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2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Muscle Coupe First Drive

Benjamin Hunting
by Benjamin Hunting
July 22, 2014
5 min. Reading Time
2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat ・  Photo by Benjamin Hunting

2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat ・ Photo by Benjamin Hunting

When automotive historians look back on the horsepower wars, it'll be cars like the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat that force them to re-write the books on the muscle car era.  It’s become clear that the skirmishes between GM, Ford, and Chrysler in the late 60s and early 70s were no more than quaint differences of opinion writ in cast iron and bias-ply rubber – at least in comparison to the overwhelming firepower offered by the modern cast of eight-cylinder characters currently plying American roads.

Nostalgia has played a role in masking the less-than-spectacular aspects of the original generation of muscle coupes, but there’s no amount of tire smoke and chromed mirrors that could disguise the fact that Dodge has created the most outrageously powerful rubber-burner ever to have been built by a Detroit-based brand.  The 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat’s 707 horses and 650 lb-ft of torque tower over the modern competition and shame the original hot metal that it pays homage to in name, style, and spirit.

So What Happens Now?

Once you’ve gotten over the initial shock of a $59,995 coupe featuring 707 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque from a supercharged 6.2-liter engine (or 500 horsepower if you leave the ‘red key’ at home and limit the motor’s gusto with the provided ‘black key’ for incrementally more responsible driving), the next logical question is what, if anything, you can do with such monstrous output.  In an attempt to find the answer, I headed to Portland International Raceway in Portland, Oregon, to put the 2015 Hellcat through its paces within that road course’s tight and technical boundaries.

It might be tempting to think that Dodge spent its entire Fiat-sourced allowance coaxing mountain-razing amounts of grunt out of the Challenger SRT Hellcat’s pushrod V-8 engine, but that would be a mistake.  The full-size two-door has been loaded with trick suspension components and high tech wizardry designed to help it overcome its ponderous 4,439 lbs of curb weight when being driven near the edge of what might be considered comfortable by the average driver.  This includes three distinct driving modes – Track, Sport, and Normal – that allow pilots to dial horsepower up or down, activate the paddle shifters in automatic-equipped cars, quicken the Hellcat’s electric power steering system (new for 2015), adjust its multi-stage traction control, and firm up its suspension system.  It’s even possible to mix-and-match settings to create a completely custom driving profile, which is quite useful when dialing-in the Challenger for the task at hand.

 Photo by Benjamin Hunting

Photo by Benjamin Hunting

Better Buy Stock In Pirelli

As it turns out, Dodge’s decision to make the Hellcat more than simply the brawniest drag strip bully on the block was an inspired one, as straight-line speed turns out to be the car’s stickiest wicket.  To the surprise of no one, launching a 707 horsepower, rear-wheel drive car quickly and efficiently turns out to be quite difficult.  Even with the vehicle’s driver-adjustable launch control system in action, avoiding wheel spin within the first 100 feet of putting the pedal down is demonstrably impossible with the car’s 20-inch Pirelli’s at street pressures – regardless of whether the Hellcat is equipped with either its standard six-speed manual transmission (borrowed from the Viper and given an auxiliary oil cooling system) or new eight-speed automatic (with its torque-handling capacity boosted 30 percent compared to the SRT 392 version).  Neither myself nor any of the SRT engineers present at Portland International were able to get within more than a second of Dodge’s advertised mid-three-second 0-60 times, as the track surface simply refused to provide the traction required to spring forward with authority.

Drop 9 lbs of pressure from the meaty rear rubber and it’s another story, however.  Quarter mile ET’s of just under 12 seconds were scored by the end of the day with the Hellcat’s deflated sidewalls wrinkling to offer better grip off of the line.  I believe that with practice, the low-11 second times Dodge has been able to accomplish are within the realm of the possible for Challenger owners.  Just don’t expect to be crushing all comers at the stoplight when running the car at street PSI.

