You’ve likely heard the statistics: The 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat boasts 707 hp and completes the quarter-mile in 11.2 seconds, making it not only the most powerful muscle car ever, but also the fastest. This derives from a new 6.2-liter supercharged HEMI V-8; why not turbocharged, you ask? As Tim Kuniskis, Dodge and SRT Brand CEO puts it: “Because the blower sounds badass.”
That it does. It’s almost animalistic, angry and yet intensely evocative. It’s quite possibly the best sounding car outside of a Ferrari 458.
The speed? Ballistic, and I mean properly fast. Maybe it’s not McLaren 650S fast, or even Porsche 911 Turbo fast, but it’s far more involving. Rowing through the 6-speed manual gearbox lifted and gently massaged from the Viper, you’re constantly on edge, constantly managing something: the tire slip, subtle steering corrections, the rear tires dancing from side to side like Travolta, only drunk.
Unless you’re in the most restrictive of the three modes (Street rather than Sport and Track), burnouts are accomplished merely by grazing your right foot against the throttle pedal; you don’t even need to switch off the traction control. It’s pure, unadulterated madness.
Accelerating to 60 mph in well below four seconds, the new Hellcat will amaze, but we knew that already, didn’t we? The numbers promise such theatrics.
The bit we’re all wondering is what happens when a corner arrives?
If you ask Chevy, becoming the greatest muscle car of them all is determined by how fast one can lap a racetrack. You’ll learn how a Camaro ZL1 is faster than a Mustang GT500, and how a 1LE outpaces a Boss 302 Laguna Seca. Then, of course, you’ll see that a new Camaro Z/28 crushes the lot of them, while matching the lap times of a track-focused Nissan GT-R.
So does that mean a Camaro is better than a Mustang? Or does the GT500’s 662 ponies, superior punch down the strip, and 200 mph top speed ensure its place on top? The answer is highly subjective with no right or wrong answer. What’s clear, however, is that in recent years, the Challenger has not featured in this battle. It’s been a two horse race.
For Dodge, it’s still not about the lap times. It’s about staying true to the 1960s and early ‘70s, an era where muscle cars ruled supreme and men with glorious mustaches permed their hair.
I like Dodge’s approach: No frills, no BS. The Challenger doesn’t pretend to be a sports car in muscular clothes and flared jeans. It’s a brute, a muscle car, just a muscle car, and it’s damn proud of it: “You can’t do both,” Tim Kuniskis told me at our first drive event in Portland, Ore.
A key change to this latest Challenger, besides the Hellcat’s beastly powerplant, is an optional new 8-speed automatic transmission. The shorter first few gear ratios allow for a 0.5 second drop in 0-60 mph times, and on a racetrack, it’s highly intuitive when selecting the correct cog for a specific corner. In fact, for the first time in my life, I was happy leaving the transmission in auto rather than clicking the paddles. This new tranny leads to improved fuel efficiency in all models, too.
The base Challenger with its 305 hp 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 gets 30 mpg. The interior (as it is in all models) is vastly improved, with fewer plastics, a more purposeful, less rubbery steering wheel, plenty of grunt, and a starting price of $26,995 – and you don’t need to add pricey options to that. It’s also barely distinguishable from the SRT Hellcat model, meaning that – at least from the outside – you don’t miss the V-8 and look like a rock star, even if you don’t sound like one. On a track, it’s remarkably good fun. It’s simply an enjoyable machine for a great price. And it has a ton of rear legroom to fit four adults with ease.
The best bang for the buck, however, comes in the form of the Scat Pack (which if you wait a while can be had with a Shaker hood scoop). With 485 hp and 475 lb.-ft. of torque, a 0-60 mph time in the mid 4s, 25 mpg highway, Tremec TR6060 six speed with the throwback ball shifter, Bilstein shocks and wider Goodyear Eagle F1 tires – all for just $38,495 – you're getting one hell of a car.
If all consuming, hair-raising, earth moving power is what you desire, the SRT Hellcat starts at $59,995 – and that includes gas-guzzler tax. During my 150 miles or so on the open road, I managed just 9.5 mpg. Yes, 9.5. Admittedly, the tires came back substantially more worn then when I started, but still.
Nevertheless it’s an absolute riot, and surprisingly drivable when not heavy and ponderous with the right foot. The power steering is overboosted and too light (despite the Hellcat receiving hydraulic rather than electric steering), meaning there’s little road feel. That’s the same with the Mustang and Camaro, though, so no real strike against its name there – other than perhaps a missed opportunity to pounce.
The Hellcat is considerably punchier than the 580 hp Camaro ZL1, and pulls better than the 662 hp GT500. The Mustang completes the quarter mile just 0.3 seconds slower than the Challenger, but it does so with one less gear change. That’s great for the drag strip, but the shorter ratios make the Challenger feel far more alive and on its toes. You’re not at 60 mph in first gear like the ‘Stang, so you’re rowing more frequently. It’s more engaging.
On the track, or when cornering hard, you can’t mask the Challenger’s 4,449 lb. curb weight, nor its 57 front, 43 rear weight distribution. But it embraces its deficiencies like a true muscle car. It knows it's not a sports car, or a Camaro, or a Mustang. It doesn’t pretend to be.
Braking, with its 36mm six-piston Brembo aluminum calipers, is incredible. The shocks are well tuned so that there’s not a lot of pitch and dive front to back, meaning the platform stays relatively flat and consistent. As you turn in, you begin to notice the weight and the sizable degree of inherent roll, but it does so evenly front to back giving you a sense of confidence. As you’d expect with such a front heavy car, the limiting factor is understeer, and it requires patience to allow the car to rotate sufficiently before getting back on the gas pedal.
Traction is decent, but you have to be mindful of the twisting 650 lb.-ft. of torque on tap; a hero can turn into an idiot incredibly quickly.
All models of Challenger, including the Hellcat and Scat Pack, feel big, heavy and cumbersome. But they’re predictable and drivable. That last part is key, and it means the 2015 Challenger won’t embarrass itself on a track day.
And that’s really all we care about. I mean, it’s a straight up Mike Tyson knock out on the drag strip (10.8 seconds on drag radials), a neck-snapping monster on the streets that simply makes you smile every time you hear it roar, and it handles a curve competently and without drama. It looks the most retro of the bunch, too, with a new interior that more than matches its rivals. You can fit your kids in the back, and it even arrives with two keys – a black one that limits power to a measly 500 hp and a red one that unleashes all 707.
The new Challenger is, then, exactly what a muscle car should be. Is it the new king, the best of the best? Well, that’s subjective. What I can say with absolute certainty is that it’s a worthy rival, one that should have Chevy and Ford concerned. It’s the most authentic muscle car on the market – a ’71 HEMI ‘Cuda for those who’ve never heard of Archie Bunker.
While Chevy goes down the sports car route and Ford preps its new GT350, one thing Tim Kuniskis said in Portland couldn’t be more true: “If you missed the first muscle car era, you don’t want to miss this one.”
Disclosure: For this article, the writer’s transportation, meals and lodging costs were paid for by one or more subjects of the article. Yahoo does not promise to publish any stories or provide coverage to any individual or entity that paid for some or all of the costs of any of our writers to attend an event.