DETROIT, Michigan — You can use an almost limitless combination of ingredients to make a cheeseburger. Choose some Velveeta or the finest Gouda, cheap ground chuck or ultra-lean turkey, pineapple and guacamole, or bacon and pickles. Whatever you choose, you still end up with a mouthwatering meal that expands your smile, sates your appetite, and constricts your arteries.
When you want to build a fast car, it’s the same story. Superchargers or turbochargers, dual-clutch transmissions or lightweight materials, there are lots of ingredients that come together in different ways to produce a deliciously quick car. Take the 2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat and the 2016 Nissan GT-R, for instance. They have wholly different ingredients yet arrive at the same result: speed. Not just a little bit of speed, but as much acceleration as can feasibly be wrung out of those building blocks without bending the rules of physics.
On one side of our menu today is the Charger Hellcat, a Carolina Reaper-pepper middle finger to sensibility that maxes out the dividend in the horsepower-per-dollars equation. And there’s the GT-R, a concoction of molecular gastronomy that uses science to obliterate lap records. Which dish tastes better when scorching the pavement? Let’s go fast.
Getting addicted to speed
Settle into the 2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat for a classic musclecar experience. The exhaust blats to life, the engine lopes at idle, and the entire car twitches with every blip of the throttle. That’s 707 hp under your right toe, more power than any other production car under six figures. The next most-powerful car in America? A $300,000-plus Ferrari F12.
Click the shift lever of the eight-speed automatic into Drive, and the driveshaft thunks as it winds up with the massive torque of the supercharged V-8. Drive gently, and the Hellcat is as tame as a housecat, slipping away from traffic lights with gentle shifts. It can also be a real monster when you open up the taps. With 6.2 liters of displacement and a blower on top, the Hellcat’s V-8 punches hard at every opportunity. Simply look at a gap in traffic, plant your right foot, and the Charger goes there almost instantly. The supercharger whines, and the exhaust shouts, then the car squats down on its haunches and charges forward.
The Hellcat is a menace that fills the air with the roar of a Detroit-style V-8 and the stench of scorched rubber. It’ll light up the rear tires at a moment’s notice and battle the stability control as the tail slithers from side to side. We’re actually cackling with laughter, delighting as we waste hydrocarbons and Pirellis in equal measure.
Things are very different at the wheel of the 2016 Nissan GT-R. The Nissan VR38DETT V-6 needs a second for its two turbos to spool up before it hits you over the head with horsepower. It’s not a huge delay, but the pause is just long enough for you to reconsider whether you really want to accelerate right here and now. Too late, we’re already rolling.
We’re tempted to check the 3.8-liter V-6 engine’s vital signs on the clever Gran Turismo-themed graphic readout, but once the boost comes on there’s no sense focusing anywhere but on the road. With a whoosh that sounds far too pedestrian for a 545-hp car, the GT-R flies forward without pause. Click the shift paddles if you wish, or let the dual-clutch snap through the gears of its own accord. This is an idiot-proof performance car, as the clever transmission and torque-vectoring all-wheel drive eliminate wheelspin and send you hurtling forward. You can unleash the Nissan’s full power at any time without fear of sideways shenanigans. Does this make it a more drivable car than the Hellcat, because you’ll be under control, or more dangerous because you’re more willing to exploit its potential more often?
As we tear around in these horsepower-crazed machines, a fundamental difference between the cars is evident. The Dodge Charger Hellcat is an overpowered, under-tired bruiser that’ll get out of sorts at a moment’s notice. The Nissan GT-R is equally fast, but its supercomputer driveline and ultra-sticky rubber make the task easy. We certainly have more fun listening to the thunder cracks of the Hellcat’s V-8 than the GT-R’s engine, which sounds so plain it could be an Altima’s V-6, but using all of the Hellcat’s potential becomes a wrestling match between the engine and the rear tires.
Hitting the apexes of the open road
As its many Nurburgring records attest, the Nissan GT-R truly comes into its element when we seek out winding roads. The bucket seat fixes us in place as we wrench the quick-ratio steering back and forth. You grasp the spokes of the steering wheel at 9 and 3, then whip the car’s nose around with a twist of your wrists. Pile into a corner and notice how little the body of the GT-R rolls as the sticky rubber takes hold of the pavement. The brakes firm up as soon as you dig into the left pedal, giving you confidence to brake even later next time. The GT-R is a reassuring weapon that’ll have you flicking through two-lane roads quicker than you expected — and doing so with the utmost accuracy.
Switching into the 2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat is like trading your fountain pen for a permanent marker. It does the same job as the Nissan as it tackles curves with aplomb, but there’s somewhat less precision in the process. Your butt slides around more in the seat, the car pitches and rolls more as you link together apexes. The Hellcat is carrying 600 pounds more than the GT-R, and it’s taller and wider besides. The fat tires give you a firm grip in the corners, and an aggressively tuned chassis with stop-right-now brakes invites plenty of speed. But it requires a more relaxed, playful driving style than the GT-R. We have to do more work to find the fast way around S-curves.
As it turns out, we’re also having more fun when we’re at the wheel of the Dodge. It’s one thing to drive the fastest, most precise car on a race track, but on public roads, we prefer the car that bucks and flails and entertains us. Cars like the GT-R and the Hellcat are built for going as fast you can, but we’d still rather feel like the lead guitarist than the songwriter. Nissan lets us go faster, while Dodge makes us smile more.
