It’s one thing to read about power or observe it—to understand its nature from a distance. But it’s a completely different thing to wield that power, and to have it threaten your very existence if you misuse it. That’s how the 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Widebody made me feel.
(Full disclosure: We at Jalopnik thought it fitting to give the cat lady a Hellcat. Thus, we asked FCA to lend me one for the week. They agreed, and even let me put my own little hellcat inside of the car. She didn’t scratch anything.)
This Hellcat, in all of its wide-bodied glory, is one of the better versions of the Dodge Challenger, and rated at 707 horsepower. It’s a step below the Challenger Demon in the lineup, which is rated to make 840 HP on super high octane gas.
My tester, which had an eight-speed automatic transmission and 650 lb-ft of torque, was a “Widebody” version of the Hellcat: a $6,000 performance package making the car 3.5 inches wider, with fender flares to fit the giant all-season tires that add gobs of grip but will probably get eaten up faster than you’d like to replace them.
But the Hellcat, as tire- and speed-hungry as it is, is about living—living and feeling the road under you. We decided to test not only how much life it brings a person on speed runs, but also how it felt to live with the car on a daily basis.
Wrangling The Widebody’s Power And Size
The Hellcat’s hood, stuffed with that giant 6.2-liter V8, was cartoonish in size—as was the rest of the car. It can take a few tries to get it in the lines of a parking spot, and I might or might not have gotten stuck in a median-lined merger lane for an embarrassing amount of time because I needed a minute to get used to the car. That’s extra embarrassing in something as ostentatious as a red Hellcat.
Driving the Hellcat was almost like being behind the wheel of a car in a racing game or simulator, where the front end is exaggerated to appear on the screen and remind a player that they are indeed driving a virtual vehicle. Its steering, engine noise and entire presence felt so purposely unrefined, on edge, like it works very earnestly to live up to that Street & Racing Technology badge.
That’s the whole idea. Unlike the part of the car market that takes power and packages it as manageable, empowering and polished—the sport sedans, like the Cadillac V-Series cars and Audi’s S line—the Hellcat feels raw. Its power isn’t packaged as manageable, because it isn’t.
Switching a Hellcat into sport mode turns off traction control. If the driver gets on the gas too eagerly, the back will break loose without any hesitation. Each piece of loose gravel can be heard rattling under the car’s huge fenders. (The traction control light is alarming, but it’s not as much of a threat as it seems—stability control remains on.)
It takes work to understand how to properly use the Hellcat’s 707 HP, and the idea that it could launch into the nearest fence at any time never goes away. It reminds a person that they’re only in control if they make calculated and distant decisions in how to drive—without arrogance or a forged feeling of understanding the car.
The Hellcat is like a house cat that seems perfectly tame until someone touches its stomach, and that’s when the claws come out. It can be angry, and it isn’t there to cater to your needs. It’s there to remind you that you’re human, and humans bleed when they get scratched.
Something that also tends to get scratched, in terms of the Hellcat, is its front splitter. It was no match for the drainage dips in the road, or any other changes in elevation, which would attack the splitter like a cheese grater. Picking off the scraped and scuffed pieces of a $76,000 car is not a good feeling.
That’s the point at which a performance car gets more real: When you realize that while it feels invincible, it always has vulnerabilities as a daily driver.
Space, Ride And Interior
While there isn’t much space between the ground and the splitter, the Hellcat itself does have a lot of storage room.
One of the best traits of the Hellcat as a daily driver is that it’s huge. There’s space for pretty much everything you need to put in it. Trips to the grocery store aren’t a problem, and neither is putting large objects in the back seat or trunk. Jalopnik’s Andrew Collins even fit skis in it. The only hard part is making sure you parked it right.
The Hellcat’s interior was mostly Alcantara, which fits the vibe of an American sports car surprisingly well. Alcantara is also pet friendly, and accommodated a house cat with claws quite well. The actual cat’s roar is somewhat quieter than the one the Hellcat lets out.
