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2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon: First Drive Review

Drag racing used to be a grassroots affair. Guys in their garages tinkered with setups, swapped out parts and experimented with different techniques to get the most out of their cars. The goal was a quick launch with great traction, rapid acceleration and stable, predictable straight-line handling. The 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon has just entered the game as the most drag-worthy factory-production car ever built. Only 3,300 examples will emerge from the Brampton, Ontario (Canada) plant this model year. Dealers across the U.S. have been notified of their allotments, and many are demanding a markup of thousands of dollars over the $84,995 starting price — and they’re getting it from car collectors, drag-racing enthusiasts and other eager buyers. But what exactly is a Demon?

Demon by the Numbers

Ever since Dodge relaunched the Challenger nameplate in 2008 to join its mechanical twin, the Charger, in the Dodge lineup, the retro-futurist design has been part of a muscle-car revival among the Big Three automakers. The Ford Mustang and the Chevrolet Camaro were each offered with sedate power plants as their default choice and progressively more potent engines as factory options. Dodge made the HEMI V8 available and then turned the Challenger over to its performance wing, SRT, for further development. The 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat was the product of this evolution, with a 707-horsepower 6.2-liter HEMI V8 under the hood designed to silence the competition. Ford’s response, the Mustang Shelby GT350/GT350R (526 hp), and Chevy’s Camaro ZL1 (650 hp) focused more on track handling than pure power figures, so it looked like the war was won — or at least that the battlefield had shifted.

But SRT isn’t resting on the Hellcat’s laurels. The Demon uses a 6.2-liter supercharged HEMI V8 engine to produce up to 840 hp and 770 lb-ft of torque using 100-octane unleaded gas. That’s the highest horsepower rating ever delivered from a production-car V8 engine. While we’re drooling over figures, let’s leer at a few more:

  • 0-30 mph in 1.0 seconds
  • 0-60 mph in 2.3 seconds (fastest production car in the world)
  • 1.8g acceleration (highest g-force of any production car)
  • 9.65 seconds and 140 mph for the quarter-mile (fastest quarter-mile production car)

These numbers are incredible. But even more incredible is the fact that the Demon arrives on showroom floors with these capabilities right out of the factory and carries a standard 3-year/36,000-mile warranty and a 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty. For some drivers, the Demon could even be considered as a daily driver — though few of the 3,300 examples are likely to perform this duty. Because of the low production numbers and high desirability, many Demon vehicles will go directly into storage or car collections. And that’s a shame, because the Demon rocks. See the 2018 Dodge Challenger models for sale near you

Demon Design

From the outside, you’ve got to look closely to differentiate the Demon from the Hellcat and other Challenger variants. The obvious clue is the Demon logo on the front fenders and trunk, a line drawing of a demon’s head that Dodge designers say evolved from the Hellcat logo. Next, you’ll notice the widebody fender flares that accommodate the wide 315/40R18 Nitto street-legal drag radial tires mounted on 11- by 18-inch wheels at all four corners. All that meat gives the Demon 40 percent more launch force than the Hellcat. There’s a pair of functional air intakes through the eyes of the headlight high beams, inset with the Demon logo, and a 45.2-square-inch Air Grabber hood scoop to swallow even more air. The Demon comes in 14 exterior colors with great names like Go Mango, Destroyer Green, IndiGo Blue, Plum Crazy and Octane Red. You can also get a satin black hood, roof and deck lid, further distinguishing your Demon from the crowd of Challengers and other cars.

Peek inside and you’ll notice the Demon does away with the second-row seat. Serious drag racers can option 4-point harnesses for the front seats — and they can even choose to delete the front passenger seat. Both front and rear seats can be optioned back in for $1.

The Demon’s about more than show. It’s about go.

It took a ton of engineering to get the power from that HEMI to the ground.

Demon Drag

We’ve all seen drag racers doing burnouts before they take a run at the quarter-mile. The Demon has an electronic and mechanical way to achieve a successful burnout every time. First, select Drag Mode in the SRT menu, accessed through the center stack’s touchscreen display. Step-by-step instructions in the driver information center in the middle of the instrument panel take you through the burnout. The front brakes are locked, and the rear wheel can spin up to 200 rotations to clean and warm the tires. Release the brakes, and the car walks out of the burnout in a controlled manner. Now, you’re ready to stage at the starting line.

Once again, step-by-step instructions guide you through the launch, with electronic and mechanical intervention helping the action. A TransBrake allows you to pre-load the engine’s torque. You bring up the revs and, when you’re ready, you release the brake, keeping the revs up, and then release the paddle shifter and give it more gas. The Demon launches off of the line. Traction control helps the wheels maintain grip, stability control keeps things sane and in a straight line, and you rocket forward with your eyeballs stuck to the back of your head. It takes some practice to get the sequence right, even with the step-by-step instruction. The Demon bangs through shifts hard, makes great noise, and the quarter-mile passes very, very quickly. Every aspect of the vehicle conspires to maximize performance. The Bilstein shocks adapt for firm compression and soft rebound in the front, firm compression and firm rebound in the rear. In the hands of an expert driver, the Demon can be made to lift its front wheels at launch. A Guinness World Record of 2.92 feet has been recorded — the first wheelie by a production car. At present, the Demon is not approved for stock-car drag racing by the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) because it can break the 10-second barrier for the quarter-mile — at that speed, the NHRA requires cars to have a roll cage installed.

All of which is amazing. It’s amazing that the Demon is so fast and so capable; it’s also amazing that Dodge would take the time, energy and expense to develop and produce a factory car that can do this. Like the Ford GT and Acura NSX, the Demon is a true halo vehicle. In the words of a Dodge marketing executive, the Demon is Dodge’s Super Bowl commercial.

Demon Drive

Even with this drag-racing technology installed, the Demon is still a street-legal, drivable passenger car. We had a chance to drive the Demon on public roads in mixed situations, with the drive mode set to Auto. Like the Hellcat, the Demon comes with two key fobs: Black and Red. Using the Black fob keeps horsepower down to 500. The Red fob unlocks the Demon’s full potential of 808 hp on 91-octane unleaded gas or 840 hp on 100-octane unleaded racing fuel. It’s easy to drive the Demon in a safe and sane manner with either key, but the lure of a straightaway is difficult to resist. When you turn a corner and see a stretch of open road ahead, speed comes on very quickly, and you have to keep an eye on the speedometer to stay close to the legal limit. Even the most cautious drivers will be at risk for collecting a stack of speeding tickets in the Demon, so tempting and rewarding is the performance.

Dodge has partnered with Haggerty Insurance for specialty coverage of the 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon and, like all SRT buyers, Demon purchasers get a free one-day program a Bondurant Racing School.

 To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle’s manufacturer.

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Jason Fogelson
Jason Fogelson is a freelance automotive journalist and editor. He has covered cars, trucks, SUVs and motorcycles for a variety of print, web and broadcast mediaHis first book, “100 Things for Every Gearhead to Do Before They Die,” came out in 2015. He also writes music, theater and film criticism, in addition to the occasional screenplay. Jason lives near Detroit, Michigan, with his wife, two dogs, two cats, 25 guitars, his motorcycle, and his pickup truck.

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