Driving the Most Powerful American Muscle Car Ever: the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat

 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat

Photos: Courtesy of the Chrysler Groups

When the Chrysler Group announced that the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat would have at least 600 horsepower and at least 575lb-ft of torque, I was excited at the news. When the news broke that the Hellcat would actually produce 707 horsepower and 650lb-ft of torque, I was a little bit blown away. When I found out that I would be among the first people in America outside of the Chrysler Group staff to drive the most powerful American muscle car ever, I was on cloud 9. I am the proud owner of several Chrysler Group products including a 1972 Dodge Demon 340 so to get the invite to experience the Mopar muscle car that set the new standard for high performance, it was the most excited that I’ve ever been for a media drive event.

Ahead of the event I wondered if the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat was really all that it was hyped up to be. I also wondered if it could really make use of 707 horsepower and, if so, would it be a nightmare to drive on the street. I wondered if the supercharged Challenger would be a true high performance muscle car or if it would fall to being a famous dyno king. Evidently, the Chrysler Group had these same questions in mind when they planned the first drive event for the 707hp Challenger, as they presented us with an opportunity to drive the 2015 Challenger Hellcat on the street, on a road course and on a drag strip – showing that it is a serious high performance car that can comfortably be driven every day.

My first seat time in the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat was on the open roads of Portland, Oregon and my test subject was a stunning Sublime Green Challenger with a Matte Black hood and wheels. Like all of the Hellcat road test cars, this one was fitted with the new heavy duty TorqueFlite 8-speed automatic transmission and since I wanted to get the full force of this Challenger’s performance, I adjusted the drive modes to “Track” before hitting the road. That gives the Hellcat Challenger the sharpest shifts, the most precise steering setup, the stiffest suspension, the quickest throttle response and it disengages fun stoppers like traction control. The Default setting would have afforded me more comfort while driving, but I wanted to experience the Hellcat at its least comfortable for road use to see just “how bad” it gets. Can you comfortably drive the 707 horsepower Challenger on public roads with the most extreme settings?

The answer is a resounding Yes.

When we pulled out onto the open road, I waited until the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat was pointed straight ahead on the desolate road before hammering the throttle…but when I did, it was instantly apparent that the Hellcat name was very fitting. In the blink of an eye, the massive amount of torque sent the rear wheels spinning and the rear end of the car quickly stepped out to the side. The Pirelli P Zero tires screamed for mercy as the Challenger effortlessly turned their surface into a pair of dark stripes on the road. I backed off, let the tires calm down and quickly climbed back into the throttle. Much to my delight, as I got into 3rd and 4th gear traction was far less of a fight and that lead to some serious forward acceleration while the supercharged 6.2L Hemi provided a stunning soundtrack of blower whine and exhaust roar.

To put it bluntly, the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat is straight up the quickest production car that I have ever experienced while also being a great deal quicker than many of the heavily modified vehicles that I’ve driven over the years. Traction is tough from a dig – and from a roll – but with some careful throttle control, this 4,400lb muscle car moves like nothing I’ve experienced. What is most incredible is that there is no “dead zone” in the acceleration of the Hellcat Challenger so whether you are launching from a stop or putting the hammer down while you’re already moving – whether you are going 40mph or 120mph – the newest SRT Challenger is like a rocket.

You are probably thinking “of course it’s really fast…it has 707 horsepower”…and you are right. What is possibly the most intriguing aspect of the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat is that when you are not mashing the throttle and working to break land speed records, it is a perfect calm, comfortable car. Even with the adjustable modes positioned in the most aggressive settings, driving this Challenger around in normal traffic was no different than driving a V6 Challenger. Sure, it has a beautifully exhaust note, but it isn’t all that loud under normal acceleration in traffic around town or on the highway and sure, it has the whine that you only get from a monster supercharged car – but there is no harshness to daily driving like you get with some of the other 700+ horsepower cars in the world. The new 8-speed automatic transmission provides lightning quick shifts like few self-shifting gearboxes in the world when you are into the throttle, but in normal driving situations the transmission pops from gear to gear with very little fuss – and that is in track mode.

In terms of ride quality and handling, I was road testing the 2015 Challenger SRT Hellcat in a setting where it should be the least comfortable while providing the best handling. Of course, driving around Portland Oregon doesn’t yield many opportunities to push the cornering limits so this was really just an exercise in how rough the track suspension is for public roads. It is very stiff, but by no means is the Track suspension setting any rougher on the driver or passenger than what you would experience in any of the other sports cars sold in America. You have a great feel for the road, which includes the bumps and imperfections in the road surface, but the weight and size of the Challenger still yield a level of ride quality that I could live with on a day to day basis. It might be too rough for some, but I would most certainly keep the suspension settings tuned to Track all of the time as I far prefer the added road feel – and the minor amount of harshness gained is negligible.

