Hellcat – say it again and look at the vehicle in the picture, just to make sure you’re not holding a boy’s toy or watching some pugilistic cartoon. The Hellcat is a car. I think Hellcat might just be the greatest name ever bestowed upon a muscle car – perhaps any car?
The expectation is a little overwhelming with the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat. Peak power is a claimed 707hp, and this is supported by 650lb ft. The claimed performance figures are absurd: 204mph all-out and a standing quarter in 11-seconds dead. For reference, the McLaren F1 was a tenth of a second slower over that same drag race. And yet any old Joe can wander into a Dodge showroom and buy one of these things for $64,000. Well, they could if the order book wasn’t already massively over-subscribed – funny how a car can be so popular when it offers nearly double the power of an M3 for two-thirds of the cash.
It takes much force-feeding to tease seven-hundred horsepower from a Hemi V8, and the twin-screw IHI ‘charger can move – wait for it – 30,000 litres of air per minute! The thing is so big it needs 80hp just to rotate.
But it augments a 6.2 litre V8, most of which is entirely new, to create an instant muscle car icon. Dodge first gave us this motor in a Challenger early in 2014 with a manual transmission, but for this application it has chosen to uprate its Eight-speed Torqueflite auto-box. The four-door Charger body is a little heavier and more aerodynamic, helping it to move beyond 200mph, where the 2dr Challenger is pinned back to the late one-nineties. Slow-coach.
What the hell is all that like on the road? Terrifyingly normal. I suppose that is the way with modern performance cars – ask me what the prevailing trend of the past five years has been and I’d suggest it was making seemingly impenetrable spec-sheet numbers translate into perfectly normal road manners. There is no indication that you’re driving anything more potent than a regular Hemi when you start it – yes there’s a little whine from the compressor, but otherwise it’s business as usual. In fact the initial tell isn’t hunks of Pirelli being flung from the rear wheel arches, but the crisp shifts from the new auto-box. Oh, and the noise. Poke the throttle pedal a little and the Hellcat makes significant, booming V8 noises. But if you want to just coast about in this 700hp loon, you can.
Try harder and you’ll immediately be aware that all is not normal – the motor revs surprisingly quickly and even on a dry surface the traction control light will flicker at around the point your brain acknowledges that forward progress is quite brisk. From then on, in the most cautious of its traction settings, you only feel what the electronics allow to be deployed through its 275 section Pirellis – and that probably equates to something like BMW M3 pace.
‘For reference, the McLaren F1 was a tenth of a second slower over that same drag race.’
It will do this in second and third gears, only into fourth can you guarantee mashing the right pedal and not having a light twinkle on the dash.
With the traction switched off, the games are much more amusing. With a decent locking diff, you can mostly anticipate when the fireworks will arrive and adjust accordingly. Sometimes you wonder if the torque-converter has failed, and then you see the bonfire emerging from the rear end. The Hellcat will paint elevens wherever you wish to see them, and the noise from inside the cabin is just superb for a forced-induction motor. From the outside, it’s even better.
The ride is pretty good, the brakes are more than adequate for road use and the fuel economy can easily plummet to sub-10mpg if you are childish enough.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about the Hellcat is that the chassis isn’t overwhelmed. Of course it will spit sideways at pretty much any speed if you’re oafish with the power, but be sensible and the steering is appealing, the grip is just as good as any German saloon-missile and you can enjoy flowing it through some turns.
And this means that the only way you can really kick the Hellcat is for its rather shoddy interior. The seats are flat and the one I drove had red Alcantara inserts of dubious quality. The dash is uninspiring and the materials are second-rate and, this will come as no surprise, none of it matters one fig. This is a spacious five-seat saloon car that will crack 200mph. That capability alone should allow it to command a £100k price tag.
Anyone who still feels slightly sniffy about American performance machines needs to grab a ride in one of these. I cannot wait to see the first imported version land over here.