By now you’ve probably read just about everything there is to read about the Dodge Challenger Hellcat. It’s the rawest combination of 1970s Americana and 21st century engineering, meant to go fast in the quarter mile and designed to look incredibly nostalgic the whole time. Whether the Hellcat lets you relive a past life or helps lift your central digit to “the man” for the first time, it is an icon worth exploring. But what happens after that quarter mile? What is it like to live with 707 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque on a regular basis?
The seats are more like an armchair from Broyhill than a bucket from Recaro like you’d find in the new Shelby GT350. There’s that nostalgia that we talked about earlier. Make sure you’re using the red key; tap the start button, and a tenor-type burble blasts from the exhaust. The instantly recognizable HEMI bark is muted, thanks to the Hellcat’s party piece. The 6.2L supercharged mill is a phenomenal work of art and engineering. Extra cooling, a headlight that isn’t, and an extra vents on the hood are all tell-tale Hellcat signs. Inside our Hellcat had brown nappa leather that looked very much like a baseball glove. As usual the UConnect was excellent, and remains the top tier system on the market for usability and functionality. Very few cheap plastics reside in the Challenger after its facelift several years ago, but the bottom door cards did not get the memo and remain plastic from the era of the Neon. That’s about all that we can complain about.
The start-up will leave you grinning. Pull the 8-speed automatic back into drive and set off for day number one. A few miles into the drive reminds you why it’s so easy to love the Challenger. Sure, our R/T Scat Pack and 392 Scat Pack Shaker testers were fast and loud and less expensive, but the Hellcat is in another league. More noticeable than the sound of the V8 is the unbelievable racket from the supercharger. Just tickle of the throttle and the whine can be heard instantly. It’s addicting, daring you to stay in the powerband where up to 11.6 psi is force-fed into the engine. Dodge’s 8-speed automatic is so good, it complies with every instruction.
The one thing that takes more than two days to tune is your right foot’s application of throttle. Yes, you can go in the performance pages of the UConnect system and set up how you want the car to perform, but why drive at anything less than Sport? It’s the best combination. The Pirelli PZero tires, an option on our tester, are contact patch 275mm in the rear. That’s not enough rubber for this car, but it’s better than the standard non-sticky tires. You will spin the rear wheels intentionally and unintentionally…a lot. Traction control and stability control can do little to save the Hellcat’s tires from a short, smoky life if you don’t have any willpower. Expect to be getting a new set every 5,000 miles or less if you enjoy showing off.
We’ve said it before, but more than any other Challenger, this car comes with a since of theater. People stare basically anywhere it goes. It may have been the Plum Crazy Purple paint, but there were a more than a few thumbs, pointers, and “rock on” hands from passersby. By the second fuel stop (on just day three), we had perfect the art of casual Hellcat conversation. Expect to get 17 miles to the gallon if you’re feathering it all the time. Normal ‘cat drivers should expect 15ish. First, everyone wants to know how fast it’ll go. Second, everyone asks how much it is. That’s a slight problem because ours was $70,775; a lot of money for a car that’s, and there is no other word for it, a toy.
That is not a demerit on the Hellcat or the Challenger. Driving the Hellcat lets you experience equal parts hilarity and terror. Those crazy folks that do lion and bear shows are probably more lucky than skilled. That’s about the same feeling you get after finishing a drive in the Hellcat. Sure you can transport four people comfortably and it has a large trunk, but the fuel economy and tire shredding goodness prevent it from being a jack of all trades. It’s the only muscle car that actually remains true to its roots. It isn’t going on a diet (until the next generation) and it doesn’t like to run on the track. It’s a big, American boulevard bruiser and it knows it.
All week the Hellcat was a hit. The car’s personality is magnetic, drawing crowds at stoplights, gas stations, and the local ice cream shop’s Friday night cruise-in. Some say that people’s emotional connection to cars is waning as we seek to replace them with efficient, autonomous transportation. The Hellcat heartily disagrees, and so do we. Can you use the Hellcat every day? Maybe not in the Northeast, but we’d be damned if we didn’t want to try! The week was over and it was time to hand in the red key. We’re going to miss this big purple dinosaur. But the memories linger, and so do the two black marks down the road.
|2016 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat
|TorqueFlite 8-Speed Automatic Transmission||$2,995|
|Pirelli 275/40/ZR20 P Zero Summer Tires||$595|
|Gas Guzzler Tax||$1,700|
|As Tested MSRP||$70,775|