By Derek Price
Driving down the winding, hilly roads that snake beside the Columbia river, I stomp the gas pedal and wonder whether Dodge could have picked a better name for this car than Challenger Hellcat.
The Dodge Darwin, perhaps?
Few things could speed up natural selection like putting 707 horsepower into a car and offering it to anyone who can afford its $60,000 price — a horsepower-per-dollar bargain like the world has never seen before now.
In fact, considering how violently it can spin the back tires at any given time and how quickly it rockets to potentially lethal speeds, this is a car that ought to require an IQ test before turning the key. Prove you’re not an idiot, or don’t even think about driving it.
Such is the ferocity of the Hellcat.
I spent some time driving the Hellcat and its slightly more sedate siblings — even the base Challenger makes more than 300 horses — and came away impressed at just how boldly Dodge is throwing down the gauntlet for its muscle-car competitors at Ford and Chevy.
At every price point, the all-new 2015 Challenger is designed to wow.
The base version, priced at $26,995, comes with an eight-speed automatic transmission and is rated for 30 mpg on the highway. I think it’s one of the best road-trip cars on the market right now, with a roomy cabin, killer good looks and the kind of quiet, refined highway ride that could let you drive all day without getting tired.
For a little more money — starting at $31,495 — you can step up to the 410-horsepower R/T model that offers HEMI V8 acceleration that sounds and feels spectacular.
The true star of Challenger’s show, though, is clearly the Hellcat. By supercharging Dodge’s tried-and-true 6.2-liter HEMI, the Hellcat makes more power than the range-topping SRT Viper and offers the kind of horsepower more typically associated with Italian supercars priced in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s the most powerful muscle car ever sold from the factory.
What does 707 horsepower feel like? In a word, crazy.
The Hellcat can seemingly spin the back tires at will. Any configuration. Any speed.
Just stomp on the gas pedal — or, heck, give it just a bit too much throttle — and the tires light up and force you to hold on for dear life. Essentially, the Hellcat is a street-legal drag racer that happens to come with a warranty.
Handling is not this car’s strong suit, as you can feel its portly weight in corners and its suspension, sporty as it may be, struggles to transfer all that power to the pavement unless you’re pointed in a perfectly straight line.
Still, this is a car that feels supernatural under acceleration. I don’t know whether it sounds more like God or Satan, but the Hellcat V8’s howl is something that cuts straight to your soul.
It’s easy to wonder when the Hellcat might be dethroned, since this is a car so obviously designed to win bragging rights for scaling the summit of Mount Horsepower this year. Given how ridiculous today’s revived pony wars have become, it may not be long before a new Shelby Mustang or souped-up Camaro beats the 707-horse Hellcat in raw power.
But for now, until another car company gets gutsy enough — or, perhaps, insane enough — this is the most mind-bending muscle car the world has ever known.
At a Glance
What was tested?
2015 Dodge Challenger Hellcat ($59,995). Options: None. Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $60,990
Wheelbase: 116.17 in.
Length: 197.5 in.
Width: 75.7 in.
Height: 55.7 in.
Engine: 6.2-liter Supercharged HEMI V8 (707 horsepower, 650 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Estimated Mileage: Not announced yet
2015 Dodge Challenger Hellcat
Why buy it?
The Hellcat is an incredible performance machine at a surprisingly low price. It’s essentially a street-legal drag racer for hardcore speed junkies, and it tops the range of Dodge’s impressive new Challenger lineup.