Not every vehicle an automotive reviewer gets to test leaves a mark on the tester. In fact, most of them don’t.
But among the ones that do, the 2015 Dodge Challenger Hellcat (base price $59,995 plus $995 freight) might well be the most-memorable ever. This is a car that would put an indelible mark on any car guy’s heart.
Such was the case during my recent test of this 707-horsepower beast, whose supercharger whine and roaring exhaust sound work together to get the adrenalin pumping and put a giant smile on the driver’s face.
Tucked under the hood of the redesigned 2015 Challenger, the Hellcat 6.2-liter Hemi engine – with 650 foot-pounds of torque – powers the car to a top speed suggested to be at least 200 mph (that’s as high as the speedometer goes), and gives it a 10.8-second quarter-mile time on drag radials, or 11.2 seconds with street tires, at 126 mph.
There is nothing on the exterior that uses the word “Hellcat,” but there are Hellcat logos – screaming cats – on each front fender. The rear end has the SRT logo.
Chrysler calls it “America’s most powerful muscle car ever,” and says it’s also remarkably fuel-efficient, with an EPA rating of up to 22 mpg highway when fitted with the optional eight-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission ($1,995), or 21 mpg with the standard six-speed manual gearbox. City fuel economy is 13 mpg, and the combined rating is 16.
That’s not good enough to avoid the federal gas-guzzler tax, however, which adds $2,200 to the sticker price with the manual, or $1,700 with the automatic, which also comes with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
The car comes with two key fobs – one red, and one black. The red one allows the car to operate at the full 707 horsepower; the black one holds it down to 500 horsepower, which is considered the valet mode.
Chrysler was gracious enough to provide me the red fob with my Hellcat tester, but even with that, you can still set it to the lower horsepower if you want to. I didn’t want to, however, and neither did my passengers.
Now, to be honest, I didn’t have a track to drive it on, so I didn’t have the chance to test the Challenger Hellcat to its full potential. The fastest I got it to was close to the Interstate highway speed limit, because I’m a responsible auto journalist and I’m not going to turn a public street into a race track.
But that didn’t keep me from kicking the accelerator at start-up to see how fast I could get up to the speed limit, and let me tell you, it didn’t take long, even on uphill Interstate highway on-ramps.
Obviously, the Hellcat has great straight-line acceleration. But it surprised me just how well it handled in curves, too. I had the opportunity to take for a run on the famous “Tail of the Dragon” stretch of U.S. 129 through the Great Smoky Mountains (part in Tennessee, part in North Carolina), where the road has 318 curves in the span of just 11 miles (Google it if you’re not familiar with it).
There was a Nissan Z-car convention in the area for the weekend, and during our Saturday afternoon runs through the Dragon – first from the Tennessee side, then returning – we saw at least two of the Nissan sports cars that had failed to negotiate turns and ended down a hillside and into the woods.
But the Hellcat held the road easily (with a driver at the wheel who cut his teeth on mountain roads), and there was never a scary moment. The car comes with street, sport and track suspension settings, and we had ours set on sport for the run through the Dragon.
Just about everywhere we went, people either pointedly ignored the Hellcat and the growl it produced upon arrival and departure, or else swooned all over it. (The ones who ignored it were just jealous.)
The Hellcat is one of two Challenger SRT models for 2015; the other is the SRT 392 ($45,995), which has a normally aspirated 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 with 485 horsepower and 475 foot-pounds of torque.
Of course, not everyone can afford the additional $14,000 it takes to get the Hellcat version ($16,000 extra with the eight-speed automatic), but if you can, it’s going to bring you a lot of fun.
While the Challenger is limited to two doors, its Charger sibling has four doors – and also offers an SRT Hellcat model with the same engine and the eight-speed automatic for $63,995. The manual gearbox is not offered with the Charger.
On the eight-inch color dash touch screen, the driver can set the Hellcat’s drive modes, which are pre-configured for Sport, Track and Default settings. The fourth setting, Custom, lets the driver choose the modes.
