The encore took place on a drag strip that Dodge provided for a regional press introduction of the nostalgic muscle car's latest iteration. The idea was to let the writers take the Hellcat from a standing start to the strip's quarter-mile terminus in a rather abrupt manner.
Getting out of the chute with only the rear wheels to convey all that power to the pavement can be a problem. Get too ambitious off the line and that huge amount of torque will leave you sitting there with your wheels spinning and the tires creating enough smoke to make you think you are watching an out-of-control fire at the Goodyear plant.
The Hellcat I ran was equipped with a beefed-up ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox. (The Hellcat is also available with the six-speed Tremec manual borrowed from the Dodge Viper sports car.) I got out of the chute well, but my lone run was a bit short of the best times registered by the buff books. Motor Trend reported getting its Hellcat's 0 to 60 down to 3.7 seconds. Mine was 4.7.
Although its $59,995 sticker is $33,000 more than the base Challenger, the Hellcat model is still a bargain from a power and acceleration standpoint. The next cheapest 700+ car, the 731-horsepower Ferrari F12 Berlinetta, costs $322,638. And while the $180,000 Porsche 911 Turbo gets a little better elapsed time through the quarter mile thanks to the traction afforded by its all-wheel-drive system, Motor Trend's testing found the Hellcat was going faster at the end of the course (125.4 m.p.h. vs. 123.7).
Handling is another matter. While it handles nicely for a roomy five-seater, the Challenger obviously is not as athletic as those exotic sports cars.
Then again, the Hellcat has an exotic top speed of 199 m.p.h., and stops on a well-worn dime thanks to its huge, high-performance Brembo brakes.
While the Hellcat's awesome power and sophisticated electronics take center stage, there is much to recommend the rest of the line.
Like the Hellcat, they benefit from the vision of Jeff Gale, head of Dodge's exterior design studio, who "wanted to keep the car timeless" by adopting '71 Challenger styling cues. The others also benefit from some very snazzy, functional interior design.
The Challenger offerings begin with the base car ($26,995), a 305-horsepower V-6 that gets from 0 to 60 in a reasonably lively six seconds and boasts 30 m.p.g. on the highway. Unlike the V-8 models, which are offered with either the eight-speed automatic or the six-speed manual, the V-6 is available only with the automatic.
In addition to the base V-6, there is a 5.7-liter, 375 V-8, a 6.4-liter, 485-horse V-8, and the Hellcat.
My vote for best bang for the buck would be the 6.4-liter model, called the "Scat Pack." Priced at $38,495 with the very agreeable six-speed manual, this funster is a lot cheaper than the Hellcat and not much slower (0 to 60 in a scant 4.1 seconds).