Every Dodge Challenger gets a significant makeover for 2015, and one version goes completely, supersonically 707-horsepower insane. That nutty one is the SRT Hellcat: a supercharged exaggeration of the resurrected Challenger that's been in production since 2008. It's not only the most powerful Dodge ever made, it's the most powerful production muscle car made. Ever.
On regular Challengers the styling updates for 2015 are inspired by the 1971 Challenger; the grille features spilt elements and the taillights are now separate LED units. And the interior sees dramatic improvements with loads of added features. But the Hellcat gets its own hood with a large scoop and vents, skips the split elements in the grille for better cooling and has a hole inside the left inner headlight to feed cold air to the beastly 6.2-liter supercharged Hemi V8.
What Is It?
Let's restate the essentials one more time for effect. Based on the refreshed 2015 Dodge Challenger, the SRT Hellcat takes performance to ludicrous levels with a 6.2-liter supercharged V8 engine that produces 707 hp and 650 pound-feet of torque. No, that's not a typo. Seven-hundred-and-seven horsepower.
Besides the performance upgrades, the Hellcat comes with all the standard features from lesser Challenger models and a few that are optional. These include 20-inch wheels with high-performance Pirelli tires, xenon headlights with automatic high beams, heated and ventilated leather seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, an 8.4-inch touchscreen display, a rearview camera, adaptive cruise control, a forward collision warning system, a blind-spot monitor and a 19-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio system. It's comprehensively equipped save for color choice, the addition of a navigation system and the replacement of the standard six-speed manual transmission with an eight-speed TorqueFlite automatic for $1,995.
The single most delectable option, however, is the eight-spoke, hyper-black, forged aluminum 20-inch wheels. They appear to be ripped off a Le Mans winner and make the Challenger SRT Hellcat look as if it were dominating the Pro Touring class at the Street Machine Nationals. They're flat-finish awesome atop an already intimidating monster.
Hellcat prices start at $60,990 including destination and the gas-guzzler tax, which is more than double the cost of a base, V6-powered Challenger SXT. But by the standards of current production cars with 700 hp or more (of which there are only seven, not including the upcoming, but closely related, four-door Charger SRT Hellcat) it's absurdly cheap. After all, the next cheapest car with more than 700 hp, the 730-hp Ferrari F12 Berlinetta, is available at the no-haggle price of $319,638.
How Does It Make All That Power?
The power-hungry engineers at Dodge's SRT performance wing dug deep into their bag of treachery for the Hellcat.
They started with the stout Hemi engine block that's one of the few left still made from iron and therefore rugged enough to withstand the supercharged maelstrom. Then they upgraded all the engine internals, starting with a forged steel crankshaft with 3.6-millimeter shorter throws than the one used in SRT's 6.4-liter naturally aspirated Hemi. That shorter stroke accounts for the modest drop in displacement and some of the drop in compression ratio from 10.9:1 in the 6.4 to 9.5:1 in the Hellcat. Throw in special forged alloy pistons and a pair of specially prepped aluminum cylinder heads and all that's left to add is the supercharger itself.
While most current supercharged production engines use a version of Eaton's Roots-style lobed supercharger, the Hellcat Hemi uses a Lysholm-like twin-screw compressor co-developed by Chrysler and IHI of Japan. The efficient screw compressor is geared to turn at 2.36 times engine speed while producing a maximum of 11.6 psi of boost. That's good enough for 707 hp at 6,000 rpm, while the maximum torque rating of 650 lb-ft comes in at 4,000 rpm.
One of the main goals in the engine's development was to sustain very high levels of performance for a minimum of 20 minutes at a time, which is the typical run time for track day groups. According to the SRT engineers, the Hellcat achieved this goal even in the most oppressive summer heat of Texas.
Texas, Hawaii, Missouri, New Hampshire, Alaska... pick any state you like. This is the most powerful engine ever built for an American performance car expected to sell more than a handful a year. And John Hennessey, Jerrod Shelby and Steve Saleen aren't selling their supercars for $60K.
