• Sports/Muscle Cars
  • 2018 Dodge Challenger Hellcat Widebody Test Drive

    2018 Dodge Challenger Hellcat Widebody Test Drive

    If massive power really does corrupt absolutely, I may be headed for the Hot Place with Satan riding shotgun.

    Pass the fans and ice cubes.

    The Red Man and I can stand the heat, and not just because I once smartly married a long-legged bipolar woman in sweaty Dallas.

    For the second time this year, I got singed and subverted by a Dodge Hellcat – this time a sublimely excessive 2018 Challenger Widebody literally glowing orange-hot with 707 horsepower.

    Bye-bye restraint, I thought – again.

    Until recently, as you probably know, the Hellcat with its magical supercharged 6.2-liter Hemi V-8 was the most powerful American production car ever built.

    Dodge decided to trump its own king – so to speak – by offering a Demon Challenger with 840 horsepower, but it is so heavily tuned for the drag strip I doubt we’ll ever see one here in the leafy suburbs.

    It really doesn’t matter. With the optional Widebody Package (a $6,000 item), the Hellcat looks even meaner than the Demon – sort of like a thuggish machine that the Russian mafia might enter in a NASCAR race.

    Low and sullen, my Go Mango orange Hellcat sported a wonderfully spare and retro horizontal grille with piercing old-school round headlamps on either side.

    Meanwhile, a finely shaped scoop molded into the center of the ‘Cat’s long, flat hood helped feed the ravenous horses beneath it, while vents on either side tried to keep them cool.

    Like the hood, the sides seemed pretty flat and a bit bulky, but were graced with strong character lines below the door-handles and rounded bulges from the fender-flares.

    Those flares, incidentally, housed steamroller 305/35 tires front and rear clinging to 20-inch black wheels that mostly looked OK because of their size and width.

    The ‘Cat also radiated attitude with its ‘70s-style top, which appeared to be about two inches too low for most solid citizens.

    In back, retro-styled horizontal taillamps stretched triumphantly across the entire 76-inch width of the Hellcat’s rump – a sight often seen by other cars.

    Heck, Nissans and Subarus don’t even like to share parking-lot space with the glowering Hellcat.

    I don’t really blame them.

    The ‘Cat’s 6.2-liter nuclear reactor fires off with a clap of dark thunder that likely rattles windows, settling into a shuddering 800-rpm idle.

    Blip the throttle and the alto section of the Hellcat Orchestra – a sweetly whining supercharger – pushes to the front of the band, but as nasty as the Hellcat can sound, it acts pretty civilized when prodded with a light foot.

    Shove the accelerator to the floor, however, and the ‘Cat alternately roars, shakes and screams, swinging its wide rear from side to side with wheelspin – which persists to about 50 mph.

    Amazingly, the Hellcat’s impressive 8-speed automatic somehow smoothly manages the mayhem, helping to blast the bellicose coupe to 60 mph in just 3.6 seconds, according to Car and Driver.

    Stay on the pedal really hard and 100 rolls around in less than 8 seconds, or about the time it takes most of us to back out of the driveway.

    Also surprising was the grace that the 4,500-pound Hellcat displayed in corners, turning aggressively into them with the grip of an agile linebacker chasing down a quarterback.

    However, you will need to live with a firm, truckish ride, vague though quick steering and 13-mile-per-gallon fuel economy – if you’re lucky. Not a big deal, I figured.

    Just try not to spend too much time in the Hellcat’s desultory interior.

    Despite the car’s lofty $76,000 window sticker, the black interior in my ‘Cat was mostly standard-issue Dodge from five years ago, heavy on the plastic.

    A flat, deep dashboard in pretty coarse plastic, for example, wrapped around a dated center-stack that at least was functional and featured a bright 7-inch display screen.

    Not that you are likely to need them, but the system offered Apple CarPlay and Google Android capabilities.

    Unfortunately, I struggled with gremlins in the portion of the system that allows you to select the 500-horsepower “valet” mode or the full-on 707 horsepower.


    Even when I had the mandatory red key fob, the ‘Cat constantly defaulted to the 500-horse mode and when I reset it to 707, it turned off the traction control.

    Uh, was it something I said?

    At least I could sulk in excellent sports seats up front – the interior’s high point – that provided supportive bolsters and grippy suede centers.

    Pretend it’s still the ‘70s, though, and ignore the back seats, which barely muster enough leg- and headroom for large children.

    The optional equipment on my car, incidentally, included the aforementioned Widebody Package and the excellent eight-speed automatic ($2,995).

    Look, I understand that snarling, high-priced coupes like the Hellcat will only appeal to a tiny sliver of our population, but the ‘Cat says a lot about how good automotive engineering and components are today.

    Here’s a car that can be driven pretty comfortably on the street with air-conditioning, a Harmon Kardon stereo and nearly as much horsepower as a NASCAR racer.

    Is this a great country or what?

    2018 Dodge Challenger Hellcat Widebody

    • What I liked most: Just about everything in the excessive-but-still civilized Hellcat, a testament to more is more.
    • What I would change: You guessed it – the interior, which really needs the same attention that Dodge has bestowed on the ‘Cat’s performance.
    • MSRP: Base price, $63,795; as equipped, $75,585
    • Fuel economy: Rated at 13 mpg in town, 22 on the highway and 16 mpg overall with fuel-filler on the left.
    • Official color: Go Mango.
    • Odometer reading when tested: 11,443 miles.
    • Weight: 4,488 pounds.
    • Length-width-height: 197.5 inches long/75.7 inches wide/55.7 inches tall.
    • Fuel-tank capacity: 18.5 gallons.
    • Towing capacity: Towing not recommended.
    • Spare tire: None – tire inflator kit
    • 2018 Dodge Challenger Hellcat in a few words: A ferocious car so well-developed and trained that it only bites when you prod it hard.
    • Warranty: Three-year, 36,000-mile basic warranty and five-year, 60,000-mile powertrain protection.
    • Final assembly location: Ontario, Canada.
    • Manufacturer’s website: www.dodge.com
    • E-mail me: terry@carprousa.com


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