First drive: 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat

With more interior tech than a Porsche or more power than a Lamborghini, the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat surprisingly shines both on and off the track.

As a mode of transportation, the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat isn’t very good. It weighs as much as a seven-seater SUV, gets fuel economy of a freight ship, and looks like a mid-life crisis on wheels.

Adding insult to injury, the Hellcat costs more than twice the standard Challenger and is still based on a platform that was originally designed before I learned to tie my own shoes.

So we can all agree that the Hellcat is woeful way of getting from point A to point B. Turns out, though, that it is very, very good at being an anti-depressant. Because – and I am pretty sure it says this in the brochure – if you buy an SRT Hellcat, you will never be unhappy again.

Video review

Hell hath no fury

Hell hath no fury like the SRT Hellcat.

In case you’re keeping score at home, the Hellcat is one of the most powerful production cars for the 2015 model year, having been out performed only by the Porsche 918, McLaren P1, Ferrari LaFerrari and F12 Berlinetta.

The 6.2-liter Hellcat engine might send more species to extinction than the last ice age.

The supercharged Hellcat 6.2-liter HEMI V8 produces 707 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque. This gargantuan amount of power – routed either through a six-speed automatic or an emboldened eight-speed automatic – will send the Challenger to 60 in the mid-three-second range and onto a top speed of 199 mph. And if you hadn’t heard, it’ll do a quarter-mile run in 11.2 seconds.

That power, though, comes at a cost – and I’m not just referring to the $59,995 price tag. At full throttle, the Hellcat will burn through all its 18.5 gallons of 91 octane gasoline in just over 12 minutes … and EV owners thought they had range anxiety. At that rate, it shouldn’t be called the Challenger; it should be called the ‘Endangerer’ because the 6.2-liter Hellcat engine might send more species to extinction than the last ice age.

1971 all over again

Untrained eyes might not tell, but the Dodge Challenger has been refreshed for 2015. Its exterior, while mostly the same, is slightly tweaked to resemble the 1971 Challenger, with its split front grille and enlarged hood bulge. Modernizing a classic look, the Dodge designers have added LED head and taillights.

The interior changes are a bit more drastic. While the Challenger was the last to get the ‘new’ Chrysler treatment, for 2015 it’s been blessed with one of the best efforts the brand has ever made. Just like the outside, the cabin has been sculpted to resemble the interior of the – you guessed it – 1971 Challenger. Matching new with old, Dodge offers 14 color and trim interior options, including my personal favorite: Houndstooth cloth.

At the center of the high-sill center console is either a five-inch Uconnect or the option 8.4-inch color touchscreen. Even if buyers don’t spec the Challenger with all the tech options, a seven-inch color TFT display in the center of the instrument cluster comes standard.

In SRT guise, that Uconnect does far more than radio, navigation, and climate control. It’s home to literally dozens of performance inspired apps. From the 8.4-inch Uconnect screen, drivers can monitor quarter-mile times, g forces, real time horsepower and torque output readings, and much more.

In terms of comfort and usability, the Challenger is split down the middle. Its seats are extremely comfortable and provide good support in the corners. Although the Challenger’s footprint is roughly equivalent to a four-door mid-size family sedan, it can only comfortably seat two American-sized humans. And once those American are inside, they won’t be able to see out because the Challenger has the outward visibility – and sightlines – of a nuclear sub.

As for the new high-sill center console, it’s excellent to look at, but once the cup holders have, well, cups in them, they make shifting – especially on the manual transmission – a carpel tunnel-causing chore.

Behind the wheel

Climbing behind the wheel of the Hellcat, I was almost giddy with excitement. For some reason, something about American leviathan made me feel like a schoolboy. With the red key fob – the one that releases all 707 ponies, as compared to the black fob, which unlocks a mere 500 – I pushed the ignition button. I expected an earth-shaking racket.

The SRT Hellcat accelerates so quickly, there’s a good chance it’ll reverse your vasectomy.

I found, to my disappointment, the Hellcat was rather subdued at idle. That all changed, however, at upon acceleration. It was a madman. The SRT Hellcat accelerates so quickly, there’s a good chance it’ll reverse your vasectomy – that is, if the g-forces don’t crush your testicles first.

Having driven cars with anywhere from 50 to 650 hp, I was expecting the rear-drive SRT Hellcat to be virtually un-drivable. After all, to put around 700 hp to the road with any precision, companies like Lamborghini use all four wheels. To my surprise, however, the Hellcat was exceptionally controllable.

Yes, punching the throttle at virtually any speed up through fourth gear – even in the eight-speed automatic – and the Hellcat will burn rubber. Unlike other tire burners I’ve driven, the Hellcat just keeps going straight down the road. At least, with the traction control still engaged.

But straight-line performance is where we all expect the Hellcat to shine. What, though, about the corners? You know, the things Europeans like to imagine we don’t have here in the States. Surprisingly, the Hellcat handled those with precision as well.

The standard, non-SRT Challenger is a big, wallow-y thing with soft, easily overwhelmed brakes and roly-poly suspension. The Hellcat, however, with its electronically adjustable suspension can be just as floppity or racecar-like rigid. Engage the SRT mode on the Uconnect and the Hellcat and it becomes a track-going dynamo. It was really surprising.

2015 Dodge Challenger Hellcat engine full

Every 2015 Challenger now has electronic power steering … except the Hellcat. Just as one might expect, the hydraulic power steering is weighty and informative, if not a bit too soft. As for the brakes, again, unlike the standard Challenger, the Brembo brakes aren’t easily overwhelmed by the Hellcat’s sheer mass.

I didn’t get much time behind the wheel of the Hellcat – just four laps on the track and a few minutes on the road. What I felt, though, was hugely impressive. Dodge’s designers have been able to take a ludicrous amount of power, wedge it between the frame rails of a big, old, flabby muscle car and make from it not a car that wants to kill at every turn but rather one that can keep you safely on your toes.

So is the Hellcat worth its $60,000 asking price? Yes, a thousand times yes. For the money, buyers get Porsche levels of tech, Ferrari levels of power, and bodylines that would make Steve McQueen weak in the knees. Sure, the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat isn’t perfect. But nothing worth loving ever is.

Highs

  • Straight-line acceleration
  • Rigid yet forgiving cornering capabilities
  • Interior tech
  • The noise, oh, the noise
  • Relatively dirt-cheap price tag

Lows

  • Fuel economy of a freight ship
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