The muscle car lives. Not a tamped down, lawyer-codified, low-fat, soy-milk version either. The 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat is an honest-to-god, batten-down-the-hatches, hide-your-daughters-and-your-livestock muscle car.
The Hellcat is the real deal.
The red and the blackAt the launch of the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat last week in Portland, Oregon, a Dodge rep handed me the red Hellcat fob like it was a piece of highly illicit contraband. The other fob, the black one, limits the car to "only" 500 hp. The crimson number gives you all 707 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque from the supercharged 6.2-liter Hemi Hellcat engine.
There were only two Hellcats available for street drives. "Go," the company conspirator mouthed. "Just go." And we did, slipping away from the rest of the journalists and the large collection of very nice, less-than-707-horsepower Challenger models.
Good god, but what do you hope for when you hear of a heritage-oriented car this potent? You fully expect that you'll tear off all the tread on the Pirelli PZero tires, but do you really care how elegantly it takes a corner? Or maybe you would prefer it to be a modern interpretation of muscle, with calibrated electronic aids that make you both quicker and safer?
To hell with that. I want fury. I want a 1970s throwback, when power wasn't safe and you took responsibility for it. But in our recall-crazy world, they don't make cars like that anymore.
Except once in an era when they do. When the corporate world throws you something this batty and unexpected and downright malevolent. All hail Dodge for suddenly breaking into the conversation. The car starts at $60,990, including the $2100 gas guzzler tax and $995 destination charge. A Ferrari F12 Berlinetta has only 24 hp on the Challenger -- and costs about $258,000 more.
Smoke 'em if you got 'emIt takes 20 minutes in our Billet Silver baddie to get out of Portland, exit the freeway and get to the twisty roads. The moment I see a clear path I squash the accelerator. I've got just a few degrees of steering dialed in. The car surges ahead and then begins twisting off its forward-moving axis.
Yep, we're sideways.
Smoke pours off rear wheels. I'm already laughing -- nervously, manically -- even as I'm sawing the wheel to make the correction. I am in sport mode. I have not turned off the ESC. When's the last time you took a car's sport mode seriously? The Dodge engineers did. (There is a race mode as well. I would not use it on a public road -- ever.)
I was worried that the tremendous power and torque would be denuded, sapped of potential by an electronic stability control program locked down tighter than a Federal Supermax prison. I was wrong. Dead wrong.
The madness is reinforced when I stop in the road. The car has a ball-shifter-topped six-speed manual that came out of the Viper. (It needed additional reinforcing.) I put it in first, pop the clutch and hit the gas.
The 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat does a full-on burnout, body bucking, hood shuddering. No need to stand on the brake or mess with the stability control. A Challenger R/T that is following behind us eventually appears in my rear view mirror and is just as quickly obscured by the cloud of smoke. Sorry, guys. But not really, actually. That was awesome.
A turn for the betterWe quickly deviate from Dodge's planned route, heading up a mountain road instead. This is our first inclination just how well the car actually corners. We barrel along a set of uphill sweepers, and the car follows the arcing line capably, the wide track (63.4 inches) and long wheelbase (116.2 inches) making it feel quite stable. There's plenty of traction from the tires as long as you're judicious with the gas. The car leans heavily as we enter turns, but it's not sloppy. More remarkably, the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat doesn't duck under heavily braking or squat under big power. That lack of front-to-back movement makes a big difference in the overall sense of control.
But yeah, man, it drives like a muscle car. It's heavy and it swings through corners with the leading edge of the bulging hood leaning low. Forget delicate work: That would be like whittling with a pole axe.
The Challenger is massive. The sides alone use more sheet metal than you'd find in the entirety of many economy cars. Few cars so clearly call to Detroit's glory days: It makes you want to grow a 'stache and sideburns and act out classic car chases from the 1970s TV show, The Rockford Files.
This generation has a hood brow that's pulled even further down, with no fog lamps or overt badging of its prowess except for the "supercharged" script on the side fenders. (All the functional hood scoops and extractors on the hood would give some indication to even a blind man.)
What the numbers revealSome statistics to put the Hellcat in perspective. According to Dodge, at full throttle it would empty its 18.5-gallon tank in 15 minutes. We saw an average of 8.8 miles-per-gallon in our (highly spirited) street drive. Those Pirelli tires, so fun to torch, are $300 each. Dodge's claimed quarter-mile time of 11.2 seconds seem totally on point (we hit the drag strip ourselves). The eight-speed automatic allows launch control, and we expect that the official 0-to-60 mph times will dip well below four-second mark. Dodge says the top speed is 199 mph and is not electronically limited. All of which leads us to recommend engaging the "valet mode" -- which limits starts to second gear and rpm to 4000 -- whenever you leave the car with somebody else, including your buddies who "just want to run out to the store."
And it's loud. It uses an electronic exhaust system that opens and closes flaps according to the load, which should keep you from getting kicked out of your neighborhood association. But stand on it and the Hellcat makes noises probably not heard since the Cretaceous Period. The noise of the supercharger is only one plane of the thick wall of sound. Oddly, however, there is a lot of sound deadening inside. So roll the windows down.
Dodge had enough confidence in the car's handling ability that they sent us to Portland International Raceway, a flat and not particularly difficult road course. Still, there were a couple of close walls that could have mangled the really nicely painted surfaces of the Challenger, particularly when you flat-footed it through the long straights.
Did the SRT acquit itself? Yes. Or at least, as much as we'd really want it to. The Brembo brakes are hugely capable and the electronic steering is accurate and has at least some feel.
Under the bleachersBut you know what the Hellcat is not? A Camaro Z/28.
If the two were high-school girls, they wouldn't even be in the same clique. The Z/28 would be the girl from the wrong side of the tracks who's pulled herself up by the bootstraps and is taking AP Calculus. The Hellcat would the leggy floozy, shamelessly hanging out under the bleachers and making fun of the Z/28. It only wants to be one thing, and that's an unrepentant muscle car.
You simply won't find a new car with more personality. When it comes to the modern muscle-car wars, the Challenger has long been passed over in the conversation. Suddenly, it is the conversation.
2015 Dodge Challenger Hellcat Specifications
|Price as tested||$65,365|
|Engine||6.2L supercharged V-8|
|Transmissions||6-speed manual, 8-speed automatic|
|Quarter-mile time (mfr. est.)||11.2 seconds at 125 mph|