Just prior to this car being delivered to my driveway I received an introductory email from the SRT product support team which included a quote that’s been attributed to Voltaire (as well as Uncle Ben from Spiderman if that’s more your thing) reminding me that “With great power comes great responsibility”. And then continued with “…a friendly reminder to stay safe, but of course, have a blast!”
Well then. A couple of months ago I was asked which FCA product I would most like to try if I had a choice and I responded that I’d love to sample any variant of the Challenger, having never had the pleasure. Last week I got a call that if I’d like I could have 48 hours with this particular car as it was out here on a very tight time frame. I of course said “Yes, please!” and rearranged everything I had scheduled in a hurry as these opportunities don’t come along too often.
Everyone is likely familiar with the Challenger line that starts at a very reasonable $28,095 and somehow still manages to come equipped with a 305hp engine (the Pentastar 3.6l V6) in its most basic form, and from there continues up through multiple engines, drive formats (RWD, AWD), special editions and packages, limited editions, SRT (Street & Racing Technology) versions and until a couple of years ago culminated in the 707hp Hellcat that I had the good fortune to sample at a media track day back then.
Of course as any manufacturer worth their salt would do, they’d sell all they could of that and then come up with something else to top it and then sell those as well, you know, the old “New and Improved!” routine. So after the Hellcat at first there was the pretty-much-a-drag-racer-and-not-really-streetable Demon with 840hp which was really limited but then they also released both a “Widebody” package as well as building on the regular Hellcat with a further “Redeye” version. You can get a Hellcat, a Hellcat Redeye, and each one either in regular or widebody format. Of course the one they sent me was all of the above as per the title because when asked to choose between bacon and cheese on a burger I’ll just say yes.
As it rumbled up my driveway resplendent in its “Frostbite” color, it was loud. Not loud, but LOUD. And almost impossibly wide and hunkered down. Dodge has certainly nailed the look here and as you go up the Challenger lineup it gets lower and wider (and apparently louder) as you reach towards the top.
The front airdam is low and deep with a splitter so large that Imelda Marcos could use it to store her shoe collection on. Walking around the body makes evident that the fender extensions which add 3.5″ of overall width (covering the existing small fender flares) are fully utilized to cover the wider wheels and tires that increase the track, and that the rear spoiler mounted to the trunk lid is in fact larger than the similar ones on “lesser” versions. But there’s nothing very garish here, it all seems to serve a purpose and when studied is really quite understated with no wasted flourishes, bizarre scoops or extraneous detailing. Extremely clean, in other words.
The hood bulges higher than normal and is outfitted with two very large nostrils up front, both of which internally combine within the hood itself and are ducted to feed air to the standard gigantic cold air intake’s cone filter, and in addition to that the driver’s side inboard headlamp which is hollow in the middle to form an approximately 2″ wide tube also culminates directly in that same airbox. (The matching unit on the passenger side unit is blocked at the rear but seems like it could be uncorked easily enough to just vent cool air into the tightly packed engine compartment).
Crouching down near any of the four corners makes evident that the wheels here measure a massive 11″ wide and carry a set of 305/35-20 Pirelli P-Zero tires with the same size on all four corners that fill out the newly enlarged wheel wells to excellent effect. Tucked inside are a set of massive slotted brake discs married to enormous Brembo 6-piston brake calipers (in the front, slightly smaller in the rear). It’s a good thing these wheels came gunmetal colored as within the first 50 miles of me driving it there was already a thick layer of brake dust covering the front ones.
Standing back up and opening the door reveals a thickly bolstered and padded set of seats finished in a Caramel-like color known in Dodge-Speak as “Sepia” and contrasts well with the rest of the interior slathered in black and carbon fiber bits. The seats themselves are embossed with the SRT and Hellcat logos and while the driver’s seat bottom is powered, as is the lumbar support, the passenger’s side is not at all and both backrests are also strictly manually adjustable affairs.
It’s easy enough to get comfortable with the proviso that the bottom cushion is a tad short, an extending lower cushion would be most welcome here but the seats do hold one in place well while not ever seeming to pinch or be too snug.
