After a media event with Chrysler where we were able to spend a little time behind the wheel of the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, we walked away with a different impression than what we had hoped for. It was a great car, but we felt it was just a brute and not civilized enough for regular driving.
With only about 20 minutes seat time, we pushed the car hard – with our foot to the floor most of the time. We wanted to hear that 707 horsepower make sweet music – accompanied by one of the coolest of wind instruments: the Hellcat Hemi supercharger.
The sound was amazing, and the power is right there where you want it; a heavy right foot puts you back in the seat with ease. But we didn’t really get to enjoy the car for what it is: a refined modern musclecar. We didn’t have time to adjust the suspension, change some settings, or to just cruise with the car and have some decent, G-rated fun.
We never turned on the 900-watt audio system (we actually turned it off), we skipped using cruise control, and the climate control system was left where we found it. Instead of enjoying all of the incredible electronic technology, we set out to prove what we already knew: that it was brutal and faster than any other musclecar ever produced.
With 11.6 pounds of boost and an engine built with 91 percent new components, the engine was designed to handle over 700 horsepower. The car didn’t disappoint us with regards to performance; it’s fast and very quick – everything prior reports had promised it would be. We loved driving it and wanted to make sure it met our expectations. In other words, we drove it like we stole it.
Just about every article or video is about how the car is capable of doing ridiculous burnouts; most people want to tear up the 1320 to see if it’s as quick as the NHRA-verified reports had stated. Granted, most media loaners of this caliber aren’t going to be driven like a grandma car and used for grocery shopping, but how can you get a real impression of a car if all you do is push it as hard as you possibly can?
First Impressions Aren’t Necessarily The Best
For most of us, driving a musclecar is something we enjoy and we drive them as often as possible. For those who have a high horsepower musclecar, there comes a time and place for showing off because frequent trips to the gas station aren’t worth that feigned sense of victory; those moments are not your wallet’s best friend.
We wanted to know more about the car, so we reached out to Scott Brown with Chrysler Communications and asked to borrow a Hellcat Challenger for a week. We told him we were going to do something different, though – we were going to drive the car, put some miles on it, and not spend the entire week doing burnouts or drag racing. On October 28th, a Hellcat Challenger showed up at our offices and it was ours for the six days that followed.
There were some rules that we laid down with the car, though. We wanted to drive it the entire week as though we had no other vehicle to drive. We weren’t interested in quarter mile or 0-60 times; we wanted to respect the car and to provide an honest assessment afterwards. We wanted to get a second first impression.
Maybe it sounds boring from a performance perspective to take it easier on the car, but if you’re interested in purchasing a Hellcat you’re probably not interested in spending the rest of your kid’s inheritance at the gas station. In other words, you might want to know what it’s like when you’re not pushing it to the limit, and that’s what we set out to do.
Drive It Like You Own It
Our time with the Hellcat was planned out: we went shopping, went to dinner, visited friends, cruised on Friday night, visited a couple shops, and we planned a long drive to Palm Springs and back with a local Mopar enthusiast club.
Driving the Hellcat is like having an equity line of credit – if you use it all up at once you’ll end up paying for it later.
Though we wanted to enjoy the car from a driver’s perspective, that’s not to say we didn’t have a little fun with it. After all, that’s the whole reason you buy a car with 700 horsepower. But that doesn’t mean you have to drive it like you stole it.
We found that driving the Hellcat is like having an equity line of credit – if you use it all up at once you’ll end up paying for it later. But if you use it wisely and sensibly you can live quite comfortably with it and actually enjoy it a little more.
Day 1 – The Arrival
We began our week with the Hellcat by spending about a half-hour in rush-hour traffic on the way home. We found the car to be very civil in traffic, the power was always there under our right foot, but cruising at lower speeds and keeping it below 2,000 rpm made it feel like just about any other car. Even at low speeds, the car has a mean and nasty sound to it and we knew that 707 horsepower was at our beck and call.
