They told me to go easy launching out onto the track at Summit Point, because the track workers didn’t want to hear burnouts all day long. I thought I was, but as I squeezed off a round on the throttle, I went at least four revolutions before the tires made anything that resembled traction. Oh, and this wasn’t even the Hellcat. It was the SRT 392. The 2015 Dodge Charger Hellcat is insanity.
The entire Dodge Charger lineup has been refreshed for 2015. The biggest news is that the Hellcat trim — which got so much attention in the Challenger — would be available on the four-door Charger, as well. It rounds out a car that ranges all the way from a six-cylinder, rear drive sedan that you’ll probably find on in a lot of rental fleets, all the way up to the fastest, most powerful sedan in the entire world.
The Hellcat, obviously, is the big draw, even though the volume is going to be limited. It features a well-publicized, 707hp, supercharged Hemi V-8, which pours on eyeball flattening horsepower instantly.
Here’s an example of just how fast: We had a two hour drive to the track from Washington, DC, in the entire Charger lineup. We hit some traffic at one point and I was behind a Hellcat as it was attempting to get past an achingly slow moving bus. When the coast was clear and the road opened up to two lanes, the driver got on the gas.
In a milisecond, the Charger Hellcat’s exhaust uncorked from a low burble to full NASCAR mode. From about 30 miles an hour, the transmission downshifted from what I’m guessing was a fuel-sipping fifth to second. The tires instantly smoldered, the rear end tried to switch ends with the front and the Charger’s traction control and stability control raced to the rescue to make sure everything stayed in a straight line.
It’s the same effect you’d get by poking a sleeping grizzly in the ass with a hayfork.
The Hellcat’s top speed is an honest 204 miles per hour average, measured after two runs in opposite directions at a test facility near Milford, Michigan. The National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) certified, the Charger Hellcat’s quarter-mile ET at 11.0 seconds. On street rubber.
So yes, it is THE quickest, THE fastest, and THE most powerful production sedan on the planet.
But every single one of my wisenheimer Facebook friends with any semblance of interest in cars had the same question: “Yeah, it’s fast in the straights, but what does it do in the corners. Har har.”
The wheels are 20-by-9.5-inch wide forged alloys, wrapped in with new 275/40ZR-20 Pirelli PZeros. They hang on for days. The 15.4-inch, slotted and vented brake rotors are the largest every offered on a Chrysler Group vehicle, including the Viper. They’re clamped with Brembo six-piston calipers.
Handling is the duty of a three-mode adaptive damping system exclusive to the Hellcat and 392 models. “Auto” provides a ride that’s sportier than you’ll get out of a Charger R/T, but compliant enough to make you forget you’re driving something with this kind of power. “Sport” firms it up a bit, and “Track” mode tightens it up even further.
Bilstein provides the system, and has on all SRT vehicles since 2012. Without getting into the gory details, the ADS system has been tailored to each car it appears on. The Challenger is the most performance oriented. The Charger comes in right under it, but compromises slightly in favor of ride quality. The Chrysler 300 SRT has the same system, but goes a bit further on the ride quality side.
You’d think, though, that since this is an American car, and it’s cut from similar cloth as the Challenger, that this car would be a handful the moment you hit the first corner.
On the track at Summit Point, I saw 140 miles an hour in the straight. One hundred and forty miles an hour out of a production sedan — especially one made in the United States of America — is blisteringly fast. In order to keep cars from flying off into the gravel, we were instructed to brake — HARD — at the 5 marker in the brake zone, the furthest marker from the actual corner itself. The goal was to scrub off 100 miles an hour in as short a period as possible.
Up front, the Charger Hellcat and the SRT 392 have the largest front brakes ever offered in a Chrysler Group vehicle – 15.4-inch front brakes, and Brembo six-piston calipers with two-piece slotted and vented rotors.
Braking hard at the 5 marker, I pretty much hit my goal by the time I was between the 3 and the 2 marker, and pulled into the the sharp right hand corner like I was wheeling into Shop ‘N’ Save.
Track mode also provides “performance shifting.” One time I got rear ended by a Chevy 1500 while I was still traveling at 20 miles an hour. The Charger’s 1-2 shift felt almost exactly he same.. Dodge and the track officials required us to wear a helmet on the track and the first time out, the back of it made firm contact with the headrest, and I was seriously taking it easy the first time out in an effort to not leave my children with a single parent.
You get all of this with the SRT 392, also, with the exception of the full benefit of a supercharged V-8. As I mentioned in the introduction, though, this is not a car to take lightly. It’s gotten a 15 horsepower upgrade from the last generation SRT 392, up to 485hp. In all honesty, it’s more than enough for anyone who wants to goof around and do burnouts and impress people at stoplight drags. It won’t run 11s on street tires, but by the seat of your pants its still powerful enough to make you double-check the emblems on the front quarter panels.
Both cars are a tremendous value when compared with anything other performance sedan built anywhere else in the world. The Hellcat — again, most powerful sedan on the globe — $63,995. That’s a fair bit of change for a Dodge, I guess. But the BMW M5 costs approximately a brand-new Honda Accord more. For that additional $29,605, the M5 offers 147 fewer horsepower, a top speed electronically limited to 50 miles per hour slower, and a quarter mile time almost a full second slower.
So to my friends asking about the handling, if you’re planning a trip to the Nordschleife, well, the M5 is probably for you. Most Americans are infinitely more likely to drive their Charger to the local dragstrip on test-n-tune night, and maybe even race it in anger. It doubles down by providing plenty engaging handling for the kind of performance driving that the kind of people who will actually buy this car will be doing.
Is it an M5? No it is not. It is a $63,000 car that will get a hell of a lot more attention, though.
But here’s the thing: The car that really impressed me was the Charger R/T with the V-8. Ticking the right boxes on the order form gets you 375 horsepower, an eight-speed automatic transmission, fabulously comfortable leather and suede seats, the single most intuitive, helpful and non-rage producing infotainment system available in any car today.
And you get it for $36,000. A Honda Accord Touring with half the accessory catalog thrown at it prices out at $37,000 and change. Yes, yes, to get the V-8, you have to move away from the all-wheel drive offered on the six-cylinder models, but for God’s sake, buy a set of snow tires, fit them to an accessory set of wheels, and buy the automobile your parents wish they could’ve owned circa 1968.
The Charger R/T is a throwback in the very best possible way. I came away from the 2014 Charger SXT with all-wheel drive thinking it was the best sedan under $75,000 I drove last year, but the 2015 Charger R/T with the 375hp V-8 is just that much better.
Both Ford and Chevrolet offer full-size(ish) performance sedans, but not packaged like this. In the Taurus SHO, you get all-wheel drive, but it’s mated to the 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine, and it’s as far as you possibly can go in terms of sedan performance at Ford. Over at Chevrolet, the SS offers more horsepower than the mid-pack Charger R/T, but STARTS at more than $43,000. As a consequence, both of those cars are nailed to the showroom floor.
Dodge will sell V-8 powered Charger R/Ts, and I’ll leave you with this: That might become a problem for Dodge at some point in the near future.
In two model years, we’ll reach the midpoint evaluation period as all manufacturers move to the federally mandated 54.5 miles per gallon in 2025. High volume cars like the $36,000 V-8 powered Charger R/T are not long for this world.
If you’ve ever thought about owning one, now is the time. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.