, or an overhyped newcomer that looks great on paper, but fells numb and unfulfilling in real life, there are many ways a car can fall short of expectations. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

One of the privileges of being a card-carrying member of the International Motor Press Association (IMPA) is being able to attend the group’s Test Days event. Held every fall at Monticello Motor Club about 60 miles north of New York City, it’s an opportunity for journalists to test out a wide variety of cars on public roads, on the track, and off road. At this year’s event, I got to meet a few of my automotive heroes.

I’ve been obsessed with some of these cars for decades, others are fairly recent fixations. I’ve even driven some of them before, but never the way they were intended to be driven. They were all different, but they all lived up to expectations.

2016 Subaru WRXThe Subaru WRX was one of my first automotive loves. I still remember my jaw dropping upon seeing one in a dealership back in 2002, when I was in eighth grade and this rally car for the road was just being introduced.

Over a decade later, I got my hands on a 2016 WRX. This is a much more high tech version than the original, and arguably less charmingly simple. It’s bigger, and the one I drove was saddled with a CVT automatic transmission, not the ideal choice for serious driving. Still, the WRX put a smile on my face. Puttering along the back roads around Monticello, it made even relatively slow-speed driving feel exciting. It also fit like a glove: after a short time behind the wheel, it felt comfortably familiar.

That familiarity continued on the track, where the WRX’s turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive grip made a trouble-free lap easy. By the end of my short time with the car, I’d grown so attached that when I parked it, I reflexively reached into my pocket for a key fob, to lock the doors.

2015 Nissan GT-RAnother Japanese performance legend is the Nissan GT-R. It’s a supercar disguised as a comfortable two-door coupe, that can hang with a Porsche 911 Turbo for a fraction of the price. Years before it was made available in the U.S., the GT-R became a legend as one of the top cars in the Gran Turismo racing-game series. That’s how I first found out about it. That R34-generation model was as alluring mysterious as an alien world, and I eagerly followed the trajectory of the current R35 generation from conception to its arrival in U.S. showrooms.

I’ve driven the GT-R before, but always on relatively low-speed public roads, with ever-vigilant cops and plenty of other cars. So when I finally got a chance to see what the 545-horsepower beast known as “Godzilla” could really do, I couldn’t get across the parking lot fast enough. While the GT-R has garnered plenty of praise for its unbelievable performance, I’d also heard plenty of criticism. It’s too heavy, and relies too much on sensation-dulling technology, some have said.

The GT-R certainly is big by sports car standards, but like its namesake, the Nissan is also ferocious. To indulge a cliche, it attacked the corners, but also showed amazing precision. Its clever all-wheel drive system and electronic aids intervened in the only way you want them to, helping to smooth things out, without wresting control away from the driver.

2015 Mercedes-Benz G500It’s not all about speed, though. Off road, it requires as much precision to maintain forward momentum at 2 mph as it does to thread a car through corners at track speeds. One of the legends of this realm is the Mercedes-Benz G-Class, a converted military vehicle that’s been in production since the 1970s. Known as the “G-Wagen,” it’s been masquerading as a luxury SUV in the U.S. for about a decade now.

I love military vehicles, so this boxy Mercedes immediately stole my heart. I never thought I’d get to drive one, but then I found myself crawling down a steep hill in the woods behind the track, with an instructor making pronouncements about left-foot braking and “trusting” the vehicle, like some sort of off-road guru. Despite seeming almost as wide as the course, the G-Wagen proved an able partner in navigating the terrain.

2015 Dodge Challenger SRT HellcatI was at least somewhat familiar with all of these cars, either from years of past admiration or previous drives, but the Dodge Challenger and Charger Hellcat twins were completely new to me. They hit the automotive world like a bomb last year, both brandishing a 6.2-liter supercharged Hemi V8 with 707 horsepower. They may be humble Dodges, but the Challenger and Charger Hellcats can both top 200 mph. The Charger Hellcat is actually the fastest four-door car currently in production.

After hearing a colleague’s tale of sliding sideways up a hill in one of these, I was a little intimidated by the Challenger Hellcat. But with some gentle throttle application and the electronic aids turned on, it turned out to be just as easy to pilot as many other performance cars, but much more dramatic.

Hit the throttle, and you’d better be awake. The Hellcat engine pummels you with acceleration and, yes, the 707 hp makes a big difference over less-powerful Challenger variants. The Hellcat felt like it just wanted to keep accelerating until the very horizon was splattered across its windscreen like a bug, the supercharger cackling maniacally the whole way. In short, it lived up to its billing as a hellacious muscle car.

2015 Dodge Charger SRT HellcatBut muscle cars aren’t supposed to be able to handle. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I took the Charger Hellcat out on the track, other than it might be… difficult. Yet while not exactly nimble, the big four door acquitted itself pretty well, and I was very impressed by what it could do in the hands of the Chrysler driving instructor I rode shotgun with after my lap. Where I felt the need to slow down to maintain control, he just barreled through like the Charger was a tiny Miata.

