Autoweek: 2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat first drive

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Finally there’s the Hellcat, the one we came here to drive. You already know the specs, but just in case: it’s 6.2-liter V8 delivers 707 hp and 650 lb-ft of asphalt-digging torque. It’s topped with a 14,600-rpm supercharger that takes all of 80 hp to run. Like the Challenger Hellcat, it gets two keys. The black one throttles engine output and the red one lets all the horses out of the barn. It also includes Valet Mode, which turns down the power even more. That’s the feature you want if you’re handing the keys off to the kids or…valets.

The Hellcat’s grille features two air openings at the bottom, both stuffed with radiators. The hood is a variation on the SRT 392 version with two air extractors to go along with the intake duct. After driving this beast, we’re happy to report that Dodge throws in a day at the SRT Driver Experience where new owners can learn to reign in all that power. Wheels measure 20 inches all around, with three- and four-season tires offered. Both SRT models get adjustable suspension from Bilstein, which can be softened up through the Performance Pages of the UConnect screen. Performance Pages are special screens that allow the driver to futz with various settings in an effort to improve performance.

Dodge knows that the first thing you do after you buy a Charger R/T, SRT or Hellcat is drag race it from stoplight to stoplight. Hence, it added Dodge Performance Pages on the R/T models and SRT Performance Pages on the SRT models. The R/T version includes adjustments for the steering effort, transmission response and electronic stability control settings as well as launch control options, gauges and g-force meters. The SRT Performance Pages add timers for the 0-60 sprint, eighth- and quarter-miles and braking performance.

After we snagged some keys and hopped into a sinister-looking dark blue Hellcat, we exited Reagan Airport and pointed our nose towards Summit Point Motorsports Park in West Virginia.

On the road in Washington DC and the surrounding areas, the Hellcat is surprisingly restrained. We were about as restrained as you can be while driving a 707-hp rear-wheel-drive American sedan. The exhaust system features a variable valve for sound, which works much more like a volume knob than an on-off switch. We found no annoying drone at any expressway speeds, but plenty of growl when we put the pedal down.

The Charger Hellcat offers much better visibility than its two-door cousin and more space to boot. The Challenger isn’t small, so that’s saying something. The rear seats can easily fit an average- to above-average-sized adult and they fold down for big cargo​. The front seats are comfortable, but not bolstered as much we’d like, though a man of greater width would surely slide around less. The buckets also don’t adjust low enough for our taste.

Over the city streets, the Charger feels about the same as the Challenger Hellcat, though Dodge told us the Challenger is actually stiffer. Even adjusted into track mode, the Bilstein shocks absorbed all of the small imperfections on the street and most of the big ones. That’s the advantage of having more than 4,500 pounds of metal perched on top. The Hellcat does get its own shock calibration, as well as different springs and thicker swaybar.

Speaking of the two-and-a-quarter-ton curb weight, the Hellcat’s power hides its heft, at least on public roads. We realized that at turn one of Summit Point, when we tried to scrub 150 mph down to about 45. Even with the giant, 15.4-inch brake discs, it takes more feet than you’d think to slow this enormous kitty down.

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Acceleration is breathtaking, vertigo-inducing and doesn’t really slow for shifts. By the time you blink, you’re into the next gear and getting ready to grab the right paddle again. We tried manual mode a few times, but trying to learn the track and the car, and shift, all above 120 mph, was a little too much to take. Thankfully its performance-shifting algorithm nails the changes almost every time.

At or near the limit, ankle movements are key. Push 1 inch further and your tail end comes out; let the throttle breathe, and the nose immediately points in. Change of direction happens quickly and nearly flat, especially at speed. We kept the suspension and steering in track mode, which contributes to the high-strung nature of the super sedan.

As far as complaints go, we do have a few. The steering wheel buttons, which seemed like a good idea on the road, get smashed repeatedly on the track when you’re trying to bring the wheel back in line. No phone found, no phone found. We get it, Charger! Now shut up!

Like we said earlier, the seats could use more bolster and more adjustment. One of the bigger journalists on our trip had trouble fitting in the car with a helmet on. The interior materials are better than they ever have been, but still only reach the level of acceptable.

So, we don’t really have a problem with the Charger-for-every-buyer logic, especially with high-tech features like lane keeping and automatic braking, but we’re a little worried about the Hellcat. It sits in a no-man’s land in the market, with competition coming from all sides. We don’t think it’ll steal BMW M5 sales and for a lot of people, something like the 415-hp Chevy SS will be plenty of car. But hey, that crazy uncle still needs something to drive.

Text Source: Autoweek
Author: Jake Lingeman