That evening, we went grocery shopping. Most people had no clue as to what was so special about the Billet Metallic Challenger sitting in the parking lot, and it was hard to pretend it wasn’t special. With the exception of the hood (and what’s underneath it) and a couple of other styling cues, it simply looks like a new Dodge Challenger – making the Hellcat a bit stealthy in a big parking lot. We loved it – and hated it all the same: it’s a Hellcat fer cryin’ out loud!
The car is much more than just a musclecar; the trunk is huge and has plenty of room for groceries, a cooler for the beach, or even camping gear if you so desire. The rear seat area is difficult to get in and out of for an adult, but this is not a car you buy for carpooling to work. There’s plenty of room for smaller children in the back seat, providing they don’t scare easily by the occasional howl coming from the supercharger.
Since most reports are about the performance, not much has been said about the luxury side of the Hellcat. Most of us think owning a musclecar means big power, a loud exhaust, and to hell with luxury. But the Hellcat is very refined, and there are options and electronics that are typically found in some of the most expensive luxury cars. Dare we say that it’s actually a nice car?
The seats are Nappa leather with Alcantara inserts, or you can go full Laguna leather. The front seats are very comfortable with plenty of adjustments, and the climate control system will cool you down or warm you up through the ventilated seats – even the steering wheel is heated. The power windows and mirrors don’t take away from the sporty interior, they look right at home with the design. The door panels belong in the Challenger, and the high center console gives you a feeling that you’re in a cockpit, not a car with tons of luxuries.
The audio system pumps out some heavy bass thanks to Harman Kardon, and the rest of the 18 speaker sound system keeps your ears filled with 900 watts of power from the trunk mounted amplifiers. Inside the center console, you’ll find ports for a USB drive, iPod, and media ports to add your own music. Bluetooth connectivity allows you to sync the car with your smartphone.
On the center display, Sirius radio is available and it allows you to select and save favorites and store them in the system. Even though we spent a whole week with the Hellcat Challenger, we still didn’t get to experience all of the features on this luxury musclecar.
The street manners are very civil, and the car was easy to get around in traffic. The twin disc clutch did take some getting used to, but after a short time we were comfortable with the Jekyll and Hyde personality the Hellcat possesses. After a day of getting a feel for the car, it was time to put the Hellcat to bed and park it in the garage.
The Challenger took the place of a 1965 Plymouth for a week in the garage; though it’s a little smaller than the old B-body it seemed to completely fill the void left by the Plymouth. Pulling into the garage was like teaching a pit bull to use a doggie door; the Challenger is bulky and thick, and it took some time to get used to its overall size from the driver’s seat.
Day 2 – Dyno Day And The Gratuitous Burnout
Our first full day with the Hellcat was spent shooting video; we strapped it down on the dyno, and took it out on the open road. We invited our friend Dan Woods, from Chop Cut Rebuild fame, to come down to our shop and give us his impression of the car. He jumped at the chance; we think he was willing to tell his dentist to reschedule if the times didn’t sync.
We also borrowed a potent Viper from our friends next door at A & C Performance as a photo backdrop. We snapped a photo of the Hellcat on the dyno behind the Viper, and posted the duo to our Facebook page to see if anyone would notice the Hellcat in the background. A few people noticed it, but some thought it was just a regular SRT Challenger. That’s kind of the beauty of the Hellcat – it’s somewhat subtle, but it’s Hellacious at the same time.
After strapping down, we made a couple of runs on our Dynojet dynamometer, and the Hellcat returned 624.34 rwhp and 592.29 lb-ft of torque. Calculating for parasitic loss, that works out to about a 10 percent loss through the manual drivetrain, making for a strong run. The dyno can break some hearts, but it can also make your day.
The word is that the Hellcat is capable of more power than what is advertised, and some reports have it in the 720-730 horsepower range after achieving their dyno numbers. We’ve heard from reliable sources that the supercharged Hemi was putting out closer to 800 crank horsepower initially, but a little bit of de-tuning and adjustments netted 707 – the least amount of power they could get it to in street trim.
After a little banter with Mr. Woods, he was off to get some seat time and promised to “drive it like a grandpa would.” Our video crew came back in one piece, but we’ve been told that Woods will need his own waiver next time around.
