CARS.COM — If there’s one thing we learned while thrashing a 2016 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack for our V-8 Muscle Car Challenge, it’s that the six-speed manual transmission is a handful. Literally, of course, but also in that it’s a burly, unforgiving stick shift just as you’d expect in a nostalgic coupe like the Challenger. Recently, we also had the opportunity to test the R/T Scat Pack’s eight-speed automatic counterpart, giving two of the three Challenge judges — myself and Executive Editor Joe Wiesenfelder — an opportunity to test the other side of the coin. Which transmission would we choose?
Looking at price won’t make the decision easier. The automatic transmission is $1,400, but its improved fuel economy — 15/25/18 mpg city/highway/combined EPA ratings versus 14/23/17 mpg — frees it of the manual model’s $1,000 gas-guzzler tax. An R/T Scat Pack with manual and destination charge starts at $39,990, and with eight-speed automatic it is just $400 more at $40,390.
Weight savings for you performance-minded folk isn’t a factor, either. An automatic Challenger Scat Pack weighs just 7.5 pounds more than one with a manual: 4,239.8 pounds versus 4,232.3 pounds. Manual transmissions aren’t necessarily more fuel efficient or lighter than their automatic counterparts, as they once were. And what about availability? Chances are you’ll be able to find one or the other without too much trouble. According to Dodge spokesman Jiyan Cadiz, 60% of Scat Packs comes with the automatic transmission, and 40% with the manual.
Though a stalemate on paper, it doesn’t take much more than one mash of the accelerator in either car to feel the difference. After manhandling the manual transmission Scat Pack R/T down the quarter-mile for our comparison testing, I wouldn’t pick it for that style of driving. The heavy clutch pedal and long shifter throws are a chore to move quickly. Power isn’t planted very cleanly with the manual, either, and while leaving patches of rubber in second and third gears on the cold track was fun, it definitely left a lot of time on the table.
I’m keen to the automatic transmission on the street, too. The Scat Pack auto’s eight gears keep the engine revs high up in the power band during spirited driving. Rarely does the transmission drop below its happy place, unlike with the manual where sometimes you’re in no-man’s land and have to downshift. The automatic has a way of making seat-of-the pants acceleration feel like the Challenger is lighter than its 4,200-pound curb weight, which is quite the accomplishment. We didn’t have a drag strip at our disposal at the time of testing the Scat Pack automatic, but the auto-only Charger R/T Scat Pack felt effortlessly fast with its near-identical transmission, gearing and engine.
Wiesenfelder experienced a few hesitations with the automatic transmission, including one point at which it refused to shift while in Sport mode. Even without the hiccup, he’d still take the manual.
“I’m not saying it’s an easy choice, but I’m still going manual,” he said. “Something about a giant car with a manual tickles me, and manuals are always fun. Bonus: If you have the Shaker hood [both of our test cars did], when you’re waiting for a light, you can jab the accelerator and watch the engine tilt like it’s shaking its head, telling the car next to you to piss off. Sure, you can do that with the automatic, but if you put it in Neutral just to do that, you feel like an ass.”