Can You Hand It Over to a Valet?
Power is routed to the limited-slip differential and the rear wheels via a high-capacity Tremec six-speed manual transmission that is lifted from the SRT Viper parts bin and enhanced with additional cooling. A ZF-designed but Chrysler-built (that's why it's a TorqueFlite) eight-speed automatic transmission with manual control is available as an option.
In order to unleash the maximum power, the driver must have the red key fob in his possession — that's red with an "R" as in "rabid." With the normal black key, power is tempered down to a more sensible 500 hp. And 500 hp is still 15 hp more than the 485 offered in the Challenger SRT with the 6.4-liter Hemi with the new "Scat Pack" option.
That still ought to be plenty enough to keep the parking valets entertained.
Just How Fast Is It in a Straight Line?
Edmunds has experienced the Hellcat twice on the drag strip, once with the eight-speed automatic at the press preview in Portland, Oregon, and once with the six-speed manual transmission at our usual Southern California test venue.
On Portland Raceway's quarter-mile drag strip, the automatic-equipped Hellcat simply shot forward using the simple technique of hitting the Launch button in front of the gear selector, pushing hard with the left foot on the brake pedal, stomping the gas pedal to the floor, then releasing the brake pressure completely. Wheelspin is moderated by the launch control system and shifts are violently quick. All you have to do is steer and keep your right foot firmly planted.
After our acceleration run, the in-car performance meter gave us an estimated quarter-mile time of 11.4 seconds. This supports the NHRA-certified 11.2-second run that SRT claims to have achieved on street tires. We're told that the top speed is 199 mph and it's not electronically limited. There's only so much air even 707 hp can push.
The six-speed Hellcat proved much more, well, challenging to launch. The Tremec transmission in the test car needed mighty heaves to find its gears, and it was particularly easy to blow the 1-2 upshift. The clutch is heavy and unforgiving, only fully engaging at the very top of the pedal's long travel. You can literally feel the tendons in your legs tightening as you strain against the clutch pedal. And your left leg can tire in regular traffic.
Using the Launch program with the manual transmission is practically as straightforward as with the automatic — and the process is practically identical. But there's simply no way to shift manually as efficiently and cleanly as the automatic does. So there's more tire smoke, less instant rocketry and, yes, less raw acceleration.
A 12.8-second blast down the quarter-mile with a spectacular 118.4-mph trap speed with the traction control on is nowhere near slow. And zero to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds with a slight blue-gray haze accompanying the car is still quick. But it's simply not as quick as the automatic car felt and self-reported up in Oregon. And it may be that another manual-equipped Hellcat with a fresher clutch and transmission may be easier to manage on a drag strip.
But as it stands, if you want to go really, really quick on a drag strip with a Challenger SRT Hellcat, then go with the two-pedal car.
How Does It Handle When the Road Gets Curvy?
The usual arguments against cars like the Hellcat are, "What would you possibly do with all that power?" and "Where could you even enjoy it?" Answers to those arguments were readily apparent at Portland International Raceway.
In the interest of safety, the front straightaway was interrupted by a right/left chicane, which limited our top speed. This meant that the road course session was purely about handling characteristics. Normally, a car that weighs 4,439 pounds (according to Chrysler) isn't ideal for corner carving, but the Hellcat exceeded expectations. At the limit, the car feels balanced even though the weight is biased 57 percent toward the front. Understeer only rarely intrudes, and the big Challenger reacts exceptionally well to trail braking deep toward the apexes.
Back at our test track at home, the Hellcat showed surprising capability. The 69.9-mph rip through the 600-foot slalom is astonishing for a car this size, particularly since its 0.92g skid pad orbit is humble.
The Hellcat rotates gracefully and predictably, helping to point its nose through turns. Transitioning between brake and gas requires restraint to keep the car on its intended path, but not so much that you feel as if you're defusing a bomb with the toes on your right foot. Give it too much gas and the tail swings wider, but it does so in a controllable manner. Pushed further into a raucous powerslide, the Hellcat's stability control will abruptly shut the fun down.
