What do you say about a Sublime Green Dodge Challenger with 707hp and a six-speed manual? If you got out of it and didn’t like it, please purchase a Prius and never discuss automobiles with other grown-ups ever again.
I will say this: I wasn’t a big fan of the Challenger when it appeared in 2008. The proportions never looked right to me, there was none of the voluptuous Coke-bottle styling of the 1970 to 1974 car, and the interior looked awful. It was a letdown when you compared it to the Ford Mustang, and when the Chevrolet Camaro arrived, it looked even more like they’d styled an OK-looking car, but skimped on every possible detail, inside and out.
But then, slowly but surely, Dodge started putting a little money into it to fix some of the details. Year after year, it got a little better and a little more interesting.
Along the way, the sales were picking up, too. Any sport coupe that sells 55,000+ units on a platform cribbed straight from a sedan is a win. Any car that sells 55,000+ units without making a single major change to any of the bodywork is reason for celebration.
Then 2015 arrived. Suddenly, the interior started looking just as good as the outside. The cheapskate gauge package was gone, and in its place was a proper set of clocks set in deep tunnels that provided tons of information the old car never did. All the little details that felt so terrible in the previous years had been fixed. Where you used to look at things and think “If they’d only made that a little nicer,” now you think “How’d they get away with that in a $33,000 car?”
And of course, 2015 also marked the arrival of the Hellcat, which is not $33,000, but a still-reasonable $63,000. Lots of cars got a lot of attention in 2015. None of those cars got as much attention as the Dodge Challenger Hellcat. Six months after the car’s introduction, the #hellcat hashtag is still getting 50 tweets a day.
As a comparison, #shelby hasn’t gotten any action in eight days. #CamaroSix — the hashtag launched for the sixth-generation Camaro debut last month — gets a tenth the #hellcat hashtag’s traffic. Is it a scientific poll? No, but its an indication of just how crazy people are about this car.
Both the Camaro and the Mustang (in Z28 and Shelby GT350R form) are gunning for the most exclusive coupes from Europe. The first place they’ll be is on a road course. You’re not going to see a lot of Hellcats at the Nurburgring. It’s not what they’re built for. This is a full-on drag car that can peel off 11.2 second quarter miles on the tires it came with, and 10.8-second runs with drag radials.
I’ve driven plenty of supercharged cars before, but I’ve never driven one that sounds like it’s going to suck the grille right through the intake. With the red key in your pocket (there’s a black key, too, that delivers 500 hp. Leave it in the junk drawer) and the performance selector set to its most aggressive setting, the acceleration alters time. Your vision starts to get weird. It’s staggering.
Of course, lots of people who haven’t driven one will tell you how they’re a waste. Some guy named jasmith909 who comments on the Motley Fool investment website, for example, wrote “Glad they made it, but the problem with really high horsepower muscle cars is they can’t put the power down. They cram those Mustangs & Camaros with 600+ bhp and they still can’t accelerate under 3.0 secs like an AWD Porsche or Audi R8 can.”
Yeah, an R8 can’t do that either. It hits 60 in about the same 3.7 seconds as the Hellcat does, but lags behind in the quarter mile by a full second. You CAN make an R8 compete with a Hellcat, but you’ll need the R8 V10 Plus. That car starts at $173,000. For that price, you could buy a Challenger Hellcat, a Charger Hellcat and still have enough money left over to buy a Kawasaki ZZR1400 and get to 60 miles an hour in 2.5 seconds.
For all the power it puts down, THAT is the key to the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat: its price. You can spank most R8 and most Porsche 911 owners, at a price that anybody with a decent job can stretch and afford. Unlike the iconic muscle cars of the 1960s, the Hellcat stops and turns, too, making it a whole package.
For its power, for its looks, for its sheer driving pleasure, for its attitude, I loved this car. It’s a Ted Williams salute thrown right in the direction of the Old World, and it’s so awesome to see.
As if I needed any more indication of just how cool this car is, I drove it to see Mad Max at the Mendon Twin Drive-In. A guy walked clear across all the rows of cars to come and shake my hand for driving it. Nobody’s done anything like that in any car I’ve driven in the last 20 years.
2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat
Base MSRP: $58,295
Gas Guzzler Tax: $1,700
Price as Tested: $62,195
Red Seat Belts ($95)
UConnect 8.4 — GPS, HD Radio, XM Traffic, XM TravelLink ($695)
275/40/ZR20 Summer Performance Tires ($395)
Enjoyable cruising when you’re not trying to buckle asphalt on acceleration
Reasonable price tag
There aren’t enough to go around
The six-speed takes a bit of getting used to
The future of 54.5 mpg corporate fuel economy might rule out such a magnificent automobile