Driven: 2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat

Cars, Reviews I By Bradley Iger I October 28, 2014

It’s no secret that Dodge’s new 707 horsepower Hellcat power plant has caused quite a stir among performance car enthusiasts. When we headed to Portland earlier this year to drive the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, we came away with a lot of reasons to be excited. Considering that the Charger and Challenger share a nearly identical platform aside from the coupe’s shorter wheelbase, it comes as little surprise that the driving experience between the two is fairly similar. Still, with four doors, the Charger serves a different purpose in Dodge’s lineup, and the automaker has made a concerted effort to give the Charger its own unique characteristics that complement its sedan configuration and the role it will play for potential buyers. To get a better understanding of exactly what that entails, we headed to Washington D.C. and nearby Summit Point Motorsports Park in West Virginia to see for ourselves.   

What’s the idea behind the 2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat?
Touted as the quickest accelerating, fastest, and most powerful production sedan in the world when it was announced in August, the top-spec Charger gets the same 6.2-liter supercharged V8 used in the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, making the same 707 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque. Since that announcement, Tesla has managed to steal a small piece of the Charger Hellcat’s thunder with their own ultra-high performance sedan, the P85D, but for many the Tesla remains a bit of an outlier in the automotive landscape. Moreover, starting at under $64,000, the Charger SRT Hellcat is a more realistic option for many who crave high performance and require four doors.
Who might want a car like that?
Much like the Challenger Hellcat, the Charger Hellcat’s formidable performance capability coupled with its relatively low price make it a potential crossover hit. A BMW M5 costs nearly twice as much and it’s down nearly 150 horsepower. Same goes for the Mercedes-Benz E63 and the Audi RS7. To some these cars might be incongruous comparisons in terms of prestige and refinement, but at as much as a 50% mark down, we’re willing to bet there’s more than a few performance sedan buyers who’re willing to make a few concessions. In terms of direct competitors, the Charger Hellcat has essentially none. Both the Chevrolet SS and the Ford Taurus SHO fall far short of the Mopar in terms of performance (although the Hellcat costs substantially more), and the Charger is also significantly larger in terms of size and cargo capacity.
Worth pointing out is the fact that, unlike some of the aforementioned options, the Charger Hellcat is definitely not subtle about its performance potential. The exhaust snarls, the supercharger howls, and numerous (and functional) scoops and vents that adorn the bodywork demand an audience. If flying under the radar is a top priority, the Charger Hellcat might not an ideal fit, but if you’re looking for a genuine muscle car experience with the inherent practicality of a sedan, this might just be right up your alley.
How does the drivetrain of the 2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat perform?
Identical to the 6.2-liter supercharged V8 powering the Challenger Hellcat, it goes without saying that the Charger Hellcat is fast. In fact, internal testing from Chrysler indicates that, under certain circumstances, the Charger’s longer wheelbase allows the weight to transfer to the rear more effectively, and actually gives the sedan an edge over the Challenger in straight line performance. Additionally, the Charger’s more drag coefficient friendly front end results in a top speed of 204 miles per hour, besting the Challenger’s 199 mph limit as well. But in case the message is getting muddled with internal comparisons, the take away is this – the Charger Hellcat is a large family sedan capable of flat-out supercar acceleration and speeds exceeding 200 miles per hour exactly as it stands in the showroom.