With stability control disabled, recovering from a slide is neither terrifying nor particularly difficult, thanks in part to the slower-than-typical steering ratio. Although it requires more steering input, it does give drivers the feeling that they have plenty of time to react. Nervous twitches and wild oscillations would have to be intentionally induced. It doesn't corner with the kind of urgency and quickness characteristic of sports cars weighing much less, but it is just as rewarding in a more leisurely style.
Relative to similarly powerful cars, the Challenger Hellcat is under-tired, and the 275/40ZR20 Pirelli P Zero tires used at all four corners are tiny. For instance, the 2014 SRT Viper GTS's V10 is rated at "only" 640 hp and weighs about 1,000 pounds less, but runs 295/30ZR18 front and vast 355/30ZR19 rear P Zero tires. Chevrolet's supercharged, 580-hp Camaro ZL1 comes equipped with 285/35ZR20 front and 305/35ZR20 tires.
The Viper is notorious for snap oversteer at the limit; when all that tire lets go, it's gone. In contrast, the narrower tires on the Hellcat give up early, easily and manageably. Of course it's effortless to overwhelm the rubber with the tsunami of power available, but in a way the lack of massive rubber keeps the Hellcat's handling tamer and safer than cars that are pursuing the outer limits of adhesion.
The Challenger Hellcat is also equipped with epic binders. The front discs are 15.4-inch vented and slotted rotors clamped by six-piston Brembo calipers. The rear discs are at 13.8 inches in diameter, also slotted and vented, and use four-piston Brembo calipers.
But hauling 4,400-plus pounds (almost 1,200 pounds more than a C7 Corvette coupe) down from speed is not easy, especially considering the big Dodge coupe's modest-size tires. Still, our shortest stop from 60 mph was a sterling 109 feet. That's overachieving.
How Does It Drive on the Street?
Around town, the SRT Hellcat is comfortable and well-mannered, especially when you consider its performance potential. This is achieved thanks to several drive settings that can be selected and customized through the large center-mounted touchscreen. The default Drive mode is the most comfortable of the settings, with lighter steering, smoother gearchanges, softer suspension tuning and a more gradual delivery of power. Sport and Track modes incrementally increase performance by altering these same settings, and drivers can also tailor them to fit their particular preferences in Custom mode.
Even in the most aggressive Track mode, the ride quality is far from harsh, with road imperfections felt but not intrusive. The heavy steering effort is a bit tiresome, and the abrupt shifts when accelerating can be problematic on longer drives, making the default mode better suited to road trips.
What the Hellcat has in abundance (beyond all that power) is amazing sounds. The exhaust system is heavy on resonance and vibrato; this car always sounds melodious and eager. If you're a person who likes to rev their Harley Davidson in tunnels, the Hellcat is the automotive equivalent — but you don't need the tunnel. If you're the type of person who finds a slight drone annoying at cruises, we suggest blipping the throttle regularly to inject some chaos into the commute and soothe your soul.
What's the New Interior Like?
The Challenger is a significantly larger car than either the Mustang or Camaro. Its 116-inch wheelbase is almost 9 inches longer than the 2014 Mustang and 3.7 inches longer than a 2014 Camaro. Hit the history books and this Challenger, inspired by the 1971 Challenger, is 6 inches longer in both wheelbase and overall length than that car.
But there's still not much rear legroom. So think of this as a huge two-seater with occasional accommodations for a couple more, very forgiving, passengers.
That said, the interior upgrades for 2015 are considerable. Materials quality sees a huge improvement, as do the overall design and usability. The dashboard still runs from door to door, but it is much more contoured now, and the center console now sweeps upward to almost meet it. Exclusive to the Hellcat are stamped aluminum trim panels on the dash and center console that feature a handsome engine-turned pattern.
