Most know that when we talk about car companies hopping on trends like autonomy, electrification, and efficiency, we’re not really talking about Dodge. Dodge, instead, has a lineup full of dinosaurs that get a thorough polishing, more power and maybe a new bow every year, and we eat it up. Every year. Somehow, it works.
The new, 707-horsepower Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody is exactly that, version 2020. It’s all of the hilariously charming age we expect out of a Dodge performance car, plus fender flares and a nearly $5,000 package that includes 10 more HP, because numbers matter even if a blind test wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.
It’s very Dodge, which means it’s very fun—plus all of the usual caveats.
(Full disclosure: Fiat Chrysler flew me to California, put me up for two nights in a hotel and provided an entire high-school clique of the 2020 Charger Hellcat Widebody and Scat Pack models to throw around Sonoma Raceway for the day.)
The Charger Hellcat Widebody is a new model year of a familiar sedan with a couple of tweaks, as much of Dodge’s lineup is aging, yet the company keeps us entertained with things like new aesthetic tweaks and special options. (It’s not a hard task, given that so much of the car industry is now crossovers and SUVs.)
Remember that bit about how tweaking the old stuff works? It wasn’t a joke. The Challenger actually outsold the much newer Mustang and Camaro in the third quarter of this year. The Charger sedan doesn’t really even have a direct competitor anymore—not from this country, anyway.
Dodge also recognizes that it hasn’t made over its performance cars recently, with a representative saying at the Charger Hellcat Widebody launch that the company “add[s] packages” but doesn’t feel like it needs to “reinvent” the cars all the time. But buyers felt like the Challenger was getting all of the love, Dodge said, and it was.
Thus, here’s the Charger, getting its moment.
That moment comes in the form of new fender flares on the Charger Hellcat, and they won’t just be an option—the Hellcat will only come in wide-body form for the 2020 model year. It won’t be a $6,000 add-on like it generally is on the Challenger Hellcat and other models.
That gives the Charger its spotlight and its body an extra 3.5 inches in width, and wider tires to go along with it.
Aside from the wider stance, the 2020 Charger Hellcat Widebody gets its usual supercharged, 6.2-liter Hemi V8 with 707 HP and 650 lb-ft of torque. The Challenger Hellcat went to 717 HP recently, but the only way to get that on the new Charger is to go with the optional, limited-run Daytona edition.
Some of its stats dip slightly in terms of speed with the wider stance, with FCA claiming the top speed of the non-flared 2019 Charger Hellcat to be 204 mph compared to the 2020 Widebody’s claimed 196 mph. The Widebody claims a 0-to-60-mph time of 3.6 seconds compared to the 2019 car’s 3.4 seconds, via Car and Driver. But those sacrifices allow for other benefits, such as wider tires with more surface area with which to grip.
The Charger Hellcat starts at $69,645 plus destination, FCA announced recently. The Daytona version can be had for $74,140.
The Charger Hellcat might generally get less of a spotlight than its two-door sibling, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less of a Hellcat.
It’s evident upon starting the car up and subsequently hearing its supercharger whine that this car has been given the same amount of attitude and anger as the Challenger Hellcat, courtesy of their shared supercharged V8.
The Charger, though, feels more tame, or at least more mature. Its suspension absorbs the road as it moves along, and the ride, in general, is less rough than that of the coupe. While the Challenger Hellcat feels like a Great Dane with the attitude of a purse Chihuahua, the Charger feels more like a racehorse—one that does better in a straight line than around corners, of course.
The Hellcat lineup isn’t refined, nor is it meant to be, but the four-door version feels more planted on the road and smoother over bumps. The Charger is also oddly comfortable in the front seats, which is something often sacrificed in the name of getting more power.
It’s the Hellcat for the family person who isn’t tied to gas prices or emissions guilt, because they want to get their group somewhere but have fun doing it.
Given the more practical atmosphere and two extra doors in the back, sitting in the Charger driver’s seat feels almost like sitting in a fishbowl, in a good way. Visibility is a huge plus in comparison to the Challenger, which has two fewer side windows and C pillars bigger than the ends of a cartoon rainbow. They’re laughable in size and in blindspot creation, and while the Charger’s back pillars aren’t thin, the extra window space almost entirely makes up for it.
