2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat: The World’s Quickest and Fastest Sedan

29 Oct 2014 | Author: | No comments yet »

2015 Dodge Charger R/T, SRT 392, SXT AWD.

At Kelley Blue Book we’ve watched the Dodge division struggle with sales even as its corporate cousins Jeep and Ram flourish. While the star of the 2015 Dodge Charger show is undoubtedly the 707-hp, wrath-of-Satan-infused Hellcat, the Charger lineup is a full one, and several other models are worth consideration if your last name isn’t Knievel (or you just can’t swing the Hellcat’s $64,990 price).When Dodge took us to a hangar in Washington, D.C., and offered the keys to any of its freshened 2015 Charger sedans, we could have taken the raucous new 707-hp Charger SRT Hellcat first.

The Charger range spans the V-6 powered SE and SXT models, the 5.7-liter V-8 powered R/T (pictured above), the 6.4-liter V-8 powered R/T Scat Pack, and SRT 392 before it reaches the Hellcat at the top of the line. In that alternate reality, where performing smoky burnouts is considered a patriotic duty and watching The Dukes of Hazzard reruns has displaced baseball as our national pastime, it would be an act of treason to deliver a Charger with fewer than eight cylinders. But we purposely started the day in the SRT 392, somewhat afraid that we might never again be satisfied with its 485 horsepower after driving the world’s most powerful production sedan.

But ease your way into the term “Hellcat,” and you’ll find yourself saying it pretty much all the time.Like the old school, AMG-tuned Mercedes-Benz “Hammer,” the nickname given to the world’s quickest production sedan of its day, the “Hellcat” name really rolls off the tongue with ease. Unlike that Viper-powered pickup, whose no-stability volatility seemed designed by the Grim Reaper himself, the Charger and Challenger ’Cats are something special precisely because they’re not truly evil. Littered with buzz-killing responsibilities like turning a profit, meeting CAFE requirements, and amortizing development and production expenses, making it in the real world these days takes a well-rounded starting lineup. It turns out that the Hellcat leaves a lot of room for fun under its long shadow, the first indication of which came when we brought to life the 392’s naturally aspirated 6.4-liter Hemi and its delicious rumble echoed through the building. They were tasked with putting a name to this Viper-shaming variant of Challenger muscle car, all while in the midst of an escalating horsepower war with speed machines like the Nissan GT-R, as well as the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 and track-tuned Z/28.

By now, you’ve surely heard about Dodge’s prodigious supercharged Hellcat V-8—that it takes 80 horsepower just to run its supercharger, which can suck the air from a 10-by-13-foot room in one minute, and that its fuel injectors can fill a pint glass in six seconds. He talked about what drove the decision to build a 707 horsepower sedan in a world seemingly more concerned with carbon footprints than smoky burnouts. Maybe it was divine inspiration, or too many exhaust fumes, but the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat is here, and it’s a lowered, snarling beast with an engine capable of 707 sobering horsepower. We discovered as much when we entered a hangar at Reagan National Airport in Virginia and saw about 30 examples of the redesigned 2015 model before Dodge execs gave us the details on the new car. In the world of high performance, in which SUVs now have 500-horsepower and family sedans have top speeds worthy of unrestricted sections of Autobahn, this kind of power is somehow wonderfully legal.

Inside, the cabin is a vast improvement, with real aluminum trim around the transmission bezel and instrument panel (albeit a thin application), a new three-spoke steering wheel, 7-inch information display between speedo and tach, and generally nicer-looking interior materials. Within a mile, we were laughing hysterically, drunk on torque—some 475 lb-ft of the stuff—and bruising past less-powerful cars, which was pretty much everything that hadn’t been Hellcatted. Then again, we can’t vouch for what every Hellcat owner will do this level of tire-melting performance at their disposal. (Hint: it won’t always be legal!) Admiring the Hellcat from afar feels almost indecent.

Mechanically, the 2015 Charger receives new adjustable electric power steering (only the Hellcat sticks with a hydraulic system), and the TorqueFlite eight-speed automatic transmission is standard across the lineup. We also wondered aloud if our licenses would survive the trip to Summit Point Motorsports Park in West Virginia, at which point we’d get to drive on the track. Dodge says it can rocket to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds on its way to an NHRA-certified quarter-mile at 11 seconds flat (on street tires), with a top speed of 204 mph. The recently facelifted Challenger’s voluptuous shape remains, but the Hellcat’s curvy exterior is tightened with contrasting underbody aero pieces, and complemented by a hood that sucks in air in the name of MORE POWER(!). Revisions were also made to tune the suspension for sharper handling, and the rear aluminum axle housing in rear-wheel-drive Chargers has been made lighter.