That afternoon, we hit the winding back roads of Temecula to get some video footage and to see how well the car handles in the tight turns during spirited driving. For anyone who has jumped on the bandwagon claiming that the Hellcat is too heavy, the weight issue was put into a more rational perspective by one of our friends: “The Hellcat is two people heavier than the Camaro, and three people heavier than the Mustang.” It doesn’t really sound like much additional weight when it’s put like that.
But the Hellcat has sort of a put up or shut up attitude when it comes to weight. It puts down some good, solid numbers that the Mustang and Camaro can’t currently touch. There’s no denying that they’re great cars and they can hold their own, but the Hellcat was built with one intention, according to CEO Tim Kuniskis: to shut people up. It might have worked in the beginning, too, because the automotive world went silent for a brief moment when the figures were released. Then the weight issue was all we heard about after that, and nobody was going to shut up about the Hellcat.
The Hellcat was the king of the mountain this past summer, and it was inevitable that the automotive world wanted to knock it down. It eventually happened sooner than we thought: the Hellcat’s reign as the fastest and quickest musclecar was very short lived. There’s already a new musclecar that exceeds the performance figures of the Challenger.
But Dodge will still be able to stake their position at the top, because the car that toppled the Challenger is the Hellcat Charger. It comes in at 5 mph faster, .2 seconds quicker in the quarter mile, and it just nudges inside the 0-60 time of the Challenger – and it’s even another 100 pounds heavier! The Charger also added “worlds fastest sedan” to its repertoire.
Until we get to take either car out on the road course, we can only say that the car handles very well for a heavy car. It can get away from you if you’re not careful, but the road manners are quite acceptable on this car. If you hit the brakes in a fast turn, you can feel it begin to oversteer, but keeping a firm foot on the throttle kept it on the road and it pulled through like a champ. Playing around with the suspension settings can help out a little here, too.
After testing out the handling, we knew there was something we had to do with the car: burnouts. Call it peer pressure if you want, but how can you have a car like this in your fingertips, with all that power, and not do at least one burnout? It’s physically impossible to abstain, and we admittedly caved so easily. One simple request by our film crew and we were putty.
Day 3 – A Teenage Enthusiast Gets A Surprise
Thursday night we took the car over to our friend Shawn’s back yard shop, and invited a couple of other friends to see the Hellcat. Mingling the Hellcat Challenger with some old iron in a rural setting, with friends checking out the wicked sound of the supercharger was a moment frozen in time on Facebook – several times that evening.
A neighbor, Bill, typically brings his daughter with him to cruise nights, and to say Myla is a Mopar fan is an understatement. We decided to surprise her with the Hellcat visit and let her sit behind the wheel – she’s still grinning about it to this day.
She’s going to grow up to be a die hard Mopar fanatic, we can tell already. She said, “If a boy doesn’t know what the Hellcat is, I don’t talk to him.” Tough crowd, but major respect. She knows what she likes and we were glad to give her an opportunity like this.
All three were blown away by the car, and smartphones captured the whole evening nonstop. Each of them posted pictures to their Facebook pages, and the responses came almost immediately: “is that really a Hellcat?.”
After a couple of hours we were headed back home with the car, and we came upon a guy in a modified 2013 Dodge Charger. We revved the engine, he looked over, and then went about his business without realizing what he was next to. We must have had the stealth shield on again. A quick sprint down the freeway dropped the fuel level a little bit, so we filled up the tank a second time. It was getting costly because we kept showing off with the car; we should have charged admission, but the Challenger was definitely an E-ticket ride through and through.
After the first tankful we got to see that pushing the supercharger was going to hurt the wallet, so we tried to be a little more conservative the days that followed. We still had three full days with the car before turning it – and the infamous red key – back over to Chrysler, so we took it easy trying to conserve fuel. After three days, we hadn’t yet found more than one person who identified the Hellcat. Yes, it bruised our ego a little bit.
