“Isn’t the future supposed to be about electric vehicles and anonymous driving?” pondered Tim Kuniskis, head of passenger car brands of FCA North America, as he introduced the Dodge Challenger SRT Demon to a group of journalists at Indianapolis Raceway. “If you’ve been paying attention to what we’ve been doing for the past few years, you’ve probably noticed that we’ve been working hard to differentiate ourselves from the rest of the industry. We don’t apologize for those differences – we embrace them.”
It’s an assertion that’s hard to argue with – across the automotive landscape, companies are downsizing both their powertrains and their platforms, developing technology with the express intention of taking the driver out of the equation as much as possible, and generally de-emphasizing performance while working under the assumption that the general public has no interest in making an emotional connection with an automobile.
Dodge is taking a different approach. After the brief experiment of positioning SRT as a standalone high performance brand within FCA, Dodge became the conglomerate’s go-to for exciting domestic vehicles. But with a limited vehicle roster that got notably shorter last year after Dodge announced they were axing the Viper – the brand’s halo supercar for the past twenty five years – the brand’s task of quickly churning out headline-grabbing models has become more difficult as of late.
But as Donald Rumsfeld famously once said, “You go to war with the army you have – not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.” Accordingly, over the past few years Dodge has looked to its strong selling LX platform vehicles to lead the charge for the brand, unleashing the performance juggernaut that is the Challenger and Charger SRT Hellcat models on the unsuspecting public in late 2014.
The models sold well beyond Dodge’s most optimistic estimates, and while passenger car sales have dropped by more than 25% across the industry in recent years, the Challenger and Charger are up over 40% in the same amount of time, and that’s due in no small part to the reputation that the Hellcat has cultivated for the brand.
So it makes sense that in order to fill the void left by the Viper’s absence, Dodge would once again look to the LX platform. Announced at the New York Auto Show earlier this year, the Demon boasts some compelling talking points, like the most powerful production V8 in history (a distinction formerly held by the Hellcat models), the fastest 0-60 sprint of any production car in history (2.3 seconds without rollout), and the fastest quarter mile of any production car in history (9.65 seconds using race gas), just to name of few.
Claims like that are just begging to be put to the test, so we headed out to Lucas Oil Raceway in Clermont, Indiana to put Dodge’s latest supercharged beast through its paces at the strip and on the street to find out just what this record-setting Mopar is made of.
Inside And Out
While few have ever accused the SRT Hellcat cars of being underpowered, many have complained about them lacking enough grip to get all the power to the ground. Dodge had previously determined that a 275mm tire was the widest they could fit underneath the stock body panels, so if the car was going to get significantly faster, they’d need to find a way to accommodate more rubber.
The solution is the bulging bodywork seen here. Now shared with the Challenger SRT Hellcat Widebody, this fender flare treatment widens the car by 3.5 inches in total and allows for 315mm tires to fit at all four corners while providing an additional dose of aggression to an already visually menacing vehicle.
Outfitted with unique 18×11-inch wheels wrapped in Nitto drag radials that were developed specifically for the SRT Demon and a unique Air Grabber hood, which features the largest functional hood scoop of any production car, the design isn’t exactly subtle. And that’s precisely the point.
“My goal is to make these cars as unique and expressive as possible,” said Mark Trosle, head of performance, passenger, and utility vehicles exterior design for FCA North America. “When you walk up to them they should make the hair on your arms stand up.”
Inside it’s a similar story – while not a complete rethink versus the Challenger SRT Hellcat, there’s enough visual differentiation to make the Demon stand out amongst the coupe’s now-extensive roster of models, like an Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel, a custom carbon fiber instrument panel badge with the car’s production sequence number, and white-faced gauges. Buyers also have the option to delete both the rear seat and passenger seat for weight savings, and the Demon is designed so that the mounting points for a four-point harness bar are easily accessible without any cutting or drilling required.
Under The Hood
When the folks at Dodge unveiled the supercharged 6.2-liter V8 that powers the Hellcat, they were quick to point out that, even with 707 horsepower, they were still far from reaching the limits of what the motor was capable of.