This role explains not only the attitude seen in these latest commercials but also the release of a second Dodge product in the last 6 months with a 700-plus horsepower engine (the first being the Challenger SRT Hellcat). There’s no way Dodge would leave its signature “racetrack” taillamp signature out of the equation; the entire ring glows softly whenever the headlights are on. Road feel: enough to communicate the surface texture, and the overly harsh default ride quality we noted in the old SRT 392’s comparison-test loss to the Chevy SS was conspicuous by its absence. While the Charger may be the more, ahem, mature Hellcat, it created the same fits of uncontrollable gasping, giggling, and cursing every time we stabbed the go pedal. With the familiar base-level 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 under the hood, the SXT is no rocket ship, but it is adequately quick for non-enthusiast buyers, especially paired to the eight-speed auto.

Fiddling with the SRT Performance Pages functions on the center-stack screen allowed us to add weight to the steering, which was good for self-centering and muscle-building but not much else. Given the price/performance equation, the first question a reasonable person might ask is, “What does Dodge give up when making a car so capable yet so — relatively — affordable? We also dialed up the firmness of the Bilstein shocks; the Sport mode provides a little better connection to the road but the Track mode is rather too stiff for the street.

Yet the Charger is a friendlier, more approachable creature, thanks in large part to a suspension tuned more for street performance—“touring,” in car speak—than for track-day or drag-strip craziness. “The philosophy is a little bit different,” said Russ Ruedisueli, head of engineering for SRT. “On the Challenger, we wanted the car to be sprung a little bit stiffer, there to be a little less roll. In the rainy conditions I drove in, the AWD system combined with less power than the V-8 powered cars to allow for more aggressive throttle around West Virginia’s winding back roads. The tasteful front end includes an air-slurping mesh grille, Naca hood intake and dual heat extractors, all to feed and cool the beast: the supercharged, 6.2-liter V-8 with 707 horses and 650 lb-ft.

The revised AWD system disconnects the front wheels for improved fuel economy when they aren’t needed (18/27 mpg city highway, compared with 19/31 mpg for the rear-drive car). Although soft to the touch and light-years better than the plastics of just a few years ago, it still feels a bit industrial, like the material that might cover the gripping surfaces on a piece of exercise equipment. The rest is carry-over from the ponycar Hellcat, including Brembo brakes with front 15.4-inch rotors and six-piston calipers; three-way adjustable Bilstein shocks; and robust gauges, steering wheel, and seats.

That said, a low-key matte finish mitigates the effect, while attractive stitched-fabric door upholstery and redesigned seating helps keep things looking and feeling luxe, something that can’t be said for the Abu Ghraib–grade benches of the previous car. The latter ups throttle sensitivity, delivers near-instantaneous upshifts and rev-matched downshifts from the eight-speed automatic (it replaces last year’s five-speed auto), and activates very liberal stability-control parameters. These changes make allowance for the four-door’s longer wheelbase, stated 4575-pound curb weight (probably close to accurate; our scales said the Challenger weighs 4488 while Dodge claimed 4439), and its 56/44 versus 57/43 weight distribution. It adds heavy-duty brakes, a stiffer suspension, three-mode electronic stability control, Dodge Performance Pages, which we’ll get to later, rear parking sensors and 12-way power seats.

Still, the new 7-inch TFT info display is a welcome addition with its sharp graphics, and the leather-wrapped shift knob, soft-touch door tops, and upgraded upholstery are all evident even in this lower-spec model. Buyers looking for a slight advantage in the power department can spec the Rallye Appearance Group (not priced as of press time), which rounds the output up to a nice even 300 horsepower and 264 lb-ft. After switching all chassis and powertrain settings to “Track,” we tackled Summit Point and immediately got comfortable with the car’s sharp turn-in and tidy, predictable body motions.

Freeway cruising is relaxed and quiet in eighth gear (helped by cylinder deactivation, which allows the engine to run in four-cylinder mode), but a stab of the throttle drops gears fast for instant overtaking power. It always drives big (because, with a wheelbase of 120.4 inches, it is big), but the steering—hydraulically assisted for the Hellcat, versus electric for other Chargers—is talkative and ultimate grip is quite high. Given just the right amount of gas, you’d never know the Hellcat was designed for dragstrips, thanks to a superb 8-speed automatic transmission that aims for smooth gearshifts over lurchiness. (A 6-speed manual gearbox is standard equipment.) A passenger commented that it “doesn’t feel like a handful,” and rightly so.

With three modes to choose from—Normal, Comfort, Sport—this helps the Charger perform its best trick, making 120.2 inches of wheelbase and two tons of curb weight feel considerably smaller than those figures imply. Also shared with the Hellcat are the SRT 392’s eyeball-ejecting brakes, which include new six-piston front Brembo calipers pinching 15.4-inch discs, up from four-piston calipers on 14.2-inch rotors on the ’14 model. As in the Challenger, owners can electronically limit horsepower to 500 to conserve premium unleaded, and soothe steering, transmission, throttle, and stability programs via the touchscreen or the secondary black key fob.