The Challenger has been restyled for 2015, with both the exterior and cockpit reflecting cues from the 1971 Challenger. Chrysler says there is “an unmatched array of personalization options, including a wide range of colors, stripes and wheels to create the perfect combination of fun, nostalgia and power.”
There are two leather bucket seats up front, with just enough side bolstering to keep the driver and front passenger firmly planted when going through tight turns like those we experienced on the Dragon.
And unlike many sports cars, the Challenger actually has a usable back seat, comfortable enough for two adults or three kids. I had a grandson back there who truly enjoyed the ride through the Dragon.
New technology in the 2015 Challenger includes the Uconnect Access system with standard touch screen, seven-inch multi-view TFT gauge cluster, new performance electronic shifter, and Keyless Enter ‘n Go with pushbutton start.
Other features include heated and ventilated front seats, an 18-speaker audio system with Harman Kardon amplifier, 20-inch matte-black forged-aluminum wheels, dual exhaust with black vapor chrome tips, LED split taillights, stain black rear spoiler, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with a flat bottom.
Extras on our tester included the automatic transmission, a flat black painted aluminum hood ($995), upgraded Uconnect system with navigation ($695), and 275/40ZR20 summer performance tires ($395).
The Hellcat is a product of Chrysler’s SRT department – the Street and Racing Technology group that creates high-performance versions of various Chrysler Group vehicles.
SRT designers re-sculpted and refined nearly every body panel with functional performance cues, including heat extractors in the hood, unique front and rear fascias and dramatic LED lighting in both front and rear, Chrysler said.
Other performance extras include the largest brakes ever offered in a Chrysler vehicle, 15.4-inch Brembo two-piece rotors with six-piston calipers.
The Hellcat engine is Chrysler’s first application of V-8 supercharger technology, the company says. It features a forged-steel crankshaft “so well-engineered it can withstand firing pressures of 110 bar (1,595 psi) – the equivalent of five family sedans standing on each piston, every two revolutions,” Chrysler said.
Included are high-strength, forged-alloy pistons, “developed using advanced telemetry measurement” and “coupled to powder-forged connecting rods with high-load-capacity bushings and diamond-like-carbon-coated piston pins,” the automaker said.
The engine also has heat-treated aluminum-alloy cylinder heads, along with die-cast aluminum rocker covers painted in Hemi Orange.
A Valet Mode, when activated, reduces horsepower and torque, and limits the engine to 4,000 rpm, among other restrictions. Valet is turned on or off using a four-digit PIN the owner creates.
It continues with rear-wheel drive, and in the Hellcat, it has a larger “power-bulge” aluminum hood with a cold-air intake that was inspired by the first Dodge Viper.
Total sticker price for our vehicle was $65,070, including freight, options and $1,700 gas-guzzler tax.
The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @gchambers3.
2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat
The package: Full-size, two-door, five-passenger, rear-drive, high-performance, V-8 powered coupe.
Highlights: The retro-styled Challenger has been redesigned for 2015, adding the ultra-high-performance Hellcat version with Chrysler’s first-ever supercharged Hemi V-8 engine.
Negatives: Poor fuel economy, tight back seat if there are bigger adults up front.
Engine: 6.2-liter supercharged V-8.
Transmission: Six-speed manual (standard); eight-speed automatic with paddle shifters (optional, $1,995).
Power/torque: 707 HP/650 foot-pounds.
Length: 197.5 inches.
Base curb weight: 4,449 pounds (manual); 4,439 pounds (automatic).
Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock.
Electronic stability control: Standard.
Side air bags: Front and rear side-curtain.
Trunk volume: 16.2 cubic feet.
Towing capacity: Not recommended for towing.
EPA fuel economy: 13 mpg city/21 highway/16 combined (manual); 13/22/16 (automatic).
Fuel capacity/type: 18.5 gallons/premium unleaded recommended, but not required.
Major competitors: Ford Mustang GT, Chevrolet Camaro, Chevrolet Corvette.
Base price: $59,995 plus $995 freight (includes $1,700 gas-guzzler tax).
Price as tested: $65,070 (including freight and options).
On the Road rating: 9.3 (of a possible 10).
Prices shown are manufacturer’s suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.