The first thing that I would like to say about Dodge’s new Hellcat series cars is this: you will have to be very wealthy to own one because you will have to keep airlifting it to countries in which you haven’t lost your license.
WHAT A CAR!
I have had the pleasure of driving as well as owning many of the great performance marques and to be honest, as much fun as American Muscle is to drive in straight lines, it has always let me down when compared to stroking a Ferrari or a Lotus down a winding country lane.
American manufacturers have gotten that idea over the last decade, but were really running in second place in comparison.
Now I did not out the Charger on a track, but I do live in an area dense with winding paved roads and no matter what speed I took corners at (and some of those speeds will remain unpublished), the Hellcat Charger never once made me feel like I had entered a corner above its ability to handle it.
This was a complete shock to me because as a veteran of several highly modified Vipers I am more used to a car that has six or seven hundred horsepower spending most of its time trying to kill me.
Now I should imagine that the Hellcats will happily kill you if you do two things. One is turn off the stabilization and control systems and two, drive it as if they are still on.
Vipers, at least the early ones that I am mostly familiar with, were light cars with big tires and a ridiculous amount of horsepower. This is not a recipe for relaxed driving and there have been many wrecks as a result. The trouble is many people who can afford to buy cars like these are in too many instances not skilled enough to drive them.
The Hellcats change all that. The Charger Hellcat I tested was a very large American four-door sedan, and drove like one when being driven in a normal fashion. The noises that come out of it even at low speeds and with cautious driving are still very satisfying, and serve to remind you constantly of what you are driving. These noises are honest by the way, not like those that are computer generated and then fed from the stereo system to the owners of some Teutonic sedans.
At low speeds that car seems quite sensible, handles beautifully, especially for a large car and has a smooth and easy ride. There is no fear that if you hit a bump and your foot bounces on the accelerator that you are going to lose traction or be buried in the rear of the SUV in front of you.
The engineers at Dodge seem to have learned a lot from the Viper program and have incorporated that into these ultimate muscle cars. With the Viper likely to be discontinued in 2017, this know-how will need to be applied to other FCA vehicles or else it could be lost forever.
Having stated all that let’s get on to the good stuff, the reasons why unless you are incredibly lucky or incredibly cautious you will spend an inordinate amount of your wealth funding the traffic courts.
When you fire up a Hellcat the noise immediately tells you that you are not sitting in a normal car. It is not that it has an annoying bark or an ear-splitting cacophony like some modified muscle cars and hot rods. It is far classier than that. A deep throaty rumble issues from the pipes, a rumble that denotes deep authority.
My Bentley Continental GT is the only other car that idled with such authority. Mind you the Bentley is a lot more subdued; you have to stand behind it to get the idea. Inside the driver is just met with silence. Once a Bentley’s door closes the outside world disappears.
Very much like a Bentley that has few identifiers on it and no script, the Hellcat had only one marking on it that separates it from a standard Charger R/T. And that is the small Hellcat logo on the front fender behind the wheel arch.
This is actually my only complaint about the car. I would have liked just a little more identification of what I am driving. With a Bentley there is no confusing it with anything else, but if I have laid down eighty grand for an American car I would like just one nice little bit of extra script, perhaps Hellcat in a little written flourish on the rear tail panel and front grille. Not much, just a little to tell people that I am cruising in a 707-hp Jekyll and Hyde, and not a standard Charger with an aftermarket kit.
Yes the car has very different features, but honestly most people don’t get that, you really have to literally spell it out for them.
Still, as complaints go it is probably as minor as one can field, and would certainly not stop me from buying a Hellcat.
First, the interior is really well done. None of that cheap feel that unfortunately Chrysler muscle was associated with for so long. It has a real luxury feel, a convincing luxury look and most importantly it is really comfortable. Like all American cars these days the ergonomics are well thought out and the car is very easy to use. Even the sound system is pretty easy and almost not as distracting as texting.
The paint and body are both quite good. Fit and finish left nothing that bothered me or was grating. In fact, I don’t even remember that much about the fit and finish, which means that it has to be pretty high calibre to escape notice. The car I had was a metallic grey and not a colour I would order, but if you want to escape notice by the local constabulary after a high-speed workout it is probably better than lime green or day glo orange, which I have to admit would tempt me more on an order sheet.
Lift the hood and you can sort of see the engine past all the tinsel that covers them these days. I know there is no carburettor there, but I do sort of miss the days when you lifted a hood and all there was to see was the engine with maybe a cool decal on the air cleaner. These days it is a little hard to ooh and ahh at a plastic cover concealing the working bits. Mind you it is a tasteful cover, but a cover nonetheless.
Now, the last part of the reason every car addict should drive a Hellcat before they die. It is a mind boggling performer. Put your foot down and all hell breaks out, especially if you use the launch setting.
This is definitely one of the coolest features you can get in a car. The instruction on the instrument screen after initiating launch says put foot on brake and then remove quickly and press accelerator to the floor. This is when the traction control comes in handy as the car literally launches in a completely straight line with a bit of torque sway as you depart. At about an eighth-of-a-mile my wife Janice and I just started to laugh as the whole thing is just crazy.
Just crazy is probably how I would best describe the entire Hellcat phenomenon. No one needs a car that has 707 hp or more, but what a cool toy! If you are into minivans and your idea of moving up in the world is a BMW SUV then the Hellcat is not for you. But, on the other hand, if you are a performance guy or gal, no matter whether European or North American, then the Hellcat may be right down your alley.
I for one would love to stroke a Hellcat along the mountain highways around Stelvio in Italy, just to see how it would do.
I have a gut feeling that it would be a very satisfying and memorable day.