 Photo by Benjamin Hunting

Photo by Benjamin Hunting

For Experts Only

Managing the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat’s immense torque out on a road course requires an entirely different sort of vigilance, as the overzealous application of the right pedal threatens at all times to upset the balance of the hefty coupe.  Clutch travel in the six-speed car is long, but not overly stiff, while the eight-speed unit does a fair job of predicting when the Challenger should switch ratios when left in automatic mode.  As with the base version of the car, the Hellcat never lets you forget just how much mass you’re asking to change direction, but unlike the R/T or SRT 392 it offers a startling willingness to turn-in sharply upon command.  The vehicle’s customizable traction control system also allows you to decide whether you want throttle intervention or simply braking to come between you and incinerating the rear rubber on command, which is a nice touch that will appeal to more polished drivers.

I would have liked the chance to sample the Hellcat on a more open, flowing track than the one provided in Portland, which would have offered a better opportunity to let the big coupe stretch its legs.  As it were, I found myself often on edge behind the wheel of the Challenger as it hurtled from apex to apex, overly-vigilant with throttle application so as to avoid the potential consequences of dumping all 707 ponies to the ground with the steering at an angle.  This probably speaks more to my driving ability rather than the capabilities of the car itself, but from my perspective it’s an important point to make: while I am certain an expert wheelman could make the most of the Hellcat’s massive power, the other 99 percent of track day aficionados may not find the delicate task of mastering the supercharged engine nearly as fun as if they had selected one of the more modestly-rated Challenger models.

 Photo by Benjamin Hunting

Photo by Benjamin Hunting

Taking The Long Way Home

Scary on the track, troublesome on the strip – is the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat and the 707 horsepower battle flag simply a case of too much of a good thing?  It wasn’t until I took a break from lapping PIR and spent some time out on the street behind the wheel of the Dodge that I finally understood how the coupe should best be enjoyed. 

Like all Challengers before it – modern or vintage – the SRT Hellcat is first and foremost a raucous cruiser with a delightful, glass-shattering soundtrack (thanks to its dual-stage exhaust system and encouraging supercharger whine) and the ability to lay twin stripes of rubber from a 30-mph roll.  The reaction that the car’s newly-refreshed retro styling and doom-bringing eight-cylinder rumble got from pedestrians and other motorists was palpable, and the SRT Hellcat model’s massive air intakes tucked into the bottom bumper, grille, and hood immediately identify it as the top dog in the Challenger line-up (the SUPERCHARGED badge on each front fender doesn’t hurt, either).

While exterior styling might have improved only incrementally, I can’t say enough about the 2015 Challenger’s new passenger compartment.  No longer the depressing hard plastic prison that it was the year before, the Hellcat offers soft materials on the doors and dash, a new center console that curves up and over to shelter the shifter from the passenger, and the Uconnect 8.4 touchscreen interface.  The latter is paired with a TFT gauge display in front of the driver as well as Tic-Toc-Tach-style analog gauges for RPM and speed.  In combination with the excellent passenger room offered by the Challenger’s plus-sized body, Dodge has created a much more appealing environment for those who want to use the Hellcat as their daily driver.

 Photo by Benjamin Hunting

Photo by Benjamin Hunting

Muscle For The Masses

Ultimately, that’s what the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat is all about.  Sure, there’ll be a contingent of owners who will campaign the car as a drag platform thanks to the no doubt unspeakable amount of potential locked up inside its supercharged V-8, and I bet there will even be a few SRT fans who will embrace the Hellcat as a track day toy.

The real market for this car, however, lies with those who want the ultimate bragging rights at the local cruise night, and with 45 more horsepower than the next-closest-competitor, the Ford Shelby GT500 – not to mention 67 more ponies than the Dodge Viper supercar – the Challenger definitely delivers. 

In fact, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the SRT Hellcat could be well on its way to throwing down with Chevrolet for the attentions of Corvette Stingray fans seeking something a little more practical, similarly quick, and not much more expensive as a weekend warrior.  Dodge clearly knows its audience with this mega-Challenger, and with every gearhead in the universe chattering about its 707 horsepower gauntlet, the automaker has definitely got their attention.

See Benjamin's video of the Dodge Challenger Hellcat.

 Photo by Benjamin Hunting

Photo by Benjamin Hunting


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