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by Patrick Rall in September 2015 (5)
Having grown up in a Mopar household and having learned to love muscle cars at a young age, I cannot think of a car sold in this country that I would enjoy testing more than a Challenger Hellcat. Any Mopar guy would love to have a Viper, but with a wife and kid, the Viper has clear limitations; the Hellcat Challenger has room for four and far more power.
I have driven both the Challenger and the Charger with the 707 hp Hemi extensively at the media launches, both on the road and on the track, but having a car to test on your own turf is a whole different experience. A week-long test drive lets us experience the most powerful American muscle car ever in a far more hands-on manner than a media drive event, and I planned to make the most of every second.
Although I’ve put a great many miles on the Hellcat Challenger, mostly at high speed on test tracks, I took it easy at first – refreshing myself on the ins and outs of the mighty SRT Hellcat package. I spent some time driving around in default mode (with the 700+ horsepower setting) and when I was comfortable with the power on my local roads, I cranked things up into sport mode, which quickly led to track mode.
The track mode allows you the most control of the car while also offering the stiffest and most nimble suspension setup and what I believe to be the most comfortable steering setting. Track mode also sharpens up the throttle response, while traction and stability systems are all but eliminated, so this mode has the most exhilarating driving experience.
I drove all over my little town, keeping to the desolate backroads where I could occasionally put the hammer to the floor and exercise all 707 angry horses.
Even with the 3-season performance tires, the Hellcat Challenger with the 8-speed automatic will willingly roast the tires in first gear. Launching with the stock tires requires you to roll out through first gear and when you go for wide open throttle, you need to hold on – the rear tires spin just enough to make the back end shaky. Grabbing second gear with the paddle shifters, while pushing for wide open throttle, brings about more wheel spin, but it is far more controllable and it only lasts an instant before the tires bite.
From there, the Hellcat Hemi helps the 4400-pound Challenger to climb effortlessly past any posted speed limit in the United States, almost as quickly as the fastest stock car on the road. When the air got a little cooler later in the day, my tests with the onboard timing system yielded regular 0-60 times in the high 3 second range while 0-100 times were in the high 7s. My best 0-60 was 3.90 seconds and my best 0-100 took just 7.8 seconds.
Going from a dead stop to 100 miles per hour in 7.8 seconds on a totally unprepared surface (as opposed to a sticky drag strip) clearly refutes trash talk about how the Hellcat Challenger is nothing more than a dyno warrior, as it dashes to 60 and 100 almost as quickly as the all-wheel drive supercars — on an unprepared surface, using stock tires.
This stunning acceleration force of the Hellcat Challenger is accompanied by a sound that is unmistakable, with the whine of the supercharger combining with the roar of the exhaust to overwhelm the auditory nerves in a way that few cars in the world can. When cruising along at normal driving speeds, you cannot hear the supercharger at all and the exhaust is surprisingly subtle, but when you drop down a few gears and bury the accelerator pedal, this car sounds like a 707 horsepower American muscle car should sound.
By the end of my drive time on the first day, I had racked up only around 100 miles, tearing around my area backroads, testing the acceleration forces of the monster muscle car.
My second day began with a long highway drive of around 50 miles. Traffic was light enough that we never had to slow down below 65 or so, but it was dense enough that I was rarely in open air – which meant no letting the Hellcat stretch its legs on the open road. I spent most of the cruise between 75 and 85mph, and in the default drive mode. There is an Eco mode, but I wanted to see what the Hellcat Challenger would do in terms of fuel economy on a long drive if everything was set to factory specifications.
Remarkably, not only did I meet the EPA highway number of 22mpg, but I went well past it, averaging 26.1 miles per gallon over the course of that 50 mile highway drive, without making any effort to get good fuel economy. I just cruised along at a slightly higher speed than the posted limit, yet the 707hp Challenger comfortably exceeded the EPA highway fuel economy numbers. [Editor’s note: that puts the Hellcat’s freeway mileage above our results in a Dodge Dart automatic.]
Even when I got onto a roadway with stop lights, more traffic, and more opportunities to put the pedal to the metal, the Hellcat Challenger’s combined fuel economy following the highway run hovered around the 20mpg mark.
Until I started really driving hard – dashing from stop lights and practicing launches – the fuel economy levels stayed well above the official combined figure of 16mpg. As the day went on, I found myself with more chances to use all 707 horsepower, and because of that, the fuel economy suffered, but I still averaged 15.9 mpg over a few hundred miles of driving – none of which was executed in a manner that would intentionally improve mileage.
