I'm not a man who lets fly four-letter words too easily or too often, but I'll be the first to admit that I dug into the seedier side of my vocabulary when I first tried the 2018 Dodge Demon at a drag strip. The Challenger SRT Demon is the kind of machine that will readjust your definition of what "fast" means, the kind of car that demands respect and the kind of car that elicits a profane fusillade from the mouths of the most reserved of passengers.
The experience of launching the 840-horsepower, wheelie-popping, record-breaking Dodge Demon is one you're not likely to have this side of an aircraft carrier catapult, but despite its brutal performance and devilish looks, there's a surprising amount of finesse and engineering here. Please allow us to explain.
When Dodge first introduced its Hellcats for 2015, nobody knew quite what to expect. Magazine covers and YouTube videos were all but assured, but actual sales? Yet enthusiasts lapped them up faster than Dodge could build them, pointing to a robust appetite for 707-horsepower SRT Chargers and Challengers.
Flushed with that kind of success, it's perhaps unsurprising that parent Fiat Chrysler Automobiles let SRT's engineers off the chain, freeing them to create the certifiably insane Challenger SRT Demon.
It's hard to put in perspective just how nuts this beast is, but we'll try: Designed explicitly for drag racing, the Demon is the first street-legal production car that can lift its front wheels off the ground under hard acceleration. It has 840 horsepower and 770 pound-feet of torque. It'll hit 60 mph in 2.3 seconds, 100 mph in 5.1 seconds and blitz the quarter-mile lights in 9.65 seconds at 140 mph.
It's so fast that it's actually banned from drag-racing competition, but more on that in a moment.
With a 6.2-liter supercharged V8 and bodywork about as aerodynamic as the factory this car came out of, you could be forgiven for thinking SRT simply resorted to a blunt-force-trauma approach to more speed -- more power.
You'd be half right, but despite resurrecting a storied '70s nameplate, the Demon is no knuckle-dragger -- there's a truly surprising amount of technology and production-firsts at work here. Dodge has found ways to make just about every old-school drag-racer performance trick reliable enough to slip into a production car and still slap a warranty on it.
What kind of firsts? Well, the SRT Demon is the first factory-production car available with a specially-calibrated engine control computer to take advantage of 100 plus octane race gas.
It's the first production car equipped with a transbrake, which locks the transmission so that drag racers don't have to worry about standing on the brakes to prevent creeping through the timing lights when dialing up the RPMs at the starting line -- you just tug the steering wheel paddles to launch.
The Demon is also the first production car with a novel liquid-to-air intercooler chiller system that diverts cold air from the air-conditioner loop, as well as an After-Run Chiller that cools the supercharger after the engine is turned off.
It's the first car with a Drag Mode suspension setup for optimal weight transfer, a key component in straight-line performance.
Hell, it's even the first production car available with a set of super-skinny front-runner wheels just for drag racing, part of an optional crate of performance parts and tools.
This isn't just SRT following the muscle-car blueprint of shoving an ever-bigger engine into a smaller car, it's gone over the Demon inch by inch to look for competitive advantages. It didn't just crank up the boost on the 6.2 (although it is up to 14.5 psi), it replaced over 50 percent of the Hellcat's standard internals and comprehensively reworked its fuel system and breathing, including adding dual fuel pumps and what Dodge says is the "largest functional hood scoop of any production car."
Need more innovation? In an effort to eliminate teeth-shattering wheel hop under hard launches, the SRT Demon even uses the car's existing wheel-spin sensors to detect slip and momentarily curb engine torque to reestablish traction quickly and protect the driveline. Yes, there's software magic to go with this car's hardware trickery.
With "more speed" as its ever-guiding principle, SRT also jettisoned whatever weight it could, to the point that the Challenger SRT Demon actually comes as a single-seat car. (Rear and front passenger seats can be added back for the grand sum of $1, however, so this monoposto arrangement is arguably largely symbolic.) The SRT team cut around 200 pounds from the standard Challenger Hellcat Demon, mostly by removing creature comforts (much of which can be added back in at extra cost), but a lot of the model's new equipment in turn adds weight back in. The Demon tips the scales at 4,280 pounds.
All of these changes add up to the fastest production quarter-mile drag car ever -- more rapid than any Ferrari or Lamborghini or anything else.
In fact, the SRT Demon is so fast at the strip that it's actually been banned by the National Hot Rod Association, the very sanctioning body that certified its record-setting performances. That's because the car is so quick it requires additional safety equipment to legally race at NHRA-governed facilities, including items like a roll cage and racing harness. That's equipment that owners will doubtlessly get fitted to squeeze this Demon into the sanctioning body's legal framework. However, right off the showroom floor this car is just "too damn fast" for the NHRA to sign off on, says Tim Kuniskis, head of Fiat Chrysler's NAFTA passenger cars. (More details on that situation here.)
