Last year, I was fortunate enough to be invited on a virtual conference call with some of Dodge‘s big wigs. CEO, Tim Kuniskis was at the helm. He’s passionate about the brand he represents and you can clearly tell he’s tapped into the minds of Mopar faithful.
On the call, Tim broke down the whole Dodge SRT lineup for 2020 and 2021. He dove into the minutiae of what makes a company and brand like Dodge SRT tick. He described the development of vehicles like the insane Challenger SRT Super Stock, and also touched on the features and benefits shared across SRT platforms. You can read all about them, here.
He fielded questions from the other attendees while hitting on subjects like customer demands, debunking an ACR Challenger rumor, drag racing versus road racing, similarities and differences between the Challenger 1320, Redeye, Demon, and Super Stock.
Now, that’s all fantastic and it was a real pleasure to hear it come directly from a head at the house of Pentastar…but, what kind of journalist would I be if I simply regurgitated what Tim said without actually experiencing everything he was praising these cars for?
Sure, as I mentioned, he’s an extremely knowledgeable man with a lifetime of experience behind the wheel of many high-powered and prolific cars, but he also represents the brand, so he can’t exactly be impartial, especially when he’s addressing the press. That’s not a fault. His job isn’t to be impartial…mine is.
While I respect his opinion very much, and he fielded questions like “why not work on producing a smaller platform? [in reference to the Challenger]” honestly and openly, I still felt it prudent to do some “hands-on” journalism and report my real-world findings rather than simply take his word for it. After all, it’s what I would want as a reader…
Now, while it would be nice to be in the tax bracket to go out and buy a new Challenger Hellcat or Redeye, that’s just not in the cards for me at the moment…so what’s a guy to do?
Initially, I spoke with Dodge about borrowing a press car and reviewing it. They were gracious and agreed to let me borrow a Hellcat or 392 Scat Pack. But, as luck would have it, I ended up borrowing a different car.
At the risk of going off on a tangent – one of the concerns I expressed in my interview with Dodge in a previous article, “Inside The Big Cat Family: Cracking The Hellcat Code” was the safety implications that come with selling the high-powered muscle cars to the general public. The age of horsepower is great, but so is safety, and I can tell you the people at Dodge take safety very seriously.
Never has it been so easy and affordable to purchase a car capable of running sub-12-second quarter-mile times. But, in order to feel good about making those sales, Dodge partnered with the Bondurant School Of High-Performance Driving.
By purchasing a Demon, or SRT vehicle, new owners are entitled to a one-day course at Bondurant. And by purchasing a car like the Challenger 1320, owners are also enrolled with the NHRA and NMCA. So they’re all about safe, controlled environments.
This is where the story comes full circle. I called up Mike Kessler, Marketing and Sales Manager at Bondurant, and bounced my ideas off of him. He loved the angle and suggested that instead of dealing with shipping a car from Michigan out to California, we find a better way to get me behind the wheel of a Hellcat.
So, he offered to let me borrow one of their Challengers instead since they’re so close in Chandler, AZ. Then he had an even better idea. To fully illustrate what these amazing machines are capable of, he invited me out for the three-day high-performance driving course they offer and the one-day Demon drag course.
Now that’s investigative journalism for you! Honestly, I do this for you guys.
Seriously though, brevity aside, not only would this give me a chance to test and review the vehicle with relatively little experience behind the wheel, but to then go to the course and explain to all of you what the school is about and what these cars are capable of in trained and untrained hands.
Because, let’s face it, whether you’re watching car reviews on YouTube or reading them in a major publication, you can seldom be sure of the reviewer’s credentials. And while I do have experience driving many classic and late-model muscle cars for comparison, I am by no means an expert driver.
Another added benefit is being afforded the ability to be truly impartial. Borrowing a press vehicle for review can sometimes put people in a strange position where they may hold back something they don’t particularly like about a car.
By working with Bondurant and using one of their cars, it takes some pressure off of me as far as giving an honest review. And any editor, journalist, staff writer, etc. who tells you otherwise…well, I’d take that with a grain of salt. Then again, that’s just my opinion.
In any case, here’s my initial review of the Dodge Challenger Hellcat I was lucky enough to borrow for two weeks before returning to Bondurant for training. You can expect to read all about both the high-performance driving and drag racing course experiences very soon.
Apples To Apples
So, we’ll do away with the high-brow measuring sticks and I’ll try my best to give it a fair shake. coming from someone within Dodge’s target market, I’d imagine that means quite a bit more. I won’t try to hold it to a supercar standard I 1)know nothing about and 2) don’t care about. If you’re reading this, I hope it’s safe to say, you don’t either.
