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Sports Cars

2016 Dodge Challenger SRT 392 Test Drive and Review

by Tod Mesirow

America has a lot of big, open, long, largely empty highways.  Thank you Cold War and President Eisenhower.   The national interstate highway system with the instantly recognizable curved sign, with a number in white on a blue background and the word “INTERSTATE” in white letters on a red background at the top – that’s only 50 years old.   June 29, 1956 is when President Eisenhower signed the law that created the system because of what was felt at the time the strategic necessity of having a coast to coast system of quality roadways – to move troops and equipment in case of war.   The bill actually uses the words “in case of atomic attack.”

Lucky for us the atomic war hasn’t happened yet.  And lucky for us that we have cars like the Dodge Challenger SRT 392 with a 485-hp HEMI V8 and a 6-speed manual transmission driving power to 20-inch wheels controlled through deceleration via Brembo brakes.   With red calipers.   Because the red ones look cool.

dsc_2518-cropped-challengerBut it’s not the stopping that gets our hearts racing.  It’s the going fast.  And the best use of those strategic assets we call “highways” is to go fast in American muscle.

There is the Mustang, and the Camaro, and the Challenger.  Always a little beefier, broader in the shoulders and more imposing in design, the latest iteration of the Challenger was reborn in 2008 after dying in 1974.  After eight years, refinements have been made so that the brawn remains. Yet through some modern technology and effective engineering, there’s a surprising amount bit of nimbleness on hand in the 2016 version.

For me, the really interesting thing about driving this brand new 2016 Challenger SRT 392 is that back in 2013 when I was the Executive Producer of “Joe Rogan Questions Everything” for A. Smith & Co. on SyFy, my friends at FCA loaned us a current (2013) model Challenger SRT with a manual transmission for Joe to drive as his hero car. Which meant (of course) that when Joe wasn’t driving the car, the production department took care of it.  That afforded me a reasonable amount of time behind the wheel.

Powerful?  Yes.  Smooth, responsive, well-mannered?  No.  Out on the Eisenhower highways? Look out.  Roll into some tight turns, switchbacks and two-lane awesomeness? Not so much.

dsc_2502-crop-challengerFast-forward to this August, 2016, when the new 2016 Challenger showed up for me to drive to Monterey Car Week, and then up in to the Sierra Mountains for a few days, I had the perfect opportunity to see and feel for myself if the new upgrades – like the “Bilstein Adaptive Dampening System with an independent front short- and long-arm design and multilink rear design,” according to Dodge promotional materials – had the kind of impact I could feel.

After hundreds of miles, and roads as varied as eight-lane interstate highways to two-lane mountain roads – from the long, flat and straight to the constantly curving, ever-changing in both camber and elevation – the Challenger consistently performed beyond expectations.

dsc_2514-challengerForward visibility is perfect, with the large sweep of windshield glass.  Side-to-side view is fine.  Looking over one’s shoulder is pretty useless – the rear sightlines are limited, and the two best places to look are in the rear-view mirrors or the back-up camera, which catch pretty much everything.  This is an instance of an effective application of modern technology combined with old-school reflection.

Back seat space is minimal.  Like most sports cars, even the ones with 2+2 in their title, it really means the two seats in the back fit one person sitting sideways.  In that configuration most cars of this ilk are effective as three seaters.  The only time four makes sense is when the rear passengers are young, or stars of a TLC little people series. (No offense meant to little people of course.)

dsc_2507-challengerFor long distance driving, the front seats were unexpectedly comfortable.  Controls of all sorts were sensibly placed and well labeled.  The large screen used to control the various systems and the display for the back-up camera is happily touch screen.  (Something Mercedes can’t seem to figure out, in some semblance of obstinacy or feigned Teutonic superiority. But really.  As the control mechanism, the knob is dead. Come on, Mercedes — embrace the touch screen.)

dsc_2509-cropped-challengerDriving the Challenger is a pleasure.  The sonic feedback from the engine has been dialed in just right.  Noise level in the cabin is better than expected. While the engine revs and shifts, the sounds are as tactile as they are auditory in their pleasure.  Diving in and out of curves on a two-lane mountain road in the Sierras, I was able to stay on my side of the road, experience a bit of the thrill of hitting the apex just right, without the sensation of being thrown around in the cabin.  The new suspension set up worked admirably.  For a vehicle with a 4,200-lb curb weight, the thing moved with an unexpected nimbleness.  The hood scoop is functional – air does flow in.  There is no mistaking where the gasoline goes in to the car – the oversized hinged circle says “FUEL” on it in great no-nonsense “here-I-am” fashion – kind of like the car itself.

dsc_2510-cropped-challengerSome cars I get to drive are perfect opportunities to explore a specific type of vehicle, and I’m fine returning them to the manufacturer.  Others stand out as cars that – if I had unlimited funds – would be welcome additions to my stable.  The Dodge Challenger SRT 392 Hemi six-speed definitely fits in that latter class.  I miss it.


