A lust for power has sunk more civilizations than it has saved, but in the auto industry adding rather than subtracting engine output has long proven to be a safe strategy. Witness the case of the 2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, a full-size sedan that has drawn an enormous amount of attention by way of its gaudy horsepower numbers. To wit: this four-door family cruiser boasts 707 ponies and 650 lb-ft of torque from a supercharged 6.2L Hemi V8 borrowed from the Challenger SRT Hellcat coupe that debuted earlier this year.
Publicity stunt? Maybe. This is, after all, the car that Dodge’s own CEO claimed no one had asked for, and the only reason to produce a super sedan without a clear demand from customers is to shine a spotlight on a brand that is currently making itself over as the performance-oriented arm of the Fiat-Chrysler empire. But does it really matter what motivations guided the Charger SRT Hellcat to market as long as I get a chance to drive one? I submit that it does not.
Location, Location, Location
What better place to sample the 2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat than at a race track like the one found at Summit Point Motorsports Park, West Virginia? While it might seem logical to exercise such an over-gifted machine in a high performance setting like a road course, I had actually found Charger’s predecessor, the Challenger SRT Hellcat, to be far too raw for legitimate enjoyment while lapping, preferring to sample its charms in a less frenetic street environment instead.
The Charger SRT Hellcat, however, took me completely by surprise. At the end of the first lap it was clear that the sedan’s similar chassis was somehow less nervous at the limit than the coupe’s, allowing me to confidently navigate the nicely drawn curves at Summit Point without worrying too much about meeting a concrete barrier wrong-way round. When set to Track mode (one of three available driving modes, on top of Sport and Street), the car’s adjustable suspension system goes full hardcore, limiting body roll to the best of its ability, and the eight-speed automatic transmission’s programming bangs through the gears as quickly as possible. I didn’t even feel the need to play with the car’s paddle shifters, as the autobox did an excellent job of making sure that the optimum ratio was selected at any given moment.
Not that you absolutely have to be careful about which gear you’re in when you’ve got 707 horsepower and 650 lb-ft lurking under your right foot, of course. Roll onto the throttle on a straight section of road and you’ll discover endless fields of acceleration, culminating in a drag-limited 326 km/h top speed. Throttle response is instantaneous, the supercharger whine under the hood is harmonious, and the thunder from the Hellcat’s dual tailpipes announces your arrival a good one to two minutes prior to your actual appearance on the horizon.
Careful Where (and when) You Step
Given that your morning commute almost certainly doesn’t include a carefully manicured race track, I feel compelled to reveal the other side of the 2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat’s personality. Outside of the carefully controlled environs of Summit Point, the car’s driving dynamics were more of a mixed bag.
2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, wheel, dashboard. Click image to enlarge
A wet and woolly fall storm meant driving the sedan through standing water on the way back to our home base in Washington D.C. When set to Street, the Charger’s manners were beyond reproach. On drier roads, however, with the Sport setting engaged, the Hellcat wasn’t quite as compliant. Its two-ton curb weight gave it a propensity to overwhelm the mid-level tuning of the adaptive shocks, making frequent bottoming out of the front splitter and rear bumper a consequence of taking a sequence of rolling hills too quickly. Then there’s the question of throttle management: hammer the gas at any point in Sport and you’ll incinerate the rear tires faster than the traction control system can reign you in. Or go sideways into something solid.