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Review – 2023 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat

May 4, 2024

It seems you should never meet your heroes. After all, you have praised them so much in yourself that the meeting can only be a disappointment, or so the thought goes. Be that as it may, I would still like to meet my automotive hero: the Dodge Challenger.

When Dodge introduced the new Challenger in 2008, it was immediately my favorite muscle car. The classic lines of the 1970 original have been very successfully translated to modern times. Good proportions, no line too much. For model year 2015, the Challenger underwent a subtle facelift. Outside, the differences are small, but the car looked even better if possible. Inside, technical improvements were made and the Dodge received a completely new dashboard, bringing it back up to date. In short, the lines and experience of a classic muscle car, but with modern technology and associated conveniences on board. The Challenger was no longer my favorite muscle car, but even the nicest car you could buy new.

Finally, it’s here

All these years it never got around to driving a Challenger, until now. It is not the least performance that I get to meet. I am handed the key to nothing less than the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat. The red key. This gives you the full 535 kW (717 hp). It also comes with a black key, with which you have “only” 367 kW (500 hp) at your disposal. Useful for valet parking, or the less experienced driver who wants to borrow your car. After all, all that power is transmitted to only the rear wheels. In this case, via an eight-speed automatic transmission. A six-speed manual transmission is also among the options.

No mailbox

A good seating position is quickly found. Because of the car’s low window, I expected you to peer out like through a mailbox, but that turns out to be not too bad. However, you do sit quite far from the front of the car and the seating position is still relatively high relative to the dashboard. Or at least higher than expected. Both get used quickly. All in all, you don’t feel very enclosed, but enough to feel at one with the car.

Impressive and good-natured

The start button can be pressed. With a growl, the 6.2-liter V8 comes to life. Then an impressive but at the same time good-natured dark roll sounds. As if the Challenger has magical powers: after starting, the cloud cover opens up and it actually becomes sunny on the so far drizzly day.

The test drive will take place in Drenthe, where fortunately you still have many remote roads. There you have space and are not a burden to anyone. An empty and straight stretch was quickly found. Let’s see what the Challenger has to offer. The right foot goes down and the rumble swells to an imposing roar, complemented by a screeching supercharger. After some wheel spin on the still damp road surface, the Challenger shoots its way toward the horizon at an impressive pace.

Intermediate sprint with wheel spin

On paper, it should be possible to hit 100 km/h in 3.5 seconds. In practice, it takes practice to achieve that because it takes very little for the rear wheels to spin. Even at an intermediate sprint on almost dry asphalt (almost full throttle from 60 km/h), the wheels still spin for a while. But do those seconds really matter? The acceleration is impressive anyway, not to mention accompanying soundtrack. Every sprint is enjoyable.

Driving modes Dodge Challenger

The Dodge Challenger offers three preset driving modes: Street, Sport and Track. In Street everything is tuned primarily for (relative) comfort, in Track everything is tuned for peak performance, and Sport is in between. In Track, the steering is heaviest, the automatic is in its most “aggressive” mode and the suspension is at its hardest. Then you feel almost every unevenness. Unless you are driving on cobblestones it is not uncomfortable, somewhat bouncy on poorer road surfaces though. A fourth driving mode is Custom, which lets you set everything to your liking. For now, I put everything on Track for maximum performance, except the steering (Sport) and the suspension (Street). That offers just a little more comfort on public roads.

Dodge Challenger is delightful cruiser

In the Netherlands, however, you have little opportunity to tap into the full potential of the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat. Today is no different. Leaving aside what is or isn’t allowed: the roads are drying up fast, but there are still plenty of treacherous wet stretches. Along with the trees right along the beautiful rural roads, this does not invite you to push the limit. Fortunately, the Challenger also proves to be a delightful cruiser.

The great sound of the V8 makes even traffic jam driving fun. Actually, it even sounds at its best around 2,000 rpm: a dark rumble with even a bit of classic reverb in it. The fact that the Challenger is equipped with a radio is actually completely unnecessary. I let myself roll leisurely through the beautiful landscape and where I can, I draw a sprint. This remains impressive and entertaining time and again. That will get me through the afternoon.

Never so many thumbs up

By the way, it is by no means a car with which you go through traffic anonymously. The attention you do get is very positive. Along the way, there are plenty of interested, approving, or even admiring glances. Never before with a test car have I received so many raised thumbs up, let alone during one drive.

Really no disappointments?

So did meeting my automobile hero really not bring any disappointments? A little bit then, if you want to call it that. The SRT Hellcat’s seat offers good support, but it is a bit hard. On a longer ride, you’re going to feel that anyway. Then there is the view all around. Although forward and side visibility is fine, stoplights soon disappear behind the roof edge. It would be helpful if Dutch traffic lights were on the opposite side of the intersection like in America, instead of right above you. Then the thick C-pillars: they look great, but together with the headrest of the passenger seat they create quite a blind spot in the right rear of the car. It may also be a bit claustrophobic in the back seat. Last then: the cost, which unfortunately keeps the Dodge Challenger far out of my reach. For now, however, I soon forgot all this.

Permanent smile

The few hours I have the Dodge Challenger at my disposal are over far too quickly. The party was great, every meter was enjoyment. Never before have I so reluctantly returned the keys to a test car. In fact, if the budget allowed, I would have signed the purchase contract on the spot. The encounter with my automobile hero was by no means disappointing. In addition to its great looks, the Challenger offers a driving experience that provides a permanent smile. Despite its potential for impressive performance, it’s also still a fine cruiser, making your grocery rides just as easy.

Too bad, though.

Actually, the party is even double over. Not only is my amazing ride over, last December ended the career of the Dodge Challenger itself. You can still order it from stock for a while, but then it’s really done. Its successor, the new Charger, is promising. Still, that Charger does not match this Challenger in terms of proportions and lines. I also wonder if the new Charger with its V6 or even electric powertrain will be able to match the experience offered by the Challenger. In that respect, an era is truly coming to an end. As if the universe mourns with me: as soon as the Dodge is parked, the cloud cover closes again and the day ends as drizzly as it began.

Fortunately, thanks to a successful, no less than 15-year production run, there are still more than enough used cars. Maybe one of these will fall within my budget someday. A Dodge Challenger R/T, the most “normal” version with V8 (instead of V6), would also be great already. Indeed, without Widebody Package and extra air intakes, the Challenger looks the most “clean” and perhaps does the most justice to the original. But for now it’s going to stay nice and dreamy. Meanwhile, I’ll just make do with a size smaller.