Ernest Hemingway would have approved of the 2016 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, once he got over the fear that would surely engulf him after first experiencing the brutally quick acceleration, of course. For a man obsessed with pursuing the truth in all facets of life, it would have been the perfect vehicle, save for the heated seats, and infotainment system perhaps. I can’t imagine Hemingway being a fan of turn by turn directions, or a car functioning as a WiFi hotspot either.
‘The Hellcat,’ as it shall be referred to for the remainder of this article, is a vehicle without pretense—a rarity in today’s automotive marketplace. It is not fashionable, it is not trendy, and it is most certainly not a bold vision of things to come. It’s a hulking piece of old-school hardware, a vehicle that stirs the emotions of everyone in its vicinity, positive or negative, people feel something when the Hellcat comes around.
Environmentalists shed a single sustainably-sourced tear when the 6.2-liter supercharged V8 roars to life, and no doubt they scoff, and roll their eyes when reading the EPA fuel economy ratings of 13 city/ 22 highway. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t understand where they’re coming from on some level. To understand it, I had to ask myself one simple question: why, in this day and age, does a car like the Hellcat exist?
The simplest answer comes down to one word: freedom. The Hellcat roams our streets…just because it can. Dodge built it because they felt like it, and people, buy it because they want it. We’re free to do these things in America, and the Hellcat pushes the boundaries of those freedoms, which in and of itself is a quintessentially American thing to do. Common sense dictates that putting a 707-horsepower engine in a family sedan is a foolish endeavor, but Dodge ain’t trying to hear that noise.
Common sense got thrown out the window years ago, probably around the same time the Viper was green-lit, and say what you will about FCA., but it does offer some of the most straightforward vehicles available. The Fiat 500 Abarth, Jeep Wrangler, Dodge Grand Caravan, these are no B.S. modes of transportation. FCA does what it does, nothing more, nothing less, and in a marketplace flooded with vehicles that claim to be capable of satisfying all your needs, I find the ones with a singular purpose to be refreshing.
The Hellcat exists because not everyone aspires to own a car that can blow the doors off most supercars in a 0-60 sprint without making a sound, and then go park itself while you chow down on a macrobiotic bowl of mush. Some people still want a car that will scare them a little bit, that will make them feel alive by reminding them that death could be just around one poorly judged corner.
During my time with the Hellcat I volunteered to drive at every opportunity. Dinners with friends, runs to Whole Foods, picking up clothes from the tailor, all the mundane around town trips that you can either turn to Uber or a deliver service for, I offered up the services of Hellcat. It came as no surprise to me that the car is a great daily driver, especially in a city like Los Angeles. After all, at it’s core, what more is the Charger than a rental fleet special built to comfortably seat five people, and haul all their crap in the 16.5 cu-ft trunk? And like any good contemporary family sedan, the Hellcat has a quality infotainment system in UConnect, and two USB plugs for the rear seat passengers. Oh, your family sedan doesn’t have rear seat USB plugs? Once again, advantage Hellcat.
When you’re at the wheel of the Hellcat, traffic magically seems to part, whether or not that’s due to its bellowing exhaust note, or its imposing figure filling rearview mirrors, I can’t say for sure, but other drivers are definitely aware of you. Between the path clearing presence, and 650 lb-ft of torque that backs it up, moving through a city in the Hellcat is actually quite enjoyable, even if you’re reckless enough to select track mode while on your way to the farmers market.
The TorqueFlite 8-speed automatic has quite possibly the hardest job of any transmission not found in a work truck, and fortunately for all of us, it excels at doing its bidding. In Eco or Street mode, the transmission shifts smoothly, and without occasion, thus taming the wild machine, making it downright docile. Select Sport or Track mode, and shifts become seriously snappy, jerking you back in your seat with every gear change. To some people that probably sounds awful, but I found it to be the quickest way to put a smile on the face of everyone in the car.
Further making the case that the Hellcat is much more than a star spangled smoke machine are the superb Brembo brakes. Up front, six piston calipers clamp down on massive 15.4″ discs, while four piston calipers grab 13,8″ discs out back. Months before I had the Hellcat in my garage for a week, I’d spent a day hustling both a Charger, and Challenger around Willow Springs Raceway, and as great as the whine of the supercharger is under hard acceleration, at the end of the day it was the stopping power that impressed me the most.
At the track, bleeding off speed while keeping the chassis composed is a must, and the Hellcat manages to accomplish this with shocking ease. On city streets, repeated quick, hard stops are the norm, and the Hellcat’s Brembos were more than up to the task, never losing pedal feel, never feeling overly grabby. Given that many of my fellow auto scribes had gotten their hands on the car before I did, there wasn’t much left of the 275/40R Pirellis, so the top notch brakes were extra welcome.
The automotive journalist community has had a lot to say about the Hellcat, some of it good, some of it bad, most of it somewhere in between. For every review that waxes poetic about big ‘ol burnouts, there’s one that labels the car as nothing more than an overpriced toy, which is dumb, because in the end, isn’t that what any vehicle other than an sub-compact is? The Hellcat doesn’t do anything particularly different than a Toyota Camry, it just goes about doing its business in spectacular fashion, whereas the Camry is mostly a snooze-fest start to finish. The Hellcat can be docile if that’s what the driver wants, but 99% of the time, it’s the exact opposite. The majority of the people who buy this car want it because they want everything with more on top.
In that sense, the Hellcat is the most American vehicle you can buy. From the outside it is loud, brash, and unapologetic about its demeanor, but inside it’s comfortable and you might not know why, but you like the way things work. Unlike so many of its operators, the Hellcat is not a car desperate for your approval, or your attention, because it’ll always get the latter, and has no need for the former. Like it or not, at least the Hellcat is honest.
Photo Credit: Visual Vocab for BoldRide