Straight ahead is a more or less normal Challenger instrument panel with the visual difference being that the faces on the gauges are backed in red. Oh, and the speedometer now goes all the way up to 220mph. In between the speedo and tach is a large digital information screen that through the buttons on the steering wheel can switch through dozens of screens that include every possible vital sign measurement.
Additionally in the same menus there are also various timers, launch assistants, countdown clocks, stopwatches for predefined speed markers (0-60mph, 0-100) as well as distance-based ones (1/8 mile, 1/4 mile) as just a couple of examples along with data logging to compare prior attempts with current ones etc. Even reaction time can be measured as all of these timed runs can be started with a countdown timer embedded within, presumably all to be enjoyed on a private course.
Behind the front row is the rear seat, just as comfortably trimmed as the fronts, access is fairly easy by using a paddle to lift the seatback forward, duck under the belt and settle in. My kids were comfortable and I even tried it myself, at 6’1″ with a 32″ inseam my knees were touching the seatback and my head was close to the headliner (no sunroof here), but it was better than the average Japanese coupes I remember clambering into back in high school.
With the power and moves this thing has though, I think I’d need to be able to exit faster than I could here should something internally get upset, however it’s no surprise the Challenger keeps selling, it’s significantly roomier and more livable both in front and back when compared to its crosstown rivals, clearly there is a market.
Sightlines out the front, immediate sides, and directly back are surprisingly good, however the large C-pillar creates the mother of all blind spots on the rear passenger side. The Blind Spot Assist system is invaluable here as it’s impossible to see another vehicle and it would also be impossible to hear it over the noise this one makes.
Looking straight ahead reveals a very long and deep dashboard and then beyond the glass the humped hood seems to go on almost forever compared to most modern, “normal” cars. It very much feels like you’re in its predecessors in that regard and that’s no slight whatsoever, it’s a welcome reminder of times gone past.
While a manual transmission is standard, this one was fitted with an automatic (an 8-speed ZF Made In Germany unit branded as a Torque-Flite) that includes wonderful little paddle shifters attached to the steering wheel. The center console is of the non-impinging variety and includes two cupholders, a small cubby that can sort of hold a phone to the right of the shift lever, and not a whole lot else beyond HVAC and Audio controls. And of course the SRT menu access button as well as the Launch Control buttons!
Above is a full-featured UConnect 8.4″ display that serves double duty for some of the knobbed and buttoned controls but also serves as a mini computer to not only handle the regular daily stuff like Navigation, Audio, Bluetooth, HVAC, Seat Warmers/Coolers and other Settings, but also to set up the car as one might want it to be for a certain situation.
Pretty much every aspect is configurable with predefined Street, Sport, and Track modes but also Individual mix and match settings are completely available for the user. Frankly I for the most part left it as defined when I received it as it all seemed to work well and with only 48hours didn’t much feel like wasting one minute of it on desk duty. My eyes were drawn to the big red Engine Start button just below.
The trunk is massive, of course since the chassis is shared with the Charger and Chrysler 300 that’s one of the benefits here that helps to offset the implied liabilities of that large base. This will easily carry all the luggage for all the occupants that you can cram in here and helps to make the car perfectly usable every day.
But you’re not reading this to hear about the trunk space; the star of the show here is the engine, if you are one who worships at the Altar of Horsepower this is your mate! While the normal Hellcat now makes do with 717hp, this High Output version of the 6.2 liter V8 Hemi with a massive supercharger strapped to the top clocks in at 797hp and 707lb-ft of torque.
Making the increase possible is a physically larger supercharger than the regular Hellcat as well as raising the boost level, increasing the redline to 6500rpm, adding a second fuel pump, as well as revised and strengthened engine internals. This isn’t just a software change, these are major modifications. As a result the power increase is significant and if you scoffed at the 220mph speedometer earlier, well, this car tops out at 203mph. It’s basically the engine as installed in the Demon drag racer but detuned a bit due to the reduced available airflow in this package.
