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by Patrick Rall in July 2017 (5)
We have been talking about the 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon for months, and how could we not? It is, without a doubt, the greatest American muscle car of all time, with 840 horsepower, 770lb-ft of torque, factory-equipped drag radial tires and an array of high tech, high performance gadgets which make the new Demon the quickest production road car in the world. With an NHRA-certified quarter mile time of 9.65 seconds, no production car made by any automaker in the world goes down a drag strip faster, so it makes sense thatDodge would invite us to Indianapolis Raceway Park to experience the quickest road car in the world.
Spoiler Alert: Driving the Demon is every bit as incredible as you might expect.
My day testing the 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon began with a drive in the new Widebody Hellcat from Indianapolis Motor Speedway (where we tested the widebody car on the road course) to Indianapolis Raceway Park. When we arrived, we were greeted by a quartet of Demons sitting in the short staging area leading up to the IRP burnout boxes and starting line – one in yellow, one in white, one in black and one in Go ManGo.
Our time in the new Demon began with a run down the track, riding shotgun while an SRT engineer walked us through the ins and outs of the unique features. Most notably, they showed us how to use the line lock feature to do a burnout and how to use the TransBrake, which is both the key to the Demon’s incredible track capabilities and one of the items which makes the car so tricky to launch. After that run with an engineer driving and me watching from the passenger’s seat, we swapped seats and it was my turn to go racing with the new Dodge Demon.
The Demon’s line lock system is very simple. You push the line lock button on the Uconnect touch screen, depress the brake pedal until the driver information center prompts you to push the “ok” button on the steering wheel, hold down the OK button, and let off of the brake pedal. At that point, the front brakes are locked and by stepping into the throttle, this new Demon does wicked burnouts. When you have reached the desire level of tire smoke, you release the ok button and the front brakes release.
Next came the hard part – the TransBrake. Whenever the Demon is set to Track mode, the TransBrake feature is active, so anytime that the car is stationary, holding both shift paddles back at once activates the system. Once activated, you depress the brake pedal and apply throttle until you reach 1,500 rpm. At that point, the system is live and you engage it by releasing both the brake pedal and either one of the shift paddles, keeping the second paddle held back. From here, you can adjust the throttle to reach your ideal launch range — which was not 1,500 rpm, as that resulted in tire spin or wheel hop. We were told by the engineers that in those conditions, 1,100-1,200 rpm was ideal, so after activating the TransBrake system (which also engages the Torque Reserve system), while still holding one shift paddle down, we lowered the engine speeds to those ideal levels.
Once you hit that ideal launch RPM, you release the shift paddle and the Demon launches; but as the car is launching, you have to carefully apply throttle to get the car down the track. Many people think that it is as simple as setting the TransBrake, holding the right pedal to the floor and letting the electronics do the work to run mid-9s. That is not the case at all.
While the Demon is easier to launch than the Hellcat Challenger, this is not a car that you can just jump in and run 9s by jamming the throttle to the floor. On one of my runs, I came out around 1,500 rpm and the wheels spun and then hopped badly. On other runs, I dropped the engine RPM too low so when I released the TransBrake, the car just sort of sat there. The TransBrake and Torque Reserve system afford the new Challenger Demon incredible launch forces and stunning short times, but there is plenty of room for error and when you don’t launch correctly, the result is either falling on your face at the starting line or roasting the tires as you leave the line.
In short, the Demon is not an easy car to launch, but once you get the hang of it, the results are absolutely stunning.
Although you still have to ease the Demon away from the starting line with some care, by the time you hit second gear, the unique Nitto NT05R tires allow you to push the car wide open. The race fuel output of 840 horsepower and 770lb-ft of torque allows the Demon to pull like no other car I’ve ever driven and few cars I’ve ever ridden in as a passenger.
We often say that a car pushed you back into the seat, but at mid-track and full throttle, the new Demon is creating enough force to not only push you back into your seat, but you can feel the physical forces on your body. The closest thing that I can compare it to is a roller coaster when rushing down a large hill – only you are blasting down a flat drag strip.
I should point out that I have made over a thousand quarter mile passes in my own cars, including my 1972 Dodge Demon 340, but these test runs in the Demon were the quickest drag strip runs I’ve ever made. I have been in cars that launch a whole lot harder than I was able to launch in the Demon, but how well it gets away from the starting line is nothing compared to the mid-range pull. Even as you cross the finish line in 5th gear, the Demon is still pulling hard with plenty of room left to build speed on a longer track, so this car might be a beast in the half mile as well; and on top of it all, the combination of the whine of the supercharger and the roar of the exhaust serves as a remarkable soundtrack for the world’s quickest production road car.
