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150 Miles in the Roadkill “General Maintenance” Dodge Charger Hellcat

Published on www.automobilemag.com

December 31, 2015
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I’m deep inside the Santa Monica Mountains at this point, with Hellcat’s rapid-fire eight-speed automatic transmission locked down in third-gear. This allows us to modulate the Hellcat’s Saturn V-like thrust through its entire torque band. Spin it from 2,000 to 6,000 rpm – it’s enough to get just about any felony charge that you want while still keeping the PZeros planted. Enough time in the canyons and 707hp begins to feel natural, even though the simple idea of the Hellcat is unnatural to begin with.
If you listen to the wrong people, the Dodge Charger Hellcat might intimidate you at first wind of its specs: 0 to 60 mph in 3.7-seconds? 11-second quarter-miles on the stock 275mm-wide rubbers, and solid 10s on sticky slicks? 204mph top-speed? And, lastly, say this with me – seven hundred and seven horsepower. It’s deliciously absurd.
Casual observers will stare at that, hop into the Hellcat, and immediately forget what those numbers mean in reality, and the car will terrify them. Don’t listen to those guys, they’re not worthy.
They’re especially not worthy of General Maintenance, an unlikely “company car” of HOT ROD Magazine. For those out of the loop of Roadkill’s shenanigans, General Maintenance is the 2015 Charger Hellcat that was actually used in the original Hellcat thrash episode of Roadkill, and repainted to party with General Mayhem during Roadkill Takes America.
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With the choice to source ZF’s eight-speed automatic, the Charger Hellcat is an automatic burnout machine if you hammer down its freight train of torque (650 lb-ft of it) with little regard. The ZF is quick to slide through gears to the spot that’ll get the burry needle deep into the powerband, at which point it’ll black-out city blocks in vulcanized rubber if you continue to push Thor’s hammer down onto the pedal. The trick here is moderation, as with any vice.
The 275/40R20 Pirelli PZero tires are up to the task of dolling out the Hellcat’s table-top torque curve smoothly in order to churn out those insane-in-the-membrane performance specs, but they’re not like the rolling VHT that most modern supercars wear – despite the beyond-supercar horsepower figure.
Want to know why SRT gave the Hellcat a square small-tire setup? The PZero breaks away gently, giving you a healthy amount of slip-angle that’s easily managed, even with the nannies neutralized. Near-track tires, like Pirelli’s Trofeo R, are notoriously finicky on the street – ask aChevrolet Camaro Z/28 owner. They have the durometer rating and traction of PVC pipe until hot, and they’re only God-mode to a point before quickly falling off grip. They’re not a tire that allows the extermination of mosquito populations along on-ramps; they’ll gives you enough slip-angle to go fast, and beyond that have little interest in keeping you out of the trees. Be thankful the Hellcat has a street tire that works every day. You don’t want cold-tire Hellcat problems, go buy sticky drag radials for when you really need grip.
But none of that is interesting. That giant, ribbed, hulking aluminum supercharger housing on top of Mopar’s latest Hemi is what brings down fire and brimstone on the society around you.
In a pre-CAFE-escalation Hail Mary, SRT decided that its big-body muscle cars needed an extra dose of horsepower while there was still regulatory room – the only real penalty of the Hellcat is the Gas Guzzler Tax. The ponycars had been playing around with 600-plus horsepower for a few years, but nothing could prepare us for Dodge’s answer to modern horsepower wars.
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However, despite the name, the attitude, the vents, and the myths around this car, it’s a giant pussycat. It’s gentle. You can schlep it around all day in Los Angeles traffic, watching disgusted Mercedes-Benz owners glare at General Maintenance’s Mount Everest-height hoodscoop (by today’s aerodynamic standards), and never need to grind those PZeros into the pavement. You can do all of this from heated and cooled seats, with the great Reverend Horton Heat narrating the drive through 18 of Harmon Kardon’s speakers as if he’s laughing along manically with you in the passenger seats. You can select the Torque Gauge in the dash display, and watch it churn 150 lb-ft of torque in all eight gears as the transmission seeks to up-shift into the next gear like a college student seeks the next bar. The throttle pedal has a long throw on the Hellcat (thank you, SRT), and its first half of travel is best described as “brisk.” Everything after that is quickly-accelerating, unhinged mayhem.
