He had barely driven 100 metres before I caught the grin on his face. Gingerly we’d driven out of his driveway, turning right into the darkened side street and straightening before he prodded the accelerator. He doesn’t say much, my father-in-law. He’s one of those classic, strong Canadian men with a quiet and calm demeanour.
Bill doesn’t need to say anything. His smile is proof positive that this car has him pleased. Bill is the sort of bloke who builds his own basement (yes, the whole thing) from scratch, has a decades-old rib rub recipe that makes grown men cry, and who will offer up the shirt off his back to help you. He’s as Canadian as they come. He’s also the man who built the doors in this Hellcat.
“It’ll have two keys and over 700 hp.”
“Sure Bill, sure it will,” I said.
I was a fool.My father-in-law is a long-time employee of Chrysler, where he works at the Brampton plant, putting together the doors that are bolted to Challengers, Chargers and 300s sold right around the world. It was he who first told me this ballistic edition of the Challenger was coming. “It’ll have two keys and over 700 hp,” he told me. “Sure Bill, sure it will,” I said. I was a fool.
Now, I was redeeming my ignorance by bringing my father-in-law a 2015 Challenger Hellcat to sample. It’s a travesty that the workers in that plant get only to build these cars – only a handful of his colleagues have actually driven one. I didn’t think I’d get to drive one either. Dodge has been protective of its press fleet (and particularly its tires), and my frequent, half-joking refrain of “Do. A. Skid!” had raised the eyebrows of the wary PR team.
Yet, here I was, reaching for the grab handle as my father in law slotted home third and hurtled us out onto the main road. That short drive was the best I’ve taken in all my time in this job. Bill’s eyes grew big as we walked out to the car, he paused to check out the air intake hidden inside the running light, opening the door a couple of times to see how it felt.
“Check out the interior quality – it’s way better than the last model” I said. Oh, wait. He knows that.
We didn’t say much as we drove. He showed me some quiet industrial roads – and then made them loud. He was surprised by how easy the Hellcat was to drive normally, and I agreed. As the drive went on, Bill’s confidence increased. He stabbed the loud pedal and the shrieking, supercharged, 6.2L hemi ignited under the hood, pinning us both back in our seats. “It’s fast,” he said with nonchalance. Classic Bill.
But the fuel gauge was running low, and time was running out. It was late, and the Brampton plant’s morning shift starts before dawn. These blokes work hard. As we neared the road that leads to his street I sensed Bill hesitate, “Once more around the block?” I asked.
“No, thank you. That’s okay.”
We pulled into Bill’s driveway and he pulled the hood lever. Taking a long, long look at the rough metal cover over the supercharger and the ducted airways feeding it.
I thanked him for the burgers he’d fed me before our drive. He thanked me for the drive. He shook my hand more firmly than ever and walked back into his house. I drove home the long way smiling as I went.
The most fun part of my job isn’t driving spectacular cars its sharing those experiences with my loved ones.
That drive was special because we love cars and we rarely get to see the people who actually put them together experience them. It was especially special because the Hellcat, for all the talk of a quintessential American muscle car, is Canada’s car. It’s built here in Canada, by Canadians. And that’s a special thing.
But you’re probably not here to read my prose, you’re here because this visceral, guttural, brute of a car grabs you by the unmentionables and drags you in.
It snarls, and you’re frozen. It sits, ominously, and your attention is undivided. The Dodge Challenger Hellcat is frightening. In numbers alone it’s scary. 707 hp. 650 lb-ft of torque: all of which is available at 4,000 rpm, the bulk available from idle.
It scared the living daylights out of me.
I’ve never been as ginger with a throttle, never been as timid with a launch, never been as late to the gas on corner exit as I was in the Hellcat. When I goosed it up in my usual ham-fisted (footed?) fashion, I nearly lost it. It took a full week to get accustomed to the instantaneous thrust and the propensity for the rear wheels to light up like a Christmas tree.
A full week of full-on, balls-out fun. A budget-busting four-fuel-tank week of joyrides, midnight drives and dawn raids. This thing is named after a fighter plane from WW2, and it reeks of the violent, angry mayhem that aircraft delivered. It drinks about as much fuel as that old prop fighter too. I’d tell you what I ended the week on but you know what they say, “If you have to ask…” Suffice to say, this is the only car I’ve ever tested that is subject to the government’s gas guzzler tax.
The pistol-grip gear lever is gone. I prefer this rounded version but I know I’m in the minority. Nobody will complain when they rifle that bolt home – it slots in with a deliberate, mechanical clunk. The clutch is perfectly weighted. Easy to use, with a well-defined bite point and a firm but forgiving spring. Truth be told the clutch is barely necessary. Idle speed is well and truly enough to get the wheels rolling.