That said, the copious power on tap is actually quite manageable even in less-than-ideal conditions, as we discovered when rain clouds descended upon us as we lapped Summit Point’s two mile circuit. Unsurprisingly, on a wet track it takes a very patient right foot to roll into the throttle without unsettling things, a lesson driven home when an unexpected downshift caused some wheelspin at about 85mph as we headed down the main straight. But Chrysler has clearly spent many hours fine tuning the traction control software for this new breed, as the system is, thankfully, capable of doing its job properly without just simply killing all throttle inputs until you give any hopes you had of going fast.
Despite the cries of a fairly vocal minority on internet forums and the like, Dodge is asserts that there simply isn’t a viable business case to offer an optional six-speed manual gearbox in Charger, so the same ZF 8-speed automatic from Challenger Hellcat will be sole transmission on offer in the Charger. Normally we’d lament the option not to row our own, but the truth is that this ZF gearbox – especially the beefed up 8HP90 used in the Charger (and currently only shared with the Rolls-Royce Ghost, Bentley Mulsanne, and Dodge Challenger Hellcat) – is quite possibly the best automatic transmission currently available. The transmission is configurable, with three different driving modes, and in Track mode it shifts just about as hard and fast as most dual-clutch gearboxes we’ve experienced, yet it also eschews the around-town and off-the-line clunkiness that can often be an issue with DCTs. Left in its default setting, the gearbox is as easy to live with as any other automatic, and is quick to move to more fuel efficient cogs when loping along.
Another area where Dodge clearly spent some time dialing things in was the exhaust system. Scat Pack and SRT trimmed Chargers receive an all-new active system which uses electronically-controlled valves to modulate exhaust volume based on engine load, throttle position and other driving data. While it sounds great when fitted to the 485 hp, 6.4-liter naturally aspirated motor in the Scat Pack and SRT 392, under wide open throttle in the Hellcat, it’s one of the best sounding vehicles you’ll hear outside of a race track. But the true brilliance of this system isn’t just the fact that it can wake the dead when you stomp on the go pedal, it’s the fact that the Charger is also nearly silent when cruising along on the freeway. Yet unlike many current active exhaust systems found in performance cars today, this is not an all-or-nothing affair in which the exhaust valves are either open or closed depending on how you’re driving. Instead, the system can make constant small adjustments to the sound and volume based on how you’re driving, so the experience is much more linear and refined than many other active systems. For those who dig the idea of a performance sedan with a split personality, this sort of thing goes a long way.
How does the 2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat handle?
For 2015, all SRT Chargers receive three-way adaptive suspension and bigger Brembo brakes with six-piston calipers and 15.4-inch discs up front and 13.8 inch discs and four-piston calipers in the rear. Hellcat models get stiffer springs and beefier sway bars than the standard SRT, and also sit slightly lower. Much like our experience in the Hellcat Challenger, leaving the adaptive suspension in its default setting seems well suited to driving on public roads. If you’re really pushing the car, Sport firms things up substantially, but we’d argue it’s largely unnecessary outside of a race track setting, and Track mode is almost unyielding to the point where its use on poorly maintained roads would probably be a detriment to the overall driving experience. Dodge tells us that the ride is one place they sought to differentiate the Charger from Challenger, and since it is ultimately a grand touring family sedan, the Charger gets slightly softer springs and dampers than those fitted to its Challenger counterpart.
While the rest of the Charger lineup gets electrically-assisted steering for 2015, the Hellcat sticks with a hydraulic unit. Normally we’d say that’s welcome news, and while the steering itself is fairly accurate, the hydraulic assistance in the Charger has always been a little too over-boosted for our tastes and the Hellcat’s system doesn’t do much to address that. With that said, out on the track this four-door Hellcat is far from soft. Much like other full sized high performance sedans on sale today, you’ll have a hard time ignoring the Charger’s girth, but its highly adjustable performance settings help make it a capable  and engaging performer. Puddle-filled corners don’t make for the most ideal context to test turn-in and at-limit handling, but we did note that the Hellcat was free from discernable body roll during all lapping sessions and brake dive was kept to a minimum as well.
How comfortable is the 2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat?
Things dried up a bit by the time we hopped in the car to head back to D.C. from West Virginia, giving us a chance not only to stretch the Hellcat’s legs on the beautiful backroads near Summit Point, but also to see how the car fares on the highway and in urban traffic.
As impressive as the Hellcat’s performance statistics are, grand touring is where this sedan truly excels. For drivers over six feet tall (like your author), the Charger’s generous dimensions are welcome, and long journeys are dispatched with ease in the SRT-trimmed sport seats, which provide reasonable bolstering but clearly favor comfort over track capability.
As has been the case in previous Chargers, interior quietness is among the best in the segment, but should you choose to leave the transmission in a mode other than its default setting while cruising on the freeway, the gearbox appears to be (logically) programmed to avoid shifting into the most relaxed gears, and in turn, the exhaust can occasionally cause some resonance in the cabin. Switching the transmission over to the Normal mode resolves this, but what you soon realize on damp roads with more than 700 horsepower underfoot is that unexpected downshifts when moving to pass other vehicles can be an undesirable event. The best solution we found was simply to briefly intervene via the paddle shifters and do our own gear changes rather than dipping further into the throttle and receiving far more thrust than was necessary on moist pavement.
The Charger’s Uconnect infotainment system remains intuitive to use, fast to respond, and pleasant to look at. A few physical buttons below the display provide shortcuts to specific menus like the SRT Performance Pages, but as we noted during our tests with the Challenger SRT Hellcat, with all the customizability available on the SRT models, we’d appreciate some bespoke buttons for adjustable mechanicals like the adaptive suspension and the gearbox rather than having to navigate back and forth through between, for instance, the navigation screen and the custom performance mode menu whenever we wanted to adjust a parameter on the fly.
How are the design, materials and fit when you see the car in person?
This year’s refresh of the Charger took many by surprise with its substantially reworked front end, a much more contemporary aesthetic than the outgoing car and one that brings the Charger closer in appearance to the Dart. That change had a bit of a polarizing effect on enthusiasts, with muscle car fans bemoaning what they saw as a less aggressive presentation than the outgoing car, while others welcomed what they considered a more svelte and mature approach. In Hellcat trim, with its scooped and vented hood, massive air intakes, brake vents and hunkered down stance, there’s little room for confusion as to whether or not this is a performance sedan, and the car’s new LED headlights give the Charger a much more modern vibe. All in, we think it could be effectively argued that the designers deftly avoided the potential pitfall of creating a caricature of a muscle sedan and instead made the archetype.
Inside, the Charger got its dramatic interior overhaul back in 2011 model year and changes for 2015, in terms of overall presentation, are largely incremental. High quality materials like Nappa leather and Alcantara suede trim the seats of the Hellcat, and more care has been taken to make sure that the interior feels up to snuff with what one would expect in a $65,000 performance sedan, but you likely won’t soon confuse it for the cabin of an Audi S8. That said, there’s also little to apologize for here – especially once your attention is brought to the 8.4-inch touchscreen (and the configurable 7-inch digital gauge cluster) which soundly trumps the interfaces on offer from other performance sedans in the segment from a functional and ergonomic standpoint.
Anything else?
While the Challenger SRT Hellcat might be the Dodge that’s been occupying the headlines as of late, it’s the Charger SRT Hellcat that many potential buyers will have an easier time justifying to their loved ones. Outside of a six-figure sticker price, the Hellcat-flavored Charger really has no substantial competition. Dodge has made no bones about the fact that the Hellcat is a performancesedan with some elements of luxury rather than the other way around, so if opulence, quietness, and overall subtly mean substantially more to you than quarter mile times do, your money might be better spent elsewhere. But for those looking for a thrilling and – dare we say it – pretty well balanced muscle sedan which concedes very little in terms of convenience and practicality for the sake of performance, this is quite literally the best deal going, and by a wide margin.
2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat
Price: $63,995 (base)
Engine: 6.2-liter supercharged V8
Output: 707 horsepower / 650 pound-feet
0-60 mph: 3.6 seconds (est)
Fuel Economy: 13 mpg city / 22 mpg highway
On Sale: Early 2015

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