On the Road Review: Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat

HELLCAT. By electing to name the hottest version of the Challenger SRT model Hellcat, Dodge had to know that this hyper-performance car would garner lots of attention. Then, the car offered up the kind of high-power speed and outrageous tire-shredding performance of legendary cars such as the Hemi-Cuda, and other outsized hot rods from the 1960s. Videos quickly surfaced of Hellcats beating on Vipers, beating on Mustangs and beating on other Hellcats — all with a dramatic flair for incredible burnouts and top-speed runs that would curl your hair.

Before any Hellcats even reached dealers, a phenomenon was born, a halo-car that said that Chrysler — and Dodge — were back in the muscle car game.

Sales have exceeded expectations as well as the ability for the engine plant in Saltillo, Mexico, to assemble the hand-built supercharged 6.2-liter Hemi V-8 engines. Dodge dealers — boosted by an aggressive ad campaign featuring the venerable Dodge brothers, John and Horace, long deceased, but still doing crazy burnouts — have sold virtually all of the Hellcat Challengers and four-door Chargers slated to be built this year. You cannot order a new Hellcat until January 2016 — when new colors will be available, as well as the potential for a Jeep Grand Cherokee Hellcat.

Nuts and bolts: the Hellcat is a Challenger SRT with an additional 222 horsepower — 707 hp vs. 485 hp in the Scat Pack and other SRT versions of the Challenger as well as the Charger. “Regular” SRT Challengers make do with a 6.4-liter Hemi V-8. The Hellcat uses a tuned 6.2-liter Hemi V-8 employing a supercharger and intercooler that actually produced over 800 hp in early dyno tests. Dodge engineers elected to detune the Hemi for longevity, to run more easily on various pump gas, and to not self-destruct in the heavy hands of users unable to control the urge to destroy the 275/40ZR20 Pirelli P-Zero tires. More about this in a minute.

Huge 15.4-inch brake rotors are harnessed by six-piston Brembo calipers up front (red of course) and four-piston calipers out back. Stopping power is as impressive as the go power — maybe even more impressive, as the pedal readily communicates with your foot and offers no surprises. Feel is excellent and the stopping power is utterly shocking.

As with other SRT models, you get a six-speed Tremec gearbox, as in our Sublime Green sample car, or, an eight-speed automatic ($1,995) that is actually quicker in all acceleration runs. I can see why drivers opt for the slush-box tranny, heavy traffic and all, yet the Tremec experience — with three pedals — highlights the Hellcat’s outlandish portfolio. The clutch action is stiff, yet very precise, plus there is hill-holder action. The clutch showed no signs of fading with 6,000-miles on the clock.

The interior is pure modern Chrysler. Great switch locations, excellent access, as well as the best info/entertainment screen in the biz, Chrysler’s U-Connect 8.4-inch color touch screen. Besides launch control and traction control deactivation buttons, you can access Drive-mode programs in the info-screen panel to document your performance acts and to alter the car’s setting to improve your track action. The seating is superb, the power tilting and telescoping heated steering wheel excellent, plus Sirius satellite radio and the nav system performed flawlessly. There’s even real room for four people, which was proven regularly. High marks for comfort, user-friendliness and execution as a sensible driving machine.

Climb into the leather and Alcantara suede sport seat and thumb the red-starter button. Make sure you have the “red” key in your pocket, as the black “valet” key limits output to “only” 500 hp. The Hellcat rumbles to life with a deep exhaust burble that never grows tiring, the dual mode, true dual-exhaust setup helping to funnel spent gases out of the Hemi pump under the vented and scooped front hood. Click into first gear and the Hellcat smoothly builds power, the gear whine of the supercharger slightly evident, the bark of the exhaust growing. Some have complained about the supercharger’s whine; true gearheads know that is the sound of power, the sound of excitement.

Step deep into the Hellcat’s throttle and the burst of power is neck-snapping. The engine doesn’t signal a need to shift, the tachometer and a flashing red light in the info panel tell you to move the shifter or lift off the gas, as the engine delivers an unending flow of power. Despite the claims of an anti-spin differential — and traction control fully engaged — there is no harnessing 707 horsepower. The huge Pirellis suffer, badly.

