2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon: Mr. Driver's Seat meets the drag strip.
Marketer's pitch: Scrreeeee!!!
Conventional wisdom: Scrreeeee!!!
Like herding (Hell) cats: The Dodge Challenger is not just one model, but 15. That'll keep the old marketing department busy writing copy.
But the top cat, even mightier than the Hellcat, is the 2018 Dodge SRT Demon. Forget everything you might remember about the 1970s Duster-based Demon with its 225 cubic inches whining its way through the suburbs.
This baby boasts 840 horsepower in the right trim. That's 84 percent of 1,000, mind you. It's the world's fastest production car for 0-60 (2.3 seconds) and the quarter mile (9.65 seconds), Dodge says.
At home on the drag strip, the SRT Demon remains street legal. Is this really a good idea?
Strip time: Fiat Chrysler, risking life, limb, and vehicles, put journalists behind the wheel of several models — after an hour of instruction or so — and let us torture them on the track.
The morning silence was torn asunder early at Atco Dragway in the Pinelands of New Jersey, as the sound of squealing tires being prepped for a run down the track — not just boys being boys, I'm sure — as we headed in for our first runs.
Donning my head sleeve and helmet, I looked like a nerdy astronaut getting ready for liftoff as I slipped in the passenger seat for my first instructional lap.
Drag Racing 101: Finally, it's my turn. First, we get the tires wet, warm, and clean by taking the Demon through the burnout box, removing rubber and glue built up from earlier runs down the track. (Nope, all that tire squealing is not because boys just like to make a lot of noise, although that helps a lot.)
Launching a car on a drag strip is more than just flooring the gas pedal. Of the three methods, I chose TransBrake, only because I'd blanked on my other choices when behind the wheel.
The instructor walked me through the steps and we lined up awaiting the Christmas tree that signaled red, yellow, and green.
Ready? I'd raced Lexuses on the track last year, through slaloms and on an oval at speeds of up to 140 mph. As Mr. Driver's Seat, I've kept up with the fast lane in places like Boston and southern France, so speed doesn't scare me. But when the instructor launched us the first time?
I. Was. Petrified.
I hate roller coasters and heights, and this was scarier than that. For the first two seconds or so.
Once my stomach caught up to the rest of me, Yeehaw! was all I could think. And after just one-eighth of a mile — we could only do half the quarter-mile course with two occupants in the car — I instantly jumped to "Was that it? Can we go again?"
A few more attempts: I made my way back to the starting line at least a half-dozen more times that day, and managed to have some really clean starts — unless Dodge's team was just trying to make me feel good. But I caught other drivers in long burnouts and slowpoke starts, and realize that my penchant for hot-rodding around the suburbs has trained me well.
The Hellcat: As to whether the Hellcat offers everything stock-car drag racers could want, well, I can report that Dodge seems to think so. But how does it fit into the usual Mr. Driver's Seat comparison tests?
Shifty: An 8-speed automatic transmission is standard. Racers would have been aghast at this once upon a time, but automatics work so seamlessly these days — and cars go so fast — that mere mortals can't even keep up with shifting. And this is all-wheel drive, as well.
Friends and stuff: Room for five passengers, unless one opts for the Rear-Seat Delete package — then the rear seat can be pulled out, for faster track performance.
Trunk space totals a roomy 16.2 cubic feet
Keeping warm — and cool: The air conditioner shuts down in drag mode, and the windows must be kept up on the track.
The seats are ventilated, but one learns quickly on the drag strip that cool is a state of mind.
Where it's built: Brampton, Ontario.
How it's built: Consumer Reports gives the Challenger a 2 out of 5 reliability rating.