On the loose: ’16 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat

The Club

The Dodge Challenger, probably one of the brashest interpretations of the modern muscle car. On the other hand, the Ford Mustang, while still very much a “Stang” is trending towards embodying more Euro flare than good ol’ in your face Americana. Sadly, the new 6th generation Camaro tries to relieve past glories with a form that is perhaps a bit too familiar and lost on more than a few consumers going by monthly sales numbers that never seem to pick up from where the 5th generation Camaro left off.

Times of refreshing

While the Dodge Challenger is still in its first generation since its rebirth, the brute from the Mopar gang seems to have a loyal following of fans that love its unapologetically American looks. Style may be one of the Challengers most remarkable traits, being equally wide as it is long there’s no denying its presence or its roots when this muscle coupe is within view.

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With the revision that came through in ’15, the overall look has been freshened in the most subtle of ways with new headlights and tail lights and different grilles depending upon trim level, as well as new front and rear fascias. On the inside, the same subtle styling revisions were made, albeit to an even greater extent with an interior that looks crisp with materials that don’t look or feel as cheap as before.

Hell-o-cat

2015 also introduced an engine upgrade that perhaps more than a few people saw coming, but still surprised once it was experienced and documented. That “surprise”, is the Hellcat, with its 707 hp and an almighty 650 lb ft of twist to throw you into the terrestrial heavens lined with asphalt.

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No other member of the muscle car trifecta has produced as much stock horsepower in any of their respective iterations, yet. Fiat Chrysler’s obvious play to engage the enthusiast crowd with the intro of the Hellcat is a remarkable gesture in an era where the performance oriented product offerings from domestic car makers are only growing in number, not diminishing. It’s a good time to be a car guy or gal and a fan of the domestic car industry, especially if you’re a fan of muscle cars.

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I was granted access to a Red Line Red Tri-Coat Pearl (that was a mouth full) by way of my neighbor, Alan. He’s owned a 5th generation Camaro V6 convertible, 6th generation Mustang Ecoboost and a pre-facelift Challenger SRT-8. Yes, really, he’s owned all those cars. When it comes to pony car enthusiast, Alan is the real Mc Coy.

Setup but no tearing down…the road

Originally, the idea was just to set up a block of time to photograph Alan’s car, which we did, but I had no idea he would offer me the opportunity to take it for a spin, and took it for a drive I did. Probably the most modest drive ever experienced in a ’16 Challenger Hellcat. Modest, because I didn’t take your typical fanboy approach to driving a 700hp rear drive muscle car crowbar: I’m pretty sure the fastest I ever got up to was about 45-46 mph on Piuma Canyon road in the ridges of the Santa Monica Mountains. One might be reading this like, “Really? you didn’t drive it like you stole it!? So why exactly are you telling us about this?“

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While I’m not about to sit here and say that I’ve got the corner on all original ideas, I guarantee you there are far fewer reviews of a Challenger Hellcat being driven at a modicum of its ability. Besides, I’m not sure Piuma Canyon Road is the proper place to unleash the Hellcat’s supercharged 6.2 liters of V8 fury. It should also be said (and as smart individuals would have guessed by now) this is not my car, and therefore I’m going to drive it exhibiting as much respect for the owner and with a form of gratitude for being granted the privilege of piloting such a special and prized piece of machinery.

Steady she goes

There seems to be this myth that alludes many drivers of two-lane roads that in order to enjoy a car and explore its talents it has to be driven within an inch of its and the driver’s (and occupants) life, which simply is not the case; A car can be driven at modest speeds and enjoyed, immensely. So with this modest rolling off and on of the Hellcat’s throttle, I experienced what might be one of the most comfortable performance oriented machines on the market today. Sure, the Challenger is a massive car, not just dimensionally, but on the scale as well.

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All that weight leaves a memorable quality behind in the driving experience, and that’s a sense of substance in how the car moves down the road. You really don’t feel the car is going to go anywhere you don’t tell it to go and if the worst happens you’ve got plenty of metal to act on your behalf. That Saturday was not going to be the day I share that other aspect of the cars performance with you, fortunately. Large and comfortable seats provide plenty of lateral support and seem more than up to task for long distance driving. The Hellcat comes equipped with drive modes where various adjustments can be made to the cars character, none of which I got the chance to demonstrate, unfortunately.

The Challenger Hellcat does not exist to clip apexes at a blink of an eye, but rather to embody the enjoyment of a day that has long since passed, to provide what would be in an aftermarket setup with as much powertrain compromising performance as possible, but with a warranty and the internal engine

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components that can handle the supercharged Hemi’s outrageous power stats. Sure, the 6th generation Camaro SS shows that you can have a torquey V8 in a go-kart like chassis, but if you’re looking for something that lives up to the nostalgia of the uniqueness of the American muscle car, you might be left wanting, which admittedly may not be a huge portion of the market. However, that customer does exist.

Future Hall of Famer

The Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat is a bit of an antique despite still being in production; The charm of its unique American heft, brash looks and old school driving dynamics complimented by a powertrain worthy of being used in a Formula Drift car, there’s nothing like it nor anything as quintessentially nostalgic “American muscle car”. Oh, and does it need repeating that this is how it comes “out of the box” from the factory? As many young Americans would say these days, “Nuf said”.

 

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