Day 4 – A Little Cruising On Friday Night
We didn’t have much planned for Friday evening other than dinner and a little cruising around town and doing a little showing off if the opportunity presented itself. After spending a day of taking it easy, we were overdue to play a little with unsuspecting motorists. We had gone past a few other enthusiasts in modern Mopars, and we were surprised just how stealth the car is on the freeway. We were in a Hellcat and we wanted people to notice it, but that didn’t happen.
After dinner, we stopped at a light and a couple guys in the car next to us hollered out; they wanted to know if the car was really a Hellcat. Things were looking up a little, they loved the car and knew that something was different when they heard the supercharger. When the light changed, we decided to give them a treat and we romped on the gas a bit, in an instant we were gone and they disappeared in the rear view mirror. We finally got to show off to someone who knew what the car was all about, and that only cost us about five bucks. It was adding up quickly.
It was getting late so we spent some time looking around town for the right setting to get some more pictures. We felt like we were creating a modern Norman Rockwell painting with the Hellcat. We’re kind of glad we didn’t get called out too often – this kitty will drink it up in a hurry, and the gas gauge works almost inversely to the speedometer needle – the more it rises, the needle on the gas gauge falls.
Day 5 – A Closer Inspection By Club Members
Early Saturday morning we visited a couple of friends and headed out to Viau Motorsports in Lake Elsinore to put the Hellcat on the lift and take a look at the underside of the car. This was the first look we ever got at what’s underneath, and we inspected the exhaust and the mechanics of the car.
We invited a few people over from Inland Mopars and Mopar Club San Diego to check out the car and, again, the smartphones and cameras were busy all morning long. Up until that point, most people had only seen the car at a local show, limited to under the hood and the interior. We also showed everyone what they hadn’t yet seen: the underside of the Hellcat.
The exhaust was laid out well and very symmetrical, and the mufflers were about half the size of those on the 300C. In place of U-joints were CV joints that no doubt were put in place to handle the power of the supercharged Hemi. The rear half-shafts were of different thickness, and we noticed electric servos on the exhaust. The new 2015 Scat Pack Challengers, we’ve found, are identical to the Hellcat Challenger with the exception of the engine and supercharger, of course.
The solenoids on the pipes are there to provide some back pressure on the exhaust. As Kuniskis said, “If you’re into the gas and have a load on the engine, it’s straight-through exhaust, five-and-a-half inches, and it sounds like pure evil.”
Kuniskis was dead-on with his description, the sound of the Hellcat at WOT is wicked and lets everyone around know that it means business. That inlet next to the headlamp pulls some serious air through it, we were sure to keep small animals away from the front end when we romped on it.
After a lengthy inspection and some discussion about the Hellcat with some club members, it was time to bring the Hellcat back down to earth and let the crowd get some pictures of it. We saw a little bit of rain, but that wasn’t going to ruin our plans for the rest of the day. Next came the real test: we wanted to see what kind of gas mileage we could get on the freeway on a long drive.
We headed down to San Diego and we were determined to be nice and not let our right foot control us. Each leg of the round trip was about 58 miles, and both ways we set the cruise control at 65 mph and didn’t touch it. The trip included a few big hills, and a bit of level driving, but we wanted to see if the claim for 22 mpg was going to be accurate or not.
We made a couple of stops in Poway and El Cajon, shared a burger and fries with Mopar enthusiasts, and then headed back home afterwards. When we got to our destination near Temecula, we stopped to fill the tank and watched as the numbers rolled up on the gas pump as the price increased.
When all was said and done, we had about 116 miles and just a bit over 4.6 gallons of premium fuel. We grabbed our smartphone and did the math, and came up with 25.21 mpg for our trip, a pleasant surprise.
That put us 3 mpg higher than the Monroney Sticker suggested, making this not only the most powerful musclecar, but also the most civilized musclecar we’ve seen in a long time. With over 700 horsepower on tap, and fuel mileage that can beat many modern midsize cars, the Hellcat Challenger is a great, all-around vehicle for someone who wants to drive it regularly.
