Hell Hath Fury: Dodge Builds One of the Most Surprisingly Enjoyable Cars You Can Buy
Cruising through the rapidly gentrifying streets of downtown Los Angeles in a 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat the other evening, I came upon a white Bentley. Some sort of Continental, and for the sake of rhetorical flourish, let’s assume she was a GT Speed. Fast car, no? What with 616 horsepower from a twin-turbo W-12, it ought to be. Yet all I could think while every single muscle and tendon in my right ankle suddenly went taught was, “Aw, poor Bentley! You’ve only got around 600 horsepower. Keep trying, little guy, you’ll get there.” A hair-trigger throttle and 707 hp do strange things to a man’s mind. Then I mashed the gas and, well friends, the smile’s still there. Strange things to a man’s face, too.
No doubt you’ve perused our first drive of the new, ultra-mighty, simultaneously genre-defining and -smashing, muscular monster from Mopar. In that review you can get all the hairy, technical details about how Dodge majordomo Ralph Gilles and friends were able to coax a ridiculous 707 hp with an accompanying catapult-worthy 650 pound-feet of torque from a supercharged 6.2-liter V-8. Feel free to read that last sentence again if you like. I can wait. This first test, however, is much more concerned with the more visceral aspects of the Hellcat. To quote my colleague Erick Ayapana, “The supercharger whine can double as an air raid siren.” Boy howdy.
How’d she handle? To quote our man Scott Evans, “Just like a Challenger. Understeer into the corner, oversteer out.” Which, I’d like to add, is exactly how it should be. You want massive horsepower and catlike reflexes? Buy a Viper. Or wait a few months and grab the upcoming 650-hp, 650-lb-ft-of-torque Corvette Z06. The Hellcat is another breed of beastie entirely. Sure, there’s probably some way to foist a super-stiff chassis and all the track-worthiness that entails under the latest and greatest from SRT. But you’d be missing the point. This is a big, comfortable boulevard yacht that just so happens to have a Hellfire missile where the engine should be. Voyaging along in the Barcalounger front thrones with potent, finger-chilling air conditioning and a pretty righteous stereo in total comfort, yet knowing that you can break the tires completely loose in almost any of the eight gears (our test car’s an auto; we’ll reviewthe manual in a later story) is precisely the point. If you really must know, the Hellcat can be wanged around our figure-eight course in 24.7 seconds. That’s the exact same time as an Alfa Romeo 4C, actually.
OK, OK — so what actually happens when you mash the throttle from a dead start? Many things, it turns out, and all of them car-guy fantasy stuff. If you just punch it with every traction and stability nanny off, the tires are happy to self-immolate. Hot tip: The front and rear tires are square. Meaning that you have identical 20-inch, 275-width Pirelli P Zeros at all four corners. So when you melt the rears a tad just go ahead and swap ’em with the fronts. Remember, you didn’t buy the Hellcat to go autocrossing. Leave that sort of stuff to the Miatas of the world. Honestly, if big smoky burnouts are your top car-buying priority, stop researching. The Hellcat creates stinky, juvenile white clouds better than any other new car.
The Challenger Hellcat does come with a launch control system. As with the Ford Shelby GT500, you’re able to adjust the rpm at which the engine holds itself through a screen. Hold brake, stomp pedal, lift left foot, and away you go. However, our testing crew found that this wasn’t the best way to launch the Hellcat. No, the quickest way down the quarter required careful throttle application and starting in second gear. Interesting corollary: Goofing around once behind John Hennessey’s shop in one of his 700-hp Cadillac CTS-V coupes, I learned that first gear was totally useless. All it does is create a whole bunch of glorious smoke. Seems as if once you get to the 700-horse threshold in rear-drive cars, traction becomes a serious issue.
Here’s the part you’ve been waiting for. Our best run in the Hellcat resulted in 0-60 mph in 3.7 seconds before whacking the quarter mile upside the head in 11.7 seconds at 125.4 mph. So many things to note here. First of all, as far as direct competition still on sale, the Hellcat is quicker than the Camaro ZL1. The supercharged Chevy takes 3.8 seconds to hit 60 mph and requires 12.2 seconds to run the corner, trapping out at 116.6 mph. So, that’s a win. What about competition you can’t buy new anymore, like — for instance — the recently discontinued 662-hp Shelby GT500? The lighter Snake needed only 3.5 seconds for its 60-mph blast and 11.6 seconds to go down the quarter mile with a trap speed of 125.7 mph. Slight advantage: Ford. That said, it’s gone, so in terms of new-car sales, the Snake don’t matter. What about the Viper? In the TA, we saw 60 mph in 3.3 seconds and a quarter-mile spanking of 11.3 seconds with an astonishing trap speed of 129.3 mph. Of course, the Hellcat weighs 1000 pounds more than its big (but smaller) brother.
I’d also like to note that this is the closely spaced eight-speed ZF automatic Hellcat, not the longer-geared six-speed manual version. The Shelby had very tall gearing, meaning that you could launch the sucker in first gear, and it was of course a manual. Let’s revisit the Ford versus Dodge comparison once we get our hands on the row-your-own Hellcat. Until then, Mopar faithful, have faith! What about the 11.2-second quarter-mile time that Dodge has been trumpeting to the world? Well, half a second (11.7 seconds versus 11.2) is the difference between a prepped VHT surface and the street. All Motor Trend testing is done on asphalt, while Dodge got its big number on the strip.
Now a word about trap speeds. 125 mph is insane. Here’s some comparative data for you. The 991 Porsche 911 Turbo S can hammer home the quarter mile in just 10.9 seconds (on Pirelli P Zeros, coincidently) but its trap speed is only 123.7 mph. The quicker time is due to better traction at launch (thanks, AWD!) but the Dodge — which costs a third the entry price of the porker, about $60K versus $180K — is going faster at the end of 1320 feet. And since stoplight-to-stoplight racing is never GPS-tracked … You get my point. Look at the 2014 Nissan GT-R Track Edition. That flavor of Godzilla does the quarter in 11.0 seconds flat, but is “only” trapping at 125.1 mph. OK, so the Hellcat’s barely faster, but here’s the point — it’s faster.
Conclusion. Get some fatter, stickier rear meats for the Challenger Hellcat and it really does have the intestinal fortitude to embarrass cars costing double and triple the price. A retired and wheeled Hellcat would probably smack that Shelby around pretty good, too. Until then, Hellcat owners can happily chew on the knowledge that the next cheapest 700-horsepower steed in existence is the $322,638, 731-hp Ferrari F12 Berlinetta. More important, I’ve driven both cars and would much rather drive the Hellcat. I’ve also spent a great deal of time in the Shelby GT500. And the Viper. And the ZL1. Hellcat, hands down. Hats off to the Dodge boys. They’ve built an all-timer.
|2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD, 5-pass, 2-door coupe|
|ENGINE||6.2L/707-hp/650-lb-ft supercharged OHV 16-valve V-8|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4449 lb (57/43%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||197.5 x 75.7 x 55.7 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.7 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||11.7 sec @ 125.4 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||109 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.94 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||24.7 sec @ 0.85 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||15/25/18 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||225/135 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||1.06 lb/mile|