By now you’ve likely read our Luxury Performance Coupe Challenge where the 2015 BMW M4 — the sports car formerly known as the M3 coupe — faced off and won against high-performance newcomers, the 2016 Cadillac ATS-V and 2015 Lexus RC F. But how would it have done against the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat with its ludicrous 707 horsepower?
OK, we know that’s a bit of a stretch comparing a BMW, Cadillac and Lexus to a Dodge, but we just happened to have a Hellcat with us during the Challenge, and fast is fast, luxury or nonluxury. They all have two doors, four seats and are roughly in the $60,000-70,000 starting price range too.
The ATS-V starts at $63,660, M4 at $65,195 and RC F at $63,325. A base Challenger Hellcat is $60,990 (all prices include a destination fee); you can compare specifications of all four here.
A little about the Challenger Hellcat we tested: The Bright White Hellcat came with the optional eight-speed automatic transmission, navigation, premium leather seating, summer tires and a price tag of $65,870, with a $995 destination charge and $1,700 gas-guzzler tax. Even with the gas tax, which the luxury coupes aren’t saddled with, the Hellcat was $8,580 less expensive than the least pricey luxury coupe, the ATS-V at an as-tested price of $74,450. The RC F in the Challenge totaled $75,210 while the M4 was a whopping $86,200 with its notable carbon-ceramic brakes eating up $8,150 of the total price.
Bringing a gun to a knifefight doesn’t begin to explain the thrashing the Hellcat gave the others in acceleration. The Challenger is substantially heavier than the luxury coupes with a 4,449-pound curb weight — M4, 3,585 pounds; ATS-V, 3,700 pounds; and RC F, 3,958 pounds — but its well over 200 more horsepower from the 707-hp, supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 is plenty powerful enough to make up for its heft.
The Hellcat’s zero to 60 mph time was a crushing 3.47 seconds to the M4’s fastest 3.97 seconds, while the quarter-mile time of 11.34 seconds at 125.57 mph is in another league compared to the M4’s 12.05 seconds at 118.35 mph. The best times didn’t come easy, however, according to Cars.com Road Test Editor Joe Bruzek.
“On the dragstrip, the Hellcat is the most high maintenance to drive as you chase the perfect storm of tire temperature and accelerator finesse to post a fast time on the factory tires. It’s a huge tease because you can’t fully use the accelerator pedal until about 60 feet past the starting line.”
Get it right, however, and the reward is one of the quickest-accelerating new cars for less than $100,000.
Behind the Hellcat’s 20-inch wheels are honkin’ front brake rotors measuring 15.4 inches with six-piston Brembo-brand calipers. Out back are four-piston Brembo calipers putting the squeeze on 13.8-inch rotors.
The Challenger Hellcat stopped in a hurry with 60-mph-to-zero braking distances, get this, shorter than all the luxury coupe competitors. The Challenger’s effective braking system, perhaps helped by wider front tires than the others, was clearly working well for the heavier coupe. The 116.99-foot stopping distance was shorter than the next closest 119.47 feet of the ATS-V. This surprised us not only because of its short distance but also because of the consistency of the 60-mph-to-zero braking distances.
On the Track
The Challenger Hellcat, once again, did better than expected not only in braking but also on the road course with surprising proficiency for its size on the 1.46-mile, nine-turn North Circuit at the Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, Ill. Cars.com Executive Editor Joe Wiesenfelder noted it takes thoughtful accelerator use to get the desired results:
“What stood out to me was how well it held the line if you used the throttle judiciously. It could have been much worse, and I think we would have accepted it even so. By anchoring my foot well, I was able to finesse the accelerator, and it never stepped out on its own, lap after lap. I’ve been in supposed sports cars that are less consistent than this one.”
Impressive for its size is one thing, but compared with the BMW M4, Cadillac ATS-V and Lexus RC F the Hellcat didn’t have the well-rounded balance of the smaller, lighter luxury coupes, according to Cars.com Senior Editor Mike Hanley.
