In 2014, I borrowed a Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat for a week and asked the question: How civil can 707 horsepower be? The first time I drove a Hellcat, I only had about twenty minutes seat time. So I drove the car fast and hard to get a taste of the powerful supercharged Hemi. Exiting the car, I felt it was too much of a toy. But that wasn’t exactly a fair analysis, because with the limited seat time I didn’t bother with getting to know the car. Twenty minutes isn’t near enough time to get to know the car as a driver.
When I was able to actually spend some time behind the wheel, and to learn about everything that the Hellcat has to offer (aside from 707 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque) I realized there was much more to it than a beast that could give your passenger a serious case of whiplash. The car actually became a bit of a luxury car on steroids when I started digging into the computer to see what it had to offer.
I quickly learned that once you get it out of your system to show off and boost your way from stop light to stop light, there’s an amazing car underneath that can actually give you a decent ride to and from work, or make a great cruiser for short or long weekend trips. In other words, it was very civil when I allowed it to be, and a ferocious cat when I decided to stomp on the skinny pedal.
If you’ve been anywhere around the automotive media the past year or so, you’ve likely heard all the comments that the heavy, 4,400 pound Hellcat Challenger has received. I saw nearly all of them too, and among my favorites were: “Fat cat can’t handle”, “I wish it was lighter”, “POS can’t take turns”, to name a few. They were all over social media, and even stronger insults were penned on Chevy and Ford forums. There was so much butthurt, it was laughable.
For the most part, a lot of the negativity was because people were reaching at whatever they could to take down the ranking king of the mountain. Most of the people who have claimed the car can’t handle had never gotten behind the wheel of the car, so they only repeated what someone else had said. The Hellcat isn’t the greatest track car in the world – and nobody at Chrysler ever claimed it was. It’s just the most powerful musclecar ever produced, and that alone seemed to be catalyst that brought about all the hate.
When the original ponycar wars hit us back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Hemi cars were dominating the streets and the dragstrips. Other manufacturers started bringing their A-game to the table to take on the Hemi. For quite a few years, it was all about the musclecar, and manufacturers would list power ratings considerably below what their musclecars could actually produce.
When Dodge brought out the Hellcat Challenger in the fall of 2014, the powers that be within the Dodge camp were amazed at how well the car was received – it was hard to miss the Hellcat because it was all over the internet. It was the fastest and most powerful musclecar ever produced, but the Challenger’s reign was very short lived. Just a couple of months later, another car would best the Challenger’s quarter-mile time by one-tenth of a second, and raise the Challenger’s 199 MPH top speed to 204 MPH.
The car that toppled the Challenger from the top of the mountain wasn’t from Ford or Chevy, it was from Dodge – again – and it arrived in the form of a four-door family sedan. The irony is that all the criticism over the Hellcat Challenger’s girth would also be trumped with the Charger, coming in at a little more than 100 pounds heavier.
Dodge was on top of the world. Two heavy cars that would take down the 1,320 in record time for a factory production car, and it could be taken right from the showroom to the dragstrip, with no modifications other than, perhaps, a pair of drag radials.
But the Charger SRT Hellcat would gain just one more feather in its proverbial cap: it’s the fastest sedan in the world – bar none. The brass at Dodge told the engineers that they wanted 200+ MPH out of the Charger Hellcat, and with some hood sculpting and slight spoiler revisions, they came back with 204 MPH.
With the same 707 horsepower supercharged 6.2L Hemi, and the eight-speed Torqueflite automatic transmission that is available in the Challenger, the Charger stepped up the musclecar wars with even better performance numbers – and did it with two extra doors.
One Week With The Hellcat Charger
I got a lot of great feedback after I spent a week with the Challenger SRT Hellcat, and reached out to Dodge to do it all over again with the Charger SRT Hellcat. I wanted to find out if the Charger could be just as civil on the streets as a daily driver, but with one exception: I wanted to load the car up with people and take them out for a quick trip to lunch, and also take a long, 272-mile trip through California’s back roads and freeways with a carload of people.