The Challenger is not light. Of the three retro muscle cars on the market it’s the heaviest at more than 2,000 kg. This would be relevant if there wasn’t that ridiculous Hemi under the hood. You will be pinned back into your seat once the tires hook up in the Hellcat. Your passengers will make noises that make you have to buy flowers for your partner. You will do it again, just for fun. And then again another hundred times.
You will spend money on tires. Soooo much money on tires. Those 20x9.5-inch wheels at the rear do about twice the kilometres of those on the front and there’s not a damned thing you can do about it. I tried. I really did. Honest. (I didn’t.)
But all of this probably has you thinking the Challenger is horrible to drive. Some sort of straight-line one-trick pony that rattles your bones off. It’s not.
It’s as comfortable as anything else I’ve driven lately, the chassis is well damped over rough roads and the seats are comfortable. The brakes are prodigious in their ability to haul the Hellcat to a halt, and miraculous in their ability to resist fade.
The steering is well-weighted and direct. The Hellcat isn’t pointy, but it isn’t lazy either. She’ll turn if you ask her to. Bump steer is minimal, even body roll is negligible – amazing in a car of this size. Manage your right foot, and the oversteer is controlled and poised – too much wellington, however, and you’ll be invoking Murray Walker. “Spin, spin, spin!”
It’s easier to drive than it should be, but that’s only to lull you into a false sense of security. The Hellcat is not forgiving.
The interior is beautiful. Our tester had the brown leather interior with heated and cooled seats, a console sculpted from brushed aluminum and a thick, meaty steering wheel to give you the illusion you’re in control. The massive Uconnect screen and angry red dials in the instrument cluster are gorgeous.
The centre screen has vivid, HD graphics that demonstrate the three main drive modes: track, sport and street. You can turn the engine down to only 500 hp, which is all that is available with the black key, or if you have the red key you can turn it up to the full 707. Guess what I left it in?
The adaptive suspension is noticeably different across the three modes, with soft and comfortable cruising possible in the lowest and agile corner-carving turned on in the highest. Traction control and throttle response are all managed by the computer too.
SRT apps with launch control, g-force meters and more are all available and provide opportunities for you to match your own high score in a range of driving scenarios… on a track, that is.
The boot is usable but not really cavernous given the external size of the Challenger. You won’t care.
The rear spoiler, front splitter and all the various vents and intakes – including the Cyclops scoop hidden in the right running light – are fully functional. The alloy supercharger cover in the engine bay is rough and unfinished but gorgeous. If I’m honest, it made me amorous.
Even in standard, non-Hellcat trim I’ve always felt the Challenger was the best looking of the pony cars. It still is. The raw, unapologetic machismo of the car-beast shrouded in red is captivating.
My wife, a Mustang lover of many years said simply, “My lotto car has changed.” I agreed. Not that you’d need lotto. As it sat, this tester rang in at $70,385. That’s a ludicrously cheap $99/hp. How’s THAT for bang for your buck? That includes navigation, cruise control, adaptive suspension, parking sensors, back-up camera, SRT track apps, anti-spin rear differential, 8.4-inch Uconnect with 18 speakers and a Harman/Kardon amp, blind-spot monitor, hill-start assist and a heated steering wheel. The only thing missing that I could possible think of asking for is a sunroof.
If you never had to pay for your own fuel, this is the ultimate daily driver. The back seats were even acceptable for our passengers and for my daughter’s child seat. Oh, and if you have children, yes you should buy a Hellcat. Maddie was ecstatic just to know her Granddad built the doors, by the time I started it she was in raptures. The first time we accelerated with any sort of force she was going ballistic. The grin on her face warmed my heart, then she said “Make it growl again!” and I melted. #proud.
Besides, having a Dad in a Hellcat means that in later years she’ll be utterly unimpressed with the local hoodlum’s hotted-up crapwagon, and you won’t have to give any boys “the talk”.
To give you perspective on how intense the Hellcat experience is, I drove it two months ago and can only now sit down to capture my thoughts on paper. The day I brought the Hellcat back to the office, two or three people in the office rushed over to my desk to ask about it. The next day 30 people did.
Even as I type, the memories flashing through my meagre brain are causing my adrenal gland to do its own impersonation of a Hellcat fuel pump. This is not just a cool car with a hot engine, it’s a visceral, primal assault on your senses. The Hellcat inspires awe, commands respect, and rewards courage.
The Hellcat is the most ballistic vehicle you can own, which would be a cool but abstract concept were it an unattainable hypercar reserved for the very rich. This isn’t. This is a very real car that you or your family could possibly own.
And that is the most frightening thing of all.
A jet. A big one. Strapped to a dinosaur. In a volcano.
|Model Tested||2015 Dodge Challenger Hellcat SRT|
|Price as Tested||$70,385|
Laguna leather seats - $1,995, Six-speed TREMEC manual with 3.90 rear axle and anti-spin diff - $1,000, Uconnect 8.4 with GPS - $600. Federal Green Levy: $1,000