And yet, in the real world …
For more sensible driving, it becomes a subjective pick between the two cars. On the one hand, Nissan’s space-age looks pick up the cues of past Skylines and GT-Rs. It’s classic Japanese supercar styling, all angular and functional and in-your-face. Nobody will mistake the Nissan for anything but a serious performance car; passersby wave and ask you to “hit it” as they take videos of Godzilla. Dodge, meanwhile, has fully captured the masculinity and audaciousness long associated with the American performance car. Big exhausts, big wheels, and a big air intake always look good on a wide, low sedan. You could even fly under the radar with strangers who mistake the Hellcat for a rental-fleet Charger, though whether that’s a virtue or annoying depends on each viewer’s taste.
It’s hard not to be smitten with the inside of the Charger. You have a spacious cabin complete with generous amounts of leather, bright gauges, Chrysler’s outstanding Uconnect touchscreen infotainment system, and intuitive secondary controls that make the car easy to use. It’s no more complicated to get in and out of the Hellcat than any other Dodge, and there’s no learning curve when it comes time to drive. But the Nissan GT-R’s cabin is still the place we’d rather be. You fit snugly into a low driving position that feels close to road ahead. The center-mounted tachometer grabs your attention; the small-diameter steering wheel with its thin rim has the feel we associate with a hardcore sports car; and we love the mechanical thunk-thunk feel of the blocky shift lever on the center console as we switch gears in the dual-clutch transmission.
Ultimately, it’s the 2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat we’d rather live with. Its back seat can fit full-size adults, while the infotainment system is more modern. Even its trunk is more useful. The suspension doesn’t make you call a chiropractor, and generous ground clearance removes any fear of scraping the front aero splitter on driveways. The Hellcat is, in a word, a more livable fast car. There’s even a remote-starter for when you want the perverse joy of firing up a 707-hp monster from 50 feet away and letting it warm up before venturing onto an icy road in February.
Nissan’s super coupe asks you to make more compromises. Squeezing even one adult into the back of the GT-R is tough. And you’ll struggle to see out the back when merging or parking. Even after years of refinement, the dual-clutch automatic still rattles and clunks and hesitates in urban driving, and while the suspension is more forgiving than ever, selecting Comfort mode for every drive still isn’t enough to appease our aching backside.
Flavors to savor
Carving roads in the 2016 Nissan GT-R lets us imagine we’re at the helm of a high-tech fighter jet, scything through the air with precision thanks to high-tech electronics. The 2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat is a bit more like a howitzer, awe-inspiring in its power but needing careful aim to keep from causing collateral damage. At the same time, both cars beckon us to all-day road trips. By AUTOMOBILE’s standard of “No Boring Cars,” these cars are instant winners.
It’s pretty easy to pick between these vehicles. If you’re a numbers junkie who wants to set the absolute quickest lap times possible, it’s the Nissan GT-R you should gravitate toward. If you want to finish every commute with a grin on your face and wisps of sublimated rubber in your wake, go for the SRT Hellcat.
Yet at the end of the day, we’re grabbing the Dodge for another high-speed run. The Hellcat is a wholly imperfect car, but it’s the car that elicits bigger grins. Enjoy thinking about sub-eight-minute ’Ring laps in the GT-R if you like, but we’re headed to an abandoned office park to shred some more rubber in the Hellcat.
2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Specifications
- On Sale: Now
- Price: $64,990/$67,875 (base/as-tested)
- Engine: 6.2L supercharged OHV 16-valve V-8/707 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 650 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm
- Transmission: 8-speed automatic
- Layout: 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, RWD sedan
- EPA Mileage: 13/22 mpg (city/hwy)
- Suspension F/R: Control arms, coil springs/multilink, coil springs
- Brakes: Vented and slotted discs
- L x W x H: 200.8 x 75.0 x 58.3 in
- Wheelbase: 120.4 in
- Headroom: 38.6/36.6 in (front/second row)
- Legroom F/R: 41.8/40.1 in (front/second row)
- Shoulder Room: 59.5/57.9 in (front/second row)
- Cargo Room: 16.5 cu ft
- Weight: 4,575 lb
- Weight Dist. F/R: 56/44%
- 3.7 sec
- 1/4-Mile: 11.0 sec
- Top Speed: 204 mph
2016 Nissan GT-R Premium Specifications
- On Sale: Now
- Price: $103,595/$104,660 (base/as-tested)
- Engine: 3.8L twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6/545 hp @ 6,400 rpm, 463 lb-ft @ 3,200-5,800 rpm
- Transmission: 6-speed dual-clutch automatic
- Layout: 2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, AWD coupe
- EPA Mileage: 16/22 mpg (city/hwy)
- Suspension: Multilink, coil springs
- Brakes: Vented and drilled discs
- L x W x H: 183.8 x 74.6 x 53.9 in
- Wheelbase: 109.4 in
- Headroom: 38.1/33.5 in (front/second row)
- Legroom: 44.6/26.4 in (front/second row)
- Shoulder Room: 54.3/50.0 in (front/second row)
- Cargo Room: 8.8 cu ft
- Weight: 3,922 lb
- Weight Dist. F/R: 54/46%
- 3.0 sec (est)
- 1/4-Mile: 11.1 sec @ 125 mph (est)
- Top Speed: N/A