Speaking of the interior, let’s talk about how far American manufacturers have come in the past couple of decades in terms of quality. Sure, the snobs I mentioned earlier will scoff at my previous statement, but it’s true and the Hellcat is proof. No more plastic dashes and flimsy trim, the quality of materials and attention to detail with regard to layout are exceptional.
While the Alcantara wrapped seats and steering wheel I was fortunate enough to have will cost buyers an additional $1,200, I can tell you, it’s money well spent. The heavily bolstered seats hold you in place during the inevitable lateral G’s, and as someone whose hands have a tendency to sweat, I appreciated the suede steering wheel – leather looks nice, but can become slippery.
The factory shifter and cue-ball style knob on the Hellcat are perfect! I have seldom met a factory shifter I like, and an aftermarket short-shifter is among the first upgrades I make to any of my own automobiles, so this is saying quite a bit. Factory shifters often feel squishy and loose. The extra play is likely there as a sort of buffer for those unaccustomed to performance driving.
However, my experience with the Hellcat was much different. The short stick attached to the Tremec Six-Speed banged-off clean shifts with a satisfying click following each row. The fact that Dodge still offers a manual transmission in any of their products is a win in and of itself, to offer one that’s properly suited for performance driving is an even bigger win.
Another aspect of the cockpit I truly enjoyed was the abundant amount of information everywhere I looked. At first, I questioned the lack of a heads-up display, but I also realize the Challenger platform isn’t as concerned with Nurburgring lap times as some of its competitors. Instead, the glow from the dash in the center console was more than enough for drag racers who aren’t too concerned with making adjustments or monitoring parameters while they’re making a pass down the dragstrip – those adjustments will be made before and after, so that really negates the need for a heads up display.
If you do want to monitor those things while you’re driving on the highway though, all one needs to do is glance at the gauges behind the steering wheel, and you can cycle through everything from your speed, radio, and drive modes.
Now, I’m no stranger to popping a clutch or two and making a cloud of smoke and flying bits of rubber. I’d just prefer to do that in a car I actually own. Of course, the moment I got behind the wheel, that all went out the window. My inner hellion now a permanent fixture atop both shoulders whispering smoke-filled words of encouragement – “a little burnout wouldn’t hurt.” Still, I resisted…
That said, I had to give a thorough review, and the power delivery on the Hellcat is superb. The low-end grunt of the 6.2-Liter supercharged behemoth under the hood makes for exciting stoplight to stoplight acceleration and freeway on-ramp pulls. The power curve is a lot less linear than some of its competitors though. This is not to say it runs out of grunt near the top end, it’s just more abrupt on the low end. Whereas Mustangs and Camaro take a bit more time to put you into the back of your seat – of course, this has nothing to do with track times – it is simply a seat of the pants comparison.
In fact, there was one occasion where a new Tesla Model S pulled up next to me in the opposite staging lane – er, I mean, stoplight. The Model S is known for being an electric torque powerhouse, so it was only natural, the youngster behind the wheel would rev his wind-up toy at me…at least, I think he did – I couldn’t hear it, but the staredown was implicit.
Once the light turned green, we had a bit of a go at it, and the Hellcat more than held its own. In fact, some would say it won. But, that implies we were racing, which we weren’t *wink, wink*, and that’s all I’ll say about that.
Accessories & Command Center
The Hellcat’s Performance Pages are where drivers can access drive modes. The graphics used to illustrate the enabling or disabling of certain features are epic! I have to hand it to the engineers and designers at Dodge, they are masters of tapping into what their audience loves about the brand. Perhaps that’s why the platform hasn’t experienced any major aesthetic changes since its inception.
On the inside though, things like the 8.4-inch touchscreen infotainment center have gotten a lot spicier! The graphic used to manage features like the magnetic ride suspension is like something out of a retro-futuristic action movie. The floating chassis is illuminated in different colors – yellow, orange, and red – depending on what mode is selected and which features are enabled. This is also where you can engage all the fun bits like line-lock and launch control which I was tempted to play with, but you’ll have to wait until the next piece of editorial at Bondurant for that.
By pressing the “SRT” button on the dash, each Challenger SRT drive mode is available and has a subset of system tuning: Power levels of 500 or 700 hp (apparently, I’m not the only cautious one), Traction, and Suspension. Track and Sport don’t accommodate all driving styles, so Custom mode is meant to bridge any gap between aggressive and casual driving. In there, individual systems are adjustable. Systems like the magnetic ride suspension.