You might hear the 2018 Dodge Challenger Demon described “like riding a rollercoaster.” And it is, kind of. So imagine yourself on a 10-second carnival ride, holding a bomb with a 12-second timer, you’ll start to understand the sensation of firing this 840-horsepower fiend down a drag strip.
It doesn’t matter if you believe in gods or devils. Just a few seconds of full-power in the Demon will suck the air out of your lungs, put tears in your eyes and have you praying to someone, anyone, for mercy.
I’m not exaggerating and I’m definitely not a Dodge fanboy. I’m not even much into drag racing, really. But I’ve never experienced anything on or above Earth that delivered the simultaneous overdoses of exhilaration, fear and awe like driving the Demon down a hot quarter-mile.
(Full disclosure: Dodge flew me to Indianapolis, put me up in a beautiful hotel, fed me first-class food for a couple days and rented out the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Lucas Oil Raceway for myself and other journalists to drive the Durango SRT, Challenger Hellcat Widebody and Challenger Demon. It was too wet to do as much driving as any of us would have liked, but we got enough drag runs in to feel what this thing can do.)
A Lot More Than A Faster Hellcat
If you’re among those who thought a 707 horsepower Dodge Challenger Hellcat was excessive bordering on idiotic, I feel you. So what the shit are we supposed to do with an 840-horse Demon?, you may be asking, which is a perfectly reasonable thing to ponder.
But the key takeaway is this: the Demon is bristling with so many more toys and tricks than the Hellcat has that the new flagship Challenger barely feels like the same car.
First of all, the base output here is now 808 HP, which bumps to the full 840 HP and 770 lb-ft of torque when you feed it 100-octane gasoline.
It can redirect its air conditioning to feed the engine or cool the supercharger, which is roughly the size of dishwasher. The acceleration figures are downright silly. The car pulls 1.8 g. It can be ordered with tiny little front drag wheels and can do freaking wheelies. Stock.
And only about 3,000 of them are being built this year. So it is for sure a “production car,” but don’t expect to see many of them on the roads.
Regardless, the Demon is unique even among the most extreme and gloriously wasteful machines roaming the Earth today. The specifications are impressive, performance claims are staggering, but it’s the driving experience that is something else altogether.
Bad weather at Indianapolis limited my first test of the Demon to the drag strip, and not actual roads that human beings may put this car on. I hope to see what it’s capable of in the real world very soon—or whether it can, you know, make turns—but for now here’s how it behaved in the environment it was truly designed for: the drag strip.
Three Ways To Launch
If you’re basic you can just boot both pedals, release the brake, and turn the Demon’s street-legal drag radials into noise like you would in any other rear-drive car with a decent amount of juice.
The Demon, however, is so powerful that even on a drag strip, so chemically formulated to be extra-sticky, that after a pre-launch burnout to heat the rubber for maximum grip the engine can still completely overwhelm the tires spin them hopelessly, indefinitely, until you release the throttle and roll back into it more gently.
Of course I tried to take off this way. Drop the brake, gas pegged, let the car peel out in what felt like slow motion, like, forever, gently listing left and moving ahead at a walking pace while the speedometer read well over 100 mph.
I sat spinning tires for so long that I had time to think about the deeply dangerous decisions future owners would be making at stop lights with this car. It was a thought that filled me with pure dread.
The Demon also has launch control, like every other Challenger. Yes, even the plucky V6 AWD. Practically speaking, this allows for a significantly more precise application of the Demon’s power off a line without forcing you to think.
But the car’s full fury, the wild numbers on the brochure, the $85,000 ticket to hell that makes this car special, can only be accessed with the TransBrake.
On the long list of dick-swinging credentials Dodge that has awarded its Demon, “TransBrake” doesn’t seem that interesting. I mean, the only thing I’m trying to read after “840 horsepower” is the signature line on my 84-month payment plan, amirite?
No, don’t do that. And don’t overlook the TransBrake as a gimmick—it’s the feature and function that takes the Demon from “fast car” to warping your sense of what kind of acceleration is physically possible.
Mechanically speaking, the TransBrake works by locking the output shaft of the transmission as you apply throttle. So while doing a brake stand spins up the back wheels so you can shoot off, the TransBrake basically moves that pre-charge further up the driveline. Apparently, that means the power can be transmitted to the Earth more efficiently than a regular-ass launch.
And any racer, any real racer; you need every trick you can get to sneak below a 10-second quarter mile.
With the TransBrake working in conjunction with what Dodge calls “Torque Reserve” which boosts engine air flow and speeds up the supercharger before a launch, the company’s engineers claim the Demon can put down 534 lb-ft of torque instantaneously at launch.