There is even something called a Power Chiller, which when in use actually diverts chilled refrigerant from the air conditioning system to an exchanger which then further cools the intake air in order to add more density and hence enable more power. While I don’t have access to my own dragstrip and doubt that Dodge would like me to go to the Tune’n’Test night at Bandimere Speedway with their car, never mind that two days aren’t nearly enough to really get used to the car, they claim that they’d expect the car to run the quarter-mile in the mid-10 second range and be pushing almost 130mph at the end. This from a car that can be driven to Costco and loaded up with shopping and will happily take the kids to camp without a second thought.
So once seated and buckled in and after making sure the red key fob as opposed to the black one is in your pocket (red unleashes everything, black is for the valet but only if he’s kept in sight, right?), you can reach out and push the engine start button at which point there is a tremendous bellow from the engine and exhaust and it takes a minute for it to settle down into a marvelously lopey fast idle with a loud and satisfying soundtrack.
Release the refreshingly manual parking brake with your left foot, pull the traditional gear lever (none of that monostatic nonsense here) into Reverse at which point the revs drop a few hundred and slowly back out of the driveway while both looking back as well as keeping an eye on the back up camera monitor that while making everything visible is on the lower-resolution side compared to newer systems; presumably the upcoming new version of UConnect will improve that soon.
Then shift it into Drive, roll on the gas and marvel at how the engine note increases sharply while the car is pushed forward as some of the baffles in the exhaust open up. Once on a main road, a little more gas and without even thinking about it you are already well above the speed limit and need to recalibrate your foot and brain to this car. The supercharger lets out a wonderful whiny shriek like Mad Max’s car when on the throttle and howls for joy while just gulping in all of the air while all 6.2 liters of V-8 bits loudly hammer their way forward at warp speed.
There are two aspects of this car that I can’t say I was completely ready for in hindsight. Well, ready, yes, but perhaps not quite able to imagine accurately before experiencing firsthand.
The first is the noise. This car is loud. It’s a good loud but it is loud. When accelerating it just screams with a deep baritone, when letting up it holds the gear and rumbles and pops its way lower, and when goosing the throttle again it immediately responds again with another bellow. Kids on the lawn next to the road at a summer camp all turned their heads in unison as I accelerated away from a light at a fairly normal pace, no kidding.
Babies started crying, small animals fled, large animals dropped and played dead…you get the idea. The little kid with a crew cut in the back seat of the well-worn beige Dodge Aries K with Kansas plates stopped next to me at a light looked over, slowly took in the car, made eye contact with me, gave me the thumbs up and did the trucker hand pull motion, so I obliged him with an, ahem, enthusiastic launch. I presume he has something to tell his buddies back home now, they were just starting their rollout as I finished crossing the intersection.
But on the freeway it’s also very composed, relatively speaking. When just lightly on the throttle to maintain pace with the engine loafing along at under 1500rpm or so at 75mph there’s a slight burble from the tailpipes. Let off completely to coast and it’s almost silent, normal conversation inside is absolutely possible when just cruising along.
But put the foot down a bit and it gets loud again and really give it the boot and it gets gloriously loud. Nobody buying this car will mind that, in fact it’s half the fun and much of the point. But if you live next to a church, don’t leave the house on Sunday mornings for a run to the bagel store, it’d be seriously impolite.
Second is the engine and the power itself. I’ve driven some powerful cars in my time, but this, on the public roads, takes the cake. It takes all the cakes. And then it takes whatever spare ingredients are left in the pantry and sends you out to fetch more. This is so stupendously fast it’s kind of beyond belief, it’s more like a very fast motorcycle than a car. By the way, that cone filter clearly visible in the engine bay above isn’t just like the one in your neighbor kid’s hopped-up Jetta, this one is far larger, more akin to a 2-gallon bucket.
Zero to 60mph is in the three and a half second range although I couldn’t (wouldn’t, read on for explanation) do it faster than the high-ish fours per the data logger in the car and that wasn’t with me actively trying for a time, just taking some safe opportunities as they presented themselves and letting the computer log them.
