I’m not gonna lie to you: the first time I drove the 707-horsepower Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, it kind of scared the shit out of me just a little bit.
(Full disclosure: The people who manage Fiat Chrysler’s Texas press fleet sent me an email out of the blue that said “Hey, we got a Hellcat, you want it?” I said yes and they brought me one with a full tank of gas for a week. It was a good week. This was after Matt had one for a little over a week in Texas. I think he had a good week too.)
The roads were still damp from the rain that fell before sunrise. I took the Hellcat onto a long, open, empty street, gave it what I considered a moderate amount of throttle, and was met with wheelspin and a rear end that nearly went sideways. This was how I first learned driving the Hellcat is a constant exercise in holding back, even when you’re going hard or ripping sick burnouts.
Jesus, I thought to myself, is it really going to be this nuts?
Later that evening it was raining even harder, but I had somewhere to be, so I took the Hellcat out but eventually resigned myself to its “limited” 500 horsepower mode. My disappointment over not being able to control the weather — not yet, anyway, I’m working on this machine and all it needs is some plutonium — was palpable. Even in that mode it was ornery in the wet.
I was worried I’d never get to feel the Hellcat’s full force, but then something magical happened. As if to say “Here, you can’t drive this car in the rain, also sorry for sending you to jail that one time, you seem to have learned your lesson,” the Driving Gods smiled upon me and opened the skies to some sunshine that lasted through the week.
This was good. The Hellcat is best when the roads are dry.
This should not surprise you, given its ludicrous, oft-repeated stats: 707 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque. A 6.2-liter Hemi V8 with a 2.4-liter supercharger. Zero to 60 mph in the mid-3 second range. A quarter mile time of 11.2 seconds on street tires and 10.86 seconds on drag radials. The most powerful American production car, ever.
Now forget the numbers. The numbers don’t really tell you a thing about the Hellcat. Numbers can’t tell you how this car feels to drive, that it delivers some of the most visceral and crushing acceleration you can find just about anywhere. That it’s as fast as a supercar even while it weighs as much as a Dodge Grand Caravan.
The thing is, given that power’s propensity for rear wheelspin and its ability to overwhelm the chassis, it’s seldom easy to drive. Remember that guy who crashed his Hellcat within an hour of driving it off the lot? I can see how that happened. I really can.
If you try to drive this machine without the utmost respect for it, and at least some experience with very powerful rear-wheel drive cars, it will bite you. It reminds me of the stories I’ve heard about the original Viper.
It’s tough to find any public road where you can even come close to accessing the Hellcat’s full potential. Even with a blistering run up to highway speeds (or greater) you always feel like you’re just using a fraction of what it can do. You’re like Superman going after a guy who missed the deadline to file his income taxes. The Hellcat is the poster boy for overpowered modern street cars.
At the same time, it’s not a track car. Damon tracked it last year and said it felt “unwieldy and unhinged” there. I believe him. It feels the same way on a twisty, narrow back road. Remember what I said about how it goes like a supercar? The problem is, it lacks the control, handling, light weight, low center of gravity and braking prowess you’re supposed to get with a supercar.
I loved the Hellcat. I also hated it. I feared it. I was fascinated by it. Obsessed with it. I couldn’t decide if it was anything other than a highly effective marketing exercise. I didn’t want to hear anything else but the sound of its engine. I worry it’s ruined me for other cars. What’s the point of even driving a car if it doesn’t have more power than all the other cars?
The Hellcat and I are in a relationship, and it’s complicated.
Exterior - 9/10
Of the three modern American muscle cars, the Challenger has always been my favorite in the design department. It’s violent, it’s sexual, it’s brutal, it’s gigantic, it’s uncompromising. Should classic American cars be re-styled so they’re lighter, sleeker and more palatable to Europeans? “Fuck that,” the Challenger says. And I love it.
The neat thing about the Hellcat is that unless you know what to look for, you probably can’t tell what it is. There’s no “SUPERCHARGED” or “707 HP” or “HELLCAT” badges anywhere, just two little cat emblems on the fenders.
It is the only time restraint was exercised in the production of this vehicle.
Interior - 7/10
It used to be that the Charger and Challenger were fairly miserable penalty boxes on the inside, seemingly built only for fleet duty and little else. Over the past few years they’ve actually made them quite nice inside.
Materials are mostly high-grade, controls are easy to find and use, the orange leather barcalounger seats are mostly comfortable if a bit less bolstered than they could be, and there’s lots of nice little details everywhere, like the SRT logo on the speedometer.
Acceleration - 10/10
The Hellcat name is appropriate because flooring the gas pedal it is like opening the floodgates of Hell and channeling some unholy force into your smoking, screaming rear tires. It actually feels unnatural. It is a hulking beast, but in a straight line it seems as light as a tiny roadster because there’s just so much bottomless, furious power and torque. Truly, this engine is a masterpiece of internal combustion.
It took a while before I mastered just how little throttle this car needs to do anything at all, and what to truly expect when I ordered it to give me speed. Get ready a good amount of rear-end wiggle from time to time though. The Hellcat likes to surprise you, the bastard.
All that power and blinding speed make the Hellcat incredibly fun to drive. But it’s a kind of fun that’s always tinged with a bit of fear. You’ll laugh out loud during hard acceleration on a big empty road, but it will be a nervous laugh, and when you’re done you’ll wipe your sweaty palms on your jeans as your eyes dart around to make sure nobody who wears a badge to work saw what you just did. If you have a passenger, they just peed themselves.
Sure, there are cars that are faster (and planes that are slower), but right now there aren’t a whole lot of cars that feel faster.