Fiat Chrysler’s UConnect infotainment system has been good for a long while and remains so. It’s one of the simplest systems to learn—especially compared to things like Mazda’s system that connects and disconnects the touchscreen each time the car stops or goes into motion, or Acura’s setup, which features a center-console placed touchpad to navigate its screen like a laptop. While its dark colors might seem dated in other vehicles, it fits well in the Charger and Challenger. They are dated, and they own it.
But the concept of UConnect has inherent and documented flaws, especially in terms of a car like a Hellcat, where drive and power modes are pivotal to a person’s driving habits. Most of the controls and apps for the Charger Hellcat are within the UConnect system rather than operated through their own physical buttons, like the car’s drive modes. But as we saw with the Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye earlier this year, all of that easy functioning becomes a nightmare when or if the screen decides to give out.
Because of the lack of buttons, changing the Redeye’s drive modes was a mere dream that would never come true, because they were hidden behind a black, crashing screen that wouldn’t stay up long enough to change them. The car was stuck in its 500-HP “eco mode,” as if 500 HP is a good representation of “eco,” and each time a finger got within an inch of changing that mode, the screen crashed again.
But so long as UConnect works, it works well, and it worked without a flaw in the Chargers that day. It still gets the job done better than a lot of systems do.
By now, the general weaknesses of Dodge’s lineup are fairly well known. They’re fast but they’re often sprinkled with cheap finishes, like plastic that could give you a paper cut or trims that don’t exactly match, and their speed comes primarily in a straight line—not around winding roads.
The Charger Hellcat Widebody is no different, nor was it expected to be. Laughing at its cheaper features, and its turning abilities, is part of the fun.
The Charger, like the Challenger, is a lot nicer inside than it was a decade ago, but it’s still fairly basic. You get a glaring amount of smooth, blank space over the top of the dashboard and on the passenger side. That’s been a regular ill of the cars for years.
The Charger Hellcats we sampled also featured a hard-plastic glovebox that looked, next to the softer-patterned rest of the dashboard, like they belonged on a different car. It was true in both the regular ones and the Daytona trim, and it stuck out worse than a disastrously mismatched outfit.
The new Charger also comes with a bunch of appearance options packages, because old dogs can look fresh when they’re given new collars. One of those features is a suede headliner, which is optional on the regular Hellcats and standard on the Daytona trim, which added an odd sense of detail and expense in an interior that often feels tossed together. The suede continued onto the visors but not onto the sunroof cover, which made it stick out just like the glovebox.
True to the joke, the Charger Hellcat was a chore to steer on winding California roads. Those are optimized more for a pure sports car, or at least felt that way at the wheel of the truck that is the Dodge Charger, and the steering on the car is so numb that it was hard to feel comfortable on them without slowing down significantly to adjust for the lack of response. The steering wheel is also on the larger side, making it more laborious to throw around on tight roads.
On track at Sonoma Raceway—the road course, not the drag strip, surprisingly—the numbness of the wheel was less noticeable, probably because a track gives more of a sense of freedom than a shared road with a yellow line down the middle. It was easy to get used to and adjust for, and the car didn’t feel like an awkward fifth grader out on the track’s tough corners with its wider stance.
Any Hellcat also has the power to not only send a person ripping down the drag strip, but also swallow up gas like it’s going for a medal in the discipline. That’s likely not a problem if you’re in the market for a car that starts at $70,000, but it is telling when you remember that its full 707 HP isn’t used most of the time.
The Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody is what we’ve come to know a Hellcat to be. It’s predictable even with its few new perks to keep us all interested.
But this new one is more than just a handful of fender flares and optional interior packages. It’s a Charger for the loyalists—the ones who’ve stuck around while the Challenger got all of the attention, waiting for their four-door monster of a family sedan to get a few extra quirks of its own.
Sure, it has all of the ailments we’ve come to know the Hellcat to have. But that doesn’t matter to the people who will go online to spec this car as soon as the configurator opens, because they’re familiar with those ailments. They know that it’s just part of the charm, and that it’s what you get when you buy an old car with a new face out of nothing more than loyalty and admiration for what a Hellcat is. In a world of electrified and semi-autonomous and turbocharged everything, it manages to be a breath of fresh air despite its age.
Because, after all, it takes a lot of loyalty to daily a car whose gas mileage you’ll always pay for, but whose horsepower you’ll rarely get to use.