By Patrick Rall
Last week I flew to Portland Oregon for the media launch of the 2015 Dodge Challenger and included in the long list of vehicles available to drive were a collection of SRT Hellcat models. I drove a handful of new Challengers in Portland but let’s be honest – right now all any Mopar lover cares about is the 707 horsepower Challenger SRT Hellcat and being a diehard Mopar fan myself, I could not wait to get into the driver’s seat of the most powerful American muscle car of all time.
My first experience driving the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat was out on public roads and my test vehicle was the stunning Sublime beast shown above with a Matte Black hood. To say that I fell in love with this car the second that I saw it is a massive understatement so when I was handed the red key fob and told to “watch out for police”, I was living a childhood dream that so many of us have had. I was about to head out into the Portland area with a car that is the most powerful American production car of all time and the sixth most powerful current production car in the world – and it was a Dodge Challenger.
Prior to leaving the parking lot, I quickly set all of the adjustable modes to “track” and made certain that all 707 horsepower were awake and ready to rock. As I pulled the bright green machine out onto the road, I eased out and once the car was straight on this desolate stretch of Oregon road, I hammered the throttle. The Challenger quickly began turning the rear tires into stripes on the road and the car kicked a bit to the side. A few seconds later, some playing with the throttle had gotten the tires to settle down, snapping the car straight as it blasted down the road. Within a few seconds, the Hellcat had screamed well beyond the posted speed limits and upon recalling the advice of the gentleman who handed me the keys, I backed off of the throttle and finally took my first breath since hitting the open road. Not only did the Hellcat feel absolutely incredible, but the roar from the specially tuned exhaust is – without a doubt – the sweetest sounding American engine ever.
“Wow” was all that I could muster, and the journalist riding along with me laughed and agreed. I spent the next few minutes and miles rolling into the throttle and back out, listening to the supercharger whine and enjoying the ease with which the Challenger SRT Hellcat effortlessly climbed to stunning speeds – and even more effortlessly roasted the rear tires. Even when cruising at highway speeds, downshifting and hammering the throttle will quickly get the tires spinning so when everything is set to track mode, you have to pay attention to what you are doing or this beast could get out of hand very quickly. Fortunately, the precision steering system and the refined suspension setup allowed the Challenger to ride nicely under normal driving situations while offering incredible control at higher speeds.
When really you mash the gas, the Hellcat feels more like a supercar than a muscle car thanks to an acceleration force that is unrivaled by anything that I’ve ever driven. Even if you are cruising along in 8th gear, simply rolling into the throttle (with no downshift) will comfortably allow you to outpace pretty much any vehicle on the road…and that includes sport bikes. At the same time, when driving the car normally in traffic it is not as harsh or as troublesome as some of the other cars in the world with more than 700 horsepower. In short, this is a car that will outrun just about anything on the street from a stop or a roll, it will do burnouts like few factory vehicles I’ve ever experienced and – most importantly – it is a car that you really can drive on the street without drawing too much attention under normal circumstances.
The ride quality is impressive (thanks to the high curb weight), but the refinements made to the brakes, suspension and chassis allow the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat to handle very, very well for a car of this size. To show off just how well the Hellcat will handle under the roughest conditions, our street drive was followed by a romp around Portland International Raceway. This 1.97 mile road course gave me a chance to push the Hellcat to incredible speeds (reaching 140mph in the straights) while also experiencing the excellence of the Brembo braking system and the control of the revised steering system. While the Challenger is a 4,400lb+ muscle car, it will come down from 140mph in a big hurry; quickly enough to allow me to rip through tight turns before letting the Hellcat scream at wide open throttle in the next straight stretch. The Hellcat won’t keep up with the Viper on a closed circuit like Portland, but it will afford drivers in the real world every chance to keep up with literally any vehicle that they come across on the open road – no matter how expensive or exotic the car in question may be.
My road course run was made in a black 2015 Challenger SRT Hellcat with the 6-speed manual transmission and I loved the feel of the clutch assembly in this beast. The pedal is very stiff and provides a wonderfully connected feeling that allowed me to make my way around the road course at high speed without any problems as I shifted between 2nd, 3rd and 4th gear. It should be noted that on a long straight where speeds were nearing 100mph, shifting into 4th gear a bit too aggressively will chirp the tires – just to give you an idea of how strong the Hellcat pulls through every gear.
Finally, it was time for the drag strip and my test car was another black Challenger SRT Hellcat, this time with the 8-speed automatic transmission. While the Challenger SRT Hellcat turned in an NHRA certified time with the stock tires of 11.2 at 125mph, those runs were made by an experienced driver who had made countless runs to perfect his launch and those runs were made on a well prepped track. Our quarter mile runs were made on the front straightaway at Portland International Raceway, so there was no track prep to speak of and that made launching a real challenge.
On my first run, I babied the Challenger off of the line at just over idle and what amounted to less than half throttle. Rolling into the throttle a touch more got the back tires singing, so I held at a steady throttle point until the Hellcat slammed into 2nd gear. I again tried to climb into the throttle and even with a touch of wheel spin, I was able to go full throttle by the top end of second gear. From there on out, the Hellcat roared down the drag strip like no other car I’ve driven with a final time of 11.8 seconds and a trap speed of 118 miles per hour. That is a far cry from the 11.2 at 125 that the NHRA certified, but I was very happy to get into the 11s on the unprepped track.
Whether on the street, the road course or the drag strip, the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat is the most incredible American muscle car I have ever driven…while also being one of the most incredible cars that I have ever driven. Those prospective buyers who want a car that will crush pretty much anything on the street while still being mild mannered enough in the right situations to serve as a great daily driver should put the Hellcat on their short list. Not only will the Hellcat Challenger allow you to tear up the drag strip, the road course and anything that you might come across on the street, it does it with a plush, loaded interior that will comfortably seat four adults …and that is something that you cannot get from the Ford Mustang or the Chevrolet Camaro.
As much as I love the Viper – this is the greatest Dodge performance vehicle of all time. The Viper would win a race with turns, but the Challenger is so carnal, so powerful and so very American in its design that I am quick to put this 707hp beast at the top of my top Mopar Performance vehicles ever built for road use.