We Drive The 2015 Challenger SRT Hellcat: Who Says It Can’t Handle?

hellcattestdrive-leadartFor months, the hype was out there: Chrysler was going to release their first supercharged Hemi production car. For months, people from all camps speculated what the power rating was going to be and most all of them fell short.

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It’s a first for Chrysler: the first supercharged Hemi they have ever produced, and it spins the crank at 707 horsepower.

Even though we estimated the expected output at near 700 horsepower back in May of this year, we kept reading numbers as low as 620 from others who were claiming to have a source. Many felt that the Hellcat wouldn’t exceed what Ford or Chevrolet already had, and the rumors were just as active as the flame wars were on many automotive forums with the mere mention of the Hellcat.

Finally, when the horsepower figures were released and the Challenger SRT Hellcat was listed as the most powerful musclecar in history, nearly every Ford fan cried foul, comparing it to the Shelby Super Snake, which they claimed was more powerful.

Immediately, Mopar fans jumped to the Hellcat’s defense stating that the Shelby Super Snake was not a regular production car, it was a $39,000+ modification to an existing Mustang. That alone put the Super Snake into a different category, also making it far more expensive than the Hellcat. The Chevrolet crowd didn’t have much to say with regards to horsepower, so they went for the Nurburgring debate.

More debates that swirled around the internet were the quarter-mile times: the Ford and Chevrolet fans felt like they were being deceived because the Hellcat wore a set of drag radials to achieve the 10.8 second timeslips. Mopar even admitted to the drag radials, and listed the ET on street tires, as well, at 11.2.

But Mustang fanatics swore that a 2013 Shelby GT500 Mustang had gone quicker (10.2 on  wrinkle walls, no less), however, that car was modified, and although the claim was that it had a full interior, it was not factory stock. There were a few suspension modifications, also. Still, the arguments continued with no real winner in sight other than those who chose not to go into battle over these flame wars.

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The Hellcat weighs in at 4,400 pounds, and is built like a linebacker.

Of course, then there was the weight issue, with people calling the new SRT the “fatcat” and claiming that it can’t handle the turns, and that the Z/28 Camaro would outpace the Hellcat on the track. The Z/28 is also a couple hundred horsepower less, and it was built for a road course while the Hellcat was built for power and all around performance.

Tim Kuniskis, President and CEO of Dodge and SRT Brand, has said, “We just went to our SRT engineers and we said let’s just get absolutely crazy with the horsepower and shut everybody up. To them, that was 700.” No real musclecar in the past was built for more than just straight line acceleration or quarter mile dominance, but times have changed and now have our cake and get to eat it too. Regardless of any of these arguments, we are living in exciting times and we should all enjoy them while we can.

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Chrysler Media Event

When we got the invite to see and test drive the Hellcat Challenger, of course we were excited. We made the long drive out to Malibu, California, for the event and were greeted with several of the latest vehicles from Mopar. We also were able to get a very close up look at the new 2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat.

Our eyes focused on two in particular: the 2014 SRT Viper TA and the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat. The Viper was our first drive, and we took it out on the winding road to get a feel for the turns, and to make a couple of spirited runs.

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The 2014 SRT Viper TA was our first drive, and the barometer was set for the Hellcat to take on the twisties.

The Viper TA was our baseline to compare the Hellcat Challenger to. While that may sound like we put the Hellcat on too high of a pedestal, it was intentional. We had expectations for the Challenger with regards to handling, and we needed to be motivated, for starters, and to have something that handles very well to set the standard for our Hellcat test drive. We didn’t push the Viper too hard, but we did get a good feel for how the car took the turns.

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Yes, we took the red key and all 707 horsepower, the black key? Just throw it out because nobody else should be driving your Hellcat.

Starting up the Hellcat Challenger, the car sounds like just about any other modern musclecar at idle: it sounded great, had a nice, deep rumble to it, but it didn’t overpower conversations or the world around us. A few light raps of the throttle and the Hellcat Hemi does something few other engines do. It let out a wicked howl that lets you know that there’s a beast under the hood.

We went out onto the winding road and found a nice switchback turn with a sweeper that would allow us to get some speed into the turn. Being that our seat time on the Hellcat Challenger was less than a few minutes, and our experience with the road we were on was a single pass in the Viper TA, we took it rather mild the first couple of times to get a good feel for the road, the surroundings and the turn itself.

Whether you have the manual or the automatic, the Hellcat delivers on all accounts, with options to adjust the performance in suspension, power and shifting the automatic.

Once we felt comfortable with the road, we made a couple of passes at speed, and we can tell you – without a doubt – anyone who says the Hellcat Challenger can’t handle the curves has simply never driven one. Period. Don’t tell us it’s too heavy, because you’re not planning on towing it or carrying it. Besides, it’s not as though the new ZL1, Z/28, or the current Mustang GTs are really that much lighter.

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That’s all that needs to be said. Right. There.

But one thing we do want to point out is how it seems people are grabbing at thin air to knock the Hellcat Challenger down off its pedestal as the most powerful musclecar. The original musclecar wars were never about road holding ability, tight turns, high-speed sweepers, or g forces. Musclecars were all about going in a straight line down the 1320 and doing it faster than the next guy. And guess what? The Hellcat Challenger already does that. It’s the fastest production musclecar – ever – and it has been NHRA certified with a 10.8 quarter mile at 126 mph (with drag radials).

But that’s not where the musclecar exists these days, because we no longer drive on skinny bias-ply tires with four-wheel drum brakes. These days, we have four-wheel disc brakes, thick sway bars, heavy duty coil springs, and performance adjustable shock absorbers in just about every current musclecar. And for that reason, the SRT Hellcat Challenger doesn’t disappoint, not in the least. The handling is quite amazing in this car, and from someone who has had a couple of different cars out on the local racetracks, this Challenger is quite capable.