The steering wheel is also much more attractive, and the buttons are better integrated and easier to operate. It was a little thick at the 9- and 3-o'clock positions, though, and the shift paddles are mounted too high for our tastes. To use them you are forced to keep your hands at a less than optimal 10 and 2 o'clock.
Does It Get the Latest Technology Features?
The centerpiece of the cabin, however, is the sharp 8.4-inch touchscreen (base Challengers get a 5-inch screen) that is canted slightly toward the driver. This latest generation of the Uconnect infotainment system has been praised as one of the best available, and the Hellcat adds even more features to it.
Easily accessible by a physical SRT button just in front of the shifter or a hot button on screen is a very comprehensive set of performance menus. The sheer amount of data available rivals that of the tech-oriented Nissan GT-R, but in the Hellcat, that information is easier to access and read. The time slip menu is particularly smart, as it logs your quarter-mile times and trap speeds, while the temperature gauges are more useful, especially if you're on track. Alongside the SRT button on the center console are other redundant buttons that are used more often or urgently, like the launch control button.
The main gauges are just as attractive as the rest of the interior, though the speedometer isn't all that legible at a glance. Fortunately, the driver information display between the gauges provides a digital speed readout that can be read in an instant. If there were one item we would like to see, it'd be a better gear indicator when in Manual mode, as it's easy to lose track of which of the eight gears you're in.
The Hellcat's seats feature an excellent mix of firm support and long-distance comfort. Side bolstering is aggressive, but even larger occupants won't find them confining. The passenger seat is mounted too high, however, and there is no height adjustment. On the plus side, the front seats come with ventilation as standard and provide hours of comfortable touring. The large 16.2-cubic-foot trunk ably accepts several large suitcases.
What Safety Features Does It Offer?
Standard safety features on all 2015 Dodge Challenger models include antilock brakes, stability and traction control, front seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and a driver knee airbag. Standard on the Hellcat but optional on most supporting Challengers are a forward collision warning system, a blind-spot monitor, hill-hold assist, automatic high beams, a rearview camera and rear parking sensors.
Also, it's quick enough to flee from most any bad guys unless they're driving a LaFerrari.
What Kind of Fuel Economy Can You Expect?
Dodge claims it has a target of 20 mpg on the EPA highway fuel economy cycle. Final testing is pending, but let's be frank: There's no way any human who would buy a car like this will get 20 mpg in the Hellcat.
After driving over 450 miles with the manual transmission Challenger SRT Hellcat (showing off for anyone who recognized the car, doing a few burnouts and spending a lot of time on SoCal freeways) we averaged 13.2 mpg.
What Are Its Closest Competitors? Chevrolet Camaro ZL1: This top-performing Camaro packs 580 hp and handling that outpaces both the Ford and SRT, though it'll likely lose in a drag race against the automatic Hellcat by 1.4 seconds. In terms of visibility, convenience and interior quality, it also comes up short.
Ford Shelby GT500: The Mustangs are about to get a full redesign, but the GT500 remains a formidable opponent. With 662 hp, it started this latest muscle car power war but it's a full second slower than the claimed performance of the automatic Hellcat in the quarter-mile.
Why Should You Consider This Car?
If too much is barely enough for you, the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat is your car. It dominates other muscle cars in this class when it comes to straight-line acceleration, interior quality, passenger accommodations and cargo capacity. Besides being wildly entertaining on a racetrack and attractive in a sinister way, it's also pleasant as a daily driver.
Beyond that, even though the current Challenger body has been around since 2008, it's still a fantastic-looking car. It still attracts gawkers and admirers and now, thanks to the subtle "supercharged" badges on the front fenders, it's more intimidating than ever.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Car?
As tempting as all that horsepower may be, the Hellcat's $60K price tag puts it in some exclusive territory. Better make sure you're fine with owning the drag strip, as there are cars at this price point that will leave the Hellcat in their tracks when the road turns twisty.
So stay off twisty roads. Problem solved.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.