I’m choking on smoke in the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, the cabin so consumed by the cloud that I can’t see the steering wheel. So noxious are the fumes that I open the door and stumble to the pavement. Bystanders stop and gawk.
No, this is not a Cheech and Chong reunion. And these fumes, while euphoria-inducing, are actually being generated by a burnout outside the car: a raunchy, tire-roasting display by the fastest, most powerful muscle car in the genre’s half-century legacy. Amazingly, for the first time in that lunkheaded, mine’s-better-than-yours history, there’s not even a genuine barroom debate: This hellacious, 707-horsepower version of the Dodge Challenger is faster than any production Mustang, Charger, or Camaro ever made. It’s powerful enough to make any ’60s muscle car shrivel like a 98-pound weakling.
If we’re honest, that uniquely “made in Detroit” brand of swinging-dickery cuts deep to the very heart of the muscle car’s enduring appeal. Let some women roll their eyes at the honored tribal rituals of street racing, cruising, and cruising for a street race. The appeal here is primal, masculine, and utterly undeniable.
Despite its fuel-guzzling, supercharged Hemi V-8, the Hellcat isn’t entirely a DNA-derived dinosaur. Dodge’s roughly $60,000 saber-toothed kitty is surprisingly evolved, and downright cuddly for driver and passengers alike: The ride proves compliant through old-school streets in Brooklyn and New Jersey, aided by a modern, driver-adjustable Bilstein suspension. Racing-style Brembo brakes, along with adjustable settings for the engine, eight-speed automatic transmission, and stability systems, keep the Hellcat on its hyper-driven path. (A six-speed manual is available.) That’s a nice change from the days when muscled oafs—cars and drivers alike—could be found wrapped around the nearest telephone pole.
The clever on-dash Performance Pages displays turn the Dodge into a real-life video game, recording top scores for everything from 0–60 and 0–100 mph acceleration to quarter-mile sprints and G-force readouts. There’s even Chrysler’s slick UConnect touchscreen and built-in wi-fi hotspot, for chrissake, which let me send laptop e-mails while I was parked, as admirers knocked on the windows, offering variations on a theme: “Oh. My. God. Is that what I think it is?”
An Earsplitting Apocalypse
Don’t worry: The Hellcat might double as a mobile office, but it hasn’t lost its jungly taste for raw meat. That became clear at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey. Known as E-Town, the track has hosted drag racers since 1965, including civilians who today pay $20 to race their own rides. The Hellcat’s progenitor, the original Challenger, with its notorious 426 Hemi V-8, clocked a quarter mile in 13.2 seconds at 108 mph. But that’s so 1970. Today, Dodge is spanking the Hellcat through the quarter in 11.2 seconds at 125 mph. That’s also quicker than its impressive contemporary contenders, the Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 and the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. Switching stock Pirelli P Zero tires for stickier but still street-legal Nitto rubber, Dodge sliced this monster’s time to a boggling 10.8 seconds at 126 mph. Top speed is 199 mph, another figure that seems more in tune with a NASCAR stocker than a hefty 4,439-pound street brawler.
Here at Englishtown, I stick a finger into the Dodge’s exposed eye socket: One of the four parking lamps is actually a hidden air inlet that feeds the insatiable supercharger. I have less use for the Dodge’s black key, a parental-guidance special that limits the engine to a mere 500 horsepower. A second red key unleashes the Hellcat’s full satanic majesty, an earsplitting apocalypse guaranteed to send suburbanites scurrying and locking up their daughters. The Hellcat not only shreds its pony car brethren, it’s also more deluxe and drivable on a daily basis. And it brings on the fire and brimstone. Which reminds me: The next time I do a burnout, I’ll remember to roll up the windows.