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Wheels - Ladue News: Import

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Posted: Thursday, April 21, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 10:53 pm, Tue Aug 9, 2011.

I really like the ‘back to the future’ trend in automotive styling that takes iconic models from yesteryear and freshens them to be relevant and cool in modern times. Such is the case with the new Dodge Challenger. Upon viewing it, my mind immediately went back to the ‘70s when my cousin had a lime green Challenger that was one of the coolest things on four wheels. Fast forward to today: Dodge has resurrected the Challenger name to create a modern car with the iconic styling of the original. When you put the old and new cars together, they really do look alike. Dodge’s Challenger is probably the truest to the original of any of the ‘retro’ cars. Thankfully so, because the original’s long hood, short deck design was the classic muscle car design.

    The new Challenger still has a big V-8 engine that sends gobs of power to the rear wheels for tire-smoking takeoffs and quick quarter-mile times, but it now actually responds when you turn the steering wheel.

    Three engines are offered in the Challenger. The base engine is a 3.6 liter V-6 that pumps out 305 horsepower and delivers gas mileage of 18 city/27 highway. A 5.7 Hemi V-8 with fuel saver technology cranks out 379 horsepower while delivering 15/24 mpg. For the truly horsepower crazy, a 392 cubic inch Hemi V-8 churns out an earthshaking 470 horsepower at 14/23 mpg. Four-wheel ABS brakes help corral all that power. A 5-speed autostick automatic available in the V-6 and V-8, or a 6-speed manual transmission available with the V-8, channel all that power to the rear wheels. The Challenger is a blast to drive, with handling and braking up to modern-day standards.

    The interior also greatly benefits from the automotive advances of the last 40 years. Well-bolstered heated seats have headrests. A leather wrapped steering wheel has audio controls on it. Climate control, including air conditioning, and a modern sound system make the Challenger as enjoyable to drive as any modern car. Safety features such as multiple air bags, electronic stability control, traction control and tire pressure monitoring mean it is also as safe as any modern car. Though a coupe, the Challenger is big enough to have a functional rear seat, though it has to be accessed from the passenger side. The trunk can be expanded by folding the 60/40 rear seat.

    According to Tony Cancila of Marty Cancila Dodge, “The Challenger is the most authentic of the retro pony cars. It’s truly better than the original.” 

    Prices range from $25,000 to $32,000+.

    Another ‘60s/’70s sports car icon that has been resurrected recently is the Chevrolet Camaro. The Camaro also successfully updates a classic long hood, short deck muscle car profile. Like the Challenger, it’s available with either V-6 or V-8 power to the rear wheels. I drove the 3.6 liter V-6 with a 6-speed automatic, which produced 312 horsepower and returned 18 city, 29 highway. Fortunately, a 6-speed manual transmission is available with both engines. Even with the V-6, the Camaro has plenty of power and great acceleration. With the 6.2 liter V-8 with 426 horsepower, it’s got to be a screamer.

    A tuned sport suspension and variable ratio power steering combine with a 52/48 weight distribution to give the Camaro excellent handling and balance, while still delivering a comfortable ride. The tight steering solidified this as a real sports car that is truly fun to drive. It’s deceptively fast. At 60 mph it feels like you’re doing 35. ABS brakes with traction control and stability control help keep you in check if you get a little too enthusiastic.

    The roofline is low, which makes it look cool, but it also means that there is not a lot of headroom, and the modern interior is better suited for two as the rear seat is not terribly functional if the rear seat passenger has legs. The trunk is on the small side, but the rear seat does fold. Even the gauges are retro and look like the ones from the old Camaro. A welcome option is the complete gauges package that include oil pressure and temperature and an ammeter. The well-bolstered heated driver’s seat is the seat of choice.

    Prices for the Camaro range from about $23,000 to $35,000+. A convertible version also is available for slightly more money.

*Robert W. Paster also is an attorney in private practice, concentrating in estate planning and probate, see robertpaster.com.    

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