  • Model: 2016 Dodge Challenger SRT 392
  • Price: $50,195 ($52,775 as tested)
  • EPA Fuel Economy: 14 mpg city/23 mpg highway/17 mpg combined
  • Engine: 485 horsepower, 6.4 liter, 392 cubic inch V8 engine
  • Transmission: 6-speed manual
  • Warranty: 3-year/36,000-mile basic; 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain

See Tod’s video review of the 2016 Dodge Challenger SRT 392 here.

dsc_2499-challengerPhotos (c) Tod Mesirow.


Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion

by Tod Mesirow

Each year some serious automotive enthusiasts bring their vintage vehicles to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and take them around the track, wheel to wheel, in a series of races. It’s an awesome event because many of these cars are worth six or seven figures, and instead of spending their lives strictly as garage queens, their owners put them to the use for which they were built – racing. in 2011 Mazda brought the only Japanese car ever to win Le Mans, the rotary powered 1991 Mazda 787B. Pay no attention to my hair.

Watch Tod’s Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion Video here.

By Morio (photo taken by Morio) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

2016 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Though it boasts of a daunting 485-hp Hemi V8 engine, the 2016 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack plays third fiddle in Fiat Chrysler’s muscle coupe lineup.

It sets up behind the similarly powered but better equipped and more expensive Challenger SRT 392, as well as the astounding 707 hp Hellcat, which comes with a price tag that nudges 70 grand.

Even in that company, the Scat Pack comes across in every way as a sharp car: sharp looks, sharp turn-in, handling, braking and hair-trigger throttle response. Though it can trundle along in the docile way of an economy car, that manner requires the driver to use a feather foot. Anything more aggressive and the Scat Pack snaps necks as it leaps forward.

This Challenger is a modern rendition of the muscle cars of the late 1960s and early 1970s, which always came with gobs of power but many shortcomings. In the words of the late race driver and entrepreneur Carroll Shelby, they had “great engines (but) couldn’t turn, couldn’t stop.”

2016 Dodge Challenger SXT

Not only does the Challenger Scat Pack evoke memories of those high performance Dodge cars of yore, it corrects those old inadequacies with a modern independent suspension system and sophisticated steering that together deliver sharp handling along with a choppy ride over rough roads.

Moreover, this coupe with the slick retro look comes with high performance antilock Brembo brakes that are unobtrusive in operation but haul the Challenger down from high speeds with authority but without drama.

Standard is a 6-speed manual gearbox. But the test car came with an optional ($1,400) eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual mode controlled by steering wheel mounted paddle shifters. In either automatic or manual mode, the eight-speed snaps off shifts up or down instantly with rev matching on downshifts. Even with the more rapid shifts at higher rpms, the automatic delivers better fuel economy than the manual when similarly driven.

2016 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus (shown in Ruby Red/Black)

Though it’s a throwback now that manufacturers increasingly deliver cars with smaller but more powerful engines, usually turbocharged, there’s a primal satisfaction in experiencing the vibes and throaty sounds of the traditional pushrod V8 engine. The Scat Pack feels as if it were plucked from the days when the mantra was, “There’s no substitute for cubic inches.”

With its American muscle car personality, the Scat Pack nevertheless is useful as an every day commuter car. As a two door with rear wheel drive it is less convenient than a four-door sedan with front- or all-wheel drive, yet it still accommodates four adults and comes with 16 cubic feet of stash space in the trunk.

The front seats, covered in a nubby and comfortable cloth, have giant side bolsters to hold the torso in place during spirited cornering on twisting roads. Even the outboard back seats, scooped out to maximize head and knee room, would be OK for a middling road trip. Only the center rear seat, with a hard cushion and the intrusion of a big floor hump, should be avoided except in extreme circumstances.

Back seat entry and exit take a bit of effort, though the front seats easily slide forward out of the way. One silly feature: sun visors have small extensions to help block sunlight from the side, but they’re so small they don’t do the job.

Surprisingly, given the Challenger’s low down, streamlined styling, visibility from inside is good all around. Long-distance trips are hampered only by the intrusion of the rumbling V8 engine sounds, which to enthusiasts is classical muscle car music.

2016 Dodge Challenger TorqueFlite 8-speed electronic shifter
2016 Dodge Challenger TorqueFlite 8-speed electronic shifter

The Scat Pack Challenger has a starting price of $38,990, which includes a full suite of safety equipment along with the aforementioned Brembo brakes, hill start assist, a backup camera with parking assist, and pushbutton starting.

