It took 45 years, but the moment has finally arrived.
A real muscle car is once again available.
Scary. Dangerous – in the hands of a fool or a novice.
A car that’s got more engine than traction and you’d damned well better respect that.
707 supercharged horsepower through just two wheels (the rear wheels). Mid-high 11 second quarter-miles on tap. A Saturn V pointed horizontally – with air conditioning and license plates.
Delicious sick madness.
Dodge calls it the Hellcat – and it is a speed freak’s wet dream.
But – if you have the means – you’d better get one while you still can.
Before the insurance mafia realizes that horsepower has caught up with – and overwhelmed – tire technology. Just like back in the day, only at a much higher level of potential mayhem. It is inevitable that some termagant killjoy bureaucrat, politician – or “concerned mom” – asks why anyone needs a 707 hp 11 second/200 MPH car.
Comparisons will be drawn between the Hellcat and “assault” rifles. You know the rest.
By the throat.
And this car is just the ticket for doing that.
WHAT IT IS
Let’s pull no punches. The Hellcat is the most powerful car Chrysler has ever sold.
That includes the current Viper – which offers a miserly 645 hp (from an 8.4 liter V10) as well as legends from the past like the ’70 Charger Daytona/Superbird with the dual-quad (twin four-barrel carburetors) 426 Street Hemi V8.
There is nothing out there even in the same league. At least, nothing with four doors that doesn’t cost six-figures.
Just $62,295 to start – which is reasonable given what you’re getting. How much does a Nextel Cup car cost? But you will want to check with your insurance mafia representative before pulling the trigger as this thing is going to cost you unholy sums to cover.
Though surprisingly, not so much to feed. The Hellcat’s gas mileage is not bad… for a Nextel Cup stocker with tags and AC.
Anyhow, this car is like the Liger – the one-off cross between a tiger and a lion (which is bigger than either). There is simply nothing else like it on the road.
And nothing that can touch it.
It’s terrifyingly magnificent, truly awesome – like witnessing a thermonuclear burst from just a bit too close.
The Charger that (like Bruce Banner and the Hulk) that serves as the groundwork for the Hellcat has been significantly updated both cosmetically and functionally for the new model year.
It is built around a supercharged version of the Hemi V8 that’s optional in the standard-issue Charger. Displacing 6.2 liters, it makes nearly twice the power (707 vs. 370) and turns a quick car into a supercar capable of mid-high 11 second quarter-mile passes at close to 130 MPH, with a top speed of more than 200 MPH.
An extremely beefed up version of the now-standard (in all Chargers) eight-speed automatic drives the rear wheels – making for sideways driving, as you like it. Or, engage the launch control to keep things somewhat civilized – if you can use that word to describe a car that can reach double the highest-legal speed limit in the United States in the time it takes a Prius to get from rest to 60.
That they had the balls to build it.
That they have the nerve to sell it.
That you might be able to afford it.
Untouchable performance – with room for five.
If you missed the original muscle car era, relive it now.
Driving this car on public roads is like having an all-day erection at the YMCA… if you’re not gay.
Mostly only older dudes will be able to afford this one. Especially the insurance on this one.
It can’t last. They are going to get wind of what’s up and pull the plug. This car is the equivalent of Elvis showing up at the White House in a purple cape holding a pair of loaded gold-plated .45 automatics … and demanding to see the president.
UNDER THE HOOD
Regular V8 Chargers equipped with V8s come with 5.7 liters and 370 hp; the R/T ups that to 6.4 liters and 485 hp.
They are small fry. Weak sisters. Ho-hum.
Well, compared with what lies under the aluminum hood of the Hellcat. It is a slightly smaller (6.2 liter) version of the Hemi V8. But its effective displacement (in terms of airflow) has been increased by another 30-40 percent when the supercharger that’s perched in between those Hemi orange powder-coated valve covers compresses the incoming air charge to 9 PSI . Now you’re dealing with an engine that’s closer in real terms to a naturally-aspirated (non-supercharged) V8 of around 8 liters’ in size.
But even so, few of them make 707 hp.
Not even 8 liter V10s – as in the current Viper – make that kind of power.
