Muscles cars are a terrible choice for a first car, and the Dodge Challenger is no different with its increasingly potent engines in newer iterations.
But if you have your heart set on a used Challenger, the less-powerful trim of the earlier models is a reasonable choice.
The 9 Factors You Need to Consider
Buying a muscle car demands careful consideration, especially for new drivers.
#1 Moderate to Excessive Horsepower
Accelerating quickly in a straight line is what a muscle car does best.
Dodge Challengers have varying horsepower output in their V6 and V8 engines.
|Challenger SXT/SE||V6||250-305 hp|
|Challenger GT||V6||305 hp|
|Challenger R/T||V8||372-485 hp|
|Challenger SRT Hellcat||V8||425-807 hp|
However, these impressive power figures do not suit teen drivers needing to stay safe on the road and keep their insurance renewals affordable.
The 250 horsepower in older Challenger SE coupes (2010 and 2011) are comparably better first cars due to the moderate output.
#2 Gas-Guzzling Muscle Car
Like its sibling – the Dodge Charger – the Challengers have thirsty engines.
|Challenger SXT/SE||23 mpg combined|
|Challenger GT||21 mpg combined|
|Challenger R/T||18 mpg combined|
|Challenger SRT Hellcat||16 mpg combined|
|Honda Civic||33 mpg combined|
First cars should ideally achieve high-20s to 30s mpg in combined driving.
Plus, they should only need to use regular fuel.
#3 Suboptimal Crash Safety
Safety is crucial for any car, but especially for first cars due to the driver’s inexperience behind the wheel.
Most modern cars today are relatively safer and achieve maximum overall scores in crash tests, which makes the Challenger’s mediocre scores a concern (see the crash test ratings later in the post).
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rated the Dodge Challenger as follows:
|Small overlap front: driver-side||Moderate|
|Moderate overlap front||Good|
|Head restraints & seats||Acceptable|
These Japanese and Korean automotive brands make affordable, reliable, and safe first cars:
#4 Rear-Wheel-Drive Is Not Ideal for a First Car
Most Challengers are rear-wheel-driven vehicles, except for a few all-wheel-drive variants like the GT.
RWD vehicles typically have a more balanced weight distribution than FWD ones, which improves handling and, thus, is more exciting to drive.
The rearward weight transfer also creates better traction under acceleration.
However, car control in an RWD vehicle turns critical in slippery and low-traction conditions as it is more prone to fishtailing.
Front-wheel-drive is the safer and cheaper system for first cars.
All-wheel-drive is the best, but also the most expensive.
#5 Above-Average Upkeep Cost
The Dodge Challenger costs approximately $650 annually to maintain; the figure is above midsize cars’ average of $526 a year.
RepairPal ranked it #19 out of 24 midsize cars.
If you’re considering a used Dodge Challenger for your first car, the year-on-year increase in annual maintenance costs (below) should help you decide.
The regular Honda Civic sedan is an excellent yardstick because it’s one of the best first cars with low ownership costs.
|Year||Annual Costs (Challenger)||Annual Costs (Civic)|
The probability of major repair also increases with the Challenger’s age:
- 2.50% in year 1,
- 11.76$ in year 5,
- 24.22% in year 10, and
- 46.67% in year 12.
That said, a used car’s condition can vary significantly depending on its service history, directly affecting your upkeep expenses to keep it running.
#6 Inexpensive Muscle Car But Relatively Costly First Car
Depending on your trim of choice, a Dodge Challenger can be an affordable entry-level sports machine or an expensive fire-breathing muscle car.
Most new drivers shop in the used car market, although some opt for new but affordable compact vehicles.
The cheapest Challenger SXT with a V6 retails for a little over $30,000.
But because they hold value well (more on this later in the post), hunting for a used Challenger under $15,000 will mean confining yourself to fifteen-year-old or older Challengers.
#7 Appalling Visibility
Thick roof pillars, small glass area, high beltline, and elevated rear package severely limit the driver’s view out the front and the back.
The long hood doesn’t help.
