After a media event with Chrysler where we were able to spend a little time behind the wheel of the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, we walked away with a different impression than what we had hoped for. It was a great car, but we felt it was just a brute and not civilized enough for regular driving.
With only about 20 minutes seat time, we pushed the car hard – with our foot to the floor most of the time. We wanted to hear that 707 horsepower make sweet music – accompanied by one of the coolest of wind instruments: the Hellcat Hemi supercharger.
The sound was amazing, and the power is right there where you want it; a heavy right foot puts you back in the seat with ease. But we didn’t really get to enjoy the car for what it is: a refined modern musclecar. We didn’t have time to adjust the suspension, change some settings, or to just cruise with the car and have some decent, G-rated fun.
We never turned on the 900-watt audio system (we actually turned it off), we skipped using cruise control, and the climate control system was left where we found it. Instead of enjoying all of the incredible electronic technology, we set out to prove what we already knew: that it was brutal and faster than any other musclecar ever produced.
With 11.6 pounds of boost and an engine built with 91 percent new components, the engine was designed to handle over 700 horsepower. The car didn’t disappoint us with regards to performance; it’s fast and very quick – everything prior reports had promised it would be.
We loved driving it and wanted to make sure it met our expectations. In other words, we drove it like we stole it.
Just about every article or video is about how the car is capable of doing ridiculous burnouts; most people want to tear up the 1320 to see if it’s as quick as the NHRA-verified reports had stated.
Granted, most media loaners of this caliber aren’t going to be driven like a grandma car and used for grocery shopping, but how can you get a real impression of a car if all you do is push it as hard as you possibly can?
For most of us, driving a musclecar is something we enjoy and we drive them as often as possible. For those who have a high horsepower musclecar, there comes a time and place for showing off because frequent trips to the gas station aren’t worth that feigned sense of victory; those moments are not your wallet’s best friend.
We wanted to know more about the car, so we reached out to Scott Brown with Chrysler Communications and asked to borrow a Hellcat Challenger for a week. We told him we were going to do something different, though – we were going to drive the car, put some miles on it, and not spend the entire week doing burnouts or drag racing. On October 28th, a Hellcat Challenger showed up at our offices and it was ours for the six days that followed.
There were some rules that we laid down with the car, though. We wanted to drive it the entire week as though we had no other vehicle to drive. We weren’t interested in quarter mile or 0-60 times; we wanted to respect the car and to provide an honest assessment afterwards. We wanted to get a second first impression.
Maybe it sounds boring from a performance perspective to take it easier on the car, but if you’re interested in purchasing a Hellcat you’re probably not interested in spending the rest of your kid’s inheritance at the gas station. In other words, you might want to know what it’s like when you’re not pushing it to the limit, and that’s what we set out to do.
Drive It Like You Own It
Our time with the Hellcat was planned out: we went shopping, went to dinner, visited friends, cruised on Friday night, visited a couple shops, and we planned a long drive to Palm Springs and back with a local Mopar enthusiast club.
Driving the Hellcat is like having an equity line of credit – if you use it all up at once you’ll end up paying for it later.
Though we wanted to enjoy the car from a driver’s perspective, that’s not to say we didn’t have a little fun with it. After all, that’s the whole reason you buy a car with 700 horsepower. But that doesn’t mean you have to drive it like you stole it.
We found that driving the Hellcat is like having an equity line of credit – if you use it all up at once you’ll end up paying for it later. But if you use it wisely and sensibly you can live quite comfortably with it and actually enjoy it a little more.
Day 1 – The Arrival
We began our week with the Hellcat by spending about a half-hour in rush-hour traffic on the way home. We found the car to be very civil in traffic, the power was always there under our right foot, but cruising at lower speeds and keeping it below 2,000 rpm made it feel like just about any other car. Even at low speeds, the car has a mean and nasty sound to it and we knew that 707 horsepower was at our beck and call.
That evening, we went grocery shopping. Most people had no clue as to what was so special about the Billet Metallic Challenger sitting in the parking lot, and it was hard to pretend it wasn’t special. With the exception of the hood (and what’s underneath it) and a couple of other styling cues, it simply looks like a new Dodge Challenger – making the Hellcat a bit stealthy in a big parking lot. We loved it – and hated it all the same: it’s a Hellcat fer cryin’ out loud!
The car is much more than just a musclecar; the trunk is huge and has plenty of room for groceries, a cooler for the beach, or even camping gear if you so desire. The rear seat area is difficult to get in and out of for an adult, but this is not a car you buy for carpooling to work. There’s plenty of room for smaller children in the back seat, providing they don’t scare easily by the occasional howl coming from the supercharger.
Since most reports are about the performance, not much has been said about the luxury side of the Hellcat. Most of us think owning a musclecar means big power, a loud exhaust, and to hell with luxury.