Well, nothing that’s not a Nextel Cup stocker. Tony Stewart’s car makes about 800 hp.
And it does not have AC.
It does idle like a tin can filled with loose nuts and bolts being shaken up and down. And will overheat if there’s not enough airflow over the radiator.
The Hellcat, in contrast, is remarkable as much for its vein-popping output as it is for its docility. The thing has a baritone rumble, but nothing even remotely indicative of what it’s capable of. My ’70s Trans-Am (with a 7.4 liter/455 cube V8) sounds much tougher, has a far more threatening idle.
But it would be the Hellcat’s bitch if it ever came down to it. The old 455 makes maybe half the power the Hellcat’s Hemi does – and it makes it on the ragged edge of street driveable. This is a metric of the changes the past 45 years have seen.
The Hellcat is capable of 22 MPG on the highway. Astounding. This is nearly (within about 3-4 MPG) as economical as the Toyota Sienna minivan I drove (and reviewed) last week. And the Sienna cannot do 200 MPH. Or run an 11.8 second quarter-mile.
Nor get to 60 in the high threes.
The Hellcat can do all that.
A specially built version of the now-standard eight-speed automatic feeds the power to the rear wheels – which is truly sick, but in a good way.
If you like to fry tires, you will love the Hellcat.
Also, note the absence of an ugly plastic engine cover. This is an engine that’s not bashful.
The old muscle cars were a handful with 350 or so SAE “gross” (read exaggerated) hp trying to connect with the pavement via 15×7 wheels and maybe 60-series tires. They’d get sideways with minimal provocation – and that was on dry roads. Teenagers crunched them up (along with themselves) like so many aluminum beer cans.
Which is part of the reason why they went away. Too much mayhem, too obviously seen. (GM’s PR people got in big trouble in the early ’70s with an ad that seemed to endorse street racing.)
Fast forward 40 years.
We have arrived at an incredible nexus. The horsepower available today – as here – is beyond the ability of even 20 inch wheels shod with 275/40ZR20 Pirelli P Zero Nero tires to deal with. An original 426 Street Hemi (rated 426 hp) would probably have had trouble smearing the road with liquified asphalt if the ’70 Superbird it was in had the Hellcat’s rolling stock.
The Hellcat, meanwhile, can incinerate these tires at will. I mean vaporize them. Spit little chunks of atomized rubber like a truck tearing ass up a gravel road. Leave a tactical nuke-looking mushroom cloud – and twin stripes permanently etching your zig-zagging antics for posterity to view.
I have been test-driving new cars for almost 25 years and nothing I have driven to date that’s not a race car or a heavily modified and not production car comes close to this. Not M5 BMWs or 911 turbos or Vipers. Not the ’95 Cobra R (last of the 351s) I took through the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel at 135 at two in the morning, the exhaust pulses of the 5.8 Windsor reverberating off the tile walls.
Punch (well, tap) the “SRT” button under the center stack LCD screen. Up comes the driver-configurable settings. Pick “Track” – if you’re brave. Everything goes red. Engage the Launch Control (“Steering wheel must be straight”) for the picture perfect quarter-mile blast. The computer will adjust everything – and take care of everything. Slippage is allowed – inevitable – but it’s kinda-sorta under control. The car stays in a semi-straight line until traction is fully established (not until third gear), supercharger howling gloriously, the vacuum-actuated “active” exhaust cut-outs dumping decibels and enough C02 from the oceans of fuel being consumed to heat the local area – if not the entire planet – by several degrees, at least.
The beefed-up eight-speed throws down bracket race-firm shifts – firm enough to spin the tires (and fishtail the rear end) on the 1-2 and the 2-3 upshifts. You feel like a young Mel Gibson in full Mad Max mode, pointing your V8 Interceptor down Anarchy Lane.
Look out, Toecutter.
But as phenomenal as the Hellcat’s performance is, its relative docility is even more impressive. This car is 100 percent wife-drivable. A Nextel Cup stocker is only wife-drivable if your wife’s name is Danica.
Think about this.