In short, while the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat will obviously afford you the option of slaughtering pretty much any car that you might come across during your daily commute, it is still a great car for that daily commute. Unlike some ultra high horsepower cars that are a bear to handle in tight traffic or that ride like an Indy car, the Challenger Hellcat is perfectly subdued when you keep your right foot away from the floor while even the stiffest suspension setting offers a ride that I consider to be quite fitting of the most powerful muscle car ever. Mind you, the Hellcat will still allow you to do a rolling burnout from a stop up through at least 6th gear and those 707 horsepower will allow you to eclipse any posted speed limit in less than 10 seconds, but it will do all this without compromising the simple qualities that make a car a good daily driver.

After I had spent enough time on the local roads with the 2015 Challenger SRT Hellcat where I was concerned about the police being on the lookout for the bright green machine, I headed to Portland International Raceway where the next phase of my drive was set to begin.

First up, I took to the 1.97 mile road course with a black Challenger SRT Hellcat fitted with the 6-speed manual transmission. Once again, the Challenger was set to full track mode and this high speed race course gave me a great chance to really push the brawny muscle car to its handling limits. The long straights yielded speeds topping 140 miles per hour, followed by sharp turns that required me to get the 4,400lb muscle car slowed down in a hurry. Fortunately, the massive 15.4” Brembo brakes had no issue getting speeds down for the turns time and time again. In fact, I did not see any braking problems (or problems of any kind) from any of the Hellcat Challengers being thrown around the race course during our 4 hour track session. These cars were raced in 90 degree heat for 4 straight hours – sometimes by people who clearly had no idea what they were doing – and not a single problem cropped up.

Now, I have to point out that the 2015 Challenger SRT Hellcat is a big, heavy muscle car so you can really only expect so much on a road course like Portland. I mean, I didn’t expect the Hellcat to handle like the Viper and it doesn’t – but the retuned suspension, chassis and braking system work together beautifully to make this one of the best handling muscle cars I’ve driven. The big girl slips easily through the higher speed turns and while you need to brake a bit harder for the sharp turns than you would in a lighter vehicle, the combination of the Brembo brakes and the 707hp Hemi allow you to get in and out of turns in a big hurry. I don’t expect to see this car breaking any Nürburgring track records, but this car will comfortably handle itself on public roads with pretty much anything out there. Honestly, the only place where you will be able to push the 2015 Challenger Hellcat hard enough to see the difference is on a road course and since few owners will spend much time road racing – it is hard to fault this car for being one that cannot handle. In the long run, this car handles like a dream for a car of this size and it does so with more comfort and style than any of the competition.

Finally, it was off to the drag strip with the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat. Once again, we were dealing with vehicles fitted with the 8-speed automatic transmission and these cars were on the factory Pirelli tires. Unfortunately, there was no track prep so the surface was loose and very not sticky. That made launching the Hellcat a real challenge – one that many journalists on hand simply couldn’t overcome. I climbed into a black Challenger with the hopes of using my extensive drag racing experience to get at least close to the NHRA certified numbers.

Unfortunately, the slippery starting line was just too loose to make any real use of 1st or 2nd gear so when leaving the line with the 2015 Challenger SRT Hellcat, I was forced to baby it through the first two gears. I was able to go wide open towards the top of 2nd gear and even then, the wheels were chirping a bit. However, once the tires gripped, this car accelerated through the midrange like no street legal car Ive ever experienced. It felt like it could have run for another mile when I got to the end of the drag strip and while the results weren’t as strong as I had hoped, I was able to get into the 11s – a feat which few people on hand achieved. To be exact, I ran an 11.8 at 118 miles per hour. On my next run, I tried to come out a touch harder and get into the heavy throttle sooner but it didn’t pay off. Traction troubles on that run forced me to settle for a 12.5 at 116. I wasn’t able to get near the NHRA certified 11.2 with street tires, but I was able to run an 11 second time on a completely unprepped drag strip with no seat time in 90 degree weather.

At the end of the day, my time spent driving the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat was every bit as amazing as I had expected. The Challenger passed every test with flying colors, showing that it can handle the road course, dominate the drag strip and outrun pretty much anything on the open road – all without compromising the ability to comfortably drive it every day. Dodge has created the most powerful American production car of all time and most importantly – you can actually drive it.

This car can be everything to every driver from world class performance to premium comforts in the cabin – making the 2015 Challenger SRT Hellcat the greatest muscle car of all time…hands down.

2015 Dodge Challenger SRT (left) and Dodge Challenger SRT Hellca

  • Twistym2

    So I have read every article I can find about this amazing new muscle car. When will it be available to be ordered?

  • Chewy

    Funny, this journalist just answered the question that I have been posing- will ANYONE be able to pull this off the assembly line and run the numbers that the tuned and prepped car was able to run on street tires??? AND the answer is positively NO!!! In his OWN admission, first and second gear are TOO low to even think about getting the tires to ‘plant’!!! AND the outcome will be the same with the so-called drag radials! They won’t be able to plant and push the car down the track in the 10.8 second claim without some serious tuning to raise the convertor lockup and let the tires hook!!! AND now this is proof in the pudding!!!

    • Robert Grant

      So what, the car is still badass.