Braking - 6/10
The Hellcat’s Brembos are the largest Chrysler has ever put on a production car, 15.4-inch six-pot slotted affairs up front. They’re good but they aren’t good enough. Pedal feel isn’t linear at all, and the brakes never feel like they have the bite to handle both this car’s weight and power. They’re decent, just too soft and not up to the task at hand.
If I owned a Hellcat, adding stronger pads or brake lines would be job number one. I’d want more braking confidence than I get stock.
Ride - 6/10
Even in its harshest Track setting, the Hellcat’s ride quality is never terribly abusive, but it’s not some cushy, soft grand tourer either. Honestly, I didn’t sense much difference in ride quality between these various suspension settings.
You’ll definitely feel the road, but that’s a good thing since this is supposed to be an aggressive car, not your grandfather’s Buick.
Handling - 5/10
Easily the most common question I got asked about the Hellcat was this: “Can it actually handle?” The answer, unfortunately, is not really. The main problem is its giganticness. It’s too long, too wide and just too damn heavy to carve corners properly.
On top of that, the steering is surprisingly numb and way too indirect to ever give you a real feel for what’s going on. Even with the suspension in the Track setting, the Challenger plows into corners with vicious understeer and too much front weight transfer during braking.
Let me put it this way: I can throw a Corvette or a Viper or a Mustang or most Camaro variants into hard into a corner and come out fine. In the Hellcat, the car just falls all over itself. It will make right and left turns at intersections, though.
Gearbox - 8/10
Most Hellcats are sold with a manual, but I didn’t mind this car’s 8-speed automatic gearbox at all. Like many modern automatics, it’s quite good, generally smooth and quick-shifting. I did have a few moments where it was kind of jerky when the car was still cold, but those were rare. Overall, it deserves major points for being so adept at handling that much power while not robbing the car of its fun.
This may be more of an interior criticism, but one flaw was the gear selector itself, which looked cool but feels toy-like and cheap. It’s also super easy to knock into neutral by accident. I also kind of wish the paddles were more substantial, like actual paddles and less like nubs sticking out from the top of the steering wheel.
Toys - 10/10
A lot of Internet ink has been spent on this site and elsewhere explaining how good Chrysler’s UConnect multimedia system is, so I won’t go into it too much. Even better is the fact that this UConnect gives you the tools to manage all that 707 horsepower. You can easily adjust the car’s suspension, gearbox, traction control and even its total power output from the big touch screen.
In 500 horsepower mode, the car feels noticeably restrained, but also more laid back and easier to drive in traffic or in the city. It’s still stupid quick in that setting too. The 500 horsepower setting may actually be the best one for normal everyday driving; you can pour on the spicy 707-sauce when you have the space to play.
There’s also an Eco Mode, but whatever fuel economy gains that gives you are negligible. It may just be a giant troll by Ralph Gilles’ team, one that sounds a big alarm at SRT headquarters so everyone there can laugh you for even trying Eco Mode in a Hellcat, like some rube.
Other than that, it had the full suite of modern toys: streaming Bluetooth, GPS, backup camera, heated and cooled seats, heated steering wheel, launch control, HID lamps, remote start, etc.
Audio - 9/10
This is maybe the loudest car I’ve ever driven. If you stand next to it at idle, both the engine and exhaust note are hard to talk over. I can’t believe it’s a stock exhaust. At the same time, they did a surprisingly decent job of reducing at least some of that noise inside the cabin.
It sounds a lot like the SRT 392 or the Scat Pack, just louder, and with the additional audio from the supercharger. Some cars with blowers have what’s called a supercharger “whine.” This one doesn’t. It has a supercharger wail, a supercharger howl.
If this car’s supercharger noise were a person, it would be the kind of person who’s waiting for you at your house, in your shower, wearing a clown mask and holding an axe, and they want to turn your face and genitals into a neat little hat.
I’d bump it to a perfect 10 but the Harman Kardon stereo was ass. Who cares? You can’t hear it anyway.
Value - 10/10
This car has 707 horsepower and starts at just $59,000. My tester came in at $65,870. That’s not cheap, but it’s an absolute steal for such unprecedented power. Besides the choice of gearbox and black aluminum hood, there are precious few options for the Hellcat, the top trim Challenger. It’s pretty loaded.
How can I give it anything but a perfect score in the value department? It should cost at least $250,000 just to keep that much power from falling into the wrong hands, but it doesn’t because freedom. Because America. Or something.
My goal with this test was to determine how livable and daily driveable the Hellcat could be. The answer was not really, or at least not when all 707 horses are at play. Then you’re always holding it back, always managing it rather than driving it. In full-power mode it has this manic, furious character that’s always “on,” and comes with great consequences if it’s misused.
In that way it’s not really this great grand tourer, though it’s heavy enough to be one. The 485 horsepower Scat Pack and SRT 392 are much more accessible to drive and better at cruising, and they can still smoke tires and blow the doors off much more expensive machines.
But those cars aren’t the Hellcat. Nothing is the Hellcat. It’s the automotive equivalent of going to the moon, something we did because science allowed us to and because we could and because we’re exceptional and awesome and it’s in our DNA to do things bigger than everyone else.
This car will sell to people who don’t believe in balance or accessibility; the want the baddest, the fastest, the most powerful thing there is. I just hope they take it seriously when they drive it. The Hellcat is not to be trifled with.
Total - 80/100
Engine: 6.2-liter supercharged Hemi V8
Power: 707 ‘Murica-tastic HP at 6000 RPM/ 650 LB-FT at 4000 RPM
Transmission: Eight-Speed Automatic
0-60 Time: 3.5 seconds
Top Speed: Mach 1.5
Drivetrain: Rear-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight: 4,449 Pounds
Seating: 5 people
MPG: 13 City/22 Highway (12.2 MPG average observed LOL)
MSRP: $58,295 base, $65,870 as tested
All photos credit Kurt Bradley