Versus the competiton:
The verdict: The 2016 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat is intimidating, unbelievably quick, massively entertaining and about as subtle as a roundhouse kick to the face.
Versus the competition: For the money, there are no competitors for a Hellcat. To get the same level of performance and power in a four-door sedan, you’d have to spend nearly twice as much for a performance variant of a German luxury car.
By now, the automotive world is familiar with the phenomenon known as the Hellcat. It’s the top trim for Dodge’s two muscle cars, the Charger sedan and Challenger coupe. More specifically, it’s the higher of two SRT performance-brand trim levels of both cars. SRT stands for Street and Racing Technology, and it can be thought of as Dodge’s in-house tuner organization, taking cars that are already quick and turning them into high-performance machines.
For Hellcat models, that includes something unique: a 707-horsepower, supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 engine — the most powerful production motor ever offered for sale by an American automaker. The fact that it’s found its way into a full-size family sedan like the Dodge Charger is remarkable — and the fact that you can buy one for around $68,000 is even more amazing.
For 2016, there haven’t been many changes other than a price increase (compare the 2015 and 2016 models side by side here). I put nearly 1,000 miles on a “Go Mango,” bright orange Charger Hellcat over two weeks to see if the reality of driving this thing every day could live up to the mystique surrounding it.
You’ll never lose your Go Mango Charger SRT Hellcat in a parking lot. It stands out like a rescue flare at sea, a beacon of eye-searing color and aggressive attitude in a beige ocean of Camrys.
The regular Charger is already an attractive car, and the SRT treatment makes it even more menacing, with big, 20-inch matte black wheels and a lowered stance. The Hellcat trim also gets a special lower bumper with larger air intakes for cooling purposes, plus functional hood scoops and vents that also serve to help the big engine breathe better. There are LED daytime running lights in the low nose up front that match the LED “racetrack” taillights out back — a distinctive Dodge look that’s instantly identifiable from a quarter-mile away in the dark.
The only indications that this is something more than a Charger SRT 392 are the aforementioned hood and grille, plus the subtle Hellcat logo badges on the fenders. Once auto aficionados around you notice those little kitties, their eyes get wider and a grin inevitably follows; next thing you know, people will be letting you pull into traffic ahead of them while they wait for you. Waves, thumbs-ups, nods, hoots and hollers may also be delivered. Anyone who likes cars knows what a Hellcat is, and it commands instant respect wherever it goes.
That respect is not undeserved. Under the Hellcat’s shapely hood is a beast of a motor, one that lets you know it’s not screwing around the moment you press the starter button — or, better yet, once you use the remote start on a cold morning while you stand behind the car; chances are you’ve never heard an engine this loud outside of a NASCAR event. It fires to life with a roar that can set off nearby car alarms in a crowded parking garage (tested and proven by yours truly). The electronic exhaust seems to be set to fully open when the car is cold; after about 60 seconds of this treatment, it settles down into a more muted, rumbling idle.
If that initial blast is meant as a warning to the driver of the Hellcat’s potential, ignoring it comes at your own risk. Press the throttle at any speed, at any rpm, and you’re rewarded with thrust like being shot out of a cannon. Even a light application of throttle results in considerable speed; flooring it makes the Hellcat gather itself together for half a second before squatting on its haunches and blasting you forward with a noise that’s almost indescribable. First, there’s a mechanical shriek from a twin-scroll supercharger that seems tuned to be intentionally loud (but still makes you grin). The second noise emanates from the fully open exhaust butterfly valves, which produce a shockwave blast like a foghorn among a field of flutes. If you’re behind a Hellcat on the highway and the driver decides to floor it, you’ll wince at the aural onslaught even if your windows are closed. It’s that loud.
And it’s that fast. Our own testing of a Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat produced an astonishing drag-strip quarter-mile time of 11.03 seconds at 126.61 mph on stock tires. It can do that all day long, straight from a showroom floor. On the street, though, the Hellcat is surprisingly docile. It may be intimidating to know that all that power is just a stab away, but you could drive one around town as calmly as you please, never knowing there was anything other than a lazy V-8 loping away under the hood.
The ride is surprisingly compliant for a lowered car with 20-inch wheels and super low-profile tires, but it can be stiffened up via an electronic slider on the Charger’s Performance Pages multimedia screen. The steering, however, can’t be; you can get adjustable power steering assist on SRT 392 models, but the Hellcat doesn’t have that option. Its steering isn’t so great, with little in the way of feedback or required effort. The brakes are a better story: big, six-piston Brembo-brand calipers up front and four-piston rears that stop the heavy sedan with a firm, confident feel.
The Hellcat is a boulevard cruiser and a dragstrip warrior. At a circuit track, it’s out of its element due to its weight and family-sedan roots. On the street, however, the experience is pure dynamite. It’s a muscle car in the purest sense of the name, far more akin to the sleeper sedans of the 1960s than anything on the road today.
