If not the Energy Independence and Security Act is repealed, 50-mpg cars will be thick on the street in almost a decade. If you find this notion not that happening, take a comfortable place in the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat’s ability to binge-drink premium fuel. Tread heavily the throttle as if you own a private pipeline and this hellion can burn 1.5 gallons of high test in less than a minute flat. Texans with the pumps and space to pander to such pleasures can suck this car’s tank dry in the time it takes to read this article.
Other Hellcat stats are more or less similar astonishing. This is the first American sedan armed with 707 horsepower [see “The Maddest Motor” on page 2]. The one German four-door capable of whipping it to 60 mph, the Porsche Panamera Turbo S, costs nearly three times the Charger’s $64,990 base price and falls shy of the Dodge’s claimed 204-mph top speed. Massive Brembo brakes and 20-inch Pirelli gumballs make this family hauler much more than a straight-line special.
With pump prices tumbling below three bucks a gallon and the Saudis discounting crude to put a stop to the up rising tide, the super Charger arrives at a moment of opportunity. Designed in Michigan, assembled in Canada, and powered by a Mexican-made engine, it is a poster child for NAFTA pragmatism. It also owes one to Fiat Chrysler boss Sergio Marchionne, who waved a figurative arrivederci to Ferrari with one hand while welcoming the Challenger and Charger Hellcats to the menagerie with the other.
No amount of rocket science was needed to strike out GM and Ford. The pushrod V-8 wearing one of the engine world’s most holy nameplates made its first appearance in 2003 Ram pickups—albeit minus the actual hemispherical combustion chambers of yore. The Charger’s skeleton parts were handed down by Mercedes a decade ago during the ill-fated DaimlerChrysler lash-up. In this very year the nicely rendered face lift replaces the stale gun-sight grille with seven air-inlet and -outlet ports. Sinister HID headlamps, growling cat badges, and a manly pair of pipes are also new.
Children shy away at the booming sound of a blown Hemi starting; at full throttle, its supercharger whine and exhaust howl carry for quite a long distance. While you are cruising, the mighty engine murmurs barely audible bass notes, its tailpipes giving no permission by computer-controlled butterfly valves.
Pity the Hellcat’s 275/40ZR-20 tires attempting in vain to put down more than 8000 pound-feet of torque (650 pound-feet at 4800 rpm from the engine multiplied by 12.34 through the driveline in first gear). Pirelli’s stock gives rise to a notch every time a driver lights the smoke grenades under the rear fenders. There is a lot of gratitude to a hair-trigger throttle, remedial right-foot reprogramming that is essential to in-town puttering. Squeezing in the gas to pass will snap the traction at 40 mph on dry pavement, or as high as 80 in the wet. In the hands of a driver lacking respect for what was once known as war emergency power, the Charger SRT Hellcat is the loosest of all road cannons.
On the other side, in capable hands, it will not fail to thrill and amaze. To wring Chevy Corvette Z06acceleration from this 4592-pound sedan, we put out of action the stability controls, warmed the rear tires, set the transmission to track mode, placed the dampers in sport mode, and squeezed the throttle pedal with due deliberation. The tires bite in 1.6 seconds, the time it takes to reach 30 mph, then squeals again during the 1-2 shift at 40. What sounds like shredding titanium is the engine protesting the momentary power reductions accompanying each up-shift. What feels like teleportation flings you to 60 in 3.4 seconds and to 128 mph in the quarter-mile. From rest to 170, the hairy Hemi posts an average 0.34 g of acceleration. Pleasure receptors think they have always been treated to great sex, a tasty sirloin, and Dutch chocolate ice cream—all at once.
Very good braking and cornering performance are also part of the deal. Massive Brembo six-piston front and four-piston rear calipers grabbing two-piece rotors halt this car from 70 mph in 153 feet—averaging 1.07 g’s—with virtually no fade. Pirelli P Zero rubber stuck the Hellcat to our skidpad at 0.94 g. While there is some amount of under-steer at the limit which is really not an issue when the lightest brush of the accelerator will step and hold the tail out as wide as you like for as long as you have your appropriate judgement.
The steering is heavy during parking man oeuvres, but, once you start to roll on, the extra effort falls exactly in sync with the quick ratio. Actual nuances of road feel are transmitted through a rim wrapped in perforated leather. The quality of the ride is extremely poised for a 200-mph muscle car. Front buckets trimmed with suede are supportive but could use stiffer side bolsters to resist this car’s cornering loads which are exceptional. Rear passenger heads ride beneath the dot-patterned shading of the back glass, but there is more than enough room and comfort for two, plus maybe a slim child.
|Top: In darkness it creeps, enfolding the night in its black wings. Or something. We have been listening to a lot of old Tom Waits records.
Along with this a great feature includes tapping the SRT button on the dash and the 8.4-inch touch screen becomes the ultimate gaming console. Track, sport, custom, and default modes let you tune engine output, curb down effectiveness, the traction helpers, and transmission and shifter activity. In Race Options, you can configure launch control and an upshift light. Valet mode allows you to hand over the car to a parking attendant without fear of catastrophe. In Performance Pages, you can read instantaneous power, torque, and boost, or conduct a full road test by recording acceleration times, braking distances, and peak g’s in all four directions. There is even an eco mode complete with a green-leaf graphic. This one is for comic relief.
One of the most remarkable thing about this Charger is that it is the complete package one wants to have—daily commuting comfort which adds up with berserk special-occasion performance, all at a realistic price. To add on, it cracks the door to subsequent products, such as a supercharged Viper and a Jeep Grand Cherokee Hellcat. Until GM and Ford chime in with their 700-hp sedans, or until the fuel sippers arrive—whichever comes first—the Charger SRT Hellcat is the uncontested king of American four-door performance.