When Dodge debuted its instantly infamous Challenger SRT Demon at the New York Auto Show in late March — with an onstage burnout and a whip-cracking burst of acceleration from the 840 horsepower beast — the spectacle was, well, stupefying.
I mean, it’s one thing for a car like the Bugatti Chiron to serve up oceanic volumes of horsepower while promising both surgical precision in its delivery and elegance around town — and all the way up to 261 mph. But Dodge is a different breed of cat. It doesn’t have an endless trove of corporate cash at its disposal, and it’s an indisputably earthier brand. It’s the RC Cola to Ford’s Pepsi and Chevy’s Coke. Yet it was also perfect — precisely what you’d want Dodge to go all in on. Still, one had to wonder, was such a creation even going to be driveable? I found out earlier this week at Lucas Oil Raceway outside Indianapolis, where Dodge offered up its Demon for multiple runs down the facility’s NHRA-sanctioned drag strip.
Before cutting us loose, we were briefed on the contortions engineers went through to channel 840 horsepower and 770 lb-ft of torque to the pavement with enough force to launch the $85,000 car explosively without actually exploding: a transmission brake, a rebalanced suspension to press the car down at the rear, greater boost pressure, strengthened engine components, a two-stage fuel pump, a massive air intake, and more. And we were given a primer in the intricate procedurals of drag racing. You can’t just mash the pedal; you deliver the power smoothly but fast, hunt for purchase, and then let it rip.
In the Demon, you execute your launches via multiple combinations of buttons, paddles and pedals. It’s like entering a cheat code on Super NES, but instead of Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start, it’s paddle-pedal-brake-brake-paddle-throttle-paddle-POW, or something like that. Ultimately, it takes a few tries to get the hang of it, but once you do, and you master the fine art of using the trans brake to lock down the transmission while you go through your little finger-and-foot-dance up above, the car will unleash 500 lb-ft of torque right off the line, giving you a 0–60 time of 2.3 seconds at 1.8 g’s. It’s the fastest production car in the world off the line, scoring a 9.65-second quarter-mile at 140 mph, in experienced hands.
In my own hands, I barely squeaked in below three, but it still felt every bit as unbelievable as when Dodge’s hot-shoe gave me a demo run. It shoots off the line with outrageous sound and fury, yet remains controllable and incredibly entertaining all the way down the strip. It’s also a righteous middle finger to the presumptive frontrunners higher up the automotive food chain. Is it driveable? Sure. Whatever. When I pulled off the strip to return to the starting line, it purred like a baby lion and didn’t twitch or snort every time I so much as breathed on the throttle. Nobody’s going to get themselves killed in this thing unless they’re abject morons.
Everyone, though, is going to want a ride.