“In a straight line, the supercharged V-8 has no trouble overcoming the Challenger’s substantial heft, but all that mass has nowhere to hide when you toss the car into a corner. When you also consider steering that’s not as tight as the three luxury coupes, this is the area where the Challenger feels least like a sports car.”
Bruzek was on the same page when comparing the Hellcat to the M4 and ATS-V, which turned out to be the track stars of the comparison:
“The Hellcat is a brute on the road course and requires being slowed way down before barreling into a corner to avoid overworking the front tires. The M4 and ATS-V can carry a whole lot of corner speed and were able to get back into the accelerator sooner considering they aren’t constantly trying to destroy their tires like the Hellcat.”
The Challenger Hellcat’s huge brakes held up well in our morning sessions on Autobahn’s tight road course. The afternoon, however, wasn’t so kind to the stoppers as the brake pedal started losing confidence and firmness after repeated laps. It may come as no surprise, however, that the BMW’s optional $8,150 carbon-ceramic brakes on the lightweight M4 didn’t miss a beat the entire day of track use. The BMW’s brakes allowed that car to dig deeper into the braking zone than anything else, and consistently lap after lap.
On the Street
The Hellcat’s 707 hp is better managed on the street by dialing down the various driving modes. The more docile engine, transmission and suspension tuning turns the dragstrip hero into a car that’s perfectly drivable to and from the track.
The Challenger isn’t a luxury car, however, which is apparent in the interior material quality as well as cabin refinement. A bare-bones Challenger, after all, starts at $27,990 for a V-6 model. There’s very little quieting of engine and exhaust noises, which can be good or bad depending how you look at it, Wiesenfelder said.
“I want to express my reverence for its audible supercharger. The fact it’s audible all the time doesn’t bother me a bit. The exhaust, on the other hand, did get a bit tiring at lower speeds,” he said.
BMW, Cadillac and Lexus all use various methods to augment engine sounds inside the cabin. Active systems like Cadillac’s can also help cancel unwanted noises, which make the ATS-V virtually as quiet as the nonperformance version with its Active Noise Cancellation. This contributes to the ATS-V’s supreme levels of daily drivability.
The Challenger’s sheer size with a usable backseat and a huge 16.2 cubic feet trunk is much more daily friendly than the smaller luxury coupes. The BMW has 11 cubic feet of cargo space, the ATS-V 10.4 cubic feet and the RC F 10.1 cubic feet.
“The Challenger’s backseat, though, is the most usable of them all. It was the only one with decent headroom for adults (the luxury coupes all had poor rear-seat headroom),” Hanley said.
The Challenger Hellcat is less practical at the pump. Feeding 707 hp costs money even before the first fill-up; it has a $1,700 gas-guzzler tax thanks to its EPA-estimated 13/22/16 mpg city/highway/combined fuel economy ratings. Our mileage test reflected the Challenger’s low fuel economy, though it wasn’t as abysmal as you’d think. The 20.76 mpg average between the observed trip computer and calculated fill-up fuel economy trailed the ATS-V’s 22.9 mpg, M4’s 23.46 mpg and the RC F’s 24.26 mpg.
Is the Challenger Hellcat Worth it?
You’re not going to find another straight-line thrill ride like the Challenger Hellcat for $65,870, which was $8,580 less than the as-tested price of the ATS-V, and $20,330 less than the BMW M4. The Challenger Hellcat isn’t as well-rounded as an M4 or ATS-V, but it’s also not completely out of place where you’d expect it to be on a tight road course. Will people cross-shop an M4 with a Challenger Hellcat? Not likely, but Wiesenfelder makes a good point.
“When push comes to shove, this car and the Challenge cars will land different buyer types, but those people come from a larger pool of car fans that will respect and probably enjoy both approaches. The heads that turned for these cars were probably mostly the same heads,” Wiesenfelder said.
The trick, however, might be finding one. Dealers are only allotted a certain number of Hellcats, and big markups by dealers aren’t unheard of. Dodge suspended taking Challenger and Charger Hellcat orders earlier in the year to catch up the huge demand up with production. A Dodge spokesperson says dealers still have some Hellcats on lots but the order hold remains in effect as they continue to build, sell and ship 2015 model year cars.