On the freeway from a steady cruise at 60mph the available acceleration is more fierce than the vast majority of (or is that all?) cars off the line or at any other point in their rev range when floored. Coupled with rear wheel drive and very large as well as wide but in this case the All-Season version of the Pirelli P-Zero tire, it’s a constant worry (especially at lower speeds) that the rear end will just start to spin the tires or if not perfectly straight start to go sideways if at maximum throttle on even a quite smooth surface as the traction control is extremely permissive. Way too many visions of musclecars leaving various Cars&Coffee events to ill effect flashed through my head for me to try something completely stupid on anything resembling a public road with anyone nearby.
The SRT team was very smart to limit this car’s visit to 48hours, that’s just enough time to become basically familiar with the car, have it inspire awe and a little bit (ok, lot bit) of healthy fear, but nowhere near the actual confidence to attempt something more stupid than heroic. At least for me, I mean.
I consider myself a good driver able to handle a powerful car but the roads around here are filled with too many cyclists and other drivers around too many blind corners to get anywhere near the limits of this particular car. I’d love a few days at a track with it and would encourage anyone who gets one of these to do the same, I don’t believe the car can be fully explored or enjoyed otherwise. Not that it isn’t immensely enjoyable even at 4 or 5/10’s but even that shows that the car has seriously deep capabilities.
Driving around the lake road up here showed that the car is definitely heavy, at almost 4500 pounds without an occupant it’s no Miata but the wide tires make turning a breeze, sure the weight is felt but it isn’t pushing wide or anything, just pure ground hugging weight here. Turns can be taken faster, flatter, and with far less drama than anticipated assuming very judicious use of the throttle and once around the turn, even with some power on, once the coast is verified to be clear ahead, a stab of the throttle just catapults it forward again. The ride, while understandably quite stiff, is remarkably well composed over anything but the worst roads, not coming across harsh (just stiff).
The brakes haul it back down faster than it seems possible and no fade was observed, but of course I was nowhere near the actual limits. And I’m happy to admit that without any shame, the car while immensely fun and enjoyable to drive, is probably more demanding of respect and some healthy fear than pretty much anything else sold today with only two driven wheels.
The manual shift paddles transform the car yet again and change the way the supercharger is heard and felt as compared to letting the transmission do it by itself also, extremely user friendly and easy to get used to I’d question the need for an actual manual transmission here, especially if the car is to be used for general everyday purposes and not just as a pleasure car on special occasional use, then the manual might be more of a desired piece.
Around town and the multi-lane highways between towns here it just loafs along, with brawn to spare and a menacing look and sound. Of course it’s also very familiar as Challengers in general are quite common, but other Challengers of the bigger-engined varieties repeatedly got close to check it out, as did a kid in a Charger with a Hennessey badge on it as well as various Mustangs and Camaros, often kind of hanging back a bit like sucker fish on a shark in the ocean.
And on the freeway the same thing was observed. The widebody look is distinctive and serves to give notice that this one is a bit more special than the rest of them.
Surprisingly over my time with it that spanned approximately 245 miles, the trip computer indicated that it returned just over 15mpg. Seeing as it is rated at 13City, 21Highway, with a 15Average that I suppose is in the ballpark of my usage. I drove about 50 miles on the freeway, another 75 or so on highways with around a 55mph limit and the balance around town and the curvy roads in the hills with some idling periods mixed in. While I wasn’t a nut in public I certainly did “enjoy” myself when appropriate so this wasn’t all any kind of an economy run.
All in all, it’s a better average than I ever would have imagined, of course the freeway and highway even at higher speeds still have the engine at fairly low rpm in a high gear much of the time no matter the actual speed.
Earlier I mentioned that the Challenger lineup starts under $29,000, this one as seen here is a little more than three times that. Yes you read that correctly. That’s a massive range and yet somehow Dodge can pull it off. The interior is nicer but not really that different, the “Laguna Leather” is supple, smells fantastic, the headliner and pillar material is suede, the carbon fiber bezels look great, the knobs and buttons feel quite good and work well, the stitching on the still all-vinyl dashboard looks good and somehow all fits in with this overall package.
