Challenger Hellcat proudly defies logic with 707 horsepower

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Belt Line Road stretched before me dark and empty, a broad black ribbon begging to be shredded.

I couldn't resist. Seven-hundred chattering demons kept calling to me honest, officer.

Less than an hour earlier, I had strapped into a raucous red 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, a sinister, shrieking coupe made to misbehave.

As you may have heard, the Hellcat is the ultimate Challenger a bulked-up boulevard assassin that cranks out an astounding 707 highly supercharged horsepower.

Think of it as a NASCAR racer with minimalist mufflers, a back seat and air-conditioning. And with an approximate power-to-weight ratio of 6.5 pounds per horsepower, it's really not far from NASCAR.

Purely in the interest of research, kids, I pulled the Hellcat into the middle lane on Belt Line, switched off the traction control and slammed the accelerator to the floor.

In one furious rush, the gates of hell opened just west of Richardson.

I'm pretty sure I have a worker's comp dent in the back of my old head from getting slammed into the headrest as the snarling Hellcat slithered, shuddered and clawed mightily for traction.

Predictably, the rear tires went up in smoke as the big coupe sashayed left and right to about 45 mph, scratching for hard-scrabble surface.

Don't tell my psychotherapist, but I thought the road-scalding Hellcat made perfectly good sense.

For years, the Challenger has lumbered along mostly as the third horse in a two-pony race between the smaller Ford Mustang and Chevy Camaro.

No more. The viciously hyper Hellcat now stars in more Interknot videos than that Kim what's-her-flake, usually engaged in wild, smoky displays of extra-legal behavior just like Kim, I suppose.

Get this: The Hellcat is one of only seven production cars in the world with more than 700 horsepower, according to Car and Driver. And with a base price of less than $60,000, the interstate-quaking Hellcat is far and away the cheapest.

Although the coupe I had wore not a single badge with Hellcat? on it, you won't have any trouble identifying the big brawler.

As you may recall, retro Challengers rely on four round headlamps, as they did in 1970.

But on the Hellcat, the inboard light on the left side was removed so more air can be directed to the voracious, glowing lump of iron and aluminum beneath the hood.

In addition, a nicely styled functional hood scoop occupied a good chunk of the center section of the Hellcat's hood, flanked by smaller exhaust vents.

Meanwhile, a highly stylized badge on the front fender depicted the head of a fierce, snarling feline.

Give us darkness, Dodge.

Heard before it's seen

Like all Challengers, the Hellcat is a big, wide 2-ton coupe still stuck delightfully in the early 70s.

Thick and wide with a low top, long hood and large trunk, the 4,500-pound Hellcat sits about an inch lower than typical Challengers, crouched over 20-inch black wheels.

Though the wheels spin substantial rubber meaty 275/40 tires front and rear they aren't big or sticky enough to contain the Hellcat's brute 6.2-liter Hemi V-8.

As a result, you will hear the boulevard assassin tearing up concrete and asphalt long before you see it.

The Hellcat I had fired to life with a low, slightly ominous growl that reverberated through the car. (Make sure you have the red key fob. Hellcats come also with a black 'valet? fob that limits the engine to 500 horsepower.)

Although the beast idled energetically, it really didn't hint much at the storm that awaited a couple of thousand rpm away.

Dodge says the Hellcat's Hemi V-8 has been fortified, tweaked and redesigned to handle the heat and stress from the hurricane blowing through the engine courtesy of an IHI Supercharger.

By 2,000 rpm, a slight supercharger whine was audible over the car's wonderfully thunderous, free-flowing exhaust, which sounded as if it had been designed in a bar.

At the 5,800-rpm red line, you'll think you got caught up in a whistling twister.

Even a half-hearted nudge of the throttle pushes driver and passenger deeply into their seats. Anything more than that summons thrust that feels downright nuclear.

Launch the Hellcat hard while praying for traction, and it will rip to 60 in 3.6 seconds, according to Car and Driver on its way to a 199-mph top speed.

In fact, the ungainly Challenger can accelerate to 150 mph faster than a Viper.

But somehow, against many odds, it remains pretty civilized when driven like an adult, which has probably happened three times in Hellcat history.

I putted through the nightly miles-long, 15-mph scrum on the sorry Dallas Crawlway without a single hiccup, hiss or hint of excess heat.

The muscular Hemi was tied to an aggressive, well-designed eight-speed automatic that held gears under acceleration and was quick to downshift.

Don't expect to squeeze much from a gallon of super unleaded, though. The Hellcat is rated at 13 miles per gallon in town and 22 on the highway.

Legroom? Who cares

While no Challenger can be called agile, the big Hellcat tackled moderately fast corners flatly, turning in with sure-footed, oversize authority if not pure grace.

Though the car rode quite firmly, I didn't find it annoying or jarring. And thanks to quick, well-weighted steering, the Hellcat drove relatively small.

Just remember: The car's real content is under the hood and body.

The saddle-colored interior in mine looked pretty darn good at a glance, with nicely stitched leather seats featuring perforated centers and good bolsters.

Moreover, saddle inserts graced the car's black plastic door panels, giving them some flair.

But like every Challenger I've driven, the Hellcat suffered some from a coarse-looking black-plastic dashboard and door panels and a lack of legroom in the back seat.

Who cares in a car like this, though? You can use the 8.4-inch display screen in the center stack to summon all sorts of performance information, and the car, of course, offers launch control the go-to-jail button, I call it.

Sure, the overly muscled Hellcat is kind of old school.

But 40 years ago, anything with its horsepower would have spent most of its time on a trailer, bound for some drag strip.

I once used the rowdy red Challenger for a quick 707-horsepower beer-and-bread run.

In my book, that qualifies as real progress.

AT A GLANCE: 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat

  • Type of vehicle: Five-passenger, rear-wheel-drive coupe
  • Price as tested: $65,870
  • Fuel economy: 13 miles per gallon city, 22 highway
  • Engine: Supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 with 707 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
  • Performance: 0 to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds

Text Source: The Dallas Morning News
 


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