Equipment on the test car also included Chrysler’s intuitive UConnect infotainment system, Bluetooth connectivity with voice command, SXM satellite radio, dual-zone climate control, fog lights and 20-inch polished aluminum wheels.

Options, in addition to the eight-speed automatic transmission, include navigation and high definition (HD) radio. That brought the suggested delivered price to $41,085—not cheap but not terribly expensive either, given the level of performance.

Pony cars and muscle cars from the past are enjoying a resurgence, as witness the popularity of the Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang. They are somewhat more wedded to modern smaller displacement and turbocharged engines than the offerings from the Dodge boys, who cling more to the past.

2016 Dodge Challenger SXT


  • Model: 2016 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack two-door coupe.
  • Engine:4-liter Hemi V8, 485 hp, 475 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual mode and paddle shifters on the steering wheel.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 94/16 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,240 pounds
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 15/25/18 mpg. Premium recommended.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $38,990.
  • Price as tested: $41,085.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) FCA North America

2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

There used to be a saying that Italian sports cars like the 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider were patterned after volatile mistresses: beautiful, exciting, expensive, dangerous and impossible to live with.

The new 4C, a two-seat targa-style convertible, enhances the legend. It tantalizes a small minority of car nuts—emphasis on the nuts.  Stylistically, it is a work of art. But it is a terrible car. Well, someone has to say it.

It’s analogous to the Alfa Romeo Spider of yore. From the late 1960s into the 1990s, with few changes, the Alfa Spider—also known as the Duetto—was lauded as one of the most beautiful sports cars ever conceived, which was true. But the thing drove like a tractor.

Alfa Romeo has a glorious history despite its current sickness as a car company, which owner Fiat Chrysler has vowed to cure with a $6 billion investment and new models—two of which are the new 4C coupe and roadster.

Visit the recently reopened Alfa Romeo Museum in Arese, Italy, and you can view the entire history of the world-famous nameplate. Alfa stands for “Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili,” which translates into Lombard Automobile Factory, Public Company. Classic Alfas can sell for millions of dollars at auctions.

2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider
2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider

Likely that will happen with the 4C Spider. But it makes it on looks, which of course is the first and last thing every car buyer considers. It also has some sports car credentials, including lightweight carbon fiber construction and an engine and transmission that can propel it to 60 mph in about four seconds, according to independent tests, with a top speed of around 160.

Getting there certainly is exciting—if your idea of exciting is living on the edge. Come along for a ride.

At first look, no question it’s gorgeous, looking exactly like everybody expects of an Italian exotic sports car. For balance and handling, it has rear-drive and a mid-engine, with the 237-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine mounted right behind the driver’s shoulder blades.

Open the door and get in. Well, actually you have to sort of insinuate your body into the passenger pod, fanny first, twisting this way and that like the dragon on the Alfa Romeo emblem.

2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider
2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider

The seating actually is decent once you get installed. However, despite big side bolsters on the seats they’re down so low they don’t provide much lateral support.

Though you can’t see them, the pedals are metal for—well, you know. There are four buttons on the console, labeled 1 (to get going), A/M (to switch from automatic to manual paddle operation of the dual clutch transmission), N (for neutral) and R (for reverse).

There’s also a toggle switch to change the driving dynamics from Weather (for soft starts in slippery conditions) to Natural and Dynamic. The last is the most aggressive, short of an all-out race mode, which you don’t get to try.

In any mode, the harsh ride rattles not only the molars but every bone in the body, especially now that the U.S. boasts some of the worst roads in the world.

Light up the engine. You have to twist the key—no pushbutton stuff here. It comes to life with a raucous roar, smack in your eardrums. Either in automatic or manual mode it snarls and barks menacingly at you between shifts. Exciting? Maybe for folks who like to listen to steam engine sounds and racing engines.

One of the features for 2016 is an Alpine audio system, which looks like it came off the shelf at Best Buy. It’s a nice unit if you listen before you start the engine. After that, you can’t hear it unless you crank it way up—and simply add to the racket.

Roll the fabric top off for open air driving and the engine uproar dissipates some. But then you battle wind noise as well.

The steering is manual, which takes wrestler’s muscle at low speeds. Once moving, it’s easier but then all it does is nibble around, following every indent in the road. Constant steering corrections are annoying and tiring. There’s no cruise control, which adds to the fatigue on freeways.

The only way this Alfa feels at home is at speed on twisting pool table surfaces. But who drives at extra-legal speeds all the time?

Yet none of this matters. Even at 70 grand, Alfa Romeo will easily sell every one. Reportedly, there’s already an 18-month waiting list.

