2018 Dodge Demon and Dodge Challenger Hellcat Widebody First Review
Perhaps our favorite thing about the Dodge Challenger during its evolution over the past 10 years has been the compulsion at Dodge and its SRT performance mavens to make ever more absurd versions of its car. First was the Challenger SRT8, with its big V8, and later an even bigger V8. Then, a few years ago we got the supercharged Hellcat, with its breathtaking 707-horsepower supercharged V8 engine and surprisingly docile everyday drivability.
This year Dodge one-upped itself with the 2018 Dodge Demon, an ultimate hot-rod version of the Hellcat. With 808 horsepower or 840 on 100 octane race gas, the Demon is the most powerful Dodge ever, the most powerful production car ever from an American manufacturer, the most powerful V8 in the world, and ranks it as one of the most powerful production cars you can buy.
While the Demon gets the headlines for obvious reasons, Dodge has also added yet another variant to the Hellcat range: the 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Widebody. Taking the flared fenders from the Demon and adding ultra-sticky Pirelli P Zero tires, the Widebody looks even more muscular and menacing, all in an effort to increase grip.
To check out these two ridiculous Challenger models, Dodge flew us to Indianapolis, first to drive the Challenger Hellcat Widebody on the street circuit at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and then to test the Demon's drag strip prowess at the Lucas Oil Raceway.
Widebody, Wider Performance Envelope
Besides the most obvious visual changes, the only significant departure the Hellcat Widebody boasts from the regular Hellcat is electric power steering, since the hydraulic system on the standard car was overwhelmed by the bigger front tires. From the driver's seat you can't see the wide fenders or the monstrous tires, and by all appearances the Widebody is just another Hellcat: The same roar upon ignition, the same whine-then-scream from the supercharger, the same absurdly strong acceleration. The Widebody really is wide, 3.5 inches wider to be exact, and riding on 305/35ZR20 tires on 11-inch wide five-spoke wheels Dodge calls "Devil's Rim." Prices start at about $72,500, including destination.
Any fears the electric steering assist would harm the way the Challenger drives vanished instantly once behind the wheel. The Challenger is a big, heavy car, and the Widebody doesn't change that. What it does is put more rubber on the ground so that you can take advantage of its prodigious power while overcoming its portly construction. The extra grip goes to good use everywhere: acceleration to 60 mph is reduced by 0.1 seconds to 3.4; the quarter mile improves by 0.3 seconds to 10.9; and Dodge says the big tires added 0.04g of grip on the skidpad, bringing it to 0.97g. On the track, there's no doubt there's more grip, and the Widebody feels more planted and confident. You can get into the power earlier, and carry more speed through corners. It's more enjoyable than ever, but note that it still weighs nearly 4,500 pounds, and in quick left-right maneuvers, that extra weight makes itself known.
While my own wheeltime was instructive, I was eager to let Erich Heuschele take the wheel. Erich is head of SRT motorsports engineering and SRT vehicle dynamics, and is largely responsible for the various SRT Challenger models we've gotten to play with over the past decade. Not only does he know the car inside and out, he is also a great driver. With the confidence of someone intimately familiar with machine and venue, he handily exploited the Hellcat Widebody's newfound grip and outstanding power. Heuschele pointed out multiple times during the day that the Widebody is not meant to be the kind of race-ready track car as the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 or Ford Mustang GT350. However, he sure does hustle it around the track like it is.
This one is for the fanboys. You know who you are, and you've been following the Demon's evolution from whispers online through its dramatic unveiling earlier this year at the New York Auto Show. Maybe you've already put in your order, and are one of the lucky 3,000 Americans or 300 Canadians eagerly awaiting delivery. You will not be disappointed.
While the Camaro ZL1 and Mustang GT350 are meant to go to road courses, the 2018 Dodge Demon is meant to dominate the drag strip. Under the right conditions, the Demon will run the quarter mile in less than 10 seconds, lift the front tires clear off the ground for a brief time, and utterly astound onlookers. Yet what's amazing is that when you get a ham-fisted driver with virtually zero drag racing experience behind the wheel—me, for example—the Demon still proves itself remarkably fast, surprisingly easy to drive, and best of all, still a Challenger, and therefore still usable on the street.
Dodge has done much more than just adding a bigger supercharger to the Hellcat. The basic car comes without a front passenger seat or rear bench, although both can be added back for $1 each. Mechanically, yes the supercharger is bigger, and the huge hood scoop is there to feed its insatiable appetite for air. But there's more. The engine itself has been reengineered to produce that 840 horsepower while the rest of the driveline upgraded to accommodate 770 lb-ft of torque with ease. The Nitto drag radials are street legal, and specifically designed for the Demon. A unique system reroutes the air conditioning system to help cool the intake charge when in Drag mode, with any condensation captured with a special absorbent pad to keep water off the track. After you shut down, another system keeps coolant and air circulating through the engine to help it stay cool and prevent damage. During the 90-plus degree heat and humidity at the track, the Demons stayed perfectly cool despite each car doing dozens of runs back to back.
Of course, with the air conditioning otherwise occupied we were roasting inside the car. After a walkthrough of the various launch control and line-lock systems, I was allowed to take the wheel. I quickly discovered that the Launch Control system wasn't really best suited to the super-sticky surface of the drag strip.
I switched to the Transmission Brake, a system unique to the Demon that pre-loads the transmission and driveline and uses it to hold the car in place instead of the brakes before launching. Activating it is a multi-step process of pulling both paddle shifters, revving the engine, releasing one paddle, letting your foot off the brake, then releasing the other as you roll into the gas. It's complicated, but once you master this Konami code it becomes second nature, and when you get it right the first time, you'll know why they call it a Demon.
The car launches incredibly hard, and the first time I got it right it startled me with its ferocity. My senses shattered briefly, were reassembled with words I can't repeat here, and the next thing I knew I was passing the quarter-mile mark. I looked down at the dash, having set up the built-in quarter mile timer before my run, and noticed it was reading "10.4." I pulled off the track, and suddenly it hit me: 10.4 seconds in the quarter on my first try! Moments later I was at the line again, and pulled a 10.5.
Mine was not the quickest time of the day—someone was 0.2 seconds quicker—but the fact that I was able to do it well, and repeatedly, is a testament to the car. Dodge has put together an incredible machine that, if you like, you can drive to the track, swap the fat front tires for skinny drag tires, pull mid- to low-10 second quarter mile times all day, and then drive home again. Because, at the end of the day, this is still a Dodge Challenger, with comfortable seats, an excellent audio system, air conditioning and all the trimmings of a modern car, all for about $86,000.
It all leaves us with one question: What's Dodge going to do as a follow-up to this?