We've all been there. You're at the dealer and you've got two cars in front of you. One is a sports coupe – sexy, powerful, not particularly practical. The other is a sedan with room for five, doors for each row of seats, and a golf-bag-friendly trunk. Which should you choose: practical and spacious or cool and quick?
Well, that choice isn't so cut-and-dry in this head-to-head comparison. The Dodge Challenger isn't a tiny, hard-edged sports coupe like the Subaru BRZ. It's actually pretty roomy and comfortable on the road. The Dodge Charger isn't a sedate family hauler like the Toyota Avalon. It's a four-door muscle car with athletic handling and big available power – up to 707 horsepower.
We've evaluated the Challenger and the Charger based on nine categories, ranging from practical, like trunk space, to performance-oriented, like the acceleration. Whoever wins the most categories takes the prize.
How will these class outliers stack up when they go head-to-head? More importantly, which one should you buy when you're on the lot at your local Dodge dealer? Read on to find out.
Pricing and Features: Challenger
With a base price of $26,995, the 2016 Dodge Challenger takes the crown in the pricing category. It will cost you $27,995 to get into a base Charger.
Both models give you almost identical standard features, including USB and Bluetooth connectivity, a power driver's seat, a 5-inch touch-screen, and a six-speaker stereo. The list of available features are similar as well: a larger touch screen, a Harman Kardon audio system, adaptive cruise control, and blind spot monitoring.
The Challenger is consistently cheaper as you step up into higher trims. The cheapest V8 Challenger costs $31,995, while the lowest-priced V8 Charger is $33,895. The Challenger's price advantage continues all the way up to the top-of-the-line Hellcat models. A Charger Hellcat costs $65,945, while the Challenger is a relative bargain at $62,495.
Acceleration and Power: Tie
The Charger and the Challenger have very similar engine lineups, from the base 3.6-liter V6, to the 5.7-liter V8 in the R/T models, all the way up to the massive 707-horsepower, supercharged 6.2-liter V8 in the Hellcat models.
Performance from each trim is mixed. Car and Driver tested each model from 0 to 60 mph and found that the base Challenger beats the base Charger (6.2 seconds vs. 6.5), the V8 R/T models are tied at 5.1 seconds, and the Charger Hellcat beats the Challenger Hellcat (3.4 seconds vs. 3.9). So let's just say the results are inconclusive.
One big (unofficial) bonus point to the Challenger for offering a stick shift in most of its trims, including the Hellcat. The Charger is only available with an automatic. However, that probably won't be a deal breaker for you if you're not a fan of three-pedal driving.
Ride and Handling: Charger
Both the Challenger and the Charger offer smooth rides, which makes them great companions on long highway cruises.
When it comes to handling, it's all relative. The big, heavy Challenger gets low marks for handling in most reviews because its main competitors are sports cars like the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro that are lighter, smaller, and more nimble. The Dodge Charger earns praise for its handling because its main rivals are practical full-size sedans like the Toyota Avalon and Chevrolet Impala. If you drove the Challenger and Charger back-to-back, you'd probably find that they offer similar levels of cornering grip.
So, what gives the Charger the edge over the Challenger? Two things: visibility and all-wheel drive. The Challenger's muscular, retro styling may look cool, but in reality it means a long hood, huge roof pillars, and tiny windows, all of which reduce visibility. It's hard to tackle a twisty mountain road when you're having trouble seeing it. Additionally, the Challenger is not available with all-wheel drive, and the Charger is. If you've ever had to drive in the snow with a rear-wheel drive car, you know what a blessing all-wheel drive can be.
Passenger Comfort: Charger
You'd expect the sedan to beat the sports coupe in a passenger comfort contest, and it did, but the results are closer than you'd think.
The Challenger has one of the largest back seats of any sports coupe on the market, and it actually offers more headroom than the Charger. It is also one of the only cars in its class that can accommodate three people in the back seats. Most rivals can only accommodate two.