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We kind of liked this turn, and with only about 20 minutes seat time, we decided this was our playground for the duration. The Hellcat Challenger puts in about .93 on the skidpad, which is pretty respectable.

We still had other factors that kept us somewhat tame. We had heard a couple of motorcycle cops knew of the event and were keeping an eye out for us, and there was traffic on the road because it wasn’t a closed course. Be that as it was, it didn’t stop us from pushing just a little bit more with each pass and finding out that the claims about the Hellcat Challenger being “too heavy” are just plain ridiculous.

Once we were comfortable with the sweeper, we pushed it harder, and all the Hellcat did was take it like a beast.

HellcatDrive003Final Thoughts and Impressions

Sure, the Hellcat is a heavy car; it seats four adults comfortably and has a large trunk. With all of the requirements and luxuries that go into cars these days, it’s difficult to get around the weight issue.

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Insert the key, and the Hellcat-only red gauges light up and flash the logo, letting you know you’re in Hellcat territory.

But the Hellcat Challenger doesn’t feel like a heavy car at all. It gets around the turns with ease, and just when you think you should slow down, giving it a little more gas will help you power through the turn.

With 707 horsepower, it would be easy to just romp on it and lose control, but the Hellcat gives plenty of control and lets you decide whether you’re going to lose it or not. It didn’t want to get away from us, and it didn’t want to drift into the next lane on us – it pulled all the way through the turn and allowed us to power out of it.

The clutch will give you the grab you need, but if you’re not careful, yes, you can certainly fry it. You can’t be a baby about this car, and you can’t drive it like it’s a piece of porcelain. You need to drive this car like you mean it, drive it like you know what you’re doing and it won’t disappoint you.

All of your performance tuning needs start in the cockpit, with a press of the SRT button above the center console.

If you start to feel like you’re going to fry the clutch, you probably will. On a particular U-turn we were making, we gave it a little too much gas and not enough clutch, and we could smell it. But then, we weren’t the only ones driving it that day; and we did see a nice long set of lines freshly painted on the asphalt, so we knew others were having fun with it.

We just went to our SRT engineers and we said let’s just get absolutely crazy with the horsepower and shut everybody up. -Tim Kuniskis

The Hellcat that we drove was a manual, of course. But as Kuniskis said to Jay Leno on an episode of Jay Leno’s Garage, “I think, with this eight-speed, you’re going to be impressed.” We wanted to find out how profound that statement was, so we took a test drive in the Challenger SRT Scat Pack that was also at the event.

We laid into it, and it shifts very strong and very firm. There are three modes for shifting the eight-speed TorqueFlite: Track, Sport, and Street (Default). These three settings are also available for the engine and suspension modes on both automatic and manual. There’s also a Custom mode, where you can set the car up with your own preferences for performance and handling.

On the touchscreen in the center of the dash you can fine-tune the performance of the Hellcat based on how you want to drive the car. Whether you’re cruising to the track, or out on the track, you have the best of both worlds – and another one in between.

We didn’t get the opportunity to play around with the controls and test them out, but in the default mode we were pretty happy with how the car handled. If the Hellcat can take the turns at the speeds we were going in default mode, it leaves us to believe that we’ve only touched on the Hellcat’s capabilities. We’ll have the Hellcat all to ourselves pretty soon where we can put it through some more testing and give much better feedback, because – as we mentioned – twenty minutes is just not enough to get a true feel for the car.

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Removing the inner light helps the supercharger to suck all of the air out of a 10×13 room in a minute. Make sure children and small animals are clear before romping on it.

The supercharger is very responsive, and at 11.6 pounds of boost it will suck all the air out of a 10×13 room in a minute. If you’re romping on the throttle, you’ll pull about a gallon and a half of fuel through the 1/2-inch fuel lines while you’re utilizing all 707 horsepower, but it can also deliver 22 mpg on the highway if you’re taking it easy on the way back from the races.

The automatic transmission can make performance shifts in 160 milliseconds, which is faster than you can make in the manual – which is derived from the Viper. Both transmissions have been beefed up to take the power that the Hellcat Hemi delivers.

The engine is capable of more than 800 horsepower, and our sources told us that the Hellcat was detuned to get to the 707 that exists today by taking some cam and a little timing out of it. With some tuning on the current engine, maybe a slightly smaller supercharger pulley, 707 is just a number. The engine is built with about 91 percent new components, all beefed up for the Hellcat’s supercharger.

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The wheels are 20×9.5 inches, wrapped with Pirelli P-Zero 275/40 tires. Enough for some serious grip.

Part of the reason the Hellcat can handle so well is the Pirelli P-Zero tires at all four corners, coming in at a pretty beefy 275/40R20 all the way around. Stopping the Hellcat are four-wheel disc brakes with six-piston Brembo calipers clamping down on 15.4-inch rotors – the largest that Chrysler has ever put on any car.

The bottom line is this: if you want a car that will be great at the quarter mile, great for the drive home, and even a lot of fun on the twisty roads, the Hellcat Challenger is an awesome all-around vehicle. It will do it all – and still get 22 mpg on the freeway on the trip home. It’s time for the big boys to play. Chrysler has put their bet on the table – either raise the stakes, or just fold and go home.

About the author

Michael Harding

Michael is a Power Automedia contributor and automotive enthusiast who doesn’t discriminate. Although Mopar is in his blood, he loves any car that looks great and drives even faster.
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