Like many of today’s performance/muscle cars, the Hellcat can handle many speed limits in first gear. Redline in second or third gear quickly has you traveling supersonic. Yet the car is so easy to drive, so forgiving. It does not have twitchy steering like the GT500 Mustang, and the ride is so comfortable at all speeds. Highway tracking and the overall handling of the Challenger is mighty impressive as well.

You are not on edge driving the Hellcat; it essentially drives you, with you in control of the dial for velocity. You have to be either stupid or reckless to get into trouble with the Hellcat — it is that easy to drive, slowly or swiftly.

With the halo headlamps, the Hellcat announces its presence subtly. There are only small Hellcat badges on each front fender — no stripes, no bold graphics, just simple understated denotations that are picked up by discerning viewers who note the larger wheels, the hood vents and live scoop, or the fake headlamp that is really a cool-air intake. Everywhere the Hellcat went there were state troopers and Mopar fans that instantly knew what the Hellcat was.

One such experience was the “hot-rodders wedding” that the Hellcat visited, with my parents in tow. Arriving at the family farm of my cousin, we were ushered into the hot-rod corral in the field, along with the souped-up Dodges, Chevys and homemade hot rods. We were all there on a beautiful summer day for the marriage of Mopar moll Lauren to Chevy racer Wesley, with the expectation that little Hemis and small-blocks would soon be forthcoming.

The proud father, Stan, already featured several times in national hot-rodding magazines for his Dodge-building prowess, plainly proclaimed; “after the dinner, we’re painting the road black”.

Well, the Hellcat couldn’t let a challenge like that go unfulfilled. With the crowd anxious to hear the Hellcat’s fury under pressure, and then to see what the Dodge boys John and Horace had really rendered, the Challenger SRT took center stage and threw down the gauntlet. Many of the exchanged electronic messages contained OMG and WOW. Even the bride and groom joined the show, still in her pristine white dress, in Wesley’s perfectly restored ’67 Nova SS.

Hellcat snippets: the tires are the same size front and rear, so you can “rotate” them for enhanced wear. Replacement prices for the Pirellis ranged from $429 each for maximum grip P-Zero’s at Tire Rack to $183 for all-season versions.

The Hellcat has more power than Dodge’s own Viper, more power than the Mustang GT500 or the Camaro ZL1 as well as several Italian exotics. It is the most powerful muscle car in history. But, at over 4,400 pounds the Challenger is no lightweight. However, it never drives like a heavyweight. It tracks beautifully and always feels stable.

The Hellcat comes with a five-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty. Think about that: 707 horsepower AND a five-year warranty. Is this not the heyday of muscle cars or what?

The Hellcat’s brake rotors, 15.4 inches, are larger than the wheels on the original 1970 Challenger.

The Hellcat is 197.5 inches long and has a 116.2-inch wheelbase. The fuel tank is over 18 gallons. Peak torque output is 650 pound/feet. Measured top speed of the Hellcat is 199 mph. The four-door Charger goes 200 mph.

With back-up camera, 20-inch blacked out wheels, U-Connect, heated and cooled front seats, heated steering wheel, dual-zone climate controls, steering wheel audio controls, power tilt and telescoping steering column, keyless ignition and access, 18-speaker audio system, plus configurable drive-mode programming, the Hellcat starts at $58,295. Upgrading the tires to summer performance radials, navigation and HD radio, adds $395 and $695 respectively, while destination fees add $995 and the gas-guzzler penalty (13/21/16-mpg EPA ratings) of $1,700 brings the total price to $62,175. Some dealers may charge more.

The Challenger SRT Hellcat looks great, sounds great, and runs great. Car & Driver magazine called the Hellcat “the stuff of redneck dreams — and everyone else’s nightmare.” Consumer Reports calls the Challenger SRT “recommended.”

The Hellcat brings supercar performance to the everyman. The Hellcat is reasonably affordable, has huge visceral appeal and undeniable bragging rights. It is a chest-thumping, tire-shredding, stay-on-the-porch kind of top-dog. It is the halo car that Chrysler needed, and Dodge is marketing to consumers as the brand works toward greater relevance. It’s a true win-win-WIN!




Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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