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.
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