For those of you who, like the author, grew up watching Bo and Luke Duke terrorize Hazzard County, the Dodge Charger has a special place in your heart. And if you, like me, bristled when Dodge resurrected the Charger as a sedan some 35 years after its 1968–1970 heyday, you’ve probably been loathe to accept the Charger quattroporte’s hood as something over which you could see Bo or Luke sliding across.
The Dodge Challenger has been a nice consolation prize, to be sure, but only after driving all forms of the reworked 2015 Charger — including track time in the 707-hp Charger SRT Hellcat — we can assert that, at last, the Charger has become worthy of its vaunted name. Four doors and all.
The day started in a hangar at Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington, where we first encountered the new Charger family, which now includes no fewer than six trim levels: SE, SXT, R/T, new R/T Scat Pack, SRT 392, and the SRT Hellcat, the latter four powered by Hemi V-8s. All 2015 Charger trim levels look good and mean. Every body panel except the roof and rear door skins was reworked to make the full-size Dodge a little less, um, full-figured: overhangs were trimmed, the bumpers wrap around more, and the C-pillar has been stretched into more of a flying buttress. With its wide grilles bracketed by scary darkened headlamps and elongated C-shaped LED running lamps, the Charger’s lower, forward canted nose is vaguely evocative of the 1968 Charger’s full-width pocket grille. And of course, the racetrack taillamps return, now with smooth LED ribbon in place of last year’s dot-matrix effect. A total of 14 wheels options are available for 2015, 10 of them measuring 20 inches in diameter.
The steroidal Charger SRT 392 and the Hellcat models look even more menacing with their own grille and bumper treatments, NACA-ducted aluminum hoods (with the Hellcat adding two additional engine heat extractors), side sill extensions, a body-color rear spoiler, and diffuser-style rear valences into which the car’s (vocal) four-inch exhaust tips are nestled. Also available for 2015 is a new R/T Scat Pack model, powered by the SRT 392’s stonkin’ 485-hp naturally aspirated 6.4-liter V-8 and which also gets the SRT 392’s hood, a black spoiler, unique rims and upgraded brakes over the standard R/T.
To get us to the track, we resist the urge to jump in a Hellcat right off the bat and instead snatch the keys to the next best thing: a red SRT 392. We plop our asses into its alcantara-and-leather SRT bucket seats, situate ourselves before the new dashboard, and take in our surroundings. Dodge is deftly playing up its muscle car heritage inside, with tunneled primary instrument dials bracketing a slick new seven-inch information display for the driver, with Dodge’s highly acclaimed 8.4-inch Uconnect infotainment screen to the right, all encompassed by a large aluminum bezel. From floor to ceiling, everything is black or red. This place oozes with machismo.
We press the engine-start button, pull the electronic T-handle shifter (now with actual gates!) into Drive, grasp the thick-rimmed, flat-bottom SRT steering wheel and hit the streets. Within a block, we’re giggling like schoolgirls that just got a wink from their big crush, so inebriating is the naturally aspirated 6.4-liter Hemi’s exhaust burble. Soon, we’re summoning as much of the car’s 485 hp and 475 lb-ft of torque as road space allows. Dodge estimates that the 4,400-lb. SRT 392 can hit 60 mph in the low four-second range — fast for a car this size — and based on how we’re pinned to our seats, we believe it.
Soon, we’re fiddling through the SRT Performance Pages (also found in the Hellcat) in the infotainment screen, making adjustments to 392’s powertrain responsiveness, the firmness of its Bilstein shocks, and steering effort, each of which align to Street, Sport and Track settings. As much as we’d like to beat our chest and tell you that we left them all in Track mode the whole way, the ride is just too stiff, the shifts too brutal, and the steering way too heavy for pretty much any place save for an actual track. Street modes chill the engine and suspension for times when, say, you have the kids or the mother-in-law in the car, while the Sport modes represent a compromise Goldilocks might prefer.
Our first time in the Hellcat was on a track, which could be seen either as a veritable enthusiast dream come true or a nightmare in the making: with 707 hp and 650 lb-ft of torque from the supercharged Hemi being sent to just two 275/40 Pirelli tires, very liberal stability controls in Track mode, and an unfamiliar track, what could possibly go wrong?