  • Joe Schneberger

    so guess this guy has never drove a corvette zo6 or zr1 both which in bone stock form on the factory tires at 124 zo6 and 132 zr1 can out run this car by far even on the slicks and supposed nhra time. The z28 on factory rubber was quicker than his street tire times also. and as much as I dislike ford the shelby also would stomp a mud hole in this car with a 128 trap speed on factory tires. So put slicks and use the gm or ford ringer as dodge obviously did and sure that time would be smoked especailly by the shelby and ZR1.. So dodge not impressed at all by this car as if the others took their factory cars and built a more drag strip purpose model from it this would be a joke as the street models already out impress this “hellcat” more like a pussy cat I say and over priced at that.

  • AATopFuel

    Well, I LIKE MOPAR’s, I build MOPAR’s. Here’s the difference that I see the Corvette I love a Great American Car. But this reference that you talk about is a 3,000lb car. This Challenger if put on a 1,400lb diet it would be every bit as competitive as the vehicles that you have mentioned. To control the car if I thought that it would help, I would launch in 3rd gear to help settle it down maybe even 4th. Remember the powerglide 2 spd with 1.76 first gear people love it, it settles the vehicle down and hold the torque band longer, so all you feel is this strong pull all the way down the track if you have the power to begin with. Yes, with some tweeking you could get the power to the ground.

    • Robert Goddard

      Unfortunately, Joe isn’t comparing apples to apples. Now if we were doing a comparison of Viper to Corvette, it would make perfect sense talking lateral G’s, road course, 24 hours of ” fill in blank”, ect…the actual comparison would be modern “production” Camaro, Mustang or other American muscle cars. In that case there is no comparison.

    • RiverMikeRat

      You like MOPAR’s what?

      I like Mopar cars, so I like Mopars.

      • AATopFuel

        You like MOPAR’s what? I’m not sure what that means.
        It seems that you answered your own thought.
        I like Mopar cars, so I like Mopars.
        With that I would have to say, yes, that would be accurate.

        • RiverMikeRat

          Here. Let me refresh your memory on exactly what you stated in your first comment and sentence.

          “Well, I LIKE MOPAR’s, I build MOPAR’s.”

          Now. Are you ready to take notes? Ok. The apostrophe followed by the letter “s” denotes possession. So, when you write “MOPAR’s” it need to be followed with what you like. For example: “I like MOPAR’s power and acceleration.”

          I would submit that you actually were trying to use the word in its plural form, though. I which case you DON’T use the apostrophe. Hence, when you want to convey the fact that you like the products put out by the Chrysler Motor Company, you would say ” I like MOPARs.”

          See how easy that is?

          (This basic English lesson brought to you by the “I really love American English group.”)

          I have to ask: When exactly was it that you dropped out of school? Second grade?

          • AATopFuel

            Yes, I own Mopars and I also work on Mopars. Yes, I like the Mopars that I own. I’m sorry if I offend you with my grammer and or spelling I’m doing the best that I can with the hours of work that I maintain building racecars. I don’t even want to started with my home life.

          • RiverMikeRat

            Your lack of education has nothing to do with your hours of work or your home life. I worked 14 hours a day 6 days and 8 on Sunday for over a year. When I got home I had to cook and clean for our kids. And yet, my English never suffered.

          • AATopFuel

            Well, I guess I’m totally shamed, I will never be as good as you.

          • RiverMikeRat

            This is true.

  • patrickmcswain

    It’s a pretty exciting time to be an enthusiast. 707HP. WOW!
    Congrats Dodge!! Big High Five!

    Now fire your marketing dept. 😀 Some of the things they have spouted are pure BS, and others are seriously questionable. Let the car do the talking. It won’t lie.

    They must know reality is going to bite them in ass and not let go. Some prime examples? Dodge’s Media Show states they drop 1.3 seconds ET from the 425HP Challenger to the 2015 485HP Challenger. I’m sure the hotshoes with the early models are going to question that huge gap in the presence of the new owners door to door at the strip. Questionable. Ditto for the 4400lb x 485HP version putting 0.3 seconds on a 3800lb x 505HP Camaro at the strip. Most likely BS. The Hellcat is said to be 0.60 seconds quicker than the 3850lb x 662HP version of the Mustang. Well since even Motor Trend (not famous for low ET’s) clicked off a 11.6@127+ on OEM tires stock, Dodge is going to have to produce a 11.0 flat second stock timeslip in the 129mph range, or it’s just BS.

    And what the heck is “NHRA Certified” and why have no other cars used it? Does it really exist? Or is it something purchased at the gift stand under the bleachers?

    Again, congrats Dodge! But dang, don’t shoot your mouth off about how slow you think other cars are unless you’ve done your homework. Just put your test results out there, and let others do the comparisons.

    • RiverMikeRat

      NHRA-certified means that the run was made under NHRA supervision with traps that are sanctioned for NHRA event use.

      In other words, it wasn’t clocked with just a stopwatch.

  • RiverMikeRat

    How did you go about finagling this test drive experience?

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