The twilight of the Hellcat

Another piece of automotive history is going up in smoke: Next year will be the last for the Hellcat, the badge Dodge and Jeep use for models with a supercharged V8 engine rated at 707 horsepower (or more). Dodge CEO Tim Kuniskis has announced plans to end production of the 6.2-liter V8 engine by 2023 as the brand plans to ramp up production of an electric muscle car by 2024.

It’s an untimely end, if you appreciate the chaos of internal combustion. The Hellcat has been an unlikely success story since it arrived in 2016. Named after an American WWII aircraft, the Hellcat engine was the largest factory engine in a production muscle car from the outset and larger than one in any Dodge vehicle ever made, with integrated charge coolers and an electronic bypass valve. The idea behind it was to set fire to any idea that Dodge built boring cars. It worked. Since its inception, Stellantis has sold somewhere in the high tens of thousands. Hellcat became a pop culture buzzword, dropped into hip-hop lyrics by artists like Chief Keef and beyond.

Hellcats are social media stars, for good and bad. Not everyone can handle a street drive with more power than a NASCAR NextGen cup car. You’ve no doubt ended up on videos of Hellcats getting crumpled up like toys. Just a few weeks ago, a Challenger Hellcat driver crashed into LA’s new Sixth Street Viaduct bridge, colliding with another car after a smoky burnout. The clip went viral… and now the bridge is closed indefinitely.

And soon the Hellcat era will come to an end. And not because idiots tend to wrap them around trees. The writing is on the wall: The big engine’s great thirst for fuel is such that it drags fuel economy down, making it more difficult to meet company fuel economy standards. The future, even for muscle cars, is electric. And it’s coming sooner than you might think.

So let’s enjoy the present, shall we? At least I did. Last month, a 2022 Challenger SRT Hellcat Widebody arrived in my driveway with a cement gray paint job called Smoke Show. The sticker price started at $63,530, but with options such as a widebody kit (fender flares, an upgraded suspension, 20″ wheels), an eight-speed automatic transmission and an upgraded interior (Alcantara seats), the price peaked at $88,070. Inside the cup holder was a “red key”, which unlocked the car’s full capabilities.

Those possibilities were plentiful, reader. I already miss the Hellcat and I will mourn its loss in the future. You quickly get used to its point-and-shoot power and you quickly internalize the improbable vectors in traffic. You might assume the Challenger Hellcat is all about insane off-the-line speed, but that’s not exactly where this beast excels: its four seconds from zero to sixty mph is four seconds, which is impressive, but about the same as an Audi S6. The Hellcat really feels special when you move quickly and then press for more. On the open road you notice that the Hellcat is made to go from fast to faster. When you need to do a freeway swerve, jump into the carpool lane at the last minute, or make the traffic disappear behind you, the Hellcat is your friend.

After several stints in both the Challenger and Charger Hellcat models over the years, the most shocking thing to me isn’t necessarily their raw power, but the fact that they’re relatively easy to live with. They are exotics, but the drive will not be affected if you only run at 5/10. And hilariously, a car seat fits easily in the back. Still, they’re not perfect cars for parenting: If you idle a car with a 2/10 EPA greenhouse gas rating and a 1/10 smog rating outside your kid’s elementary school, you won’t score points with the moms.

As sad as it is to lose the Hellcat, the truth is that purpose-built electric muscle cars will outperform in many ways. While range may suffer at first, horsepower figures will increase and all that power and torque will be immediately available, easier to master and control. Until then, you still have some time to score a Hellcat. There are rumors that a final model could have more than 900 horsepower and will run on E85. Start saving…for the fuel bills!

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