The Dodge Challenger is a legendary model for Chrysler. It’s the American company’s player in pony car game and the likes of Ford’s Mustang and the Chevrolet Camaro have been its competition on and off for nearly 50 years.
The original Challenger came to market in 1969; in 2008, Dodge introduced the present, third-generation version. The large, two-door coupé uses a cut version of Chrysler’s waning LX architecture, which underpins the 300C saloon. Ford’s latest Mustang GT is substantial shorter and lighter than the Challenger, for reference.
Improvements since launch include the addition of an optional ‘TorqueFlite’ eight-speed automatic transmission across the model line-up, as well as retro exterior and interior updates that mimic the iconic 1971 Challenger. There are currently 10 models for enthusiasts of the Challenger to choose from, starting with the entry-level SXT and SXT Plus powered by a 3.6-litre V6 motor paired with an eight-speed automatic. While those after a Hemi V8 can look towards the R/T, R/T Plus, R/T Shaker, R/T Shaker Plus and its 5.7-litre petrol lump and the option of a six-speed manual gearbox. The R/T Scat Pack, 392 Hemi Scat Pack Shaker and the SRT 392 all use a 6.4-litre V8 at the front (or 392-cu-in hence why 392 is in the name).
Topping the range is the Challenger SRT Hellcat which is by far the most extreme version of Dodge’s muscle car, until the SRT Demon rear its head. Its supercharged 6.2-litre V8 develops 707bhp, along with 650lb ft of torque. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard but our test car featured the optional automatic transmission.
It’s a wild car. The Hellcat can guzzle the full volume of its 15.4-gallon fuel tank in only 13 minutes. Its supercharger ingests oxygen through a huge 92mm throttle body and the output of a base Ford Fiesta – 79bhp – is needed to spin that twin-screw blower. Each 6.2-litre engine is run on a dyno for 42 minutes before installation. No CO2 emissions are stated for the beastly V8 and we don’t think Chrysler really cares.
The Hellcat’s 20-inch wheels are available in either matte black or dark bronze (what Dodge calls 'Brass Monkey') finish. Mounted on the large wheels are 275/40 ZR20 Pirelli P Zero tires. The Hellcat’s exclusive 'Air Catcher' intake port sits inside one of the front lamps and ducts intake air into the engine.
The available exterior colours are a marketing department’s dream and include: B5 Blue, Pitch Black, Sublime Metallic (green), and TorRed. You can also order the bonnet in Satin Black, just in case you find the Hellcat too subtle.
The two-door Dodge feels huge and you’re perched quite high, in seats offering little support. Back seat access is cumbersome. One can’t help but wonder how a vehicle so large features such compromised packaging.
But thumb the starter button and as the 707bhp V8 erupts into a rage of fury, you quickly forget about the glaring faults of the ageing platform.
That supercharged engine blasts the Hellcat through the quarter-mile in a very impressive 11.2 seconds at 125 mph, matching the 533kg lighter and twice-as-expensive Porsche 911 GT3. If you’ve made a deal with the devil, feel free to explore the 199mph top speed – which trumps the GT3 by 3mph. We recommend a more saint-like velocity ceiling, as the Hellcat is no Porsche in the chassis department.
That’s not to say it’s complete rubbish in the twisty stuff. Sure, the Challenger moves around, porpoising and hopping about when pushed, but those quirks actually add to the fun. It’s also not nearly as intimidating as the extreme specs suggest. Yes, wheelspin and lurid drifts are only a wiggle of your big toe away but the manic Dodge never truly scares you.
The stability control system's Track mode is perfectly relaxed, offering loads of fun while still keeping you out of the weeds. The eight-speed automatic transmission swaps ratios impressively, even when manually short-shifted from, say, third to fourth gear with smoke billowing from the rear tyres.
Considering the weight and size, Chrysler engineers buttoned down the Challenger quite successfully – three-mode Bilstein dampers, 390mm Brembo brakes, and a limited-slip differential are a big part of this – but the ultra-light steering brings you back to the reality of the brash experience.
On the equipment front each Challenger is well equipped with the SXT and R/T models getting heated mirrors, automatic headlights, dual-zone climate controls, sports seats, brake assist and a 5.0in UConnect infotainment system complete with Bluetooth and USB connectivity. Upgrading to the Plus pack adds leather upholstery, a six-speaker Alpine audio system, a heated steering wheel and an 8.4in UConnect touchscreen system with smartphone integration and satellite radio, while the R/T Shaker model forgoes the leather and gets a performance cloth interior.
The R/T Scat Pack model gets a performance tuned suspension as does the 392 Hemi Scat Pack Shaker which also comes with a sportier steering set-up. The SRT 392 and SRT Hellcat come with power folding mirrors, performance Laguna leather and an 8.4in UConnect infotainment system complete with sat nav.
The truth is, the Hellcat makes absolutely no sense. It lives in its own world, cut off from the reality of a changing planet. It represents the United States of America perfectly, and proudly.
The Challenger’s size, thirst, and rather poor ride quality on lumpy tarmac mean it will be pretty much worthless on British roads. It’s also left-hand-drive only and not officially sold in the UK, but don’t let that stop you from contacting an importer of American iron.
Ultimately the Hellcat is an exciting dance with the devil. It’s a glorious, extroverted machine that puts a smile on your face each and every time you fire up that virile and boastful 707bhp V8.