Overview: While most carmakers are extolling the rewards of the coming age of autonomous vehicles, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) has taken a contrary stance, doubling down on performance. It’s clear that the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat is not only an unlikely candidate for autonomous driving, it’s a car conceived to stimulate the senses of the person behind the wheel. Not to mention the adrenal glands. It was engineered by the go-faster denizens of FCA’s SRT (Street and Racing Technology) group. The heart of the Hellcat is a supercharged 6.2-liter version of the company’s 6.4-liter Hemi V-8. While latter-day Hemis don’t actually have hemispherical combustion chambers, the Hellcat engine’s output eclipses memories of the legendary 426 Hemi of yesteryear: It makes 707 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque and connects to a robust eight-speed automatic transmission with paddles that deliver whap-whap shifts, up or down. This adds up to eyeball-flattening thrust that’s astounding in a two-ton sedan, matching the go power of pedigreed performance rides costing three times the Hellcat’s $68,740 base price. The Hellcat’s maximum cornering and braking measure up to its heavyweight punch, making this a bargain supercar in a family-sedan wrapper—the ultimate everyday hero.
What’s New: The baddest boy in a large family (there are no fewer than eight 2017 Charger models), the SRT Hellcat stands pat on technical specifications in this, its third model year. But there are some new details. For example, the new standard 9.5-by-20-inch forged wheels in low-gloss black, designated Lightweight 5Deep Aluminum, pare 16 pounds from the Charger’s substantial mass, reducing unsprung weight. An identically sized optional wheel, also of the forged variety, is called Brass Monkey because of its bronze hue. It costs $995. A new, standard Active Exhaust system adds more menace to the Hemi’s rumble. The SRT Hellcat badges have been redesigned—a subliminal update—and, not so subliminal, the Hellcat logo on the steering wheel hub now is illuminated. Also, there’s the latest version of FCA’s Uconnect infotainment.
What We Like: What’s not to like about running a quarter-mile in 11.4 seconds? We also enjoy the extraordinary passing times (30 to 50 mph, 50 to 70 mph), the right-now shifting, accurate steering, adaptive suspension, eager transient responses, formidable braking, and lots of grip. Four drive modes—default (a.k.a. Normal), Sport, Track, and Custom—allow the driver to configure performance elements to taste while the SRT Performance Pages let the driver track various performance data such as acceleration, lateral g’s, and lap times. All of this for less than $70,000. Not exactly family-sedan money, but far more bang for the buck than anything in this class.
What We Don’t Like: Yes, the output of the supercharged 6.2 Hemi is addictive, but at times it can be too much of a good thing. It takes a careful throttle foot to keep the rear tires from going up in smoke when the light turns green, traction control notwithstanding. Similarly, nailing the throttle too hard on slow corner exits can set the Hellcat’s tail wagging more than the driver intended. Predictably, fuel-economy ratings are well into the guzzler penalty zone (a $1700 levy), although it’s likely that mpg is a matter of supreme indifference to those seduced by all those ponies.
Verdict: Chrysler was famous for its Hemi cars in the 1960s and early ’70s, but today’s Hellcat makes those revered muscle cars of yesteryear look like they’d never seen a gym.
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