Material quality comes across as excellent and perfectly acceptable here whereas some of the same items on some higher starting-priced but lower final bottom-lined vehicles would be more criticized, it’s weird, specifically the injection molded dash and maybe some of the knobs on the dashboard as examples. But there’s no actual need for extra expense there. Fit and finish were excellent and overall it left nothing on the table as compared to other vehicles with supposedly more “prestigious” badges. In the end I think it’s a tremendous value if, or rather capital IF, the engine, power, and overall package are what appeals to you.
It can’t really be beaten by anything at a lower price and it even carries the same 5-year, 60,000-mile powertrain warranty as any other gasoline powered FCA vehicle in the United States. And if the price is a little high there are certainly ways to be more picky with the options list and reduce it quite a bit. Or give up some power and performance for a lower rung on the ladder with the knowledge that much of it isn’t regularly enjoyable anyway. But when it is, it’s certainly all worthwhile!
To examine what exactly comprises that price tag, the starting price of the SRT Hellcat (not Redeye or Widebody) is $58,995. That gets you the Competition Adaptive Suspension, Line Lock feature, Anti-Spin Differential Rear Axle (which lets pleeeennnnty of wheelspin occur), Launch control with launch assist, Dual hood scoops, Cone air intake, After run chiller, Active exhaust, SRT Configurable Drive Modes and Performance Pages, the 6-piston Brembos, Tire inflator kit, (no spare), and an invite to the SRT Track Experience which really should be done before taking delivery…
It also includes all the usual safety gear, Premium sound, Heated front seats, and various other items.
Options start with the biggie at $17,600 which transforms it into a Redeye Widebody. So that’s the flares, larger wheels and tires, the SRT Power Chiller for the engine, a specific Widebody version of the Competition Suspension, the 220mph speedo, and Redeye badging which I think is little tiny red eyes in the Hellcat logo as there wasn’t any other badge, Ventilated front seats (you know I love that!), Premium stitched dash and door panels, and a Power tilt and telescoping steering wheel.
$1,595 covers the Carbon bits on the dash (excellent quality with real depth), and the Suede overhead. $1,295 for the Driver Convenience Group takes care of the Blind Spot System (required here in my opinion with that C-pillar), HID headlights and foldaway power mirrors, and $995 lets them send this out with the SRT Performance rear spoiler.
At $1,795 the Harman Kardon Audio Group is a stupendously excellent sounding audio package that makes a very good effort to actually drown out the exhaust and engine. 18 speakers, a large amp, and trunk mounted subwoofers (under the floor) combine to be one of the best premium systems I’ve enjoyed to date, not that I even used it all that much since I was enjoying the other soundtrack.
Another $1,795 brings the Laguna Leather Package on board which according to the sticker includes the embossed seats and matching door panels, and another $795 takes care of the UConnect 8.4NAV (as opposed to no NAV if I am not mistaken).
And then there is a $1,295 charge for the 20″ x 11″ Warp Speed Granite Wheels and last but not least $595 for gunmetal colored brake calipers. And of course the Gas Guzzler Tax of $2,100 which although it’s listed in the “options” column, really isn’t optional…Oh, and the destination charge of $1,495. But that’s all. Really.
Grand total is therefore $92,445 and I’d venture that the typical buyer already has at least one other Challenger in his stable, this isn’t really the starter kit if you catch my drift. It’s an amazing car and for what it provides it really is a good value (comparatively speaking and not just due to the raw power).
I won’t proselytize as to the societal wisdom of letting really just anyone with the funds to do so buy one and drive off in it and hope you don’t either in the commentary; however I’m amazed that Dodge can keep this platform alive, popular, and profitable year after year as well as continually coming up with ideas to keep it evergreen.
I suppose the longevity has something to do with Dodge’s recent J.D. Power award ranking it tops in initial quality, following on from a Consumer Reports high reliability rating last year; build something long enough and it becomes more and more refined and if the customer base is happy with what’s on offer, so much the better. I’m not sure how they can top this but that’s what I thought about the regular Hellcat a few years back so I guess I’ll stay tuned.
A huge thank you to Dodge and the SRT team at FCA for giving us the opportunity to sample this magnificent beast along with the fuel to keep the party going.