Parking the big Challenger can be a chore due to its size and compromised visibility.
Changing lanes will be just as challenging to execute safely for newly-licensed drivers.
If you’re getting a Challenger, the back-up camera and blind-spot monitoring systems are must-haves.
#8 Heavy and Cumbersome to Drive
Weighing in at approx. 3,800 lbs or more, the Challengers are muscular heavyweights among coupes.
First cars should weigh less.
|Challenger SXT (coupe)||3,800 lbs|
|Toyota Camry (sedan)||3,400 lbs|
|Subaru BRZ (coupe)||2,800 lbs|
|Honda Civic (sedan)||2,700 lbs|
|Mazda Miata (convertible)||2,400 lbs|
In-town maneuvering will be tricky due to the Challenger’s beefy size and long wheelbase.
The Challenger’s 116-inch wheelbase compares unfavorably to the Toyota Camry’s 111 inches and Honda Civic’s 106 inches.
#9 Practicality of a Coupe
The appeal of a powerful coupe is undeniable.
However, the form and two-door layout mean getting in and out for rear passengers will require some effort.
That said, the trunk has a large opening and a sizable capacity that’s good for grocery shopping and road trips.
Highway ride quality in the Challenger is outstanding for a sports car owing to the relatively quiet cabin and comfortable seats.
Does the Dodge Challenger Hold Value?
Value retention in the Dodge Challenger is relatively strong compared to other entry-level sports cars, losing 40% of its value after five years and 61% after ten years.
The table below assumes a brand-new Dodge Challenger mid-trim R/T Scat Pack that retails approx. $44,000.
|Vehicle Age||Depreciation||Value Lost||Resale Value|
Dodge Challenger comes with:
- 3-year/36,000-mile basic warranty.
- 5-year/60,000-mile roadside warranty.
- 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty.
The Challenger suffers a particularly sharp decline in the first year.
But the depreciation rate stabilizes in subsequent years, so any used Challenger is a good deal as long as you can verify its condition – an extended warranty is necessary to avoid paying for costly repairs.
If you compare it to a fast-depreciating luxury vehicle like the BMW 3-Series, the Dodge Challenger holds value incredibly well.
|5-yr Depreciation||10-yr Depreciation|
|Mazda MX-5 Miata||38%||55%|
The MX-5 Miata retains value better than the Dodge Challenger, and not many entry-level sports cars can make that claim.
Insuring a Dodge Challenger for Teenagers
Muscle cars are generally more expensive to insure than similar size sedans with smaller engines.
Male drivers are more likely to get into an accident than female drivers, so young male drivers and muscle cars make one of the worst combinations for insurance costs.
|Est. Cost (Male)||Est. Cost (Female)|
Higher trims generally cost more, and older models cost less.
That said, insurance premiums can vary significantly depending on your location.
The most expensive zip codes can be 2x to 3x the insurance cost of the cheapest, so take the figures above only as a guide.
It’s best to request quotes from multiple insurers for an accurate estimate.
Dodge Challenger Worst Year (If Any)
- Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
- Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
- Fuel Economy: mpg city/highway/combined (base trim).
- Reliability: /100; higher = fewer problems (JD Power).
- Complaints: total reported problems (CarComplaints).
|Model Year||Safety (IIHS)||Safety (NHTSA)||Fuel Econ.||Reliability||Complaints|
It may have received 5 out of 5 stars overall in the NHTSA government crash test, but its IIHS ratings are less flattering.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rated the Challenger ‘Good’ in Moderate Overlap Front and Side Crash; ‘Acceptable’ in the Rear and Roof Strength; ‘Marginal’ in Small Overlap Front (driver’s side).
Going by the number of reported problems on CarComplaints, the 2012 Dodge Challenger is the worst model year.
It recorded the largest number of complaints with electrical problems (alternator going out at random) topping the list.
Other reported problems in the 2012 Challenger include the engine not starting and the smart window and door latch killing the car’s battery.
