It seems that every man, woman and child on the US west coast has felt the buzz surrounding the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat. The car is literally Hollywood on wheels – the latest incarnation of the revered American muscle car that first rose to fame on the streets of San Francisco in the 1968 hit movie, Bullitt. (In fact the Charger was available with the revered 426 Hemi engine from 1966 onward.)
Back in '68, it had two doors, 375bhp and was the world’s fastest production car. By all accounts, it was a force to be reckoned with, even trumping the seriously buffed Pontiac GTO.
The all-new (USD $63,995) Hellcat is no ordinary muscle car either.
With an inconceivable 707hp and 650 pound-feet of torque in the old school (527kW & 880Nm) from a 6.2-litre supercharged V8, this tyre-frying four-door sedan is nothing less than a ground-hugging missile, with a sonic boom for an exhaust note to boot.
There’s no mistaking this is something special from the Dodge stable, everything about the way this car looks, feels and sounds, shouts louder than any other Dodge Charger since the glory days of the late 60s.
The Hellcat’s styling is guaranteed to pull a crowd – no matter where we stopped on our epic drive from Seattle to LA, car enthusiasts from all walks of life scrambled to get a closer look at the super Dodge.
One guy referred to it as a 'street-legal dragster', but most were simply gobsmacked by the singular notion of 707bhp in a family chariot.
It’s the combination of scoops, vents and that mythical Hellcat face adorning the front bodywork that separates the standard SRT Charger from this massively powered monster.
If you’d prefer a more hard-core two-door version, then you’ll want the $59,995 SRT Challenger Hellcat. It’s got the same maniac engine but gets a more track-focused suspension set up than its softer sprung four-door sibling.
Whichever Hellcat weapon you choose, rest assured they both go as good as they look. Truth be told, the Challenger version is 0.2 seconds quicker off the line, but 5mph slower than its four-door sibling in the top speed stakes.
Put the boot in, and the SRT Charger Hellcat can rocket to 60mph in an astonishing 3.6 seconds. Zero to 100km/h comes up in just 3.8 seconds. It properly smashes the quarter mile in 11 seconds flat, and Dodge claims a top speed of a ballistic 204 mph (328km/h).
After just over 2000km in the driver’s seat, there’s absolutely no argument from me. It feels like a full-blown NASCAR for the road, without the need for a crash helmet; roll cage or even a six-point harness.
And that’s not the half of it. The exhaust note, even at idle is an audible treat for the senses, burbling away just like its old-school relative. Crank it up, though, and the rumble is guaranteed to wake the dead or get you into trouble with the law in less tolerant cities, such as San Francisco.
From the very instant you punch it, the engine ignites and the Hellcat de-cloaks any sleeper status it may have previously worn. It’s brash, loud, and in your face. It’ll light up the Pirelli P Zeros with a simple prod of the throttle – in almost any gear, and if that doesn’t put a smile on your enthusiast face, check your ticker.
But to do so, you’ll need to unleash the Hellcat’s full load of weapons grade horsepower - meaning, you’ll need the red-faced key fob. The other secondary black fob, which owners also receive, electronically limits the power to 500bhp, as well as softening up the throttle, steering and gearbox inputs, all in the interest of conserving premium-grade fuel, or so it is billed.
For those who think that this Hellcat phenomenon is over the top for today’s speed-restricted landscape, rest assured it’s also actually quite civilised and a perfectly tractable family hauler.
It’s got an exceptionally good ride, which we simply weren’t expecting from a car capable of high-speed menace, especially given it’s riding on 21-inch alloy wheels shod with low-profile rubber.
At 65mph on the freeway, it’s ridiculously quiet inside the cabin, with its power station-size motor barely turning over at 1500rpm. That’s also down to the increased insulation under the bonnet and variable exhaust resonators that come into play at a constant cruising speed.
The new eight-speed auto is refined and smooth shifting, at least in the less frenetic Street mode. Tap the Sport button in the SRT options screen though, and all hell brakes loose when the hammer drops. The shifts are more aggressive and the ride firms up considerably for a more hunkered-down feel.
There’s a Track setting, too, which ties the car down even further, but the shifts are positively punishing and too violent for everyday roadwork. The ideal option is to use the custom setting and leave the transmission in Street mode.
I like the steering too, it’s quick and reasonably accurate, and there’s a decent level of feedback through the steering wheel.
You can tell it’s hydraulic rather than an electric power steering system that’s used on the rest of the Charger line-up. It’s more natural.
Handling wise, the Hellcat is also much better than anticipated, especially in the Sport setting, which not only firms things up, but limits body roll, so there’s no issue carving up the California canyons at a reasonable clip.
The brakes are epic - six-pot Brembos and massive discs up front, and four pots down back. There’s huge stopping power on offer, providing proper confidence when you’re really pushing.
Inside, there’s also plenty to like about the SRT Charger Hellcat.
The Nappa leather sports seats are both exquisitely comfortable and appropriately bolstered (front and back) for hard charging, if you’ll excuse the pun.
There are also plenty of soft touch surfaces and polished metal accents that give the cockpit a premium feel, but you’re not likely to confuse it with any of the German makes, though for this kind of performance and space, you’ll be paying tens-of-thousands more.
No shortage of equipment either - there’s a large touchscreen with satellite navigation, a high-end sound system and heated and cooled seats to name just a few items on its lengthy features list.
After more than 2000 kilometres in the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, one thing is crystal clear; this is one of the most exciting sedans on the planet.
It’s got more grunt than most supercars and an exhaust note that, for petrol heads, will rivals the world’s great symphonies.
It’s also got proper muscle car looks that live up to its hard-core 60s ancestors.
And at around $64,000 here in the United States, it doesn’t cost the earth.
Best of all, this madcap rocket ship also doubles as a perfectly refined family size sedan.
Not a bad trick, for a machine that can cause such high speed havoc.