Editor’s note: This piece is part of the ClassicCars.com Journal’s Muscle Month. We’ll be featuring stories, muscle cars and people during July about everything and anything that goes fast.
When I first received an email letting me know that I’d be driving a 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Widebody, my first thought was, “Oh crap.”
I was beyond nervous. It’s not every day you get behind the wheel of one of Dodge’s top performance cars capable of making 707 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque. I had respect to the point of fear when I was walking up to the test car, which was painted in Yellow Jacket paired with dual carbon racing stripes.
But every ounce of that apprehension left as soon as I pressed the dark-red start button to the right of the flat-bottomed steering wheel. When that 6.2-liter supercharged Hemi V8 roared to life, my only thought was, “Oh, this is so bad ass.”
Dodge now offers 15 versions of the 2018 Challenger, and the SRT Hellcat Widebody is the top option – aside from the discontinued Demon. The one I drove had a base price of $63,795 and after options, came to $77,275.
There are two transmission options on the Hellcat: The standard 6-speed manual TREMEC and an optional TorqueFlite 8-speed automatic built in Germany. Mine was equipped with the latter which, while not as engaging as a stick, is actually a hair faster on the quarter-mile and comes with paddle shifters for those who want a more interactive experience.
All Hellcats come standard with Brembo 6-piston performance brakes, which is a good thing. Stopping a nearly 4,500-pound heavyweight capable of going about 200 mph requires all the braking it can get.
The Widebody package, at $6,000, seemed steep. It adds 20-inch by 11-inch Devil’s Rim aluminum wheels, which are 1.5 inches wider than the standard Hellcat wheel, and performance tires. The package also includes electric power steering, an upgraded competition suspension and fender flares (thus, “Widebody”).
For those whose eyes just glazed over at the numbers above, let me sum it up like this: The Hellcat offers an insane amount of power at a sub-$80,000 price tag. It’s basically the pissed-off little brother of Dodge’s craziest car to date, the barely street-legal Demon capable of more than 800 horsepower.
Sitting in the driveway, the Hellcat looks menacing. The Widebody flares give it an aggressive look that, when paired with the car’s clear homages to its legendary muscle car past, just begs to be opened up on a long stretch of deserted roadway.
There’s also an interesting quirk on closer inspection of the grille: The driver’s side turn signal is hollow in the middle. I thought it was just a style decision until I did a little research: That hole is actually an air intake that helps cool the engine.
I’m not one for flashy cars, but the Yellow Jacket — fondly referred to as “Pull Me Over Yellow” by my wife and I — paired with those carbon stripes struck a nice balance between the past and future of the Challenger marque.
The first time I drove the Hellcat, I gave it too much gas. I let my excitement get the better of me and, rather than easing into the accelerator and seeing the response, I went for it.
And, oh, did the Hellcat ever respond. After some brief movement from the back end, it roared off the line and sent the speedometer soaring. It was loud. It was insane. It was thrilling. It was everything a muscle car should be. I felt bad when I had to release the gas after just a few seconds to stay within some semblance of the speed limit because the car was designed to go.
After adjusting, however, I noticed that it actually makes for a decent driver. When put in Eco mode — which, among other things, cuts the horsepower to a paltry 500 hp — the engine runs quieter and gas mileage isn’t terrible. However, it’s most fun in Sport mode.
In my week with the 6.2-liter supercharged V8, I averaged 17 mpg on the dot. I probably could have done better had I not changed it to Sport mode so often and let it rip. I didn’t touch the Drag setting as I never took it to a track.
The interior was comfortable and went beyond what I expected for a performance car. The large racing-style seats were not only well-bolstered for when you let the Hellcat off its leash, but comfortable enough for day-to-day traffic. The seats were also ventilated and heated, a nice luxury touch.
The rear seat had ample room for two adults, meaning the Hellcat could fit the whole family. Any luggage would easily fit in the cavernous trunk. For those looking to reduce weight — or have an excuse to not give friends a ride — Dodge offers a rear seat-delete package at no cost.
I felt the gauge cluster and console were well-appointed for a performance car. The customizable 8.4-inch Uconnect infotainment center was easy to reach. It paired nicely with the Harman Kardon 18-speaker sound system that was more than enough to be heard over the exhaust notes, if you wanted that for some reason.
The gauges, like most late-model cars, had a slew of options that let you track everything from speed to tire pressure and performance, which is great for those looking to fine-tune the engine.
Several other features — such as a backup camera, parking assist technology and Bluetooth — were things I didn’t anticipate being in a performance-oriented car. It gave the Hellcat a good sense of, dare I say, practicality?
Dodge is well aware of the power it places in the hands of Hellcat drivers. The purchase price includes a one-day driving course at the Bondurant Racing School in Chandler, Arizona that can be upgraded to a multi-day experience at an added cost.
The course, valued at $1,000, teaches drivers to avoid accidents, turn a car out of a skid and other skills. The public can pay to take the course as well.
I just so happen to work down the street from the school. I was able to take a few hot laps with one of the school’s top drivers in a Hellcat and I came to appreciate the design of the car even more. It cornered better than a heavyweight muscle car should, was eager to fly out of turns and felt positively glued to the track.
Basically, the Hellcat will take whatever you can throw its way, laugh it off and roar back for more.
In an age when some are questioning whether the American muscle car will survive the coming electric car revolution, the Hellcat has something to prove. Dodge blended incredible performance and modern creature comforts to create a muscle car that is not only addicting, but practical enough to be a daily driver.
And it’s only getting better: The automaker is reportedly planning on putting some of the discontinued Demon’s technology into the next model year of Hellcat, which will up the engine to a mind-boggling 797 horsepower.
Sign me up for that one. While the whir of an electric motor may become a more prevalent sound in the future, it can’t hold a candle to the burble and roars of cars like the Hellcat.
2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat
Vehicle type: five-passenger, two-door coupe, rear-wheel drive
Base price: $63,795 Price as tested: $77,275
Engine: 6.2-liter V8, 707 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, 650 pound-feet of torque at 4,800 rpm Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 116.2 inches Overall length/width: 197.5 inches / 75.7 inches
Curb weight: 4,490-4,498 pounds
EPA mileage estimates: 13 city / 22 highway / 16 combined
Assembled in: Brampton, Ontario, Canada