Some people asked why I didn’t take the Challenger to the dragstrip, and that was simple: it had been done so much that nothing I could do was going to sway the naysayers, nor was it going to prove anything we didn’t already know.
My goal with the Charger was to find out if it could be used as a daily driver, and if it was comfortable enough for a family to cruise out for lunch on the weekends, or if it was comfortable on a long trip. I wanted to find out: does a family really need 707 horsepower?
When I had the Challenger last year, the biggest issue I ran across was the fact that the rear seat area was not really fit for an adult – or for a teenager, for that matter. Items put in the back seat were difficult to retrieve without moving the seat forward. Small children could sit with their legs up on the seats, but anyone taller than five feet was pretty much cramped back there. The Charger opens up that area and offers plenty of room for two adults, with leg room to spare.
Accessing the rear seat is, of course, much easier with an extra pair of doors. Though many people would not consider a four-door car to be a musclecar, the Charger Hellcat is every bit the musclecar – and then some. The Charger has the same options available for the engine, transmission, and suspension levels through the touch screen, and all of the performance features, like the launch control and traction control, are also available. Only slightly different are the Bilstein shock and spring rates due to the larger, heavier car.
The big difference that I noticed about the Charger, though, is that it doesn’t have the same tendency to oversteer like the Challenger does. When I spoke with Ralph Gilles, FCA Global Product Design boss at Chrysler, about the Challenger’s handling, he told me, “It does tend to oversteer a little, that was designed into the Challenger.”
The Charger, however, has a very neutral way about it. With the Challenger, if I went into a turn hot and heavy and lifted on the throttle, I could feel the ass-end of the car want to come around on me. Putting a little bit of throttle down helped to drive through the turns, but that feeling was always there. Taking similar turns with the Charger at speed, I found that the car would take me through the turn whether I had my foot in the gas or if I had lifted.
The Charger’s wheelbase is just four inches longer than the Challenger, but it just feels like it’s a much lower car with a better center of gravity. The balance is great, and the ride is smooth. My passengers on those long trips got to see some spirited driving in the turns during our trip through the back roads to Santa Ysabel and Ramona, California. One of my passengers, Bill Myers, said, “When you were taking those turns at speed, I wasn’t uncomfortable or grabbing onto the armrest. It didn’t feel like you were going as fast as you were.”
Myers’ teenage daughter, Myla, was in the front seat for much of the trip; she was a passenger with me last year in the Challenger Hellcat and wore the same grin this year. When we stopped and everyone swapped seats, she ended up in the back where she did what most teens do these days on a trip: she texted friends and posted her experience on Facebook. Yes, it was that smooth of a ride that she could sit back and relax, and do teenager stuff.
Steven Lowery was along for the trip all over Southern California with us, and as a two-Charger family he was also thrilled by the opportunity and commented how great the ride was. We suspected that all the grins and accolades that the Hellcat Charger received were mostly because it was, well, a Hellcat. But still, there was nothing negative about the entire trip. We spent most of the day driving the car through various conditions – freeway traffic, winding back roads, and through city streets. When we did stop to stretch our legs we couldn’t wait to be back in the car and hitting the road again.
What Qualifies As A Daily Driver?
When the phrase “daily driver” comes up, it can mean different things to different people. For a one-car person or family – it’s just that: a car that is driven every day. But for multiple-car owners and families, a daily driver can be a car that is driven more often than not. It has become a common phrase that is open to interpretation.
To say that the Charger Hellcat can be a daily driver could be taken lightly, because that also depends on the driving that is being done. For me, the Charger was driven for seven days straight, and it was used for everything: work, lunch trips, grocery shopping, visiting friends, and long drives to other locations. That was intentional, and it was a great car to drive every day to and from work because my trip doesn’t involve an hour-long commute in stop-and-go traffic.