Still, when it comes to rear-seat comfort, you can't beat an extra set of doors. The Charger's four-door layout not only makes it easier for rear-seat passengers to get into and out of the car, it also makes for vastly improved legroom, hip room, and shoulder room compared with the Challenger. Total passenger volume is much better in the Charger than in the Challenger (104.7 cubic feet vs. 93.9). Because the Charger is more family-oriented, it also has more available creature comforts, like heated rear seats.
In terms of passenger comfort, the Challenger can certainly hold its own when compared to rivals like the Ford Mustang. It just can't beat the space and convenience of the four-door Charger.
Interior Features and Build Quality: Tie
Both the Challenger and the Charger use parts from the same bin at Dodge, so their cabins are remarkably similar. That means you get the same high-end, soft-touch finishes on the dashboard and center console, and the same low-quality hard plastic in out-of-the-reach areas.
Interior features are similar as well. The Challenger and the Charger use the same base 5-inch Uconnect touch-screen, which is small but user-friendly. Both models are available with an upgraded 8.4-inch touch screen that is one of the best infotainment systems on the market. It has crisp graphics and easy-to-use menus, so you won't have to pull over to figure out how to change the radio station or turn on the A/C.
Other features include standard USB ports and Bluetooth and an optional rearview camera.
Cargo Space: Charger
The Charger just edges out the Challenger with 16.5 cubic feet of trunk space vs. 16.2. The Charger's larger interior also means that there is more storage in the back seat, and that storage is more easily accessible because of the extra doors.
That said, the Challenger's trunk is extremely large for a sports car. Both the Challenger and the Charger come standard with split-folding rear seats, so you can carry longer items without having to rent a U-Haul. Try doing that in a Miata.
Fuel Economy: Charger
Again, the Charger just ekes out a win in this practical category. The V6 Charger's best fuel economy is 31 mpg on the highway, while the V6 Challenger's is 30. Both cars get 19 mpg in the city. The fuel economy of both cars is decent for their respective classes.
Besides the base models, the Charger and the Challenger remain pretty much tied in terms of fuel economy. They get identical fuel economy in the R/T (16/25 mpg city/highway), Scat Pack (15/25 city/highway), and Hellcat (13/22 mpg city/highway).
The Charger and the Challenger don't have full crash test results for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), so a crash test comparison would be inconclusive.
However, the Charger still takes this category since it has more advanced safety features than the Challenger.
The Charger is available with blind spot monitoring, automatic pre-collision braking, lane keep assist, a rearview camera, rear parking sensors, and rear cross traffic alert.
The Challenger is available with many of those features, but it is not available with the Charger's two most advanced safety features, lane keep assist, which can steer you back into your lane if you get distracted, and automatic pre-collision braking, which can automatically apply your brakes if it detects that an accident is about to happen.
The 2016 Dodge Challenger and 2016 Dodge Charger both have a three out of five rating from J.D. Power, indicating that their reliability is predicted to be about average compared with the reliability of most rivals.
If you're looking for a more-reliable large sedan, the Chevrolet SS and Chrysler 300 get higher reliability ratings than the Dodge Charger. If you're looking for a more-reliable sports car, the Chevy Camaro and Nissan 370Z might be better choices.
Overall Winner: Charger
The Charger was the clear favorite from the get-go. Because of its sedan body style, it was a lock for practical categories like passenger and cargo space.
The Challenger might have been able to pull off a win if it had beaten the Charger in the performance categories. However, the Charger delivers similar acceleration in a straight line, and it got a bump in the handling category thanks to its available all-wheel drive and clearer view of the road (you can't tackle corners quickly if you can't see them).
If you're looking for the sportiest styling, you'll probably want to choose the Challenger. The Challenger's coupe body style and retro front and rear ends make a bigger statement than the more sedate styling of the Charger (although that's subjective, so we didn't score it). The Challenger is also the only one of the pair available with a manual transmission, and it's more of a performance bargain, with lower prices for the base and V8 models. Because of those characteristics, it's fair to say that the Challenger is a truer muscle car than the Charger. However, due to its superior combination of practicality and performance, the Charger is the better all-around choice.