Reviews

2018 Dodge Challenger Driving Impressions



The SXT with its 3.6-liter V6 is the easiest to drive and has the most compliant suspension; taller sidewalls on the tires help. It’s still firm enough to handle fairly well. With its 305 horsepower and paddle-shifting 8-speed automatic, there’s enough power to feel like a muscle car; after all, it wasn’t that long ago that 300 horsepower was considered a lot for a V8. The SXT isn’t short on acceleration for passing, unless of course you compare it to something extreme like a Hellcat. The SXT is an easy car to live with that exudes a lot of style.

The different models have different suspension setups, so they ride and handle differently, but any Challenger is stable and predictable even on twisty roads, and can be driven quickly. Not as nimble as a Mustang or Camaro, but the electric power steering is accurate and nicely weighted.

The SRT models are markedly firmer, while reducing body lean in the turns a significant amount. An upgraded Performance Handling Package tightens the suspension on R/T models and adds four-piston Brembo brakes.

The Challenger GT offers all-wheel drive for winter weather capability.

Jumping up to the SRT 392 with its 6.4-liter V8, you get 485 horsepower and 475 pound-feet of torque, along four-piston Brembo brakes and 20 x 9-inch aluminum wheels. You also get adaptive suspension and SRT drive modes that determine power, transmission shift points and speed (if you don’t shift manually with the paddles), steering quickness, stability control levels, and even suspension firmness. The drive modes include Sport, Track and Default modes, while Custom mode enables drivers to choose separate settings.

The Hellcat’s power steering is hydraulic, which gives it more road feel, although that feel is anything but delicate, given its weight of 4500 pounds. Still, it’s relatively easy to drive for a car with such a humongous amount of horsepower. The Hellcat dampers are high-tech Bilsteins, but there’s an available adaptive suspension whose Normal mode isn’t much firmer than the standard SXT. Optional Pirelli P Zero performance tires give the Hellcat heaps of grip on dry pavement, but they’re scary on snow or ice. Big Brembo brakes inspire about as much confidence as you can have in a 4500-pound car that can go 200 miles per hour.

Our seat time in the Hellcat included one 30-minute blast at daybreak on a remote Oregon road that twisted upward into the mountains. We didn’t pass a single car in either direction. We drove it like we stole it, which to say almost as fast as we could without risking tossing it over a cliff. We reached the small town for coffee in about half the time it took 24 other autojournos driving different high-performance cars, and our smile was twice as broad. Mind-blowing acceleration out of corners and a quick-shifting 8-speed automatic transmission will do that to you. The Hellcat was indeed a beast, but we were almost amazed by how composed it remained.

The Demon will push back your eyeteeth, with a g-force of 1.8 g in its acceleration from a standing start to 30 miles per hour in one second. To increase horsepower from the Hellcat’s 707 to 840, a few changes were made to the 6.2-liter supercharged engine. Including a bigger supercharger with increased boost pressure to 14.5 psi; upping the redline to 6500 rpm; SRT Power Chiller liquid-to-air intercooler chiller system; After-Run Chiller that keeps cooling the supercharger/charge air cooler after the engine is shut off; Air-Grabber induction system with hood scoop having a huge 45.2 square inches of intake. Changes to get that horsepower to the ground include the TransBrake system for grippy launches; and Torque Reserve, to bring over-the-top torque at launch.

Do the arithmetic between the Demon and Hellcat, and you’ll find that you pay $19,500 to raise the horsepower from 707 to 840. There are a number of engine changes to justify that but maybe what you’re really paying for is the ability to say your car is the quickest production car in the world, in a straight line (and prove it if you go to the drag strip), and the only one that can do a wheelstand.

Ironically, for that extra 20 thou you also get no rear seats, and just two speakers. It’s all about saving weight. But to add madness to the irony, Dodge will sell you back your rear seats for $1. And never fear, leather upholstery and an 18-speaker Harman Kardon sound system are optional. Plus, Demon buyers get a free one-day session at the Bob Bondurant School of High-performance Driving.

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