The interior and exterior of the Hellcat felt too hollow for a $76,000 car, but that’s because the Hellcat is more about its power than its outer shell. Sometimes the seats wouldn’t quite be clicked into place until I accelerated, and then the sudden sound and movement was a little disconcerting.
The interior was heavy on plastic, and other parts of the car were flimsier than anticipated. I spent a lot of time trying not to destroy its delicate front splitter, the paddle shifters were thin, and the automatic shift lever itself felt a little too loose for comfort.
It also felt like, with such a simple interior, a lot of basic commands had to be found in the center dash display’s apps screen. Settings like the wheel heater don’t stay on between engine startups, meaning the driver has to dive back into the apps cluster to find it again. And, as we’ll talk about soon, the performance screens in this particular car were fond of crashing from time to time.
Fuel Economy And Tech Features
Gas is even more terrifying than elevation changes, as the Hellcat gets about 11 mpg in the city and, of course, takes premium gas. A buyer should expect that, since the car comes with a $1,700 gas-guzzler tax on its price. My car also defaulted to eco mode every time it started up, which was weird for a Hellcat.
But a Hellcat driver isn’t going to Google best practices to save fuel, because it’s a 707-HP angermobile. That’s not what it’s for. You’re going to stomp the pedal and pay for the fuel to do it, along with a likely astronomical insurance rate since a Hellcat isn’t exactly your cushy, friendly, low-power family crossover.
The car’s dash display isn’t cushy, either. It’s all about performance features, and it’s probably one of the best parts of the car aside from the power. In the gauge cluster alone, there are nine different pages a driver can scroll through depending on what information they want directly in front of their eyes.
From experience, I’d recommend keeping it on the speedometer screen the whole time you’re on public roads. The speedometer tends to shoot past the posted speed limit before you can realize it, so having its speed blown up can help keep you from getting a ticket on public roads.
Should you want to choose something else to show up between the gauges, A driver can choose between pages for vehicle info, performance, fuel economy, trip info, audio, messages, screen setup, diagnostics and active diagnostic codes.
The page on vehicle info shows things like boost, horsepower and temperatures for different components of the car, while the performance page shows the kind of stuff a driver would be interested in at the drag strip: reaction time, the car’s 0-to-60 and 0-t0-100-mph times on a certain run, its time and speed for an eighth-mile drag run and a quarter-mile run, as well as brake distance and what speeds a driver hit the brakes from.
That same information can be put on the center display, too, if a driver wants to activate multiple performance apps at once. The center display has additional performance apps, like launch control, but our Hellcat’s performance pages had the tendency to crash on that screen.
The Hellcat’s paddle shifters were also immediately responsive, which should be expected from a car with a quarter-mile legacy to fulfill, and its transmission was sporty. It conveyed a sense of power to the driver that a Hellcat should.
There was also the nice bit of attention the Hellcat got, like random groups of guys mouthing “Oh, shit” as their car went by it or the occasional Subaru BRZ flashing its lights.
Touching the gas in a Hellcat is invigorating. Checking your bank account after filling it up or tire wear after a road trip... isn’t. But people have different ideas about how to spend the money they have. I’m too cheap to buy a drag car that swallows tires before it can chew them as a daily driver, when I could find a slower, cheaper, non-automatic (in this Hellcat’s case) car to drive instead.
The Hellcat is an incredible car for the drag strip, and for simply having power available to you. There are interior and exterior features that seem fall short of its high price tag, but the performance gauges make up for that.
Plus, none of the cosmetic stuff matters when you’re able to throw yourself and anyone else back against a seat whenever you feel like it. Deciding whether this car is for you is really all about preference, in whether you’d rather save money or rip through the streets like they’re the wrapping on a birthday gift.
The Hellcat isn’t at all perfect, and, aside from its flaws, it’s far more bare and raw than other cars in its price range. But the Hellcat doesn’t have to be perfect, because, you see, this is the Hellcat’s world.
You’re just living in it—so long as the Hellcat will let you.