(Portland, Oregon) - "Respect the car!” That is the main message the folks at SRT are trying to get through our heads as we receive the final instructions before we get to drive the SRT Hellcat at Portland International Raceway.
Outside the small room where a dozen journalists from Canada and Mexico have gathered, five 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat models are waiting, their aggressive grills pointing toward the entrance of the track. I cast a glance at the map of the track that has just been handed to me. It seems that at each curve there is a warning, usually followed by an exclamation point.
The source of all this worry is the engine, a supercharged 6.2 liter HEMI V8 which develops 707 hp and 650 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. More than 400 lb-ft of torque is available before 2,000 rpm. In other words, power is delivered instantly, and it never goes away. By the way, the name Hellcat refers to that engine, not the car itself.
Imagine that you are carrying a full glass of water from your bathroom to your bedroom at night, and you get an idea of how one should approach the 2015 SRT Hellcat. Suddenly jerking the steering wheel is a big no-no. The moment when one chooses to apply power in a curve, or how one steps off the gas, is key, especially if the steering wheel is not center.
The idea is to be progressive and linear. You have to be zen when driving a Challenger SRT Hellcat. Once that reality is understood, however, the SRT Hellcat surprises on the track. Before I started, I imagined several ways things could go wrong for my health or my ego.
While I in no way pushed the car to its limits, it still made me want to try. That's the best compliment I can give to the car powered by the most powerful engine in the Challenger range. Despite the massive dimensions and all those warnings, the car remained mostly stable and, more importantly, controllable.
We can therefore speak of a genuine sport car, not just a performance car when the road is straight.
The same advice given on the track applies in a drag race. If the accelerator is floored, the driver goes nowhere. The power is simply too much. You have to slowly apply pressure on the right pedal if you want to avoid smothering everyone on the track with thick white smoke. Once the car is planted, the push is mind-blowing. The 2015 Hellcat crushes you in your seat with a force that I had felt only a few times before, in cars whose starting price was a lot higher than the SRT Hellcat’s $ 63,995 base price.
In summary, no car can match the power-to-price ratio of the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat. That said, it is not a dangerous car, despite its 707 hp, and could be used as a daily driver. You just, again, have to respect the power that lies beneath your right foot.
Not just the Hellcat
The Challenger SRT Hellcat was not the only car offered to journalists during these few days in Oregon. In fact, all models offered in the redesigned 2015 Challenger lineup were up for grabs, starting with the entry-level Challenger SXT. Powered by a 3.6-liter V6 good for 305 hp and available in two trim levels, SXT and SXT Plus, Dodge believes that the majority of consumers will turn to this model, more specifically the SXT Plus.
There was also the Challenger R/T, it powered by a 5.7-liter V8 HEMI offering up to 375 hp. Finally, one can opt for a 2015 Challenger SRT and its 6.4-liter HEMI engine developing 485 hp. All Challenger V8 engines can be paired with a 6-speed manual transmission or a new 8-speed automatic. Yes, there are a lot of versions of the 2015 Challenger.
Regardless of the model, the Dodge Challenger is a unique car that gives its driver sensations that are just as unique. I'm not referring only to performance here, although there are excessively powerful models in the Challenger range.
It’s the set of characteristics of this redesigned pony car that creates this exclusive driving experience. For example, after about an hour on the road, my college and I noticed a peculiar and very mechanical smell in the cockpit. I noticed the same smell in a 2014 Dodge Challenger R/T Shaker that I drove some weeks ago.
Far from unpleasant or invasive, and not at all the symptom of a mechanical problem, the smell is rather a nostalgic reminder that we are driving a model heavily inspired by a muscle car introduced in 1971. The bulging hood and impressive width of the model also reflect its origins, as do the large number of eyes that turned towards the car every time we stopped.
Unlike the 1971 Challenger, the 2015 model is quite modern, whether it be from a safety, comfort or handling point of view. One can spend several minutes just looking at the car, but once behind the wheel, the setting shifts to a contemporary and welcoming interior.
The 2015 Dodge Challenger can be equipped with heated AND ventilated seats. A thick steering wheel reflects the sporty personality of the car, but it can also warm your hands in winter. The new Challenger is manly and tough, but a range of active safety systems have been added this year, including adaptive cruise control, a collision warning system, and a blind spot monitoring system.
All this technology lets you enjoy even more the massive and very attractive retro silhouette of the Challenger as it does not come at the expense of agility and maneuverability. The new ParkView rearview camera is one of the most efficient on the market, even allowing you to see cars approaching perpendicularly through its wide field of vision.
The dashboard is minimalist, like a good ol’ antique car, but the center console is thoroughly modern, especially with the 8.4-inch touch screen incorporating the Uconnect multimedia system. Only the passenger will not appreciate the infotainment system as it is now angled towards the driver. For those sitting behind the wheel, however, the system is intuitive and well organised.
During the initial presentation of the 2015 Challenger, Dodge noted that about two thirds of buyers had not even considered buying a Mustang or Camaro. That is probably because they were looking for a reborn pony car that could be used every day without requiring too many compromises. The trunk, for example, is large and convenient for an unexpected road trip with just some luggage and a sense of adventure. The Challenger is the kind of car that inspires that kind of journey.
There are no models to be avoided in the 2015 Challenger range. Personally, I find the SRT Hellcat a bit excessive so I would opt for a "simple" SRT model because of its power and that engine sound that will have you sneaking to the garage every chance you get just to start it up.
But ultimately, the Challenger’s target audience is looking for a particular set of features and characteristics. If you are part of that target audience, you know what they are, and I can confirm that every 2015 Dodge Challenger has them, regardless of the model, trim or engine.