"Dad! We launched the Hellcat!"
I had just driven my pal's 10-year-old son home from a swim meet in the 2016 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat. He burst through the door, jabbering away to his dad about how much fun he'd just had and lording it over his two brothers. If you want to get on the good side of a kid, just take them for a ride in a 707-horsepower muscle car.
With the kid in the backseat and his mom up front, we pulled up to a stop light, a long straight freeway on ramp ahead of us. "OK," I said. "Green light....go!"
My foot slammed down on the accelerator and we were off like a rocket, with 650 pound-feet of torque spinning the rear tires for a quick second until they found purchase. We were close to 60 mph by the time we crossed the intersection, the exhaust roaring around us in a symphony of old-school attitude.
I hit the brakes at 80 mph because, well, the kid's mom is one of my best friends and I wanted to keep it that way. The Charger became as docile at that moment as it was aggressive just a few hundred feet before.
The 6.2-liter supercharged V8 Charger Hellcat burst onto the scene in 2015 and auto enthusiasts went nuts, and with good reason. This is a sedan to end all sedans. Testing done by the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) reveals a quarter-mile elapsed time of 11.0 seconds on street tires and 0-60 mph in the high three-second range.
So what makes the already muscular Charger sedan a Hellcat? Aside from the stunning power numbers, the Hellcat also gets a badass looking vented hood, massive six-piston front and four-piston rear Brembo brakes, Pirelli P-Zero tires over 20-inch forged aluminum wheels and, of course, the infamous Hellcat badges.
My time in the Hellcat was spent on daily driving tasks with occasional high speed sprints just for fun. The Hellcat drives surprisingly easily on a daily basis. Three drive modes allow for a custom ride. Street provides a comfortable and composed feel on the highway and rough city roads. Sport mode is a bit too firm for my taste in such a large car, but the sharper throttle and quicker shifts are a joy. I was not able to get the car to a location where Track mode would be appropriate, but selecting it holds gears longer, drastically reduces the traction control and makes the throttle and suspension as tight as a drum.
Cruising down the highway, the eight-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly and draws out the revs more than most, but if you really want to push the limit, you should shift using the paddle shifters. I found myself hitting the fuel cut off at 6,200 rpm a few times with the paddle shifters, so I opted to let the car do its thing.
Obviously Dodge is not so concerned with fuel economy with this car, as the Hellcat gets 13 mpg in the city, 22 mpg on the highway and 16 mpg combined. My days with it included a jaunt from Los Angeles to San Diego and all the driving around town I could do in a weekend. When I turned the car in I was pleased to see an average of 16.9 mpg, and I had even set off the 95 mph speed warning signal at one point.
The Charger Hellcat is happy to toddle along the highway at more sane speeds, but it smoothly accelerates to triple digits if you're not careful, so it's a good idea to watch for the highway patrol. With a top speed of 204 mph, this is a car that should be cited not for actual speed but for speed relative to its potential. I wasn't pulled over but I had a line ready to say, "Yes, Officer, I was doing 95 but that's nothing compared to how much I could have been going. I was actually showing restraint." That would work, right?
While I didn't get the chance to put the Charger Hellcat on a track, the twisty bits I was able to tackle were a blast. The Charger still has good old-fashioned hydraulic power steering which gives more feedback than a poopy electric system. Yes, I said poopy. I'm a huge fan of hydraulic steering and I find it's demise in current auto applications to be on a par with the loss of the manual transmission. This setup tells you exactly where your tires are and what those optional P Zero summer tires are doing. It's fabulous.
The Charger Hellcat weighs 4,570 pounds, with a wheelbase of just over 120 inches. A corner carver it is not. I had no problems motivating it around a few tight turns, but I would imagine that a track would be a whole other experience. The P Zero summer tires are certainly grippy, but at 275 millimeters wide, they are a bit on the skinny side for the amount of power on tap.
Inside, the Charger Hellcat gets a nicely appointed cabin with quality materials. A sleek design language permeates the cabin, but with little retro touches here and there. The gauge cluster has a cool-looking retro font and the T-handle shifter harkens back to a late '60s or early '70s model.
The 8.4-inch touchscreen with Uconnect and navigation is standard. The home screen may look a bit crowded at first, but all the menus are well-organized and easy to access. There is some lag during inputs to the navigation system, a complaint I haven't had with previous test cars with Uconnect, so likely just a one-off quirk.
There is no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto in the 2016 model year, but both will be offered in 2017.
There are plenty of Performance Pages to play with in the infotainment system, letting you set launch control and view the current power, torque and supercharger boost levels. You can also record acceleration and braking times. A video recorder component, similar to Chevrolet's Performance Data Recorder, would be a welcome addition to the Performance Pages.
There are a few little things I really liked about the interior. The heated front and rear seats were welcome in what passes for a cold snap here in California, and rear seat passengers get two USB ports. The trunk is a bit on the small side for this class at 16.5 cubic feet, but the rear seats fold down to haul bulkier objects.
And there were a few little things I didn't like. You can only cycle one way through your radio presets, so no toggling back and forth between First Wave and Classic Rewind. The door opens to a 78 degree angle, which means I had to lean way out to close it and even then only managed to grab the edge of the lower storage compartment near the hinge. I'm a healthy 5'9" so smaller folks will have a terrible time.
It's tough to pick out competition for the 2016 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat. How many $62,945 four-door 204 mph sedans can you think of? There aren't really any direct competitors, but you may want to look at the Cadillac CTS-V, the BMW M5 or the Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG.
Even with a few options thrown in, like a Harman Kardon stereo system, Pirelli P Zero summer tires and the mandatory gas guzzler tax, you're still only looking at $72,225. That's not chump change to be sure, but when the only other cars putting out more than 700 horsepower have names like Lamborghini, Ferrari and Pagani and cost well, much, much more, those 70 thousand dollar bills look like a good deal indeed.