Plus, the absence of any official crash test results for the 2012 Challenger doesn’t inspire confidence in its structural strength.
Dodge Challenger Compared with Better First Cars
Several sporty cars with less powerful engines, FWD or AWD, and lower fuel consumption are attractive alternatives to the Dodge Challenger.
- Fuel Economy: mpg combined (base trim).
- Maintenance Costs: per year avg. (RepairPal).
- Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
- Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
- Visibility: excellent, good, average, poor.
|Vehicle||Horsepower||Fuel Econ.||Maint. Costs||Safety (IIHS)||Safety (NHTSA)||Visibility|
|Dodge Challenger||250-305 hp||23||$650||3.2/4||5/5||Poor|
|Dodge Charger||250-292 hp||23||$652||3.6/4||5/5||Average|
|Chevy Camaro||275-323 hp||22||$585||3.8/4||5/5||Poor|
|Subaru WRX||230-271 hp||23||$682||4/4||5/5||Good|
|Subaru BRZ||205-228 hp||24||$672||3.8/4||NA||Good|
|Mazda Miata||116-181 hp||29||$429||NA||NA||Average|
|VW Golf GTI||210-228 hp||27||$791||3.8/4||5/5||Good|
|Mazda 3 Turbo||227 hp||27||$433+||4/4||5/5||Average|
|Honda Civic Si||197-205 hp||30||$368+||4/4||5/5||Good|
|Honda Civic||110-158 hp||33||$368||4/4||5/5||Good|
Good visibility is essential for new drivers, and the Dodge Challenger and Chevrolet Camaro have some of the worst outward views.
The Subaru BRZ is also rear-wheel-driven like the Dodge Challenger, but it is less powerful, returns marginally higher mpg, and has better visibility.
If a regular sedan is a tad too dull for your first car, the Mazda Miata two-seat roadster is a compelling option.
The Miata may have the same rear-wheel-drive system as the Challenger, but its four-cylinder engine is much less powerful.
Plus, it still delivers an engaging drive.
The Mazda MX-5 Miata is one of the most fuel-efficient sports cars and remarkably enjoyable to drive.
The Mazda 3 variant with a turbocharged engine introduced in 2021 produces 227 horsepower and sharp handling, making it a super fun daily driver.
Crucially, the Mazda 3 is more fuel-efficient, cheaper to maintain, and comes with an all-wheel-drive system for extra traction.
You’ll need to pay more for the GT trim if you want an AWD Challenger.
If you value sporty handling in a small package, the VW Golf and Golf GTI are all-around better first cars than the Dodge Challenger.
Golf GTI is one of the best-handling front-wheel-drive cars on the road.
The Honda Civic Si provides the best overall combination for an excellent sporty first car – roomy cabin and cargo, high fuel efficiency, inexpensive upkeep, and crisp handling.
Plus, the Civic Si has a more-practical four-door layout and is as dependable as any Honda.
The standard Honda Civic remains one of the best cars for teenagers.
Is the Challenger G/T, RT, or Hellcat a Good First Car?
As the Challenger advanced in age, its trim levels grew.
Power output increased and fuel economy dropped in the Challenger G/T, RT, and SRT Hellcat variants, making them unsuitable for teenagers getting their first ride.
Dodge Challenger SXT, G/T, RT, and SRT Hellcat Compared
|Model||Engine||Horsepower||Fuel Economy||Fuel Type|
|Challenger SXT/SE||V6||250-305 hp||23 mpg combined||Regular|
|Challenger GT||V6||305 hp||21 mpg combined||Regular|
|Challenger R/T||V8||372-485 hp||18 mpg combined||Regular/Premium|
|Challenger SRT Hellcat||V8||425-807 hp||16 mpg combined||Premium|
Although the power output range from high to extreme, the Challengers’ curb weight make them unwieldy vehicles.
The fuel economy in the SXT is subpar for first cars, and the more potent variants suffer from even higher gas consumption.
A muscle car may be a ton of fun to drive, but a smaller, cheaper, and less-powerful first car will make life easier for teenagers.