Our seat time began with a trip of 8th mile runs with an engineer providing pointers, but once we were confident enough to make a run on our own, we could make single runs (no co-pilot) on the full quarter mile. After turning a best time on the 8th mile runs of a 6.7 seconds (based on the on-board timing system, no time slips were given out and the track timing system was not in use), I was confident enough to make a few runs on my own down the quarter mile.
On my first run down the quarter mile with the 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon, I did not correctly use the TransBrake and the car fell on its face at the line. I stopped, let the timing system reset and took off down the track just using the brakes and meet feet, running a 10.80 at 128 miles per hour. On my second quarter mile run, I made the same mistake with the TransBrake and once again, I footbraked the car to a 10.8. On my third quarter mile run, I was able to correctly use the TransBrake to launch and although I came out at a lower RPM than I would have liked and the tires spun a bit at the top of 1st gear, I was still able to lay down a 10.5 at 132 miles per hour.
Finally, on my final down the track, I launched on the TransBrake a bit harder and while the intiial launch was a bit harder than my 10.5 run, the tires spun quite a bit and I was forced to pedal it a bit, slowing me down to an 11.0 at 127.
While I would have liked to get a little closer to the 9-second range, it was in the mid-80s and very humid (2,428 DA); and, more importantly, I only made a handful of runs. I am confident that more seat time would have allowed me to get further into the 10-second range, but the bottom line is that 9-second runs are going to take some serious skill and seat time. However, it is hard to complain about a car that runs mid-10s with minimal seat time on a hot, humid day, as literally no other production car from an American automaker and few high-priced exotics can come close to those times in even the best conditions.
So, the 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon is an awesome drag car and one of the most exciting cars I’ve ever had the pleasure of piloting on a race track, but we need to keep in mind that this new Mopar muscle car is a street machine – although some people believe that the features which make it so capable on the drag strip make it unpleasant on the open road.
Those people are very wrong.
After time on the drag strip, I headed out onto the road in a black 2018 Demon with the standard drag radials tires up front and Sport mode engaged. Sport mode removes the Torque Reserve and TransBrake systems, leaving the 840 horsepower engine and the 8-speed automatic transmission to function similarly to the Hellcat Challenger. Of course, the Demon has an extra 133 horsepower, so it effortless zips past any posted speed limit, but when stuck in traffic, it drives just as smoothly as any other modern Challenger.
More importantly, the active suspension system and the 315mm-wide Nitto tires offer a remarkably smooth ride on the rough roads and impressive handling in the turns. When set to Sport mode, the ride quality is similar to the Hellcat cars, with the right amount of stiffness. The thicker sidewalls of the Nitto drag radials actually mute the bumps in the road a bit better than the lower-profile Hellcat tires, while still sticking the Demon to the corners very well. The Nitto tires on the Demon have unique sidewall construction for improved road handling, and when cutting through some of the back roads around the drag strip, this Challenger hugs the road nearly as well as the Hellcat. There is obviously a bit more sidewall play when you really get to hammering the corners (compared to the Hellcat), but the difference is minimal enough that most owners won’t notice it unless they also spend lots of time driving a Hellcat car with the larger wheels and low profile tires.
I would go so far as to say that the 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon offers a smoother ride than the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat with just a slight compromise in road handling, which is hard to experience during “normal” driving situations. In other words, the new Demon rides and handles so well that I don’t see any reason why owners won’t want to drive it every day – or at least every day without any rain. Dodge doesn’t want people to drive the Demon with the drag radials in the rain, but when it comes to warm, sunny days, the 840hp Challenger is almost as good of a road car as it is a drag strip car.
There might be muscle cars which can run better laps on German road courses, but when it comes to doing what muscle cars have always done best – storming down the quarter mile – the new Dodge Challenger SRT Demon is the best production road car to ever hit the track. While running 9s will take some skill and seat time, this is a very comfortable mid-10s car in hot weather while being a comfortable – albeit very fast – daily driver.
The new Demon is the greatest American muscle car ever and I find it hard to believe that any automaker will ever offer a car to rival this new Challenger.
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