What is the Yahoo Autos Enthusiast Car of the Year award? That’s a question we asked ourselves when judging the 707-hp Dodge Challenger Hellcat. It’s a machine that emerged in every conversation regarding which vehicle should win the overall prize as this year’s best, but when asked for reasons why, most of us drew a blank.
It remains difficult to judge the Hellcat in a rational light, because by all known means of measurement, the Hellcat is lavishly illogical. It’s a car that shouldn’t exist, even by Dodge’s own admission, and yet for some mysterious reason, perhaps one involving alcohol and the same spirit that motivates bar bets, it does.
Arriving standard with 275/40ZR20 all-season rubber, the measly (by comparison to the Camaro Z/28 we tested) rear tires never stood a chance with 650 lb.-ft. of torque on tap. With drag radials, the Challenger Hellcat and its 6.2-liter supercharged V-8 will crush the quarter mile in 10.8 seconds. Without, 11.2 — but most of the time, including dropping grandma off at knitting camp or your daughter at ballet class, you’ll be doing so in a plume of filthy tire smoke, whether you like it or not.
“I have no problem imagining myself using this as everyday transportation,” said contributing editor Steve Siler. “I’d just have to budget a lot of dough for tires. And gas. Lots and lots of gas.”
It is, then, a proper American muscle car — the closest thing to driving a brand new early ‘70s 426 Hemi off a modern dealers’ lot. It’s the anomaly that shouldn’t feature highly in our quest to discover the 2015 Car of the Year, but by the smiles on our faces, the thumbs up from every single onlooker we passed and that inimitable roar from the Herculean V-8, it couldn’t be ignored.
It didn’t win our overall prize because the Volkswagen Golf GTI did too many things well – going above and beyond its stated purpose. But the Challenger Hellcat hits its goals flawlessly, embodying a dying breed of car — or, arguably, the reincarnation of a genre that’s long been dead. It’s a muscle car even those who experienced that glorious era in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s will approve of. As editor/racer Alex Lloyd put it, the Hellcat is “basically Keith Moon with a license plate, only conceived from the depths of Detroit.”
Fellow editor Greg Brodick noted the machine’s (relatively) docile behavior on highways, stating that it remains “incredibly comfortable and spacious for a long journey; the front seats and infotainment system are some of the best we tested.” It’s also remarkably well insulated within the cabin, meaning that ferocious lump under the hood will only deafen your neighbors.
Editor Aki Sugawara called the Hellcat “the answer to the question nobody asked, which makes it awesome and insane all at the same time.” Think of the Challenger Hellcat, then, as the winner of this year’s people’s choice award.
Perhaps managing editor Justin Hyde describes the Challenger Hellcat’s personality best, saying that “the owner’s manual should come with a cover photo of Johnny Cash giving a one-finger salute.” It’s the car that won our hearts, but our rational brains rejected. The one car that, despite its utter lunacy, caused even the most buttoned-up of judges to clamor for its bright red key fob.
For 2015, there could be only one winner of the Yahoo Autos Enthusiast Car of the Year. It doesn't make sense, and that's why we love it.