Deciding whether a Canadian/American-made Challenger is a sports car or a muscle car can be a difficult task. During our research for this question, we learned that both terms are quite subjective. Also, this car has so many different versions that there are big differences between generations and even within generations. Let’s start with a quick answer:
The 1969 – 1974 Dodge Challenger is a classic muscle car because of its big-block V8, RWD, and 2-door layout. 1977 – 1983 is a sports car because it only has an I4 or I6 engine and is therefore not powerful enough to be a muscle car. The 2007 – present-day Challenger is a pony car because it has a V6 or small-block V8.
However, that doesn’t tell the whole story. In the text below, we’ve outlined the different characteristics of sports, pony, and muscle cars and compared which area the Challenger fits best. We’ll discuss the different engine types, the design of the car, the weight, and the drive system that it uses. Read on!
One of the main differences between a muscle car and a sports car is the type of engine that the car has as a general rule of thumb; muscle cars have a powerful V8 engine that weighs a lot. On the other hand, sports cars can have all kinds of different engines. However, the engine of a sports car is typically smaller (V6, Inline-6, Inline-4) because these weigh less and therefore provide better handling.
Below we’ve outlined all the different engines that have been used throughout the years for the Dodge Challenger. What becomes clear here is that the Dodge Challenger is a mixed bag in terms of engines.
First, we can see that almost all generations of the Charger have a V8 engine, which is a muscle car trait. However, there are also some models with a V6, I6, or I4 engine, which we can’t consider to be muscle cars. These cars can still be considered sports cars, but they are not muscle cars.
- 1969 – 1974: 3.2 I6, 3.7 I6, 5.2 V8, 5.6 V8, 6.3 V8, 7.0 V8, 7.2 V8
- 1977 – 1983: 1.6 I4, 2.6 I4
- 2007 – 2015: 3.5 V6, 3.6 V6, 5.7 V8
- 2015 – present: 3.6 V6, 5.7 V8, 6.4 V8
Furthermore, it’s also good to know that not all muscle cars are considered the same. Muscle cars generally have a big-block V8 engine. As the name suggests, these are absolutely massive V8 engines. On the other hand, there are also small-block V8 engines and V6’s. Cars that have these engines are considered to be so-called ‘pony cars.’
When we look at the engines of the Challenger, we find that there are only a few of them that have a big-block V8. Specifically, we’re talking about the 1969 – 1974 6.3, 7.0, and 7.2 V8. Although they’re all different engines, they are all big-block V8’s.
The Challenger also has a few small-block V8’s. In this case, we’re talking about the 1969 – 1974 5.2 and 5.6 V8. All the V8’s that were used in the Challenger since 2007 are so-called Hemi’s and are also small-block V8’s.
So, based on the engine, the conclusion is that the I4 and I6 engines can be considered sports cars (we’ll discuss this in more detail in a moment).
The early Challengers with a big-block V8 are definitely classic muscle cars. There’s no doubt about that. Strictly looking at the engines, we would say that the Challengers with a small-block V8 or V6 are pony cars. However, we’ll discuss these cars in more detail to come to a more in-depth conclusion.
Design is also an important feature to consider to know if a car is a muscle car or a sports car. In general, it can be said that classic muscle cars have two doors. Furthermore, they normally have big grills on the front of the car, allowing maximum airflow to cool the engine.
On the other hand, sports cars also have two doors. However, their design is focused more on handling and aerodynamics. This means the car looks ‘fast’ and generally sits low to the ground (which gives better handling in corners).
In terms of design, we think certain elements of the car are considered to be ‘muscle’ territory, whereas there are some elements that make it more of a sports car. First of all, we think there’s very little doubt about the fact that most Chargers look like a muscle car. The big grill on the front is a particular design feature that fits the muscle car criteria.
When we look at the classic muscle cars (on the left), we can immediately see that this is a car made for straight-line speed (a classic muscle car trait). It has a big grill, big tires, 2-doors, and its design doesn’t really look like it’s designed for maximum grip in corners. The same can be said for the modern-day Challenger: big grill, big tires, 2-doors, not made for corners.
