On the Road Review: A Hellcat, a Stingray and a….Pacifica?

You can be forgiven for wondering what these three vehicles have in common besides the obvious mechanical components. This story is about how all three came to be driven in the same day and why all three excel at their respective roles in the marketplace.

Unless you have never seen a Dodge commercial over the past two years, or, you live in a cave, you should already know that the Challenger Hellcat is the most powerful and fastest pony car ever mass-produced.

The Hellcat was also my top-10 favorite vehicle from 2015. It is a delight to drive and it touches all of the right sensory buttons. The Hellcat also is the perfect hooligan car for those automotive consumers who are still 14 mentally.

Yet, on this bright summer day, opportunity number two to drive the latest Hellcat — this blood red coupe equipped with the eight-speed automatic (which is even quicker than the six-speed manual model) — presented itself as the New England Motor Press Association’s Annual Ragtop Ramble started out from Brookline to Kennebunkport.

Teamed with Kia public relations rep Shamit Choksey, in from California, the Challenger plodded through urban Boston traffic for several miles before the throttle bodies got some exercise, and our nerve endings got a wake-up call. Later reports said that other rally drivers could hear us, but couldn’t see us. I’m not surprised.

This car still impresses; powerful and audacious, smooth and comfortable, yet subtle when necessary and extroverted when you want, the Hellcat punches my thrill ticket every time I get near this thing. I am still amazed (and thankful) that FCA/Chrysler sells this car — with a great warranty no less!

This being a quasi-workday (kind of) we were “forced” to swap our smoking hot ride for some other delectable sports car/convertible halfway to Maine. There was a McLaren coupe, several Audis, several Mercedes speedsters, a Cadillac ATS-V with a stick shift, a bright yellow Camaro SS convertible with a manual tranny plus, well, you get the idea. Unfortunately, Ford and Porsche gave us nothing to play with, Nissan either, while Toyota’s “hot cars” included a Prius and a Lexus RX350. Says a lot right there, doesn’t it?

While losing the draw for the Camaro, we were stuck with the Stingray coupe — also with a seven-speed manual. After the Hellcat’s exaggerated performance, the Stingray makes fast seem almost ho-hum. It is just so darn good at it — all of it. The Stingray out-corners almost every car we see today, it blasts through the gears at nearly the exact same velocity as the 707-hp hyper-Dodge, plus it never sneaks up on anyone like you could with the Challenger — as long as you don’t have the dual-stage exhaust pipes on full-blat mode with your hair on fire and the revs pinned on the tachometer. The ’Vette is just plain polished. The Hellcat is burrs, bramble bushes and bites hard at your heart because it is not as refined — by intention.

After a sumptuous Maine lobster dinner near the shore and the Bush compound, the all-new Pacifica displays its competence as I chauffer five manufacturer’s reps to the Portland Jetport and other destinations.

The new Pacifica is as important to Chrysler as the original Dodge Caravan that debuted in 1984. It vaults past its Town & Country predecessor with more width, length, power, fuel economy, electronic driving aids, cupholders, power sockets, storage pockets and general panache. You can get triple sunroofs, an on-board vacuum with 40 feet of hose and power folding third-row seats. The power sliding side doors can open with a wave of your foot. The cameras offer a 360-degree view outside, while dual rear 10-inch screens inside provide individual entertainment plus 13 installed apps including a game, “Are we there yet?”

The second-row Stow-N Go seats disappear with ease as Chrysler figured out how to make the sliding door track also disappear. The roof racks are sleekly included in the roofline, while the new aerodynamic shape lets operators comfortably drive with side windows open and no annoying buffeting — in case you don’t want to use the triple-zone climate system. This shapely new body masks the van’s larger size, is visually pleasing and lowers the vehicle’s aerodynamic coefficient enough to vault the Pacifica atop the mileage charts for this class. Early reports indicate that owners are exceeding the EPA projected 28-mpg rating even before the new Pacifica Hybrid is set to go on sale.

So, $65,000 gets you all the rock-and-roll you can handle with the Hellcat, a nicely equipped Corvette coupe that once again proves America still builds rockets, or, two Pacificas with mid-level trim.

Each is great, even if most of us don’t realize how much we could enjoy any of the three. Do not be afraid to spread your wings and at least think about it; the Prius/Civic/Sentra/Impreza will not even know you lust for something else.

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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