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2015 Dodge Challenger First Review

By on July 22, 2014 10:31 AM
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America's Big Three have a new horsepower king: the 707-horsepower 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat. Nothing else built in any notable quantity comes close. No Mustang can touch it, the most powerful Chevrolet Camaro is still more than 120 ponies short, and even Dodge's own Viper puts out less power. Best of all, it costs $60,000.

To beat the Challenger SRT Hellcat in sheer horsepower, you must look to Italy and spend an additional $260,000 for the 731-horsepower Ferrari F12berlinetta, all the while asking yourself if those additional 24 horses was worth nearly $11,000 each. 

From behind the Hellcat's wheel, the Ferrari is hard to justify. At full power the 2015 Challenger Hellcat can rip from a standstill to 60 mph in about 3.5 seconds, and blister through a quarter mile drag race in 11.2 seconds. The adjustable suspension's Track mode stiffens the shocks, and turns this two-plus-ton beast into a surprisingly nimble performer. Then there's the sound from the 6.2-liter supercharged Hemi V8 engine, a roar that will send chills down your spine the same way as the green flag at the Daytona 500.

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Yet as good as the Hellcat is -- and it's very good -- the entire 2015 Dodge Challenger lineup gets revamped. Whether it's the terrific new interior, 1971-inspired exterior, or just the end of the aging 5-speed automatic, there's a lot to like across the board, at every trim level. Although the foibles of weight and size remain, the 2015 Challenger is thoroughly reinvigorated. 

Looking Back to Move Forward

All 2015 Dodge Challengers benefit from exterior changes, including '71 model-inspired taillights, and new LED "halos" around the headlights. Less subtle is the new interior. With an all-new dash, high-quality materials, and a new gauge package with a 7-inch TFT screen between the tachometer and speedometer, the Challenger's interior is finally a destination unto itself. Many of the new features are things we've been clamoring for, such as the industry-best Uconnect touch-screen infotainment system. A Driver Convenience Group makes dealing with the Challenger's limited rearward visibility less challenging with the addition of blind spot monitoring and rear cross path detection, plus backup sensors; a backup camera is standard on all but the base SXT model. The Challenger also gets available forward collision warning and adaptive cruise control, and all of it offered across the board, even on the entry-level SXT model. Mechanically, there's now electric power steering, and the old 5-speed automatic replaced with an excellent new 8-speed; V8 models come standard with a 6-speed manual.

V6 Reborn

The V6-powered 2015 Dodge Challenger SXT is the new Challenger's other Big Story. The new 8-speed automatic gives the V6 better fuel economy and performance, while the $695 Super Track Pak adds a better suspension and brakes, plus a shortcut to the Dodge Performance Pages in the infotainment system. Out on Portland International Raceway, the Track Pak V6 proved surprisingly agile. While easily outpowered by the V8 models, the SXT's balance and neutral stance made it fun to drive. Once a consolation prize for those who just wanted the Challenger's looks, the V6 is finally a Challenger model that won't leave you feeling shortchanged.

Big and Bigger V8 Options

The V6 is so improved that we were a little underwhelmed by the 2015 Challenger R/T and its 5.7-liter V8. The V8 offers 70 more horsepower than the V6, but it also weighs more, and the seat-of-the-pants feel wasn't a lot different. While quicker in a straight line -- and let's face it, the V8 sounds great -- the heavier engine made the R/T feel less agile on the track. On the plus side, you can get the R/T with a manual transmission and the awesome looking Shaker hood option. 

The next step up is the Challenger 6.4-liter Scat Pack -- basically last year's SRT Core model -- which adds the bigger 6.4-liter V8, better brakes, and stiffened suspension. With 485 horsepower on tap (110 more than the R/T, and 180 up on the V6), the Scat scoots. The 4-piston Brembo brakes make a world of difference when hauling this big coupe down from speed, and the stiffer suspension makes it easier to exploit the car's full horsepower on the track. Around town, that same suspension also offers a surprisingly supple ride, easily comfortable enough for day to day driving, and like the R/T, the Scat Pack is also available with the Shaker hood.

SRT Power and POWER!

With the same 6.4-liter V8 making the same 485 horsepower as the 6.4 Scat, you might think there's not much more to the standard SRT. You'd also be wrong. The Street and Racing Technology division adds even bigger brakes, and customizable drive modes to the equation. This includes a three-mode suspension that includes a Track setting that's very much in line with the Racing part of the SRT moniker. Even though the Hellcat out powers it by more than 220 horsepower, this is still a fast, fun, and very rewarding car to drive. 

Of course, the Challenger SRT Hellcat steals the show. The supercharged 6.2-liter V8 engine is a beast. SRT had to upgrade its dynamometer test cells just to accommodate the Hellcat's 707-horsepower. The supercharger sucks in 30,000 liters of air every minute at its maximum boost of 11 psi, letting the Hellcat burn through 1.5 gallons of fuel in the same time. The central scoop on the hood feeds the engine's appetite, as does an extra cold-air intake that takes the place of the driver's side inside headlight. Two extractors atop the hood rid the engine of heat, working in tandem with the huge lower grille. Power goes to the rear wheels through either a high-performance version of the 8-speed automatic, or a 6-speed manual that's borrowed from the Viper, albeit beefed up for the blown Hemi V8.

Yes, they had to beef-up Viper parts for the Hellcat. Just roll that one around in your head a moment.

Of course it's fast. The supercharger whines, the engine roars, and next thing you know you've changed counties. Those giant brakes haul this 4,400 pound beast down from triple-digit speeds again and again without protest, and in Track mode, you'd think it weighs at least 400 pounds less than it really does.

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Yet the truly remarkable thing about the Hellcat is that there's nothing hellish about it on the street. Put it in comfort mode, and the suspension loses its harshness. The engine's voice fades into the background, and the supercharger's whine disappears until the revs rise in anger. If you can't keep your foot out of the deeper part of the gas pedal's travel, Dodge provides two keys: while the red key uncorks everything, a black key limits horsepower to about 500 and disables launch control, while a valet mode protects your car with even less power, always-on traction control, and second-gear starts. 

The Bottom Line

If you look at just prices, the 2015 Dodge Challenger lineup appears more expensive than the equivalent Chevrolet Camaro or Ford Mustang. It's also considerably bigger, and it weighs several hundred pounds more. Dodge sidesteps this by claiming the Camaro and Mustang are pony cars, while the Challenger is a muscle car, and therefore in a different class -- while simultaneously comparing all three cars. While something about trying to have it both ways applies here, there's no doubt that the Challenger's larger dimensions pay a dividend in rear seat room and trunk space. 

Still, you get a lot for your money, and Dodge estimates it added thousands to the value of each model while bumping the price just a few hundred dollars. For example, neither the Mustang nor Camaro offer an 8-speed automatic, same goes with active cruise and collision avoidance. 

The flip side to this minor price distress is, ironically, the most expensive model. The 2015 Challenger SRT Hellcat starts at $60,000, including a gas guzzler tax. It's the most powerful mass-produced American car ever, leaving Camaro and Mustang fans to talk about more esoteric power-to-weight ratios and specific output. Whatever. The reality is that right now, the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat has the last word when it comes to the yardstick that matters most, horsepower. It's good to drive the king. 

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