There are three things to know about the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat: it's fast, it's loud, and you're going to have to budget for speeding tickets. These attributes also mean the Challenger SRT Hellcat is extreme fun and wherever you go, heads will turn to look. Those were the lessons we learned after a week in this truly American muscle car.
The 2017 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat is big, wide, heavy, low, mean, and insanely muscular. Packing 707 horsepower (527 kW) under its hood, it can take the rubber off of its rear tires in just seconds. Yet it remains family-friendly, or at least family-friendly enough that it might (almost) provide an excuse for buying one.
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The Challenger on the whole is a beautiful piece of nostalgic engineering with a throwback look that maintains a modern, and somewhat sinister, edge. Every Challenger model, including the V6-powered lower-priced options, has performance as its main driving force. As witnessed in our week with the Challenger GT.
It's when Dodge gives the Challenger to its SRT performance house that things get a bit crazy. For the Hellcat model, SRT added a lot of air movement goodies to the car, including the immediately-noticeable extra air intakes on the hood flanked by vents to push it back out. A more aggressive front air spoiler sits below the bumper at about curb height and some 20-inch wheel options (common on most V8-powered Challenger models) become exclusive to the SRT Hellcat. Brembo braking and an aggressively-tuned sport suspension are also standard equipment on the Hellcat, along with quad exhaust tips to let the big engine exhale.
And exhale it does. The deafening sound that the powerful 6.2-liter V8 puts out as the supercharger pumps to 707 horses and 650 pound-feet (881 Nm) of torque is beautiful. Those maximum outputs come at 6,200 and 4,800 rpm respectively. They can be had through either a six-speed manual transmission (standard) or an eight-speed automatic transmission.
We drove the latter and would, if given the choice again, stick with it. Enthusiasts might scream at that, but the automatic is both smoother and faster than the manual and it takes a lot of weight off of the driver's attention, enhancing safety. Something that's important when you have a street-legal hotrod that can accelerate faster than a plane on takeoff.
Dodge says that the SRT Hellcat Challenger can go from 0-60 mph (0-92 km/h) in 3.6 seconds with that automatic (3.9 with the manual). In our real-world, public road, amateur tests we were averaging 4.5 seconds with the auto.
The hardest part of getting good zero to sixty runs out of the Challenger Hellcat is doing so without roasting the tires off the car. It's entirely possible to smoke a goodly portion of tire rubber off the rear wheels without any gimmicks (power braking, rev feathering) at all.
Unlike most sports cars and muscle wannabes, just punching the accelerator and holding the wheel straight does not produce the fastest 0-60 or quarter mile run. In the Challenger Hellcat, it produces squishy tires, wavy lines, and a very likely off-road experience as you spin out of control and into the dirt. Finesse is required to tame this big beast.
There are two tire options for the big Hellcat. The standard all-season radials are not going to do much for launch times. The upgrade (about US$700) to Pirelli P Zero summer tires (as we had) improves things a lot. After a half-dozen launch attempts, which sometimes resulted in poor runs and other times in sphincter-puckering rear end sway as traction broke, we began to see consistent 0-60 returns.
Newer pavement will do better than rougher, older pavement (obviously) and the amount of crown in the road will also play a part. As will heat, among other things. Clearly, making drag runs in a muscle car is not a straightforward "punch it and fly" business.
What's really fun about the 2017 Challenger Hellcat, though, is the immediate access to unbridled power at any given time. Driving along city roads, jumping out of stop signs or lights, the "chirp and roar" is immense fun. More so is the freeway "fast lane pass, balls out" that can be done at higher speeds. Getting from 60 mph to 100 mph (92 to 161 km/h) takes little effort for the Challenger Hellcat. Thus the car is best piloted by prudent hands.
Aiding all of that under the hood goodness is a casually well executed interior. There's a lot of muscular element, of course, with the heavy dashboard, low-feeling roof, small windows, and "the rearview is just to see who's losing" design being paramount. Comfort levels in the Challenger are high and the Hellcat model comes with an 8.4-inch Uconnect infotainment screen as standard equipment.
The SRT Performance Pages of the Uconnect system allow the driver to adjust parameters for the driving experience itself. Going with this, the Hellcat includes two keys.
The red key is "unlimited" and is kind of the "master key" for the car. It allows full performance and good times to be had. The black key is meant for use as a valet or "loaner" key. By default, the black key drops horsepower output to a maximum 500.
This default "tame" version of the Challenger Hellcat is still more powerful than the next-down SRT 392 or R/T Scat Pack models in the Challenger lineup, both of which are already awesome performance machines in their own right. Finally, there's a dedicated "valet" mode which really restricts the Hellcat's output (300 hp, 4,000 rpm).
Sinister looks, unusually roomy interior, the viscerally satisfying sound of the engine grumbling at idle and the powerful roar at open throttle – those elements sum up the 2017 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat. This is one beautiful muscle car and there's no stretch required to use that title when describing it. The Challenger Hellcat is only for truly prepared and dedicated muscle drivers. And damn is it fun!
Pricing for the Challenger SRT Hellcat starts at US$64,195.
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