the Energy Independence and Security Act is repealed, 50-mpg cars will be thick on the street in a decade. If you find this notion depressing, take solace in the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat’s ability to binge-drink premium fuel. Stomp the throttle as if you own a private pipeline and this hellion can burn 1.5 gallons of high test in a minute flat. Texans with the pumps and space to indulge such pleasures can suck this car’s tank dry in the time it takes to read this article.
Other Hellcat stats are equally astonishing. This is the first American sedan armed with 707 horsepower. The one German four-door capable of beating it to 60 mph, the Porsche Panamera Turbo S, costs nearly three times the Charger’s $64,990 base price and falls shy of the Dodge’s claimed 204-mph top speed. Massive Brembo brakes and 20-inch Pirelli gumballs make this family hauler much more than a straight-line special.
With pump prices dipping below three bucks a gallon and the Saudis discounting crude to thwart the fracking tide, the super Charger arrives at an opportune moment. Designed in Michigan, assembled in Canada, and powered by a Mexican-made engine, it’s a poster child for NAFTA pragmatism. Also thank Fiat Chrysler boss Sergio Marchionne, who waved a figurative arrivederci to Ferrari with one hand while welcoming the Challenger and Charger Hellcats to the menagerie with the other.
No rocket science was needed to spank GM and Ford. The pushrod V-8 wearing one of the engine world’s most revered nameplates first appeared in 2003 Ram pickups—albeit minus the actual hemispherical combustion chambers of yore. The Charger’s chassis parts were handed down by Mercedes a decade ago during the ill-fated DaimlerChrysler lash-up. This year’s nicely rendered face lift replaces the stale gun-sight grille with seven air-inlet and -outlet ports. Sinister HID headlamps, growling cat badges, and a manly pair of pipes are also new.
Children cower at the sound of a blown Hemi starting; at full throttle, its supercharger whine and exhaust howl carry for miles. During cruising, the mighty engine murmurs barely audible bass notes, its tailpipes restricted by computer-controlled butterfly valves.
Pity the Hellcat’s 275/40ZR-20 tires futilely attempting to put down more than 8000 pound-feet of torque (650 pound-feet at 4800 rpm from the engine multiplied by 12.34 through the driveline in first gear). Pirelli’s stock rises a notch every time a driver lights the smoke grenades under the rear fenders. Thanks to a hair-trigger throttle, remedial right-foot reprogramming is essential to in-town puttering. Mashing the gas to pass will snap the traction at 40 mph on dry pavement, or as high as 80 in the wet. In the hands of a driver lacking respect for what was once known as war emergency power, the Charger SRT Hellcat is the loosest of all road cannons.
But in capable hands, it will thrill and amaze. To wring Chevy Corvette Z06 acceleration from this 4592-pound sedan, we disabled the stability controls, warmed the rear tires, set the transmission to track mode, placed the dampers in sport mode, and squeezed the throttle pedal with due deliberation. The tires bite in 1.6 seconds, the time it takes to reach 30 mph, then yowl again during the 1-2 shift at 40. What sounds like shredding titanium is the engine protesting the momentary power reductions accompanying each upshift. What feels like teleportation flings you to 60 in 3.4 seconds and to 128 mph in the quarter-mile. From rest to 170, the hairy Hemi posts an average 0.34 g of acceleration. Pleasure receptors think they’ve been treated to great sex, a tasty sirloin, and Dutch chocolate ice cream—all at once.
Exemplary braking and cornering performance are also part of the deal. Massive Brembo six-piston front and four-piston rear calipers grabbing two-piece rotors halt this car from 70 mph in 153 feet—averaging 1.07 g’s—with virtually no fade. Pirelli P Zero rubber stuck the Hellcat to our skidpad at 0.94 g. While there’s some understeer at the limit, that’s really no issue when the lightest brush of the accelerator will step and hold the tail out as wide as you like for as long as you deem appropriate.
The steering is heavy during parking maneuvers, but, once you’re rolling, the extra effort falls in sync with the quick ratio. Actual nuances of road feel are transmitted through a rim wrapped in perforated leather. The ride quality is remarkably poised for a 200-mph muscle car. Front buckets trimmed with suede are supportive but could use stiffer side bolsters to resist this car’s prodigious cornering loads. Rear passenger heads ride beneath the dot-patterned shading of the back glass, but there’s adequate room and comfort for two, plus a slim child.
Top: In darkness it creeps, enfolding the night in its black wings. Or something. We've been listening to a lot of old Tom Waits records.
Tap the SRT button on the dash and the 8.4-inch touch screen becomes the ultimate gaming console. Track, sport, custom, and default modes let you tune engine output, damper effectiveness, the traction helpers, and transmission and shifter activity. In Race Options, you can configure launch control and an upshift light. Valet mode allows you to relinquish the car to a parking attendant without fear of catastrophe. In Performance Pages, you can read instantaneous power, torque, and boost, or conduct a full road test by recording acceleration times, braking distances, and peak g’s in all four directions. There’s even an eco mode complete with a green-leaf graphic. This is for comic relief.
What’s most remarkable about this Charger is that it’s the complete package—daily commuting comfort combined with berserk special-occasion performance, all at a realistic price. Further, it cracks the door to subsequent products, such as a supercharged Viper and a Jeep Grand Cherokee Hellcat. Until GM and Ford chime in with their 700-hp sedans, or until the fuel sippers arrive—whichever comes first—the Charger SRT Hellcat is the uncontested king of American four-door performance.
The Maddest Motor
Chrysler’s director of advanced and SRT powertrain, Chris Cowland, led the team that twisted the 6.2-liter V-8 Hellcat’s tail to 707 horsepower, a record for an American production engine.
The Chrysler crew began by upgrading practically all the major components of the Hemi. The cast-iron, deep-skirt block has thickened webs and enlarged cooling passages. The forged steel crankshaft is induction-hardened. Forged steel rods have cracked bearing caps for extra-secure clamping. Each forged aluminum piston must withstand more than 10 tons of combustion force. The wrist pins have a diamond-like coating to minimize friction.
While the heat-treated aluminum heads lack true hemispherical combustion chambers, they do have twin spark plugs and large, canted valves. There’s one 2.14-inch intake valve and one 1.65-inch exhaust valve per cylinder, the latter with sodium-filled stems to dispense heat.
IHI Turbo America manufactures the Lysholm-type twin-screw supercharger, capable of blowing more than 1000 cubic feet of air per minute. Maximum boost is 11.6 psi, and an electric pump circulates 12 gallons of coolant through the intercoolers and two front-mounted heat exchangers every minute. Half-inch fuel lines slake the Hellcat’s thirst for premium. At peak power, eight injectors shower the intake ports with a pint of gas every seven seconds.
There’s minimal ruckus from the blower during idle and cruise modes. Legging the throttle cues a subtle whine accenting a louder intake thrum and a more insistent exhaust beat. No artificial noise is contributed by the audio system.
The Hellcat V-8 is teamed with an upgraded ZF 8HP90 eight-speed automatic with paddle shifters. Thanks to the wide ratio spreads and two overdrive gears, the Charger SRT achieves 22 mpg in EPA highway tests. A 13-mpg score in city tests drags the combined figure down to 16 mpg, resulting in a $1700 gas-guzzler penalty. Hey, what did you expect? It’s a Hellcat, not a miracle worker.