And if you believe those lunatics, they also say their car transfers more than one ton of weight to the rear wheels, forcing the car’s occupants to endure 1.8 g half a second into a full-noise take off.
How The TransBrake Feels
“So, do you want to try the TransBrake or just hit the gas?” SRT’s pro driver asked, walking me through the layers of performance readouts in the Demon’s UConnect menu system.
Of course. I wasn’t going to fly halfway across the country to drive this car for 10 seconds and not feel everything it was capable of. But I’d already forgotten the first step of activating the TransBrake by the time the instructor got to the third.
The TransBrake is not really that hard to use, but it’s nearly impossible to listen to anything when more than 800 HP is panting in front of you. After you rip a burnout to heat up the rear tires, here’s how you provoke the Demon into doing its hardest possible launch:
First, put the car in “Drag Mode” with a few strokes on the main screen.
Then pull both paddle shifters and hold them.
Mat the brake.
Rev up the engine, not too much, just roll into around 2,000 RPM.
While holding the engine at speed, release a paddle shifter, doesn’t matter which one.
Then release the brake. The car still won’t move, since the transmission’s now doing the work of holding it in place.
Now, the only thing between you and what could be the most violent experience of your life is whichever paddle shifter you’ve still got pinned.
“So, I guess, go,” I said, to steering wheel, since the pro driver had long since abandoned me to take refuge behind a concrete barrier.
That paddle might as well have been the edge of a cliff I was clinging to with two fingers. As soon as I released it, all hell broke loose. Actually, it’d be more accurate to say, all hell stayed straight as an arrow as the Demon’s intricate traction control and power transmission equipment figure out how to slam everything the supercharged 6.2-liter V8 had to the ground without so much as a shimmy side-to-side.
The back of the car squatted and simultaneously surged ahead while the exhaust excreted enough noise to raise the dead.
Within a second I could not think, only laugh nervously, as I clung to the steering wheel like it was the skid of a helicopter clearing a collapsing building.
Halfway through the run, my eyes were tearing. I was genuinely afraid, absolutely. But also excited, inexplicably proud, and honestly, incredulous. Even as I was experiencing it I could not believe the intensity this car had charged my brain with.
And as a car fan, wow. Just an eighth of a mile of driving the Demon felt like validation for my entire 29-year obsession with vehicles. I mean, shit—a stock, production car can do this?
My mind was still blank as I rolled off the the throttle, gently leaned into the brakes and brought the car off the track at strolling speed. Moments later, one of Dodge’s exuberant comms people was already helping me with my door and helmet.
Fun? I felt like Tom Hanks on Omaha Beach in Saving Private Ryan, staring 1,000 yards into nothingness and drowning in the ringing aftermath of an explosion.
I’ve driven a lot of fast cars. Crushingly fast cars, in many cases. It’s literally my job at Jalopnik. So far, none of them compare to the acceleration I felt in the Demon.
Brake-stand launching the Demon was a riot, launch control made the car impressively quick, but it’s a hard launch with that TransBrake stays with you.
How Fast We Really Went
Dodge claims that this car is capable of an unreasonably fast (for a production car) 9.65-second quarter mile run in optimal conditions with a professional driver and 100 octane race gas. Unfortunately, Lucas Oil Raceway declined to provide official quarter-mile times for myself and the other journalists at our Demon demo day.
My janky $0.99 quarter mile-counting phone app said the SRT driver who took me for a demo run ran a 9.62, and that it took me 14.37 seconds when I spent the first 100 yards doing a burnout, 12.34 with launch control, and 10.97 on my run using the TransBrake.
I doubt the dude who gave me a ride managed to beat Dodge’s official record, so take those times with a little salt. That said, friend of the site Jason Fenske of Engineering Explained brought a significantly more sophisticated device to measure his own times, and told me he recorded a 10.9-second run as well.
The Demon Is The Real Deal
After sitting through what felt like a century of teasers and banner ads proclaiming this car to be the coolest thing since loud music, my expectations could not have been higher. I think we all figured this car had better deliver or we’d be within our rights to team up and banish Dodge back into whatever hellhole it keeps getting its vehicular inspiration from.
But the Dodge Demon is legit. This is a bona-fide drag racing car made from a factory for showroom floors by a mainstream automaker that, somehow, is also street legal. If you have a single brain cell that’s into cars, the fact that this car exists at all has got to make you smile.
It’s a hype machine too, of course. A rolling billboard to get casual fans fired up enough to lease $30,000 Challenger SXTs. It’s an ad, it’s a giant engine in a basic body, but in the right setting it’s a legitimately life-changing experience.
Regardless of whether the Demon is worth $85,000 to you or not, I promise it’s worth your respect.