10.8 seconds. That’s how long it takes the new Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat to cover one quarter of a mile from a stand still on street-legal drag tires, according to the NHRA. Let’s put that into perspective:
- Until 2008, all cars faster than 12 seconds needed a roll bar and a harness.
- The super exotic Ferrari F40, when new, ran it in 11.7.
- A 2007 Porsche Carrera Turbo ran it in 11.6 seconds.
- Everyone’s beloved McLaren F1 ran the quarter in 11.5 seconds.
- The new $320,000 Ferrari F12 Barlinetta does it in 11.0 seconds.
- The fastest Lamborghini Gallardo managed about 10.9 seconds.
Yes, many modified cars run faster than that, but if you want a factory stock car with air conditioning and warranty, you’re looking to spend significantly more than a hundred grand. Yes, the Hellcat is a muscle car whereas the cars listed above are sports cars that can corner as hard as they accelerate. Yes, street slicks, a sticky track, and overall ideal conditions do make a difference, so repeating those numbers at the local drag strip won’t be easy.
Still, 10.8 seconds, 707 horsepower, sixty-ish grand. In case you are still not convinced that we are living in the greatest automotive era of all time, this should erase all doubts. But the cool folks at Dodge think that despite its muscle car heritage, the Hellcat and other Challengers can hold their own on the road course, too. Dodge’s SRT team was so confident in the handling of their models that they let loons such as me loose on Portland International Raceway with their newest Challengers. And in heavy rain, too!
The current Dodge Challenger has been around since 2008. While in those years it has always been a cool looking car, it was not really desired by anyone who did not have a sentimental connection to the original first generation car. It did not exactly have a high performance halo model, a la the Mustang GT500, its performance was surpassed by its direct competition, and the interior was dull.
Many Dodge representatives have agreed, with the above and that is what the updated 2015 Challenger attempts to address. The Hellcat becomes the halo model with the muscle and attitude to seriously battle the ZL1 and the GT500. The 485hp SRT 392 and Scat Pack with Super Track Pak are directed at the Z/28 and the Boss 302. Lesser V8 and V6 models are now equally prepare to fight their counterparts. All those engines are matched to either 6-speed manual or 8-speed automatic transmissions. Finally, all cars get much needed interior upgrades.
Generally, muscle cars were not known to be great handling track cars. In recent years, however, perhaps to get the younger buyers out of German and Japanese cars, all three American car companies have focused on improving the handling of their cars with some very impressive results. Handling is where Dodge has focused a lot of its attention for 2015. While the body remains relatively unchanged, the SRT models now have a 3-way adaptive suspension, bigger wheels with wider tires, big Brembo brakes, and the aforementioned Super Track Pak is available on all but the base model.
Overshadowed by all this power is what some auto writers considered the biggest change to the Challengers – the interior. Gone are the hard plastic square dash and console. In their place a driver-focused curved dash with Chrysler’s 8.4-inch excellent Uconnect touch-screen. The seats are comfortable and supportive at the same time, even available with ventilation. All primary controls have modern upscale touch and feel, very familiar to other new Chrysler vehicles. The only issues I saw was a lack of storage for small items. The Challenger’s one advantage is that it is bigger car than the Mustang and the Camaro, with a three passenger rear bench and trunk that can accommodate more than a backpack.
Remove all identifying marks from the Challenger Hellcat and no one casually driving it would know about the monster within. Show finesse and restraint in use of the gas pedal and the Hellcat becomes a docile 500hp cat on the street. There is really nothing, not even a heavy clutch pedal, standing in the way of this being a fun and comfortable daily driver.
Start the car using the red key and things change quickly. Suddenly, the kitty becomes a loud pissed off lion. No, not just loud but really fucking loud, as in still loud when it is almost quarter of a mile down the track loud. On the track it will spin its tires at triple digit velocities. Being used to a certain underpowered racecar I had to slow down and re-learn everything I knew about performance driving. Not only won’t the Hellcat mask your mistakes, it will expose them like few cars can – input an abrupt half throttle coming out of a turn before the front wheels are perfectly straight and the rear-end will come loose. One must seriously slow down in order to drive this car fast. The good thing is that, even in the rain, it won’t try to kill you with, at least with the Sport drive mode. I didn’t have the guts to take all the driving nannies completely off.
After a few laps in I finally got comfortable, both with the track and the car. Extra laps in the R/T Scat Pack and the SRT 392 allowed me to start building up some speed. The rain had stopped and the track started drying. I gave the Hellcat another go. It’s amazing what a difference 222 horsepower makes between the 6.4-liter cars and the Hellcat. Down the back straight the proper racing line is right along the wall, which further elevated the sense of power and speed. On my few final laps, after short shifting, I finally managed to floor the beast in fourth gear. Holy hell, what a scary thrill that was. The only car I ever drove that pulled that hard at speed was a Ferrari 599. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, this is a ridiculously fast car.
Truth be told, someone with modest high performance driving experience, such as myself, may have been faster around PIR in one of the 392 cars. They were more forgiving, inspired more confidence, and were simply easier to drive fast. The Hellcat is awesome, but it is scary awesome, and only the most skilled of drivers can drive it at its limit.
The whole time I was driving the Hellcat I could not stop questioning its existence. In the end I concluded that it was built for bragging rights and to bring people into the showroom. When it goes on sale, dealers are sure to mark up it up to hell. Those people will then turn and buy the really good R/T Scat Pack or the SRT 392, Challengers. I think that deep inside, the Hellcat was designed to succeed where the Viper has mysteriously failed.
Awesome? Yes. Necessary? No.
Disclaimer: Chrysler invited Hooniverse to the Hellcat press launch in Portland, Oregon. They picked up the flights and the hotel costs, pretty much a standard thing. I apologize for not being able to have this up sooner.
Images copyright 2014 Hooniverse/Kamil Kaluski