As for fuel economy, the Hellcat is saddled with a $1,700 gas-guzzler tax and requires premium fuel, but its mileage isn’t as bad as you might think. Yes, the car is rated 13/22/16 mpg city/highway/combined, and my nearly two weeks with it netted about 17 mpg. But a highway mileage run performed in economy mode — which softens up the car’s throttle and transmission responses and electronically neuters the engine to “just” 500 hp — returned an observed fuel economy of exactly 22.0 mpg. That’s not bad for traveling about 75 mph for four hours. Yes, it does mean you’ll spend a lot of money on gas for the Hellcat if it’s your daily driver. But aside from pouring that gasoline on a bonfire and lighting it (something we do NOT endorse), I’m hard-pressed to think of a more entertaining way to use a large amount of dino juice.
The Charger is one of only two remaining full-size American sedans (the imported Chevrolet SS is the other), and it has that traditional American big-car feel inside. It’s wide in there, with a sweeping, sculpted dash that’s covered in some unfortunate faux-metal trim. That and the oversized seats that eat into passenger space are the only real foibles in what’s otherwise a comfortable, roomy, quiet environment that can handle five people with ease.
Outward visibility is excellent, as is front-seat comfort. One issue with this SRT-spec trim, however, is that the bottom portion of the beefy steering wheel is smooth plastic, which is slippery and not easy to grip when turning corners or negotiating a track. It may look cool, but for going fast around corners, the whole wheel should be made of uniformly grippy material.
Front and center in the Charger Hellcat’s dash is the 8.4-inch Uconnect multimedia system, and it remains one of the better ones on the market. It’s due for an update in the next year or so, with more functionality and customizability, but the current one works just fine. Our big complaint with it is that it also encompasses some functions that really should have stand-alone buttons, such as controls for the front seat’s heat and ventilation functions. Navigation works well with voice commands, with a stream-of-speech address input that isn’t the speediest but does tend to get things right on the first try.
Special mention must be made of SRT Performance Pages. Accessed by a dedicated button on the console, Performance Pages comprise a screen full of gauges, meters, setting-change toggles, and even a launch control mode adjustment that allows you to do repeated maximum-thrust drag-strip launches with relative ease. And in case you need to get that launch control mode engaged quickly, there’s a hard button devoted to that, too, right below the SRT button. It’s useful for when someone sneaks up and challenges you at a stoplight … not that we condone that kind of behavior.
Being a full-size American sedan, the Charger SRT Hellcat has a great big trunk, with 16.1 cubic feet of cargo room. The rear seats also fold, creating room for larger and bulkier items. It’s comparable to the space found in a Chevrolet SS, which has 16.4 cubic feet of room on a smaller platform. Both are larger than their German luxury sedan competitors: The BMW M5 has 14.0 cubic feet while the Mercedes-AMG E63 makes do with just 12.9 cubic feet.
To be fair, the Charger is a bit larger overall than those sedans, with a longer wheelbase than any of them, but comparing the Charger to the even larger Mercedes-Benz S-Class or BMW 7 Series wouldn’t be an apt comparison.
In crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Charger earned the top rating of good in all crash tests except the small overlap front test, in which it scored marginal. See the Charger’s results here and results for the large-sedan class here.
The Charger SRT Hellcat has less electronic safety equipment than lesser Charger trims due to a modified front bumper that doesn’t accommodate forward-looking radar. So despite being considerably more expensive than an SRT 392 model, you get no forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking or distance-keeping cruise control. You can get parking sensors all around, plus a backup camera with blind spot and cross-traffic alert. See all the Charger SRT Hellcat’s equipment here.
See how well the Charger accommodates child-safety seats in our Car Seat Check of the 2015 model, which applies to the 2016 Hellcat.
Taken on its own, the Charger SRT Hellcat represents a screaming performance value. It starts — very well-equipped — at $68,740 including destination fee and gas-guzzler tax and already includes everything you need to go extremely fast in comfort: the supercharged Hellcat engine, a Bilstein electronically adjustable suspension, Brembo brakes, leather interior, bi-xenon headlights, heated front and rear seats, and more. Add some premium options, like a Harman Kardon 19-speaker audio system, floor mats, black-painted roof and summer tires, and you’ll reach the $72,830 asking price for my test car. You can keep going if you like, adding a moonroof and racing stripes, but even fully optioned out, the Charger SRT Hellcat doesn’t top $77,000.
Matching up competitors is a little difficult, as the Hellcat engine puts the Charger in a league of its own. The only American competitor is the 415-hp, V-8-powered Chevrolet SS, but that car is more a match for the regular Charger SRT 392 and its 485-hp, 6.4-liter V-8. The SS is considerably lighter and features General Motors’ magnificent Magnetic Ride Control suspension. It can even be had with a manual transmission, but it still gives up almost 300 hp to the Hellcat. On the plus side, the SS costs roughly $20,000 less.
To get capable sport sedans that can almost keep up with the Hellcat, your only other options are luxury cars. The BMW M5 costs a lot more than the Charger SRT Hellcat but comes with handling prowess and interior quality that the Charger can’t match. The same can be said of the Mercedes-AMG E63, a massively powerful, V-8-powered sport sedan with better handling and interior than the Charger — for a lot more money. Compare all four here.
At the end of the day, that’s what makes the Charger SRT Hellcat special. It’s not the wide-eyed, drooling stares of other drivers, or that feeling of being the apex predator on the hunt when out on the streets. It’s the fact that, for the money, absolutely nothing else can produce the power and uniqueness of a Charger SRT Hellcat. It’s the last of a dying breed, but it’s so much fun we can’t help but celebrate its existence.