For those who see the bumper of the car in front of them every day for 45+ minutes at a time, the Charger Hellcat would be a comfortable car, but not very economic. For shorter drives such as my short commute, it can most definitely be a daily driver, and when put into economy mode it delivers pretty good gas mileage.
Economy mode will start you off in second gear, and shifts to the highest possible gear as quickly as possible. They also deaden the pedal about five percent, meaning more pedal travel is required to achieve the same level of torque. It doesn’t require much to get the car to move at 65 MPH, and if you’re kind to the skinny pedal, the engine will take sips instead of gulps. Yes, it’s hard to maintain your composure, but if you’re truly seeking better economy, it’s there, you just have to be a little conservative with the throttle.
I drove the Charger somewhat sparingly; meaning, I didn’t need to be the first one to the next intersection, and I didn’t try to best everyone else’s 60-foot times. By spending just a few minutes in city driving and a few minutes on the freeway, my 15-20-minute one-way commute returned an average of 23.2 miles per gallon over the week. Granted, my freeway time was greater than the time spent on city streets, but for a car to produce 707 horsepower and still return a combined mileage of 23 MPG, I was very impressed.
One has to remember that this is a $70,000+ vehicle, and those who spend that kind of money may not be concerned with fuel economy. The strongest appeal is definitely the 707 horsepower, however, looking beyond the power and more towards the luxury side of the car, you might be surprised at how often you will want to drive it.
On our long trip from Riverside to San Diego, through the back roads of San Diego County, I was able to average 19.4 MPG. Our trip back to Riverside, with the cruise control set at 65 MPH the entire 72 mile trip, netted 24.1 MPG, a tad shy of the 25.2 MPG we saw on the same trip with the Hellcat Challenger. Although I did try to be more conservative, I also felt the need to entertain a little, much to the delight of my passengers.
Does Your Family Need 707 Horsepower?
We posed this question because there is a stigma attached to calling a car a daily driver when it isn’t driven every single day. So instead of asking if it can be used as a daily driver, we asked if a family can find room for a 707 horsepower car. The Hellcat Charger is capable of anything a regular family sedan can do, and it’s capable of planting a few butterflies in the guts of unsuspecting passengers.
If you’re one of those drivers that can be easily intimidated by the car in the next lane, then you’re probably better off driving something more economic to work. The power in the Hellcat is there in less than a moment’s notice, and when that power is called upon often you can almost watch the needle on the gas gauge drop rather quickly. But if you can maintain your composure, and remember that you don’t need to prove what the Hellcat is capable of, then you’ll be rewarded with pretty decent fuel mileage.
To answer the question, however, as to whether a family needs this kind of power, we’d have to be honest with our response. Your family doesn’t need it as much as they’ll want it. The ride is fun when you want to have fun, comfortable when you want to relax, and no matter where you go, you will be happy with the way the car gets you there. The Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat is not for everyone, but it is a driver’s car that has plenty of room for the family to come along.
Where the wallet is more of a concern, the Hellcat is capable of spending the kids’ college fund if you spend a lot of time at boost. As with anything, moderation is the key here; the first couple of weeks, you’ll want to show off and your wallet will get a lot of use at the gas pump. Once that desire to show off subsides, your Hellcat will be a bit more eco-friendly by selecting economy mode.
The Charger SRT Hellcat speaks for itself, and the numbers don’t lie. The fastest sedan on the planet can also be the most comfortable sedan you’ve ever driven; you can go from a day at the beach to a night at the opera without changing cars. But even if you don’t have a family to fill the back seats, the Hellcat Charger is a car that I would buy over the Challenger, it’s just a much better, all-around car that has room for more than one friend.
Now, if your family thinks that a trip to a flower garden with lots of butterflies is better than a trip to the races, then you might opt for an eco-friendlier car, like a hybrid. But if your family has a better time hanging around a bunch of gearheads who find that painting 11s on a fresh patch of asphalt is fun, then they’re going to love the Hellcat Charger. And your family will love the butterflies the Charger gives them much more than the butterflies that field full of flowers can attract. That’s a promise.