A 707 hp street car that can be driven around like any other car. Take the kids to school, then drive it to work. Seriously. You could drive this thing cross country just as easily as a Camry (except for the gas bills). As a measure of how impressive all this is, consider that any ’60s or ’70s-era muscle car that could run a sub-12-second quarter-mile was not street-drivable.
The only way it was going cross-country was on a trailer.
The Charger version of the Hellcat would be my pick precisely because it is a Charger – and not a Challenger. If you’re going to drive a car packing 707 hp with the intention of using it, the smart move is a less noticeable wrapper. Like reading the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue in church. Slip it in between the pages of the good book, like Bill Clinton used to do.
The Charger Hellcat can blend in.
It has a few exterior giveaways: a mild body kit and air extractors on the hood and flanks, the Hellcat badges on either front fender. But from twenty yards out, it’s easily mistaken for – yawn – another Charger. If you’re out on the highway running 80 in a 70 in a pack of cars doing the same, your chances of not being the one selected to receive a piece of payin’ paper are much better than they would be if you were driving the Challenger coupe, which is a known offender.
The Challenger Hellcat can’t help standing out. Driving it is like driving any other out-of-the-closet muscle car.
Plus, the Charger Hellcat’s uniqueness enhances its coolness.
How many four-doors are there out there packing more engine than a Viper or Corvette – or pretty much anything else, two-doors or otherwise? If you’re wanting a way to rationalize buying this car, consider it an investment. A future collectible. This is no joke, either. Remember the Ford SVT Lightning pick-up of the late ’90s/early 2000s? They’re worth big money today.
Tell the wife.
Or, point out that – unlike a Challenger (much less a Viper) you can take the kiddies to school in this thing – and take the whole family to visit the in-laws in Florida, too. The back seats (and back doors) make all that not just feasible but pleasant. This is a full-size sedan. With a nearly 17 cubic foot trunk and 40.1 inches of backseat legroom.
The Challenger does, but they’re not easy to get into – or out of – due to the lack of doors.
The Hellcat may be low-key on the outside, but inside, it is obvious something’s up. Blood orange suede door panel inserts and seat covers bring to mind the luridly obstreperous Chryslers of the past. Think Christine: Body by Plymouth, soul by Satan. You also get a a unique gauge package with 200 MPH speedometer recessed behind a carbon fiber surround and a scroll-through menu of secondary gauge options that display in the secondary LCD cluster to your right, in the center stack. You can dial up intake manifold temp, boost (also displayed in the main cluster), air-fuel ratio, horsepower and torque produced, G forces endured, lap time, 0-60, eighth and quarter mile time – and your reaction times.
This is also where you access the Launch Control function as well as the almost-endlessly configurable powertrain and chassis settings – from Track to (yes, really) Eco.
You also get two sets of keys – well, key fobs. One red, the other black. The black one is for your teenaged kid, parking lot attendants and other not-trustables. It gimps the Hellcat’s output to – well, not quite Camry levels.
But a couple hundred hp less than the red key enables.
In almost every way, the Hellcat is a faithful reproduction of the experience you got 45 years ago when you dropped the hammer in a ’70 Hemi ‘Cuda – except in one way.
Though a relative bargain, the Hellcat’s near-$62k entry price (plus the cost to insure it) foreordain that – for the most part – only guys (and maybe a few gals) well past their twenty-something years are ever going to get to experience this thing.
Which may be a good thing – at least insofar as the continued production of rabid animals like this is concerned. If large numbers of twenty-somethings (and thirty-somethings) could afford cars like this, there would be a keening wail of outrage coming from “moms” and other such tramplers of fun. With reason, I must admit. If I had access to a car like this twenty-something years ago, probably I would not be here to type these words. One of my high school-era friends is not here for exactly that reason. He had a ’70 GTX with the 440 big block. The car is not around anymore – and neither is he.
Too much, too soon – too young.
If you buy a Hellcat – either the Charger or the Challenger – Chrysler wisely tosses in a free day at an SRT school of high performance driving.
Take them up on it.
If you have never driven a Nextel Cup stocker, you will want to take the course before you attempt to put your Hellcat through its paces. Seriously. Be careful. Respect it. And respect your limits.
This is a car that can get away from you – as well as get you into trouble.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The here and now has suddenly become much more interesting.
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