Combine them with a big block V8, and you most likely have a muscle car because it doesn’t only look like a muscle car, but it also has the power to back it up. Combine them with a small-block V8 or V6, and you have a muscle car or pony car, depending on the power it provides. Combine them with anything else, and you most likely have a sports car.
On the other hand, we still have to talk about a strange generation of the Challenger. That’s the 1977 – 1983 version. This car doesn’t look like the other Chargers at all and, with an I4 and I6 engine, also doesn’t have the power to be classified as a pony or sports car.
Just looking at the car below, this doesn’t scream ‘muscle.’ In the 1980’s it probably did look like a sports car, so it’s probably best classified in that category.
Another important difference to consider is the weight of the car. In general, we would say that a typical sports car weighs anything in the neighborhood of 3,000 pounds. Sports cars are normally lighter cars which allow for better handling.
On the other hand, muscle/pony cars are heavier cars designed for straight-line speed. Let’s say that would be anything from 4,000 pounds or higher.
In this article, we already outlined the weight of a 2008 – 2021 Dodge Challenger. It became clear that the 2008 – 2021 Dodge Challenger has a curb weight of 3,719 – 4,190 pounds for all trim levels, excluding the Scat Pack, Hellcat, and Demon. A Challenger Scat Pack weighs 4,082 – 4,233 pounds, a Challenger Hellcat is 4,428 – 4,449 pounds, and a Challenger Demon is 4,280 pounds.
When we google the weight of earlier versions, we find that a 1968 Dodge Challenger has a weight of 3.649 pounds. The 1977 – 1983 version has a curb weight of 2.833 pounds.
Therefore, the conclusion is that basically, all Challengers have a weight that matches that of a muscle or pony car. Only the 1977 – 1983 Challenger has a weight that’s more like a sports car.
The drive system is also an important point to discuss when we discuss whether the Challenger is a muscle car or a sports car. In general, the rule here is that muscle cars will always be cars that have rear-wheel drive. On the other hand, sports cars normally also have rear-wheel drive. However, they can also be front-wheel or all-wheel drive.
When we look at the Challenger, we see that each generation has a rear-wheel-drive option. As said, if you combine this with a big block V8, it’s a muscle car, combine it with a small-block V8 or V6, and it’s officially a pony car. Rear-wheel drive with an I4 or I6 is most likely a sports car.
What about the AWD combined with a small-block V8? With a bit of liberal thinking, we would still say that’s a pony car, although a bit of a unique one.
Also read: Is The Dodge Dart A Sports Car?
Is The Dodge Challenger Considered A Sports Car For Insurance?
If you’re in the market for a Dodge Charger, it’s also important to know if the Challenger is considered a sports car for insurance purposes. Especially if insurance costs are a major factor for you, this question needs to be answered.
In general, we would indeed say a Dodge Challenger is a sports car for insurance purposes. However, there are clear differences between different model years and within different generations. There’s no clear definition of what a sports car is in the insurance world, and insurance companies will consider all different factors about the car to come up with the rate they charge.
Insuring a 3.6 V6 is going to be a lot cheaper than insuring a 6.4 V8. Of course, the reason for this I, that the more powerful the car is, the more damage it can do.
Using valuepenguin.com, we found that the cheapest cost of insuring a Dodge Challenger is $2.270 per year. The cheapest insurer is Progressive which charges $1.135 for a six-month policy. Check out the rates for a Dodge Challenger here on the website of Progressive.
Looking at these rates, we would indeed say that insurance companies classify the Dodge Challenger as a sports car.
Hi! My name is Stefan, I’m the owner and lead writer at TheDriverAdviser.com.
I’m an active writer on this blog myself, although I mainly focus on research-heavy articles. For the technical stuff, I find writers that have experience as a mechanic or have studied mechanical engineering.
Read more about our fantastic team on our about page!