“But this is not a tuned Hellcat,” asserted Chris Cowland, vehicle dynamics and motorsports engineering manager for SRT, of the new Demon motor. “This engine has to perform the same way at 120,000 miles that it does on day one – there’s no easy passes for durability requirements.”
Considering the laundry list of industry-firsts in the Demon’s arsenal of high performance hardware, that’s perhaps an even more remarkable achievement than the 840 horsepower and 770 pound-feet of torque this boosted Hemi makes on 100 octane race gas (the power takes a slight dip to 808hp and 717lb-ft on pump gas).
But even with the world’s most powerful factory-produced V8 in history, 840 horsepower shouldn’t, in theory, be enough to get this 4200-pound car to run nine second quarter miles. “Folks ran all sorts of calculators that said that 840 horsepower wouldn’t be enough,” Cowland points out. “But by leveraging the technology we have available, we were able to exceed those expectations.”
Rather than simply adding more brute force and hoping for the best, the SRT team devised a comprehensive engineering strategy that would get the performance where they wanted it. The plan of attack included not only more power, but a higher stall converter in the 8-speed automatic gearbox, steeper final drive ratio (3.09 versus the automatic-equipped Hellcat’s 2.62), more grip from the drag radials, more weight transfer to the rearend from the drag-tuned adaptive suspension system, and a more urgent launch from the factory-installed trans brake feature, the latter being yet another production first.
“Beyond the horsepower, it’s the torque and grip that’s going to push the car off the line,” explained Jim Wilder, SRT’s vehicle development manager for the Dodge Challenger SRT and Charger SRT. “All these incremental improvements like the converter and the differential helped us work toward our main goal, but we also focused improving longitudinal grip as much as possible.”
After extensive development work with Nitto that started with an off-the-shelf NT05R drag radial, they ended up with a compound and construction that’s wholly unique to the SRT Demon, one which is W top speed rated (168 mph) rather than the Z rating (149 mph) of typical drag radials. “With trap speeds of over 140 mph, we wanted a little more headroom,” Wilder added.
Behind The Wheel
Like the SRT Hellcat Widebody, the SRT Demon uses a three-mode electrically assisted power steering system rather than the hydraulic assist system found in the standard Hellcat models. This allows for three different steering weight modes, allowing the driver to pick a mode that’s suited to street driving or sub-10 second passes down the drag strip, which makes handling those big, grippy drag radials on the front wheels much easier around town and when maneuvering at low speeds when parking, etc.
Much like the Hellcat, one of the most surprising things about the Demon is how civil it is considering its capability – aside from the rain-unfriendly rubber, there’s no indication that the Demon wouldn’t be able to handle year-round driving duty in drier climates, and piloting the drag champ through traffic is much like the experience you’d find in a garden-variety Challenger.
Subtle hints of the Demon’s true mission are still present though, and are perhaps most obvious in the drag-tuned suspension. Though it’s composed enough out on the street, it does differ noticeably from that of the Hellcat, with the dampers essentially working against the soft springs that are purposely designed to transfer weight to the back end during launches. The Street and Sport suspension settings actually stiffen the dampers versus Drag mode, which allows the front end to lift while the rear end squats. Allowing the weight of the car to move around freely is essentially the opposite of the goal in a sport-tuned suspension.
But get the Demon into the staging lane and it is truly in its element. While the line lock and trans brake functions take some getting used to, as both require a sequence of timed inputs that can be initially tricky to get right, eventually the process becomes second nature and you can start to really focus on your launch technique.
While much of the experience is Hellcat-esque, the Demon stakes its own claim by simply delivering more of what turned its predecessor into an icon – more aural savagery from the exhaust system, more initial force from the high-grip launches, and more outright speed, all while ensuring the performance is still accessible to the average driver.
In a nine-second car things happen pretty quickly at wide open throttle, but what’s truly amazing about the Dodge Challenger SRT Demon is how easily one could get used to this. What a time to be alive.