But the Hellcat is very refined, and there are options and electronics that are typically found in some of the most expensive luxury cars. Dare we say that it’s actually a nice car?
The seats are Nappa leather with Alcantara inserts, or you can go full Laguna leather. The front seats are very comfortable with plenty of adjustments, and the climate control system will cool you down or warm you up through the ventilated seats – even the steering wheel is heated.
The power windows and mirrors don’t take away from the sporty interior, they look right at home with the design. The door panels belong in the Challenger, and the high center console gives you a feeling that you’re in a cockpit, not a car with tons of luxuries.
The audio system pumps out some heavy bass thanks to Harman Kardon, and the rest of the 18 speaker sound system keeps your ears filled with 900 watts of power from the trunk mounted amplifiers. Inside the center console, you’ll find ports for a USB drive, iPod, and media ports to add your own music. Bluetooth connectivity allows you to sync the car with your smartphone.
On the center display, Sirius radio is available and it allows you to select and save favorites and store them in the system. Even though we spent a whole week with the Hellcat Challenger, we still didn’t get to experience all of the features on this luxury musclecar.
The street manners are very civil, and the car was easy to get around in traffic. The twin disc clutch did take some getting used to, but after a short time we were comfortable with the Jekyll and Hyde personality the Hellcat possesses. After a day of getting a feel for the car, it was time to put the Hellcat to bed and park it in the garage.
The Challenger took the place of a 1965 Plymouth for a week in the garage; though it’s a little smaller than the old B-body it seemed to completely fill the void left by the Plymouth. Pulling into the garage was like teaching a pit bull to use a doggie door; the Challenger is bulky and thick, and it took some time to get used to its overall size from the driver’s seat.
Day 2 – Dyno Day And The Gratuitous Burnout
Our first full day with the Hellcat was spent shooting video; we strapped it down on the dyno, and took it out on the open road. We invited our friend Dan Woods, from Chop Cut Rebuild fame, to come down to our shop and give us his impression of the car. He jumped at the chance; we think he was willing to tell his dentist to reschedule if the times didn’t sync.
We also borrowed a potent Viper from our friends next door at A & C Performance as a photo backdrop.
We snapped a photo of the Hellcat on the dyno behind the Viper, and posted the duo to our Facebook page to see if anyone would notice the Hellcat in the background.
A few people noticed it, but some thought it was just a regular SRT Challenger. That’s kind of the beauty of the Hellcat – it’s somewhat subtle, but it’s Hellacious at the same time.
After strapping down, we made a couple of runs on our Dynojet dynamometer, and the Hellcat returned 624.34 rwhp and 592.29 lb-ft of torque.
Calculating for parasitic loss, that works out to about a 10 percent loss through the manual drivetrain, making for a strong run. The dyno can break some hearts, but it can also make your day.
The word is that the Hellcat is capable of more power than what is advertised, and some reports have it in the 720-730 horsepower range after achieving their dyno numbers.
We’ve heard from reliable sources that the supercharged Hemi was putting out closer to 800 crank horsepower initially, but a little bit of de-tuning and adjustments netted 707 – the least amount of power they could get it to in street trim.
For anyone who has jumped on the bandwagon claiming that the Hellcat is too heavy, the weight issue was put into a more rational perspective by one of our friends:
“The Hellcat is two people heavier than the Camaro, and three people heavier than the Mustang.” It doesn’t really sound like much additional weight when it’s put like that.
But the Hellcat has sort of a put up or shut up attitude when it comes to weight. It puts down some good, solid numbers that the Mustang and Camaro can’t currently touch.
There’s no denying that they’re great cars and they can hold their own, but the Hellcat was built with one intention, according to CEO Tim Kuniskis: to shut people up.
It might have worked in the beginning, too, because the automotive world went silent for a brief moment when the figures were released. Then the weight issue was all we heard about after that, and nobody was going to shut up about the Hellcat.
The Hellcat was the king of the mountain this past summer, and it was inevitable that the automotive world wanted to knock it down. It eventually happened sooner than we thought:
the Hellcat’s reign as the fastest and quickest musclecar was very short lived. There’s already a new musclecar that exceeds the performance figures of the Challenger.
Until we get to take either car out on the road course, we can only say that the car handles very well for a heavy car. It can get away from you if you’re not careful, but the road manners are quite acceptable on this car. If you hit the brakes in a fast turn, you can feel it begin to oversteer, but keeping a firm foot on the throttle kept it on the road and it pulled through like a champ. Playing around with the suspension settings can help out a little here, too.
After testing out the handling, we knew there was something we had to do with the car: burnouts. Call it peer pressure if you want, but how can you have a car like this in your fingertips, with all that power, and not do at least one burnout? It’s physically impossible to abstain, and we admittedly caved so easily. One simple request by our film crew and we were putty.