It’s been a quick-minute since I’ve hustled anything. Currently the daily-driver is a truck that’s old enough to receive AARP benefits, and life has kept me confined in the concrete grid of Los Angeles after just moving here from Texas.
At first it’s a game of point-and-shoot: soft through a corner, roll on the throttle on the straights. The Hellcat is best hustled with its suspension set in Sport mode on the street, the extra compliance keeps things settled over the stiffer Track mode. Quickly, one has to realize that the Charger Hellcat is more capable than expected in every measure. While this isn’t the time and place to test late-braking performance, the Hellcat’s binders are confident and easy to modulate. The chassis is neutral through corners, largely due to the aforementioned square tire size. While churning through the canyon’s quickly shuffling roads, the Hellcat is able to romp through quick elevation changes with little drama. At this point, just breathing on the throttle is enough deform your eyeballs during acceleration.
After a few miles of this, the Hellcat becomes comfortable to exploit. More time is left on the hammer before easing the nose into the next corner – the Hellcat begins to the pull blood from your fingertips under full throttle. In the canyons, blower whine and heavy-metal thunder-pipes are a symphony of the apocalypse to the residents of Malibu, and you almost feel bad that the Hellcat is probably the reason for a multitude of rockslides, maybe even minor earthquakes – almost. In fact, the Hellcat will warn you of impending “Fire Weather,” as if to imply that it is a distinct hazard to the environment.
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The steering is well weighted, and while slightly numb, it is direct in its inputs. Remember, this is really a just big-body car that happens to run 10s; don’t ask for Viper steering.
By now, I’m almost hopping the Charger across various dips and dives as the rippling road follows the Santa Monica Mountains, California’s best redeeming quality. Remember that this is a state that would like to legislate the Hellcat into extinction.
Eyes up, look wide. When the acceleration is often compared to a cannon or bullet, it is easy to tunnel vision down the barrel as you escape the last corner. Things happen fast with 707hp, your perception of the world around you changes entirely. At Hellcat-pace, miles are devoured before you can think of where you’ve been, where you’re going, and what you’re doing. I’m not only lost in the canyons, but also lost in the Hellcat’s svelte belligerence. When the road unwinds for just enough distance, each up-shift from the steering wheel-mounted paddles is met with a quick “burp” from the exhaust before the tach falls back into the powerband, with the blower-whine shrieking off the rock wall next to you, before reaching the end of a brief straight and braking early as to glide the car into the next curve.
This is what I like to call rhythm. Expected inputs get expected outputs. What’s going on outside the Hellcat’s vault-like doors is irrelevant. Life’s worries burn away through a pair of 3-inch pipes that howl from under the back bumper. Stress is left on the pavement with road-rashed rubber and shattered expectations. With eyes wide-open, the scenery is enjoyed in such a way that photographs and postcards can’t explain. Rhythm is where you’re finally one with the car and the road. You can read and perceive the needs of the both in that moment, break it down into tiny pieces, and explain your perception through a steering wheel and pedal box. It’s just that you’re explaining this state of being with the volume dialed at 11. Every few miles there’s parking for a scenic overlook, but why stop and stare at beauty when you can be deep inside of it?
At the end of 57 miles of horsepower-therapy, I pull the Hellcat aside near the Pacific Ocean. Despite the restrained, though determined flogging it just received, it has barely broken a sweat. The intercooler is steady at 90-degrees, engine temps have barely budged from normal. The Hellcat’s electric cooling fans sound off after the hooliganism, with satisfying heatwaves emanating from the heat-extracting hood vents.
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What surprises you the most about the Hellcat is simply how easy it is to exploit; all of this was done with butt-heaters on full blast and windows down. Once you conceptualize the throttle not so much as a demand for horsepower, but as a wheelspin-rheostat, the Hellcat just becomes an extension of your subconscious. Want that hole in traffic in the lane next to you that’s just a few car-lengths ahead? Breathe on the throttle a hair, and you simply have it. Want to ensure that no one can breathe clean air for a city block? Rail on the car like an idiot – even the strictest of traction control settings will let you re-stripe the pavement. Want to sit in two hours of Santa Monica traffic after the sun has set on your canyon carving? Well, no – but just whisper to the blown Hemi, it will never bite you back if you pet it with a soft hand.