The car gives you the luxury of picking and choosing your battles; you don’t have to humor most other drivers because you already know you can beat them in a straight line sprint. This combination of performance and economy is hard to beat, and for a car that’s “too heavy” it holds its own on just about every playing field.
With our last day approaching, we headed home for a good night’s rest to get up early for our long cruise to Palm Springs with yet another Mopar enthusiast club. We checked our mileage and we were getting pretty close to the 500 mile mark, and the car had already won us over, the fuel mileage was just the icing on the cake.
Day 6 – Our Final Outing And A Trip To Palm Springs
We met up with Mopar 360 in Riverside, and headed out on our planned trip to Palm Springs for lunch. Afterwards, it was a long, winding road home with about two dozen Mopar enthusiasts of all calibers.
It was this trip that was to be our last with the Hellcat Challenger, and after the long week and all of our errands and visits, we were left with a completely different impression of the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat. We really liked it and couldn’t believe the week had gone by so fast.
After lunch in Palm Springs, we were going to hit the back roads of Southern California, and it was then that we started playing with the suspension settings, and we pushed the SRT button on the front of the console. The settings allow varying shift light settings for each gear, launch control for racing, and setting the suspension for sport or track. There are also additional gauges that are viewed in real-time digital display for boost pressures, intake temperatures, and other vital engine statistics.
When you want to pass someone, the power is there in the Hellcat, from almost any engine speed. We were able to cruise down the freeway in sixth gear at 65 mph and didn’t need to downshift in order to pass someone. The power was there, and it was available whenever it was needed. For most of the week driving to and from work, we kept it at a reasonable 2,000-2,200 rpm, and it didn’t break a sweat.
Getting onto the freeway was a snap, too. We didn’t need to outrun everyone getting on the freeway – but we knew we could. Simply giving the car enough gas to outpace the car next to us allowed us to enter the freeway with ease. Cruising in fifth provided a quicker trip to the powerband, but it didn’t take much effort to reach it in sixth gear, either.
Another option we liked on this car was the back up camera. It took a little bit to get used to but gave us a good view from behind the car. This option is very helpful, because if there’s one complaint about the car it is that rear visibility is pretty bad, horrible is not far off from the truth.
There are blind spots on either side and the only saving grace is that the outside mirrors are fitted with sensors that let us know someone is there, and they beep when the vehicle is close. Otherwise, seeing past the quarter sail panel is difficult, especially for shorter drivers.
We were at one intersection where our road entered at an angle, and the only way to see oncoming traffic was to unbuckle the belt and lean all the way across the passenger seat, or set the brake and step out of the car.
However, blind spots were the only negative that we could find with the entire car, it would probably be nice to be able to flip on the reverse camera without switching into reverse, but other than that we have zero complaints about the Hellcat Challenger.
Sure, we played with the throttle and the wicked howl a bit, maybe a bit too much, because we could almost see the fuel gauge drop as we were driving. But if you can condition yourself to drive the car normally, and not show off to everyone around you, then you can probably achieve decent fuel mileage, also.
The navigation system is one of the cooler luxuries to the Hellcat. Having never driven a car with navigation, it was amazing to watch the screen change and give us precise directions and instructions. When we approached a turnoff, the screen displayed a graphic of the current freeway that let us know we could use either of the three right lanes to exit, and then it reverted back to the map display. Navigation isn’t new, but it was a nice feature to have and was well used during a couple of our trips.
The 2015 Challenger SRT Hellcat won us over with its in like a lion – out like a lamb personality. The bottom line is that we now want one, not because it’s the fastest musclecar, but because we simply enjoyed the car. After the first outing and pushing the car as hard as we could, we weren’t able to respect the car for what it is: it’s a driver’s car.
Whether you want to shift the beefed up Viper six-speed manual, paddle-shift the eight-speed Torqueflite automatic, or let the automatic perform lightning quick shifts for you, it doesn’t matter because it’s a musclecar through and through. But it also has some great features that make the car bearable as a daily driver, too. It can handle it all, and if you’re on the fence about buying one, we hope this journal of our week long ownership of the Hellcat Challenger will help you make that decision. We sincerely don’t think you’ll regret it.