In this modern era of easy to drive supercars and family sedans with launch control, you'd be forgiven for thinking that nailing a perfect launch at the strip in the Demon would be a simple affair.
And it can be. You get more than respectable launches by simply pulling up to the line, hitting the LC button on the dashboard, then mashing the throttle and lifting off the brakes at the appropriate time. But if you want to really push this car, you have to work a little harder.
First off, there's line lock mode. When enabled the car locks the front brakes and lets you do a big, beautiful smoky burnout to clean off the rear two Nitto drag radials that come stock with this car. That part, at least, is easy.
A proper launch, using the trans brake, is more complicated. The transbrake actually locks the eight-speed automatic transmission internally while still allowing the engine to hold low revs. In the world of drag racing it's hardly novel technology, but when it comes to standard fare on a production car, it's unheard of.
To engage the transbrake, you pull on both of the shift paddles simultaneously. You then hold the brake and apply some revs. At this point, you can creep up to engage the lights if you want. You then release the right paddle to basically signify you're ready to launch. At this point, you can take your foot off the brake pedal, too. Finally, you release the left shift paddle to launch the car, mashing the throttle at roughly the same time.
In the heat of the moment at the strip, with the Christmas tree looming in your peripheral vision, it's all too easy to flub one of those steps. And even if you do it right, there's still a fair bit of timing and finesse required to disengage the transbrake and apply just the right amount of throttle. But when you do, when you get it just right, it's almost indescribable.
The surge is instantaneous and strong enough to blur your vision, your internal organs suddenly feel like they'd rather be external and it's all you can do to keep your hands on the wheel and your right foot to the floor. But your right foot will stay on the floor, because this sensation is addictive, and lifting means slowing down sooner.
It's easy to forget, but important to remember, that this is a machine you can take on the street. To get the full 840 horsepower, you'll need race gas, but the car will still do 808 hp on whatever high-octane you can find down at the corner. A push of a button on the dash toggles between the two. There's also an Eco setting and a password-protected Valet mode for those moments when you have to turn over the keys to someone you don't entirely trust. Like the 707-hp Hellcat, the Demon also comes with two keys that trigger different power levels. The black key is limited to 500 horses -- the same number of ponies you get in Eco mode -- and the red key unlocks the car's full potential.
On the street the car is surprisingly docile with a light right foot along with the Auto setting for looser steering and more compliant behavior from the Bilstein adaptive dampers. There's more supercharger whine and a louder exhaust note than the Hellcat, while the wide Nitto NT05R drag radials stay surprisingly quiet around town and on expressways. Even though SRT engineers say they've gotten 5,000-miles out of a set of Nittos on the road, owners looking to do a lot of regular driving would be best served getting a dedicated set of street tires for better longevity and wet weather performance.
Around turns, the Demon feels like a Challenger with noticeable body roll, but with way more grip. Punching up the Sport detent tightens steering and suspension for sharper reflexes, while maintaining livable ride quality.
Opting for the front passenger and rear seats further ups daily driving credentials, and commuters will appreciate the Uconnect infotainment system with an 8.4-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth, available Wi-Fi hotspot and both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. A two-speaker sound system is standard, but a rocking 18-speaker Harman Kardon premium setup is optional. Safety features likes a backup camera, rear cross traffic alert and blind spot monitoring are also standard.
So, the Demon is comfortable and capable of flying under the radar when tip-toeing around town, returning 13 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway according to the EPA. However, at half-throttle and beyond, all hell breaks loose. Speed limits are quickly blown and the engine soundtrack is mad as you hang on for dear life wondering how a car like this is available to the public that can dust anything on the road short of a superbike -- or a Bugatti Chiron.
Even though it is perfectly fine there, spotting a Demon on the street is likely to be a rare treat. Most of the 3,000 models planned for the US (and 300 examples earmarked for Canada) will likely live their days either being trailered to and from drag strips or secreted away in a collection, only to be rubbed with a diaper and tethered to a battery tender until their value increases enough to contemplate selling at auction.
And that would be sad. But, if you're the brave soul who really wants to drive your Demon, know this: Dodge really wants to make sure you don't pay too much for it. The Demon is priced at $84,995, very fair for this level of performance, and the company is going far out of its way to ensure that dealers won't price gouge. That sort of thing is music to our ears.
Just as the sound of a Demon at full chat is. The era of the EV is fully upon us now and these halcyon days of cheap gas can't last forever. But, for this moment at least, let's be thankful that we live in a world where something as ridiculous, and amazing, as the Dodge Demon not only exists, but is fully road-legal.