by Daniel Bennett in July 2014 (5)
Let me preface my experience with the 2015 Dodge SRT Hellcat Challenger in this way:
I wish I had more than one kidney to sell.
Having owned a few SRT products over the years, and being an avid fan and builder of all things horsepower-related, I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to drive the fifth most powerful car currently in mass production, the only one under $100,000 that makes over 700 horsepower, and the most powerful car in Chrysler's long history of developing and delivering powerful cars for the consumption of the general public.
And yes, this car will consume large quantities of the general public if they don't move out of the way quick enough.
I won't rehash the specs and details about the car, but some information has not made it to the general public yet. We know it delivers an astounding 707hp and a “Stop the Earth's rotation” 650 ft/lbs of torque; at 11.2 seconds @ 125 mph in the quarter mile (on the factory tires), it's faster than a scalded cheetah, and the 2.75” active dual exhaust bellows like a Tyrannosaurus Rex that has just had its tail stomped on by a Brontosaurus. We have seen it drift like a cat turning at speed on a freshly waxed hardwood floor.
“So tell us something we don't know!”
The Challenger Hellcat does 0.93g on the skid pad, the highest in Chrysler's history, sans the Viper. The traction control system, according to my non-Chrysler-employed driving instructor, compares favorably to Porsche's PTM traction management system. High praise indeed.
The car stays very neutral in balance, even when pushed to the limits. Hellcats (and SRT 392s) come with a 3 mode suspension that ranges from comfy to GT cruiser firm, extending to track solid to feel every pebble, rut and line in the road. I would drive this daily in track mode, but I am a glutton for punishment, and I am blessed with smooth roads. I am sure that Detroiters would find the default suspension setting more appropriate on the street.
Check out the new front braking system with 20% more swept area, and six-piston calipers, shared with the SRT 392. Thank God that this car has seatbelts, because without them, on a hard 100-0 stop, you would become a windshield ornament. I was actually being lifted out of the seat on the hard stops. That's a lot of lifting going on, let me tell you.
This car is not just a straight line terror, good for showy burnouts and drifting through corners (because that's the only way it can handle them). No, this car is a legitimate contender that can humiliate some other well-known cars that have hung their hats on their ability to corner, though it does need to be driven with respect. Lots of respect.
The Hellcat rewards finesse and smoothness. Do not use the throttle like an on/off switch, or you will be reaping the rewards of whatever wall or ditch you are near, especially if you figure out how to turn the traction control off. Which can be done.
There are lots of interesting factoids out there about this engine right now, and all of them are mind-blowing. An internally lubricated, sealed-for-life, 2.4 liter, twin-screw IHI supercharger that flows enough volume to empty a hotel room of air in one minute? Check. 400+ ft/lbs of torque available from 1200 rpm to redline? Check. Being able to have Mark Trostle, head of SRT Exterior design be able to say, “Punch everyone else in the face with the Hellcat”? Check.
Some other minor fact-bits that have not been harped on too much yet:
The water pump for the sealed supercharger cooling system can flow 11 gallons per minute, to maintain the intake's air temperatures at 140° Farenheit all day long, during even the hottest track days.
A 50% increase in heat extraction helps tame the infernal inferno under that hood, proven by 24 hours of durability testing at the Nelson Ledges road course. I don't think I could race that long without having to take a “pit stop,” but other than gas and tires, the Hellcat can.
Let's talk about the power. Or rather the attempted delivery of that amount of power. With the traction control off or in Track mode, below 50 mph, anything past one quarter throttle just equals excessive tire smoke. When it's wet out, you have to be careful even over the century mark — although with the traction control set to Default or Sport mode, you only get a slight stutter/chirp from the rear tires.
When you can get this thing to hook hard, the feeling is akin to a visceral punch to the gut. The pull is downright scary, and then it becomes intoxicating. I would love nothing better than to be able to take a Hellcat to a super long stretch of highway (10 miles at least please) and put it in 6th gear at about 20 miles an hour, mash the go pedal, and just feel how the car pulls and pins you back in your seat and continues to apply more and more pressure until you are sure that you have an angry 1,000 pound cat sitting on your chest demanding that you stop breathing. All the while you have that li'l twinge in your heart and nethers telling you that you are in way over your head, and you will die.
Then, miraculously, you emerge on the other side of some very unspeakable MPH number [editor's note: 199], unscathed, untouched, and perhaps unhurt.
Feeding this beast is a fuel system that would be at home in many race cars. A variable pressure in-tank pump feeds half-inch fuel lines that in turn feed 600cc/min injectors. One of these injectors at full snort can fill a pint glass in 7 seconds. All 8 injectors, at max power, can drain the 18.5 gallon tank in a mere 13 minutes (a tiger in your tank, indeed!). On the flip side, the Hellcat achieves a comparatively fuel-sipping EPA rating of 20 mpg on the highway.