With its four-piston Brembo brakes, Bilstein suspension, and 485-hp 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 up front, the Scat Pack is essentially last-year’s SRT for a significantly discounted price. While the ratio remains the same at 14.4:1 and 2.6 turns lock-to-lock (16.5:1 and 3.1 for AWD models), switching to Comfort mode lightens the effort for parking-lot maneuvers, and Sport provides a nice—if somewhat artificial—weighty feel that complements the discernible on-center valley. Normal mode, as you might guess, splits the difference; we used it only long enough to find the setting button on the intuitive Uconnect system’s touch display. These were particularly appreciated when we eventually made it to Summit Point—license still in our wallet—and took to the track in both SRT models.

The snug fit and exceptional lateral support from the Hellcat’s bucket seats compounds that impression, as does the throaty exhaust note grumbling from the tail pipes. Combined with the stout and firmly damped chassis, the steering points the car just where you ordered, until you ask too much and the front tires begin to howl in a duet of understeer.

We were also pleased to find that the electronic shifter, formerly an anti-intuitive device that often required a glance at the dash to determine which gear you had selected, has been modified with clear detents that telegraph changes in a more traditional fashion. The adjustable suspension is one of the better units available at any price, with distinct and well-calibrated settings between comfort, sport, and track. Flat out on the front straight, the speedometer crept over 130 mph—not quite the 150 mph or so we saw in the Hellcat but still spectacularly fast for a car of this size.

But make no mistake, this freak of automotive nature has a full pedigree of race features, including a launch control system, 15.4-inch Brembo six-piston brake calipers wrapped in 20-by-9.5-inch forged aluminum wheels and a full menu of driver-confirguarble settings for throttle response, suspension compliance, transmission shift speeds and stability control. The non-adjustable Scat Pack suspension is about as firm as the SRT in Sport, which means it’s a compromise on the road and the track — a little too firm for the former and too soft for the latter.

It’s been a while since we last had some seat time in a Charger equipped with the Pentastar V-6 and eight-speed-automatic powertrain, but the almost stunningly low interior-noise levels in the 2015 model had us wondering whether Dodge had stuffed the body panels full of foam rubber. The Dodge folks tell us this isn’t so, that the NVH reduction largely results from continual refinement of the platform, which, we must point out, can trace its roots back more than a decade. Of course while Dodge wants Charger buyers to appreciate the car’s practical nature it worked hard to give every 2015 model a more athletic appearance, which manifests in new front and rear fascias, a new hood, new front doors and upgraded LED exterior lighting. After driving this beast, we’re happy to report that Dodge throws in a day at the SRT Driver Experience where new owners can learn to reign in all that power.

For 2015, Dodge restricts the AWD option to V-6-equipped models (last year the AWD option extended to the Charger R/T with the 5.7-liter V-8); adding AWD to either the SE or SXT trim will add $3000 to the bottom line, bringing the MSRPs to $31,990 and $33,990. That said, you never forget that you’re driving a 4400-pound full-size sedan; that’s roughly 50 pounds heavier than the 2014 model, itself no dainty petunia. Its EPA fuel-economy rating of 19 mpg city/31 highway (18/27 with AWD) only illustrates how far they’ve finessed it: In 2010, the base car was EPA-rated at 18/26 mpg, and its 2.7-liter V-6 made a meager 178 hp.

It’s a special vehicle that was built only with enthusiasts in mind. 3.6L/292-300-hp/260-264-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6; 5.7L/370-hp/395-lb-ft OHV 16-valve V-8; 6.4L/485-hp/475-lb-ft OHV 16-valve V-8; 6.2L/707-hp/650-lb-ft supercharged OHV 16-valve V-8 Much was done, says Dodge, to reduce the visual hugeness of all Charger models, starting with trimming the corners of the bumpers, dropping the height of the nose, and elongating the C-pillars. Between the SE with its 3.6-liter, 292 horsepower V6 and the SRT Hellcat with its supercharged 6.2-liter, 707 horsepower V8 sits the SXT with a slightly more powerful 3.6-liter, 300-horspower V6. Beyond these drivetrain differences each Charger can be ordered with a wide range of features and equipment, including 14 wheel options, 19 interior trims and 10 exterior colors. That assumes you haven’t already zeroed in on the top-dog SRT Hellcat version, in which case you’ll just have to decide on the interior and exterior colors, and whether or not you want the optional audio system, navigation system, Nappa leather seats, sunroof, “Brass Monkey” wheels (yes, that’s what they’re called) and all-season or performance tires.

Everything else comes standard, including that 707 horsepower number usually reserved for exotic sports cars costing up to 10 times the Hellcat’s price. From the tail-wagging rear to the howling engine, it was evident that this isn’t a cat of any kind: it’s a ticked off saber-tooth tiger on an intravenous drip of Red Bull. While it’s actually comfortable enough for daily driving, the car’s crazy performance (not to mention a thirst for fuel) probably makes it undesirable for a cross-country trip.

Unearth the settings for performance—be sure to skip Valet mode and Eco mode—in the easy-to-operate touchscreen infotainment system, and the Hellcat is yours to customize. So, we don’t really have a problem with the Charger-for-every-buyer logic, especially with high-tech features like lane keeping and automatic braking, but we’re a little worried about the Hellcat.

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