First drive: 2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat & SRT 392 in West Virginia USA (video)
There’s nothing more painful than attending an international launch event where you get to drive yet another slow crossover or copy-paste luxury sedan on some of the world’s best driving roads. We give these cars fair unbiased reviews in the interest of those who are interested in such cars, but the truth is we always yearn to drive something more special on such roads. Lo and behold, we found ourselves in Washington D.C., right around the corner from the White House, on a quest to drive two of the wildest sedans on the planet — the 2015 Dodge Charger SRT 392 and the Charger SRT Hellcat.
Let’s start at the beginning though. Chrysler flew us to the States so we could be one of the first media to drive the 2015 Charger range. The entire range was displayed in a hangar at Ronald Reagan Washington Airport, where we got a presentation that included a design walkaround.
Turns out the only body panels carrying over from the outgoing one are the roof and the rear doors. Aside from the obvious changes, there’s more diffused LED lighting now, front and back. The interior is pretty much the same, aside from the introduction of a standard LCD screen to replace the gauge cluster, a different shifter and some new upholstery. And the engines have all been tweaked.
The angrier “SRT” front-end, body kit and sporty seats are offered on the Scat Pack, the SRT 392 and the SRT Hellcat models. It’s tough to tell the difference between the three, but the most obvious are the badges. Also, the Hellcat loses the bumper foglamps in favour of intakes, while also gaining two additional extraction vents on the bonnet aside from the intake. The Hellcat also gets two keys — a black one that limits power to 500 hp for teenagers and valets, and a red one for the full bottle.
After a long drive to Summit Point Raceway in various non-SRT Chargers, we went for a track run in the Charger SRT Hellcat first. The latest addition to the Charger family makes 707 hp and 880 Nm of torque from a 6.2-litre supercharged V8. I honestly can’t remember the last time I’d driven a car with more than 700 horses. Nissan GT-R? A pathetic 530 hp. Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG? Nope, that’s only 591 hp. Lamborghini Huracan? Just 600 hp. Bentley Continental GT Speed? A measly 616 hp. McLaren 650S? The Brit golden-boy only has 641 hp. Nothing from General Motors even puts up a fight, although rumours swirl that Ford may have a contender. Eventually.
So Dodge has managed to create a supercar-grade sedan from something that people cross-shop against Nissan Maximas and Chevy Impalas. We can only imagine what went on in the meetings that approved the business case for a car like this. And expectations ran wild, as we wondered what 707 hp would be like to control.
Turns out it isn’t rocket-science to control a rocket. Feathering the throttle, we set off from the pits with no wheelspin whatsoever, even with ESP in the sportiest mode. It’s as simple as moving off with a Tiida. It starts to dawn on me that maybe this isn’t the kind of car that will kill you for no apparent reason.
With an instructor by my side giving minimal advice, I took the car around the decidedly-ratty track, at least by Yas Marina standards. After a warm-up lap to familiarise myself with the braking-point markers, I floored the throttle on the straight, and the exhaust note was a crazy-loud mix of a growling-racecar V8 and a whining-tunercar supercharger. And of course, there was a big dollop of power, but it came in linearly enough to not upset the balance of the car. I didn’t look down at the digital speed read-out once it passed 130 mph, which in our language is 208 kph, reached from 100 kph in just a few seconds.
The braking points marked on the track were ridiculously conservative, as jumping on the brake pedal at the first marker slowed down the car so much that I actually had to stop braking and just cruise up to the corner before turning in. The next few corners, I started braking much later, and the huge Brembo brakes managed to scrub off speed like a proper super-sedan should, without any obvious fade.
So braking’s sorted. What about handling? Well, the SRT-branded Chargers were always great handlers, so the Hellcat drove exactly as expected. Lay down the power smoothly on exiting corners, and all you’re met with grip. In fact, there’s just tons and tons of grip. The Hellcat is a great burnout machine, as was demonstrated to us later in the day, but not an easy car to upset and get sideways if you’re already rolling. The car just turns, despite its size, undeterred by the bumpiness of the relatively-ancient racetrack. I can only imagine what the real limits are, but under the watchful eye of the instructor, I didn’t try anything beyond very fast grip-driving, feeling the obvious sensations that came with it.
The steering is sharp, and feedback from the controls are pretty good, even with electronics clearly aiding the drive. I didn’t touch the paddle-shifters even once, even though I was ready to use them for manual downshifts before turns. Nope, the 8-speed automatic is so smart that it quickly did all the downshifts for me under heavy braking. Maybe I was used to the lazy responses of super-sedans like the Mercedes-Benz E 63 AMG which I’ve tracked many times before, but the Charger Hellcat’s gearbox was surprisingly good left in automatic.
After my track bit was done, I found a row of Chargers parked outside, so I jacked a Charger SRT 392 and went for a run around the winding public roads of the West Virginian countryside. The 392, powered by a 6.4-litre naturally-aspirated V8, used to be the top dog of the Charger line-up and was already a very fast and capable car. As such, it’s only received minor mechanical upgrades, bumping up power to 485 hp, with 643 Nm of torque and now an 8-speed automatic.
Compared to the Hellcat, the 392 is no Hello Kitty. On public roads, it is still way more powerful than you need a street-car to be. From behind the wheel, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between 485 hp and 707 hp when the roads are twisty, hilly, single-lane and two-way, with oncoming traffic. The quick-ratio steering, transmission and brakes are excellent, but you do start feeling the size of the car, as you cut close to the edge of the road or squeeze through gaps around trucks in what is essentially a full-size sedan.
What’s great about a full-size sedan though, is if you want to tone it down and just cruise at a quick pace, the SRT Charger is very comfortable. With adjustable suspension, just pick the most “comfortable” mode and the stiff shocks soften up the ride to fairly smooth levels. Given that the Charger has always been a quiet car to begin with, and all you can hear on a highway cruise is some road noise from the aggressive tyres. That’s the best of both worlds.
To top it off, I quietly took the SRT onto some forest trails behind the racetrack, turned off the ESP, and drifted around trees on my own makeshift rally stage. At the end of the day, it’s still a powerful rear-wheel-drive car, and given some leafy gravel trails, you can enjoy an oversized drift car if the situation allows it. Just watch out for the limited ground-clearance on these lowered SRT cars.
It’s absolutely amazing what Chrysler has managed to do with the Dodge Charger. They’ve created super-sedans to pretty much beat the Germans at half the price! Given the quality, performance, handling and gadgets of these monster cars, we still can’t figure out where they could’ve possibly cut costs. Maybe you get more leather on the dash and such, for the premium you pay to buy a BMW M5 or a Mercedes-Benz E 63 AMG, but you certainly don’t get more performance.
If we were spending our own money, we’d still go for the SRT 392 because it’s all the car we’d ever need. The SRT Hellcat is expected to cost a fair bit more when it lands in the GCC next summer. However, even with dealer mark-ups, it will still cost no more than a Chevy Corvette Z51 in the UAE. So if your idea of fun is to blow past Corvettes as your kids wave out of the back seat, then look no further. And be sure to also pick up the custom SRT child-seats that will soon be optionally available!
Some photos by Mashfique Hussain Chowdhury.
For detailed specs, visit the Dodge buyer guide.