When you are cruising on the highway at 80mph, the exhaust tone is there, but it isn’t loud enough to prevent you from talking to your passengers or listening to the booming Harmon sound system. If you drop down a gear or two and ask for more power, the exhaust wakes up a bit, but this car is surprisingly stealthy when you want it to be stealthy.
Also, while the adjustable suspension in the Hellcat Challenger makes it the best handling modern Mopar muscle car I have driven when in track mode, switching over to the street suspension setting provides for a crystal clear ride. Having a passenger flip back and forth between the track and street suspension settings really displays how much of the road noise the suspension absorbs; and the Challenger still handles nicely while tuned to the softest damper setting.
When the suspension system is softened up, the Hellcat Challenger is no rougher than any other muscle car I’ve driven, and has better ride quality.
While the SRT front bucket seats were designed to keep you in place during stints of spirited driving, they are wide, plush and comfortable on a long car ride, so folks who spend hours each morning in rush hour traffic, or on a long car trip, will find that this Challenger is as comfortable as any muscle car you can buy today. The interior layout is luxury level in both quality and the amenities offered, so in addition to being crazy fast, it is also comfortable enough for any driving situation.
On my sixth day, I ran simple errands, including a stop at the feed store. My wife and I run a horse stable, and as part of my new car test, I always pick up some grain to see how the vehicle handles the weight. No one buys a Hellcat Challenger to haul grain, but putting 200 pounds of bagged grain in the trunk had little impact on performance. The beast was still able to dash to 60 in under 4 seconds.
Once I had gotten that grain out of the trunk, I headed back out, hitting some of the back roads to stretch the Hellcat’s legs a bit and cruising through town, revving and showing off the coolest test vehicle that I have ever had the pleasure of driving.
Pretty much everywhere I went, people pointed out the car, even in areas where new Challengers are plentiful. Even though the Hellcat has just the subtle badge on the fender, everyone who follows the industry takes notice of this sleek muscle car. I was also able to give hell rides to a few friends who were interested in experiencing the most powerful muscle car ever, and I was able to put a big smile on their faces, making their Hellcat experience one that they would remember.
In addition to spending the day driving the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat around the Metro Detroit area, I visited a friend who has long stretches of pavement where I could really put the hammer down without the risks of public roads or the crowds of the drag strip. This was seeing how well it would get away from the line with the stock street tires, on a surface that is like a public road (as opposed to a very clean, very sticky race track). The pavement has a surface similar to most of the local roads, with dust and such, so this was a good test to see how well the car can launch in the real world.
With the transmission set to “track,” using the paddle shifters, the traction control turned off, and the suspension on the street mode, I was able to get the Hellcat Challenger 0-60 time down to 3.7 seconds, making it only slightly slower than some of the 0-60 times reported on prepped tracks. I was able to churn out 3.8 runs with 3.7s sprinkled in along the way. I also achieved a 7.6 eighth-mile, a tenth of a second quicker than my best eighth mile time with the Hellcat Challenger at the Chrysler Proving Grounds.
The video below shows the Hellcat Challenger dashing from 0-60 in 3.7 seconds, with one camera angle on the windshield and another shot from behind to best let us hear the exhaust roar at wide open throttle. In each of the videos, I basically coast through first gear after stabbing the throttle to get the car moving, and then once I get into second gear, the Challenger finally put the power to the ground – even though there is still some wheel spin in second gear.
Actual times will vary, but any driver who knows how to launch a car can get the Hellcat Challenger into the high 3-second range without any tricks.
The time came to use the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat to get people from point A to point B. My parents were in town for the weekend and, with my wife, we headed out for dinner. In almost any other two-door sports car sold in America, four adults would have a cramped, uncomfortable ride. The Challenger is by far the roomiest two-door sports/muscle car on sale today, so you can seat four adults without the folks in the back being folded in half to fit.
The biggest issue with most coupes is that when the driver’s seat is adjusted to fit someone in the back seat, the driver has to sit on top of the steering wheel. With the driver’s seat of the Hellcat Challenger adjusted to allow my dad to sit behind me comfortably, I did move the seat closer than I normally would, but I was still comfortable. Since the passenger’s side front seating area is more open than the driver’s side, seating two adults on the right side of the cockpit allows even more comfort for both people. The passengers also enjoyed the plush SRT seats wrapped in bright brown sepia Laguna leather.
No other muscle car offers comfortable seating for four adults, and the Hellcat Challenger will still dash to 60 in the mid 4-second range with four people inside.
