2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat review notes: Monster in the garage

Photo: 2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Photo 9

Supercharged 707-hp V8 is your inalienable right

ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: It’s been a few months since I’ve been in a Hellcat. Yep, it’s still fast. Not much of a surprise there. What is frankly kind of a miracle is that, after a couple of turns behind the wheels of these supercharged Challengers and Chargers, I’m still alive and with no points on my driver’s license.

Part of that is my somewhat spotty ability to resist the urge to put pedal to floor and do something really, really stupid, but a bigger part is that Dodge has managed to make 707 stated horsepower (apparently it’s a bit higher) feel downright tractable.

Oh, it’s never boring. From the delightful supercharger whine to the feeling of thrust when you get even a little bit into the throttle, Hellcat driving is a thrilling multisensory experience. Sometimes you forget to take your foot off the brake pedal before you step on the gas and the tires turn into smoke! It’s all very exciting.

And yet, despite a suspension firmly on the firmer side — probably the only thing capable of keeping this 4,575-lb sedan from wallowing — it’s so weirdly drivable as to beggar belief. Shouldn’t 707 (stated) horsepower feel a little bit more like imminent death?

I’ve noticed that Fiat Chrysler stopped supplying us the black key; all we got this time around was red key that gives you access to the 6.2-liter’s full output. Perhaps they’re trying to tempt us, or goad us. Or maybe just prove a point: Even with the training wheels off, the Charger Hellcat is perfectly capable of burying its less-civilized side — though never so deeply that it can’t be accessed with a quick tap of the right foot.

Even so, I don’t think I could own one unless there was an abandoned runway in my backyard and I could negotiate some sort of wholesale purchasing arrangement with Tire Rack. The prospect of having a Hellcat in my garage is just too much like giving a bunch of kids a crate of Roman candles. Sooner or later someone is going to get hurt or arrested or both.

That aside, you can certainly make a very compelling case for owning one of these. With four doors and a gigantic trunk, the Charger Hellcat is even, arguably, practical! It’s not cheap, and it’s a different kind of thrill than, say, a slow-car-fast Miata or BR-Z.

Even if you’re not all about straight-line speed, though, you should pause and take a moment to recognize that the Hellcats are one more bit of evidence that now is a really, really good time to be into cars.  For a similar price, I’d personally go with another FCA offering: the polar-opposite Alfa Romeo 4C. How’s that for range? 

Photo: 2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Photo 1

DIGITAL EDITOR ANDREW STOY: As much as that 707-hp spec still makes me go “gawddamn,” it’s not what makes the Hellcat Charger so impressive. After all, you bolt a huge blower on top of 6.2-liters of V8 engine and start cranking up the boost, that’s pretty much what happens. With all due respect to Chrysler’s engineers, any redneck with a Summit catalog and a credit card can build a 700+ hp car.

I’m not going to belabor the obvious — if you want to see what a track monster the Hellcat is or how much smoke you can make with the back tires, you can go here or here or here. What’s really amazing about the Charger Hellcat is what a good car it is despite its outrageous horsepower number.

I was blessed with the Red Key (slingshot engage), got comfortable and burbled out of One Autoweek Tower right into a massive collection of afternoon traffic jams. Now, I’ve found there’s generally an inverse relationship between horsepower and traffic tolerance — the more power you have on tap, the more annoying it is to not be able to use it (ask me about my rainy-day Audi R8 V10 drive sometime). But the Hellcat, despite its name, is totally docile in ordinary commuting. Thrumming exhaust note aside, it’s downright comfortable with great seating, Chrysler’s outstanding UConnect infotainment system and strong climate control to keep the summer ozone (to which you’re contributing — significantly) at bay. The huge Brembo brakes aren’t loud or grabby, the steering is content to behave in proper big American sedan fashion, and the overall ride is as comfortable as a V6-powered Charger on tall tires would be.

Get an opening in traffic and stab it though, and the last thing you’ll remember before waking up in jail is the supercharger whine. Everything gets blurry fast, and the speedo rockets around its dial.

Again, that’s what 700+ horsepower does when it’s fully invoked. But at part throttle the Hellcat pulls a pretty neat trick too: It magically reduces the Charger’s curb weight by about 1,500 pounds. All the power, even in normal driving, has the effect of moving this big sedan along like it’s a much, much smaller car, but since the engine appears to be loafing it’s totally deceptive.

It’s also totally fun. In fact, I can’t think of any comparable multi-purpose performance car — one that can shuttle the kids to school, pick up the in-laws and their luggage at the airport, then knock off an 11.2 second quarter mile time — for anywhere near the Charger’s under-$70k price tag.

You really have to drive one for yourself — it’s a special machine. 

Photo: 2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Photo 11

ROAD TEST EDITOR JAKE LINGEMAN: Yeah this car’s a ball of fun and looks bad-frickin-ass. I got more love in this than the new Mazda MX-5 convertible. Kevin Buckler, CEO of The Racer’s Group was itching to drive it, despite the selection of Aston Martins in the parking lot, but sadly, there was no time.

The Hellcat has great lines. Sort of smooth and curvy, but the overall shape is kind of blocky. The black wheels and darkened lights make this car look like its being arrested and handcuffed when standing still.

It’s hard to keep out of the throttle too, even though this car will easily get out from under you if there’s even a whiff of moisture on the pavement. Thankfully the traction control keeps you mostly in line. Actually, just the right amount in line; it will squawk the tires no matter the setting.

Power comes on like a nuclear chainsaw at your back, shoving you into the seat for a long as your huevos grandes will bear it. It’s loud, and like Graham said, whiny with the supercharger. It’s funny, with the windows up you can really hear the snail, with them down all you hear is the exhaust. Speaking of, it’s loud at 2,000 rpm, which might make for an annoying drone on the expressway. I didn’t put a ton of miles on it, but that I noticed. It’s a little surprising, considering the monster V8 doesn’t seem to work hard at any speed, let alone low speeds.

It feels like a heavyweight, because it is. I think I said this in one my Hellcat reviews, but it bears repeating here. On the throttle the car feels light, on the brakes and steering wheel, it feels heavy. At full tilt it feels like you could drive through a cinderblock wall, a police blockade or anything else thrown in your way.

I do enjoy the customizable drive modes. No matter where you put it, the car is great to drive. Sport mode goes a little firmer and track goes full firmness, but even in default it rides stiffly. My favorite combo is full power, track transmission settings and comfort ride, and then you get the quick shifts without the banging over bumps in the road.

So, would I take this over the Challenger Hellcat?  That is the question. The answer is a definite yes. You get 90 percent of the fun and 150 percent of the utility. Like the guys above said, you could take your parents out to dinner in this thing without a problem. The trunk is big too, and it runs on regular pump gas. Sold. You can’t get race horses any cheaper than this.

Photo: 2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Photo 6

Options: Customer preferred package including Harmon Kardon audio group with 19 premium speakers including subwoofer and front floor mat ($1,995); gas guzzler tax ($1,700);  power sunroof ($1, 195); Uconnect 8.4 inch touchscreen, 3D GPS navigation, HD radio, SiriusXM Traffic 5 year traffic service, SiriusXM travel link 5 year subscription ($695); 275/40ZR20 tires ($195)

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