Southlake, TX – On the same weekend the Wall Street Journal’s Dan Neil reported on lapping the Elkhart Lake road course in Cadillac’s CTS-V, this reporter was doing laps of Southlake, Texas (no road course – just roads) in Dodge’s Charger SRT Hellcat. And despite a price difference between the Big Daddy Caddy and chargin’ Charger of some $25K (roughly $94K for the CTS-V vs. just $70 Large for the Dodge), and virtually no similarities between Elkhart Lake and Southlake (OK – they share ‘lake’), the conclusions drawn are virtually the same. These are, as Mr. Shelby might have suggested, some fast sumbitches.
If interested, go ahead and google Dan Neil. But in the interim, know that little more than a weekend in Dodge’s SRT Hellcat is, uh, devilishly fun. To Dodge’s Charger, a device born of the very real need to get more volume out of what was then Daimler-Chrysler’s E-segment platform, the specialized brain trust at FCA’s SRT has added a supercharged 6.2 liter HEMI – dubbed Hellcat – producing 707 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque. This is a smaller – by twenty-two cubes – variant of Chrysler’s 392 Hemi, with a shorter stroke, lower compression ratio and – of course – a supercharger. SRT utilizes a deep-skirt cast iron block, aluminum heads unique to the Hellcat, and sodium-filled exhaust valves. And the Hemi is assembled at Chrysler’s engine plant in Saltillo, Mexico, begging the question: Would Donald Trump drive one – or jail it?
Harnessing the above (or better, trying to harness the above) are a host of mods, including a brawny new TorqueFlite 8-speed automatic trans, new axles, the largest front-brake package ever offered by Chrysler (except – maybe – when they were building WWII tanks), and uniquely tuned front spring rates and adaptive shocks. And while the Southlake constables frown on anyone doing 40 (even in a 50), if ramped up the Hellcat will get you to 204 miles per hour without breaking a sweat. Your wife will sweat, and if you’re smart you will sweat, but your Hellcat won’t…
Initial impressions, we’ll admit, don’t begin to convey all that the Hellcat means to motorized America. To its everlasting credit there’s no racing/rally stripe (although we always liked the one on Plymouth’s Formula ‘S’ Barracuda), no chicken on the hood and – thankfully – no Confederate battle flag on the roof. If Plymouth was still around, and the Hellcat had been equipped with a taxi-issue front bench, you might confuse the Hellcat with an update on the $3K – in the day – Plymouth Roadrunner. The only visual differentiation – save for tires, wheels and a few aero mods and intakes – is the outline of a hellish feline on the front fenders. So, if you’re into visual discretion – you know, long pants and underwear – and can work through the fact that your Charger doesn’t look all that different from an Avis Charger, it should be a go.
And this thing does go. Again, we didn’t have the benefit of Elkhart Lake and its storied history, but those of us in or of Texas have been doing great things with great horsepower since, well, horsepower. Of course, Carroll (Shelby), Jim (Hall) and Anthony Joseph (Foyt) come immediately to mind, but you can now add yours very truly to that esteemed assemblage. If the press release can be believed (and why-the-HELL-not?) the SRT Hellcat will not only cover 204 miles (think Dallas to Austin) in just an hour, but will cover the quarter mile in but eleven-point-zero seconds. However, before you get going enjoy – forgawdsake – the moment. With seat, wheel and mirrors adjusted, hit the ‘go’ button and prepare for what we think is a baritone burble somebody named Sergio Marchione, CEO of Dodge’s FCA parent, should have had absolutely nothin’ to do with. The noises emanating from these 6.2 liters are of a time machine quality, putting you/pushing you/pulling you back to ’62 before you know what-the-HELL just happened. And at just above idle, while sitting in Park, you probably won’t go to jail.
With one hand firmly on the Hellcat’s leather-covered wheel, and the other ready to slip the Torquer into ‘D’, know that you need to apply the right pedal judiciously or – you guessed it – ALLHELLWILLBREAKLOOSE! With three driving modes, of course, you can choose your own kind of hell. ‘Street’ is described as authoritative (Pearly Gates), ‘Sport’ provides an ominous burble (Heaven) and ‘Track’ sounds – to quote from the Hellcat Bible – ‘hellacious’ (Eternal Damnation).
Once underway, know that this Chrysler unibody can do ‘stiff’ better than most of its owners. The Dodge’s steering is reasonably direct and body roll is beautifully controlled, but there’s no disguising the Hellcat’s 4,600 pounds (some 600 pounds porkier than the Avis V6) or 75 inches of overall width. This is one big*ss sedan; with five passenger capacity it could have carried Shelby and most of his wives. Or Lee Iacocca and all of his wives…but I digress.
Once on the highway, up to (legal) speeds and with the supercharger kicking in, the aria coming from the Hellcat V8 could be sung by Signor Marchione, as it sounds very much like an Italian schooled in Canada, with an office in Auburn Hills. The V8’s aural stew is at once both bass and supersonic. And while the chassis may be dated, and some interior plastics look to have been taken from your chiropractor’s office (you know, the one his landlord last updated in 1978), the end result is one roadtrip down memory lane, way back to the future.
With a base price of around $63K, and as equipped – with leather, pearl metallic paint, Harman Kardon audio and gas guzzler tax – of just over $70K, the SRT Hellcat is one powerful argument for this nation’s ability to make powerful arguments. Were it our $70K we’d probably shop for a gently(!) used Viper from that same Dodge showroom, but if you’re looking for something to tackle the cut-and-thrust of the modern commute, the Hellcat dispenses with the knife; it is – instead – a shotgun blast from the past. Carroll could’ve had fun with this…
Price and key specifications follow on next page