2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider
2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider


  • Model: 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider two seat roadster.
  • Engine:8-liter four cylinder, turbocharged, 237 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six speed dual clutch automatic with manual shift mode.
  • Overall length: 13 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 47/4 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,847 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/ combined fuel consumption: 24/34/28 mpg. (Premium fuel required).
  • Base price, including destination charge: $65,495.
  • Price as tested: $70,595.

Read Jason’s take on the 4C here.

Photos (c) FCA North America

2017 Acura NSX: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Long awaited, the 2017 Acura NSX doesn’t disappoint. Its unique design and supercar persona attracts superlatives like metal filings to a magnet.

It has a top speed of 191 mph, according to Acura, with a 0-60 mph time of about three seconds. By the way, it’s a mostly mid-engine hybrid.

Driving all four wheels are a 3.5-liter V6 engine with twin turbochargers, along with three electric motors. Two of them are packaged together to drive the front wheels and the third connects with the gasoline engine mounted behind the driver and forward of the rear wheels. It also functions as the starter motor. All together, the system delivers 573 hp and 476 lb-ft of torque.

The transmission is a nine-speed dual clutch automatic with paddle shifters on the steering wheel for manual operation. Even the steering wheel, with a flat top and bottom, is custom designed to frame the instruments and enhance outward visibility.

Though the paddles accommodate drivers who want to shift for themselves, they are not needed. The onboard computer reads a multitude of inputs and shifts more accurately than any human can.

This is only the second NSX. The first was introduced in 1990 and was so good it continued almost unchanged for15 years until 2005. Since then, Acura has tantalized enthusiasts with concept cars, including one which would have had a V10 engine. It died in the 2008 recession.

Now, the new NSX might puzzle some observers because of its hybrid design, which is associated in popular culture with enhanced fuel economy.

But it makes sense for a supercar because of those three electric motors. The main performance characteristic of an electric motor is that it produces maximum torque—or twisting force—immediately. Internal combustion engines attain maximum torque as engine revolutions increase.

Electric torque gives the NSX an instant jump off the line and then combines with the rpms of the gasoline engine to maintain steady power. It’s stunningly apparent if you use the NSX’s launch control to rocket away from a standing start.

Select track mode, hold your left foot tightly on the brake pedal, then floor the accelerator pedal and release the brakes. There’s no burning rubber because there’s no wheel spin. All four tires grab the pavement and the NSX snaps off the line like a ball bearing from a slingshot. Seconds later you’re up to three digit speeds.

Of course, any number of drag racers can rapidly reach high speeds. But in this era of high tech motoring, a supercar has to excel not only at acceleration but braking and handling as well.

2017 Acura NSX
2017 Acura NSX.

The tested NSX came with carbon ceramic brakes (a $10,600 option) that felt powerful enough to stop a runaway steam locomotive. They included a regenerative function that produced electricity and contributed to acceleration and handling.

The NSX incorporates a custom version of Acura’s super handling all-wheel drive (SH-AWD), which delivers yaw control and torque vectoring that enable a driver maintain a tight line around curves.

There are four driver selectable dynamic systems: quiet, sport, sport plus and track. They adjust torque vectoring, steering assist, transmission shift points, electric brake assist and suspension damping. Though it may come across as frivolous, they even control the exhaust sounds that are piped into the cabin.

The electric quiet mode enables an owner to sneak home late at night. At the other extreme, the track mode attunes systems for all-out racetrack driving, though it does not allow the driver to fully disable the safety of automatic stability control.

Inside, the NSX coddles the driver and one passenger as comfortably as if they were infants in a car seat. Bolsters hold the lower torso in place but also allow free movement of shoulders and arms.

As a supercar with Japanese reliability and U.S. build quality, the NSX doesn’t come cheap. It starts at $157,800, including destination and handling, and the heavily optioned test car came to $204,700.

The overwhelming recollection of the original NSX in 1990 was of a car that performed so perfectly that it felt invincible. You sensed that nobody, in whatever vehicle, could catch you. A brief drive in a 2005 model brought back those memories.

Yet that first NSX felt old fashioned next to its 2017 descendant, which should be labeled as invincible to the nth power.

2017 Acura NSX
2017 Acura NSX.


  • Model: 2017 Acura NSX two-door coupe.
  • Engines: 5-liter V6 gasoline, twin turbochargers, with one direct drive electric motor for the rear wheels. Two independent electric motors packaged together for the front wheels. Total system power: 573 hp, 476 lb-ft. torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed dual clutch automatic with manual shift mode.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 44/4.4 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,803 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/22/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $157,800.
  • Price as tested: $204,700.

Photos (c) Acura

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