When cruising at low rpm, the Hellcat Hemi is surprisingly quiet, but my test vehicle was fitted with the premium speaker system that ensures that you can hear (and feel) your music at high rpm. I didn’t spend much time listening to the stereo, as the roar of the Hellcat Hemi is all that I wanted to hear, but the Harmon speaker system offers the kind of sound that will make audiophiles melt.
The Harmon Kardon 18-speaker system is controlled via the 8.4 inch screen high on the dash. Chrysler’s UConnect package is one of the most celebrated setups in today’s market, and the Hellcat Challenger has the most complete version. The touch screen has simple access to the radio, media files, heated seat/steering wheel controls, the full climate control system, navigation, hands free phone system, SRT pages, and downloadable apps.
This system is the easiest to use, making everything easy to find and easy to adjust while driving, especially when combined with the huge spread of steering wheel controls, the voice control interface, and the small collection of buttons and knobs located below the touchscreen.
The Hellcat Challenger also has one of the most elaborate gauge clusters available in the US, with customizable readouts that include everything from a digital speedometer to advanced SRT timing pages and from navigation to all of the additional engine gauges that you could want. This driver’s information screen has more information than any on the market and it is easily controlled via the steering wheel buttons.
The short video below quickly scrolls through the options for the large infotainment screen and the driver’s information center, as well as a quick look at the buttons on the center console and the steering wheel.
Finally, while the comfortable, roomy seats, the industry-best infotainment system, the detailed driver’s information center and booming sound system are all impressive, my favorite part of the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat interior is the drive mode screen. By pushing the SRT button on the center console, the infotainment screen switches to a spread of digital buttons that adjust the performance of the most powerful muscle car ever.
The basic drive modes for the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat are Default, Custom, Sport and Track, with these modes including unique settings for the transmission, the paddle shifters, the traction/stability control and the adjustable suspension. The first option on the SRT screen is the horsepower setting, which can be set to 500 or 700+. In the Custom setup, the transmission, suspension, and traction control can each be set to Street, Sport or Track, with street offering the most comfort and the least performance, while Sport is an average of the two and Track puts all of the emphasis on performance. The video below shows the SRT screen as I flip through the various modes and setting pages of the adjustable drive modes.
The Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat is the quickest and the most powerful muscle car ever, while also being one of the most powerful two-door sport cars sold in America in any segment, but where it is different than any of the other superfast coupes in the world is how well it will seat four adults.
This car offers more interior space than any competitive vehicle with luxurious leather seats that are both heated and cooled, while the most informative gauge setup from an American automaker available, a premium sound system, and the best infotainment package on sale in the country make the most powerful muscle car ever one of the most well-appointed sports car sold in the world.
With the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, you are not just paying for big power. The $65,000 price tag also gets you an interior layout that looks like something from a European luxury brand while also being able to very comfortably seat four adults.
It was a magnificent week filled with driving experiences that I will not forget, nor will those folks who had the pleasure of riding with me. Spending a week driving the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat taught me a few things that I had already suspected were true.
Ford guys will point out the new Shelby GT350R Mustang and the Chevy camp will point out the Camaro Z28, and both are amazing shows of American automotive technology. However, when talking about muscle cars, no car from GM or Ford has ever done a better job of being a muscle car than the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat. The hundreds of people who buy GT350Rs or Camaro Z28s can have their fun getting beat up by Vipers on the road course, while the thousands of Hellcat Challenger owners around the USA will dominate street sprints and quarter mile drag races – all while being able to get better than 25mpg on the highway and haul four adults…neither of which is possible with the most powerful Mustang or Camaro.
The simple fact is that the Hellcat Challenger is a proper muscle car, whereas the two Camaro and Mustang are traditional pony cars, allow the big Challenger to be the only true muscle car on sale today — and able to use all 707 horsepower from the Hellcat Hemi.
The Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat is one of those cars that will forever be talked about in the automotive history books, and I have a hard time imagining that I will ever enjoy a test car as much as I did the mighty Hellcat Challenger.
Chrysler Corporation has built a great many high performance cars over the past half century and I’ve had the pleasure of driving many of them. From the 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona and the 1971 Dodge Challenger Hemi Shaker to the 2015 Dodge Viper GTS, Ma Mopar has produced many cars that will forever strike fear in the heart of the opposition, but none of those cars handed out the sheer brutal power combined with the loaded, roomy interior of the Hellcat Challenger.
The Hellcat is a modern legend that is kind enough to share the road and the track with the rest of us. All Hail The King.
Dodge Challenger Hellcat • All Car Reviews
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