On the Road Review: Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat

In 2013, there were probably some sad faces at Dodge. Then parent FCA invested millions in bringing Fiat back to America—a certified failure now, taking development money away from Dodge. In addition, the new compact class Dart was a disappointing attempt that tarnished the brand.

Still, one can imagine that the “good old guys” in the powertrain engineering department were busily engaged in late night bench racing, creating a wild plan to revive the cornerstone brand at FCA.

Chris Cowland’s team, at the urging of Tim Kuniskis – now Dodge’s brand manager – secretly worked on a powerful engine for the Dodge Challenger and Charger, a monster engine that would prompt consumers to revisit the infamous MOPAR brand for high performance . Perhaps Chris joked to Billy-Bob and Todd, “If we screw on a supercharger that pumps oh, 30,000 liters of fresh air per minute into a boosted 6.2-liter iron-block V8, with dual air-to-liquid intercoolers that say 45 liters pumps of cold liquid per minute to keep the mixture cool, we might need a half inch fuel line to feed the beast Do you think, Billy-Bob, we can get 600 horsepower out of it and those Ford guys can defeat?’

Well, towards the end of 2014, the secret crept out of pocket when Chris, Billy-Bob and a host of serious engine masters created the most powerful production-ready V8 engine ever built to date. They crushed the output target and created a monster that produced over 750 horsepower on repeated tests. Tuning the engine slightly to 707 horsepower—so that Dodge could comfortably offer a warranty—the new engine was ready for the 2015 model year Challengers. The engine’s name would be Hellcat—after Grumman’s infamous WWII fighter jets. .

Six months later, the Hellcat engine debuted in the four-door Charger. Why, you might ask, would the brand need 707 horsepower muscle cars? Because they could. And that’s what the original Dodge brothers would do.

Today, it’s hard to fault the decision that led to the entire Hellcat series — which powered special versions of the Dodge Durango, Jeep Grand Cherokee, and Ram’s wild TRX pickup. The Hellcat series saved the Dodge brand as they created the legendary performance cars of Challenger and Charger SRT for a generation that missed out on the 1960s.

If Hellcat-powered Dodge cars make up just 25% of the mix, that’s a good thing, too, as these special editions increase both margins and brand loyalty. Doubt it? While Charger sales remain strong, where’s Chevy’s Impala, once the best-selling vehicle in the entire country? Where’s Ford’s full-size Taurus? What happened to the Toyota Avalon or the Buick LeSabre? The Charger played the “go wild” card and won the war.

Just in time for an early birthday present for me—just in case you can’t tell I’m a huge fan of the Hellcat series—our effervescent Go Mango Charger SRT arrived in late July. It was as sizzling as the summer sunsets.

Now packing 717 horsepower in wide-body trim — nearly 6-inches wider than stock due to the need for larger tires all around — the SRT also has color-matched front and rear spoilers, 11-inch-wide 305/35R Pirellis mounted on black 20 -inch alloy wheels, plus one of the larger hood scoops in production. Heat-dissipation vents on top of the hood are included, plus the raucous dual-mode exhaust system that blasts out the Hellcat’s melodic screams under pressure.

The look is sinister, menacing and also exciting. Each refueling stop – which can often be if you want to take advantage of the Hellcat’s prodigious acceleration – sparks an enthusiastic dialogue with other drivers.

But wait, there are two more Charger Hellcats available—just in case 717 horsepower isn’t enough ($79,595 base, $85,960 as pictured). The SRT Redeye, with 797 horsepower ($88,195) is an option, plus the “sportier” Redeye Jailbreak ($89,190) apparently comes with a quick-dial deposit.

When the Charger Hellcat debuted, it was the fastest and fastest 4-door sedan in the world. Others have challenged that title, but none of those competitors can match the Charger’s visceral feel. The SRT can turn, brake and fly like few others, but it’s not an agile sports car. It’s a buttoned-up and comfortable 4-door in grocery mode, or, if you insist, a tire-shredding grin machine in hair-on-fire mode. Just think of the versatile Dodge Charger 4-door with a Jekyll and Hyde personality.

Next year will be there, says Dodge. Hellcat production will end in 2023, as Stellaantis — Dodge’s current owner — says high-powered EVs will debut next. Rumors persist of a parting gift from Dodge, perhaps a 900-horsepower Hellcat to end a very memorable era of full-throttle fun.

Thanks for the special memories, Dodge.

Tim Plouff has been assessing cars for over 20 years.

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