225 kilometers an hour? It’s 0.62, right? Why the hell can’t I figure it into miles? So 124 plus like 14 or 16 or…shit-shit-shit time to brake. Turns out mental math is a lot more difficult when solved howling down the main straight at Summit Point Motorsports Park in the most powerful sedan ever made.
The day had begun in hangar at Ronald Reagan National Airport — a suitably dramatic setting for the launch of a car named after a Navy fighter plane. Inside sat a six-by-four grid of 2015 Dodge Chargers, from the relatively tame 292 horsepower Charger SE up to the suitably insane 707 horsepower crammed inside the Charger SRT Hellcat ($63,995) — the feature act.
Auto journalists tend to turn into third graders in situations like this: long distance shouts of “I called that one” and commandeered keys come well before any reasoned negotiations for cars. Luckily, by trading a couple of packs of Oreos and promising to do someone else’s math homework, I soon had my ass securely parked in a Jazz Blue Hellcat. After a few minutes of introductions, announcements and reminders to please not total them, our automotive cavalcade was headed northwest to the junction of West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland.
Within the first hour of this jaunt to the land of John Denver and Deliverance jokes the Hellcat played its first joker. When you hear the numbers for the first time — 707 horsepower, 2.9 seconds to 60, 11-second quarter miles, 204 mph — it’s hard to see through all the tire smoke and remember that this is ostensibly a car that people are going to use every day. The world’s loudest commuters will be pleased to know that if you drop the car into all “Street” settings through the mildly confusing SRT Performance Pages (see: my inability to change to Imperial units of measurement), it’s actually a pretty relaxing ride. The suspension loosens up, shifts get a little less neck-snappy and the traction control makes sure you don’t light up the tires at every on-ramp, but it retains all that power and — amazingly, considering previous Chargers — becomes a fairly pleasant place to be if you’re stuck in beltway traffic. Not to mention a surprising 24 highway mpg, thanks mostly to the standard and fantastic 8-speed ZF gearbox.
Really put the pedal down and it sounds like Truckasaurus reaching climax.
Likewise, the interior is much improved from previous renditions with less cheap plastic than ever and a fit and finish that’s pretty rare on cars coming out of Detroit. The seats are properly supportive for spirited driving and appropriately comfortable for long trips; the stereo’s good; and the back seat is roomy and well equipped, even if it looks a bit slapdash. Pairing distinctly American and distinctly Dodge hints like the gigantic dash console and T handle shifter with a decent chunk of modern refinement makes the outgoing Charger look way more than a year old.
It didn’t take long to forget about the interior fit and finish once I flicked the car into “sport” and rolled onto the West Virginia back roads surrounding Summit Point. Just try to keep a straight face when the Hellcat hits 6,500 rpm, the supercharger screaming like a hoard of One Direction fans, and all of a sudden you’re going way too fast over a road that feels just a bit too small for your 4,560-pound answer to why more is always better. And the noise. It sounds like a P51 Mustang racing an angry lion. Really put the pedal down and it’s like Truckasaurus reaching climax.
This is one of those cars that encourages you to be a complete jackass at every possible moment. Have to make a right turn and there’s no other car in sight? Sounds like a good time to test the 275-section Pirelli’s limits of adhesion. Tunnel? Better drop a couple cogs and pin the throttle. “Take Me Home, Country Roads” comes on? God help you.
It was only when we arrived at the track that another interesting feature of the Hellcat presented itself: it’s actually a pretty good-looking car. It’s not as ridiculous as the Challenger Hellcat with an air intake in its eye or as refined as similar offerings from across the Atlantic but Dodge seems to have finally worked out a design language that doesn’t (entirely) revolve around cars that it made 50 years ago. The fascia looks compact and modern, the rear looks tight and (thanks to some advances in LED tech) the signature “race track” taillight is now a seamless band.
Another strange thing? It’s got a pretty reserved design. Yes there are big exhaust tips and some vents on the hood that look like a Viper’s and red brake calipers, but otherwise you’d be hard pressed to tell the Hellcat from one of its more reasonable siblings at first glance. There isn’t one “Hellcat” or “Supercharged” or “707” badge on the car, just a 2-inch-tall cougar (or maybe it’s a mountain lion) on the front quarter panels. When you cram that much power in a car you pretty much have free license to be as ostentatious as you want, but Dodge held themselves back. Part of it is the natural practicality and design constraints of any sedan, but there also seem to be bigger ambitions at play. Keeping in mind that this is still very much a Lynyrd-Skynyrd-cranking, stars-and-stripes-bandana-wearing muscle car, it seems Dodge designed this thing with hopes of being compared to XJRs and AMGs instead of GT500s and ZL-1s. I’m not sure if they’re quite there yet visually, but in terms of driving dynamics, they’re closing in fast.
When you hear the numbers for the first time — 707 horsepower, 2.9 seconds to 60, 11-second quarter miles, 204 mph — it’s hard to see through all the tire smoke and remember that this is ostensibly a car that people are going to use every day.
Touching 140 mph on the half-mile front straight at the 10-turn Summit Point Circuit seemed like proof enough. Though the Charger is undoubtedly made to go obnoxiously fast in a straight line, the Dodge engineers said the tune on the Charger is aimed much more at the left and right turn set than its two-door brother. Turn-in and braking were impressive when you remember how gigantic the engine sitting over the front axle is. There’s always the option of letting the throttle do the steering if you feel the need to wear out your Tire Rack loyalty card.
$64,000 for the fastest sedan in the world is the biggest fuck-you in the automotive world since the 426 HEMI or the Plymouth Roadrunner’s rear wing. The Challenger Hellcat offers the same power for less money in a more exciting package, so what’s the point of the Charger? The Challenger is a weekend car, resigned to dragstrips and Sunday drives but you could absolutely use and love the Charger every day.
The Charger is a lunatic that combined two of America’s favorite things: power and the full sized sedan into a pretty amazing package. It’s obscenely loud, terrifyingly fast and yet kind of practical. This is a complete departure from the two-door muscle car American ethos and yet it seems like a natural progression. It’s hard not to absolutely love this car while questioning its existence at every turn. It begs to be compared with Euro-muscle AMG‘s and M‘s because there isn’t really much else to compare it to, but it’s a strangely good flag-barer for what most American car guys think an American car should be. Its fast, it’s loud, it looks good, handles well and fits 5. God bless the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat.