First drive: 2015 Dodge SRT Charger Hellcat

With 707 horsepower and 4 doors, the Charger Hellcat is a blue-collar supercar

The Charger range now has something for anyone with a pulse, all the way from a stylish V6 sedan to the SRT Charger Hellcat blue-collar supercar.

“Easy, easy!” shouted the Summit Point Raceway instructor, as we hauled serious tuchus onto the track’s front straight. He was right to be worried, too, because what lay under my right foot was not the normal gas pedal, but a lever attached to a 707-horsepower atomic bomb.

We were in the world’s fastest and quickest-accelerating four-door car: the SRT Charger Hellcat. And while that’s an impressive moniker for sure, it’s only made more awe-inspiring when one considers the car started life as a $30,000, V6-powered family sedan. Along the road to blue-collar supercardom, it makes stops in the land of muscle cars, sports sedans before arriving at hellfire Hellcat.

That being said, which is best might just come as a surprise.

Papa bear

Let’s be clear; the SRT Charger Hellcat is insane. 707 horsepower, 650 pound-feet of torque, 11-second quarter mile, 13-second from 0 to 100 to 0 and a top speed of 204 mph. How it accomplishes this is no less insane.

The Hellcat is more than a muscle car; it’s a full-on supercar.

The 6.2-liter Hemi V8 might almost be an afterthought, when compared to the massive supercharger strapped to the top of it. That supercharger moves so much air that it needs to be cooled with a sodium solution, like the reactor on a Russian nuclear sub. Even so, the supercharger is only part of the story.

Big power only makes for a muscle car. The Hellcat is more than a muscle car; it’s a full-on supercar. To that end, it has a lowered suspension, big Brembo brakes, aero kit, and three season sports tires. Together this makes the big ‘Cat stop and handle almost as well as it goes.

On the track, the Hellcat is surprisingly nimble, especially considering its weight is on the wrong side of 4,500 pounds. Thanks to the combination of rear-wheel drive and five Corollas worth of power, the tendency for oversteer, is let us say … pronounced. And getting the most out of the car requires a light foot. Still, it is an incredibly fun and rewarding car to drive – fast, too. On the straights of Summit Point the Hellcat was snapping at 140 mph.

2015 Dodge SRT Charger Hellcat

On the road, the Hellcat is also every bit a supercar. Which is to say, it’s a twitchy, ornery, speed machine. The ride is reasonably good, and the cabin is well outfitted. However, the Hellcat is angry as hell to be going slowly. Don’t get me wrong; I love the Hellcat. Like any good supercar, though, driving it every day would be a commitment. In short, papa bear’s bed is too hard. But at $64,990, at least it isn’t too pricey.

Momma bear

The mommas of the Charger family are the SE, SXT, and R/T models. And, as with a lot of families, the momma is at center of the Charger clan. The outgoing Charger offered families the chance at muscle-car presence without having to compromise too much on comfort or tech. In the 2015 Charger, there is really no compromise at all.

The Charger is more muscle car and family sedan than it is sports sedan.

The 2014 Charger fell down to the Toyota Avalon and Chevrolet Impala because of a slightly slipshod interior. Not so in 2015. While the redone interior might not win any beauty pageants when put up against the Germans, it stands out in the mass-market segment.

Powertrains remain more or less the same, the SE and SXT feature the excellent 3.6-liter Pentastar V6, which is now mated to an eight-speed automatic and can be specified with all-wheel drive. The V6 delivers 292 horsepower, or 300 in Rallye models. This is enough for good acceleration. In the big heavy Charger, however, the Pentastar has to work awfully hard to deliver it. This comes close to spoiling what is otherwise a smooth and comfortable ride.

Fortunately, more power is on tap in the 5.7-liter Hemi V8, which delivers 370 hp and a whopping 395 torques. This is plenty to get around on, and, considering R/T prices start at around $35,000, it is about as cheap as a V8 muscle car can possibly be.

However, regardless of whether it is a V8 R/T or a V6 SXT, the Charger is more muscle car and family sedan than it is sports sedan. The standard Charger handles well. In fact, on swooping back roads, it’s more fun than a barrel of monkeys … well, at least two thirds of a barrel. Unfortunately, under real performance driving conditions, the suspension and the brakes just aren’t up to the task. The brakes rapidly fade under hard after a few heavy decelerations. And, at the edge, the suspension quickly reminds drivers that they are in a family sedan.

Baby bear

Fortunately, Dodge and SRT in their infinite wisdom have provided a compromise. It’s the Charger SRT, and – as the story goes – it’s just right. For starters, the SRT comes packing heat in the form of 392 cubic-inches (that’s 6.4-liters in “communist”) of Hemi fury.

Let’s be clear; the SRT Charger Hellcat is insane.

That powerplant is good for 485 Porsche-punching horsepower, and a sound that’s like a baritone soloist being fed through a wood-chipper. The acceleration from this engine isn’t quite as mental as the Hellcat. For that same reason, it’s a bit more manageable and therefore more accessible to the average driver.

The SRT is also a bit more nimble in hard corners, thanks to the fact that it isn’t toting a supercharger larger than the sovereign nation of Lichtenstein over its front axle. What this translates into is a lot of tail-out fun, without the fear of imminent and fiery death. No one will mistake the SRT Charger for the refined products of Munich or Stuttgart, but then again why would anyone want to?

2015 Dodge Charger Hellcat

The Charger is comfortable enough to drive every day, and its sense of fun is completely unleavened by the humorless efficiency of so many “grown up” sports sedans. Throw in a price starting at just $48,380, and one really has to ask, “Who the heck wants to grow up?” Oh, and if that stretches your wallets too far, the same 392 V8 can be had on the R/T Scat Pack for just over $40,000.

Conclusion

The highest compliment I can pay to the Charger lineup is that there is something in it for anyone with a pulse.

The base cars may not be able to go toe-to-toe with true performance cars, but at least they have soul. The Charger Hellcat is one of the craziest, most fun things on four wheels. But if it were my money on the line, I would get the SRT Charger 392. It hits a sweet spot between outrageous performance and everyday usability that few cars manage … and at a price for which BMW would be happy to sell about two-thirds of a car.

Highs

  • Amazing SRT V8 engines
  • Stylish and comfortable new interior
  • Impressive handling
  • Shockingly low prices on performance models

Lows

  • Insufficient brakes on R/T model
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