And so we headed out with an abundance of caution, and to our surprise, the Hellcat proved surprisingly friendly. It’s explosively quick, of course, a little hard to see out of, explosively quick, and never drives smaller than it is — did we mention it’s explosively quick? But it’s more than that: the body remains well controlled, and the steering is highly communicative with sharp turn-in. Powering out of corners, the rear end can be brought around easily by dipping deeper into the throttle, but given the long wheelbase, it never comes around too fast, and hence, tail-out slides are just as easily reigned in with a touch of counter-steer. Give it some room, and this cat can dance.
The transmission’s Track mode was simply telepathic, downshifting exactly when we wanted and cracking off near-instantaneous upshifts at redline, rendering the steering wheel-mounted shifters moot. Our confidence grew quickly and remained high on every lap, thanks in no small part to the massive disc brakes— 15.4-inchers in front and 13.8-inchers in back, clamped by six- and four-piston Brembo calipers, respectively — which never exhibited any fade, even when tasked with yanking the 4,575-lb behemoth back from the near 150 mph speeds we hit on Summit Point’s long straightaway.
We didn’t have time to perform formal acceleration tests, nor was there enough room to do any top speed runs, but Dodge says the Hellcat can hit 60 mph in 3.7 seconds, pass the quarter mile in 11 seconds flat at 123 mph on its way to a 204-mph top end, making it the quickest and fastest sedan in the world, according to Dodge. But we don’t need instruments to tell us what the seats of our pants told us all along: the Hellcat is spectacularly fast and whoopin’, hollerin’, pissin’-off-the-neighbors good fun. The only way it could be more politically incorrect would be to paint a rebel flag on the roof.
Something we found surprising, however, is how little difference in terms of grip levels and steering feel exists between the Hellcat and the SRT 392, which we took on the track immediately after the Hellcat. While the 392 could ‘only’ muster mid 130-mph speeds on Summit Point’s straightaway, we felt just as confident in the twistier sections, which is even more remarkable as the SRT 392’s steering is electrically assisted versus the Hellcat’s hydraulic system. The Bilstein’s stiff Track setting should be credited for some of the feel, while the weighty steering we disliked on the road felt suddenly appropriate on a closed course. All told, while the $64,990 Hellcat comes standard with bragging rights, the SRT 392 is no joke either, and at $48,380, the 392 comes with $16,610 worth of consolation money. And now would be a good time to bring up Charger R/T Scat Pack, which boasts the SRT 392’s massive 6.4-liter SRT engine and beefed-up eight-speed transmission, but does without the lux interior, adjustable suspension, and super-scary styling, all for $40,990.
Later in the day, we did loops in the workaday Charger SXT as well as the standard R/T model, powered by Chrysler’s venerable 3.6-liter V-6 and 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, respectively, and found them to drive more or less the same as before, with the V-6 model feeling rather tepid (not surprisingly, considering what we had been driving moments before) but quiet. Ditto the R/T, only with more solid acceleration. In these cheaper models, which will comprise a vast majority of Charger sales, the seats are wide and covered in rental-grade fabrics, and the aluminum trim looks duller, but the dashboard will pass the soft-touch knock-knock test, and the graphics on the info screens and dash are sufficiently upscale. Neither model has the soul of the SRT models, but still offer favorable rear-drive dynamics in a segment full of pushy, un-fun, front-drivers.
Our day ended with a quick jaunt in the Charger Hellcat back to D.C., whereupon we encountered the pretty much the same friendly beast we encountered in the 392, with excellent self-centering at high speeds, a road-trip-friendly ride quality (in “Street” mode, anyway) and the best exhaust note this side of a Jaguar F-Type S. As with the Challenger Hellcat, wider rear tires than its 275/40-Series Pirelli PZeros would help the Charger Hellcat keep its rear end in line more often, but the fact that all four tires are the same size allows them to be rotated come service time or in the driveway after one too many burnouts at Safeway. Besides, they’re that much easier to set alight, which we assure you, we didn’t try that ourselves, though we can attest to the fact that prolonged burnouts send tire smoke billowing forth from the air extractors in the Hellcat’s aluminum hood. Who do you think we are, the Duke Boys?