The Hellcat does all of this in swaggering style. Outside, the car is downright menacing. The front fascia is unique to the Hellcat, and not just for the cooling ducts that were put in place of the fog lights. The top of the fascia brow comes down lower over the headlights and grille, to help with aerodynamics at those high speeds this car is all so capable of. When one of these comes up on you at Mach 42, partially-veiled halo front lights glowing, you have this urge to get out of the way lest ye be swallowed by the angry looking face this car wields. There is no doubt to an onlooker that the Hellcat is pure menace.
In a good way.
If you are Darth Vader.
Inside, the new-for-2015 interior is a great place to be. Not only are the materials and touch surfaces all just right, but the visual effect is excellent as well. The console is driver oriented, and everything that is needed is within reach.
I am particularly taken with the red suede insert option on the SRT cars. Enough cannot be said about the 8.4 U-Connect, and the integrated SRT Performance Pages. All chassis settings are available at the touch of a button. You can also send a specific gauge to the center TFT to have it display something that you want to keep close tabs on. Air/Fuel Ratio? Check, Oil Pressure? Check, Blower coolant temp? Check.
The new cluster, which is backlit red to match the red key theme, was based partially on the 1971 Challenger cluster, but also on the 1967 Barracuda cluster (just one of a couple of nods to Plymouth). Kudos to the interior team. Upshift points on the automatic Hellcats can be set to your preference on the SRT Performance Pages as well.
Speaking of the ZF 8 speed auto, in Track mode (Sport mode, too, to a lesser degree) shifts instigated by the wheel-mounted paddles are virtually instantaneous. Upshifts are marked with a nice spark-kill exhaust bark, and downshifts are done with an auto rev match. Very clean, and very quick shifts. This may be the best auto transmission I have ever driven. Stock, built, shift-kitted, period.
The manually shifted TR6060 six-speed version of this car is a great improvement over the previous versions. It shifts much smoother, and the new ball shifter has a better feel than the previous “pistol grip” shifter, as much as I hate to admit that, because I loved the pistol grip in my own SRT8 Challenger.
My personal recommendation, even as a fan of stickshift cars, is that if you plan on daily driving your Hellcat, or using it at any track on a regular basis, then go for the superb ZF 8 speed automatic.
I drove both versions of the Hellcat on the track, and the auto, with the paddle shifters, is superb, and even (possibly) more fun to drive. If this is going to be your weekend sunny day car that you use to go tackle some partially tree shaded twisty mountain roads, then by all means, go with the 6MT version and revel in the experience, but make sure the windows are down so you can bask in the wonderful sounds that will be assaulting your ears. And everyone else within a one-mile radius.
Let's just admit this up front: at wide open throttle, this car is loud. It passed the drive-by test, “barely” was the word used to me, and the joke was that it certainly didn't do the test with the pedal to the floor! Even a quarter of a mile away, Hellcats, doing well over 100 mph going away from you, verge on uncomfortably loud from the outside of the car. No taking this car and sneaking off or around with it at all! Before purchasing, make sure your neighbors are all quite understanding, or you might end up with some upset people when you leave your housing development “spiritedly.”
Chrysler even supplies the car with two of the 707hp red keys, and only one of the 500hp black keys. I guess Junior is relegated to the black key, eh?
You might think, based on my glowing praise, that this car is perfect, but it isn't. The weight bias (57/43) is such that it would be nearly impossible to make a perfect corner carver of it, and the overall weight fights against attempts to make it as nimble as a lightweight sports car.
The engineers and program teams have worked miracles to make the car as excellent as it is. There is no point in bemoaning that the car doesn't weigh 1,000 lbs less, it just is not in the cards with the current architecture and (mainly) budget constraints. The Hellcat is, though, as perfect as you can make a muscle car, with the added bonus that it doesn't act like a Labrador puppy's tail when it goes around a corner.
Honestly, it's even better than I had dreamed to hope. The 2015s, overall, have been transformed from last generation; we all made excuses for it because it was behind the competition in interior, power, and handling, despite being the best looking and most comfortable of the retro muscle cars, to now, where they are the head of the class in every aspect.
Overall, this car is a dichotomy. On one hand, it can be tame and daily driven. On the other, it is an unruly unleashed beast that will devour anyone and anything silly enough to stand in front of it.
I like that.
My hat is off to the entire development team.
I wonder if my wife would miss one of her kidneys?
Read more about the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat.
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