When you drive cars for a living like we do, it's generally not that hard to imagine what the next one's going to be like. But as we packed our bags for the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat launch in Portland, Oregon, we had no idea what to expect. The current Challenger, of course, has been around for quite a while now, harking back to 2008 with few fundamental changes since. So it wasn't the car itself that left us at a loss; rather, it was the 707 horses generated by the SRT Hellcat's new supercharged 6.2-liter V8.
Unleashing 707 horsepower (and 650 lb-ft of torque) on the road is probably like having a billion dollars; it sounds amazing, but until you experience it for yourself, it doesn't really make sense. Fortunately, though becoming a billionaire is rather difficult, driving a 707-hp Hellcat is as easy as visiting your local Dodge dealer and convincing the salesman to give you the red key (the black one imposes a 500-hp ceiling). In our case, we got the ultimate test drive, including hot laps at Portland International Raceway (PIR) and as many drag-strip runs as we wanted. This review is still no substitute for the real thing, but if you're trying to get an idea of what the Hellcat's all about, here are our impressions.
It's Terrifyingly Fast
The SRT Hellcat's National Hot Rod Association (NHRA)-certified time of 11.2 seconds in the quarter-mile gives you a strong hint as to what 707 horses can do at full gallop. Anything under 12 seconds is basically supercar territory, and anything approaching 11 seconds is just insane. The supercharged Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, for example, can eke out an 11.9, while the Ford Mustang GT500 -- also supercharged -- creeps down to 11.7 seconds. Even Dodge's own Viper SRT, a supercar if there ever was one, officially runs the quarter in the "mid-11-second range," so the Hellcat is in some very select company.
But what does it feel like? The word that comes immediately to mind is "relentless." You get that sense on the drag strip and on the track when you're thundering down a straightaway, but where the Hellcat really drives its message home is on the street. We took a manual-transmission model for a spin on some local roads in the PIR area, and there just wasn't enough room to get anywhere close to its capabilities. Maybe you can sneak in a quick run through first gear on a deserted stretch, but once you're into second gear, the Hellcat's like a runaway train. Every time you think to yourself, "good gracious, this is fast," the supercharged V8 finds a new level. Unless you're prepared for a stern lecture and a stiff fine, you're going to back off before you hit redline. That's second gear, remember; there are four more, and the Hellcat won't stop till you hit 199 miles per hour.
This car might even be too fast, quite honestly, unless you're a drag-strip regular with something to prove. In that case, stop reading and buy one. It's perfect.
It's Surprisingly Athletic
The original high-performance Challenger of this generation, the 2008 Challenger SRT8, had a pretty strong aversion to corners, exhibiting tremendous body roll, but Dodge has tightened up the suspension in the years since, and the 2015 Challenger SRT Hellcat reaps the benefits. Although this remains an enormous car by 2-door standards, with formidable dimensions and a curb weight of over 4,400 pounds, it corners flat now, with a precise steering rack that gives you confidence at high speeds. The Hellcat does feel a bit more nose-heavy than lesser Challengers with the naturally aspirated 6.4-liter V8, and that's verified by the numbers: The Hellcat carries 57 percent of its weight out front versus 54 percent for 6.4-liter models. You'll rarely notice this difference on public roads, though, and given the Hellcat's huge advantage in straight-line power, we're guessing that most folks won't even care.
It Finally Has a Decent Interior
All 2015 Challengers have stepped up their interior game, with the Hellcat adding the usual assortment of performance-oriented SRT accents. Materials quality is up across the board, but more importantly, the dashboard has gone from rental-car flat to sports-car intimate, with a wraparound feel created by the new center stack that's angled toward the driver. Another cool touch is the Performance Pages feature on the excellent 8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen system. Standard on the Hellcat, Performance Pages includes a built-in acceleration timer (which we used liberally at the drag strip), and you can even see real-time readouts for both hp and torque while you're driving. Overall, this is an interior to be proud of, and with a starting price of $60,990, that's exactly what the SRT Hellcat should have.
You read that right: The 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat starts at over $60 thousand, or roughly double the price of a base Challenger V6. It comes loaded to the hilt, though, and let's be honest: You're not going to find this kind of speed anywhere else for the money. The Hellcat is truly a beast.