Maybe it’s just that today’s cars are more refined than their predecessors, or that consumers increasingly demand cars that can do everything well, rather than sacrifice practicality and comfort to performance or style. Either way, the upside seems to be that today, if a car looks good, it probably is.

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Other People’s Cars: Oldsmobile Delta 88

Oldsmobile Delta 88This may not look like a very impressive car, but bear with me. You probably have a better chance of seeing a Porsche on today’s roads than seeing one of these babies.

This is a car from a brand that no longer exists and, fittingly, it represents a type of car that is on the verge of extinction.

Ask a kindergartener to draw a car and they’ll probably come up with something like this: a four-door sedan with no curved lines other than the wheels.

At one time, this Platonic automobile really was the most common sight on American roads. If it wasn’t an Olds Delta 88, it was a Chevy Caprice, or a Ford LTD, or a Dodge Monaco.

Today, however, the automotive landscape is much more diverse. Cars try to be all things for all people, which is why we have crossovers that look like tough 4x4s, but are actually based on front-wheel drive sedans, and “four-door coupes” that try to combine style and practicality.

In contrast, the big American sedan has become a niche item. There are still a few around (Dodge Charger, Chevy Impala, Chrysler 300, Ford Taurus) but they are the automotive equivalent of vinyl.

That’s not exactly a bad thing. Today’s cars are safer, faster, and better for the environment than this gas-guzzling Olds, although maybe not as old-school-cool.

Either way, this 88 is a noteworthy sighting. It’s both a historical reminder of a time when cars were expected to have the square footage of a small apartment, and a rare car in its own right.

Oldsmobile may have made legions of these things back in the ‘70s. but you’d be hard pressed to find one on the road today. That’s why I’m glad I did.

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What technology says about us

If you have an electric car, you’re more likely to get a girlfriend. At least, that’s what Top Gear’s irascible host, Jeremy Clarkson, said when he and colleague James May test drove two such cars last season. Cars have always been totems of pop culture, but it seems that efficiency and environmental awareness have trumped performance and style in the public’s eye. If that’s the case, is it time for desperate single men to trade their Mustangs for Nissan Leafs (Leaves?)?

The new definition of cool? Image courtesy of Wired.com.

Humans would not have survived this long without technology, but not every piece of tech is created equal. Some machines and gadgets are more than just tools, they capture the imagination. That’s why there are so many songs about cars, and why a well-placed Dodge Charger can liven up any bad movie.

It wasn’t just the cars themselves: the lifestyle surrounding them had its own mystique. Seeing America by car inspired Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and the photographs of Robert Frank, among others. For Twentieth Century Americans, the car was an engineering marvel, a sculpture, and a piece of folklore.

Now we’re in the Twenty-First Century, and we have a new piece of epoch-defining technology: electronics. If you don’t have an Internet-enabled device, you’re nobody. This trend has led people to reassess their feelings for the car. Upon doing so, they find that cars are expensive to buy and maintain, the fuel they consume threatens national security and the environment, and many of them look the same anyway.

Practical concerns, it seems, have taken away some of the car’s romance. But, in addressing those practical concerns, the game hasn’t really changed. It might take years to travel coast to coast on batteries, but the important thing is that the electric car driver will project an image of environmental awareness, of being a good person.

High style and high emissions. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Cars have always been about projecting images their drivers think will impress other people. The eco-aura of a Leaf is the same as the sex appeal of a Corvette or the yuppy-ness of a BMW. Clarkson is right: people want to be seen as environmentally conscious. Whether women will find the whirr of an electric motor attractive is another story.

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Car shows are stuck in the ’50s

A trip to a large car show last weekend reminded me of one of the most puzzling aspects of the show scene: the music. There is music wafting from the loudspeakers at every car show, to create atmosphere, I guess, and it is always from the 1950s. To the show n’ shine crowd, Elvis is still king.

To clarify, this was a vintage car show, as are most of the popular public events held throughout the summer in the U.S. I wasn’t expecting the DJ to blast Lady Gaga, but the organizers should have been more conscious of the variety of eras the assembled cars represented.

Yes, there were many 1955-57 Thunderbirds, Buick Roadmasters, and Cadillacs with pedestrian-impaling tail fins. But the cutoff date was 1971, so there were many cars from the 1960s, from Buick Rivieras to Camaros and Chargers. There was even an E-Type Jaguar.

At car shows, music is supposed to create a nostalgic ambiance, but don’t the people reminiscing about their youth in the Kennedy/Johnson years want some era-appropriate songs?

It’s not like there is a lack of choice. In 1967, Chevy brought out the Camaro, and the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. If you bought a Hemi Charger in 1968, Jimi Hendrix’s cover of All Along the Watchtower would be one of the newest songs on the radio.

If going to a vintage car show is all about reliving the “glory days,” people should not be subjected to music that was out of style when the now-45-year-old muscle cars were new.

In fact, music choice should work the other way, too: if a Model T shows up, play some ragtime, or crank some big band tunes for the military enthusiasts in their WWII Jeeps.

Cars are a major part of American popular culture, and that connection is not confined to the 1950s. You can only listen to the “Golden Oldies” so many times.

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