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Cars 2018: Dodge Challenger Hellcat Widebody Review

When it comes to American muscle cars, there’s a horsepower scale that goes something like this: First, there’s big power, then there’s seriously big power, and then there’s crazy power. And then, right where the thrill of speed pushes aside the fear of death, there’s Hellcat power.

This is the 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Widebody. Under its scooped hood is a supercharged 6.2-liter Hemi V8 pumping out 707 horsepower. Yes, that’s over 100 hp shy of its Challenger Demon brother, but it’s enough to smoke the Hellcat’s huge rear tires through several gears and blast this big, heavy coupe from 0-60 mph in just 3.8 seconds. Hold your foot down and Dodge says this widebody can cover the quarter mile in 10.9 seconds, 0.3 seconds better than the standard-width Hellcat. That makes it one of the world’s quickest cars of all time.

A Performance Bargain at Around $72,500

Built in Ontario, Canada, along with the Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 sedans, the 2018 Dodge Challenger is offered in 15 trim levels. The extensive range includes V6 Challengers with 305 hp, all-wheel drive versions, and retro cool Hemi-powered models like the R/T, the T/A, and the Scat Pack Shaker. Prices start around $28,000 including a $1,095 destination charge.

At the top of that food chain, just below the Hellcat Demon, sits the SRT Hellcat Widebody. The base Hellcat starts at $66,590, while the Widebody Performance Package adds $6,000 to that total. It includes enormous fender flares, larger 11-inch wide 20-inch wheels, all-season performance tires and a modified suspension. Our test vehicle, dressed in Go Mango orange paint, also had the optional eight-speed automatic transmission for $2,995, a matte black hood for $1,995, and Pirelli P Zero high-performance summer tires for $695. Add in the $1,700 gas guzzler tax and our test vehicle cost $78,275.

Sexy Exterior Style

The original Dodge Challenger, built from 1970 to 1974, has become highly coveted by collectors and American muscle-car enthusiasts. With its aggressive wide stance and long hood/short deck proportions, the shape of the Challenger’s third generation, first introduced in 2008, successfully played off the lines of the original to capture the nostalgic imaginations of those same enthusiasts.

More than 10 years later, it still turns head. With 3.5 inches of additional width, black “Devil’s Rim” wheels, and our test car’s sinister black hood, the Hellcat Widebody had neighbors asking for rides. Teenage boys gawk at it with their mouths hanging open. It looks exactly like an American muscle car should look: downright mean. It’s dripping in testosterone and has the performance to back up that attitude. Dodge’s design team has done a masterful job tweaking the Challenger’s lines over the last decade, making it ever more modern without losing its retro appeal. There’s a new deep chin spoiler, LED taillights, and projector headlamps with LED surrounds. The old-school flip-top gas door remains a favorite touch, and the short black rear spoiler is right off of the 1970 Challenger T/A model.

Modern Interior

Retro on the outside does not mean retro on the inside, and the Challenger’s interior is all about modern features and clean ergonomics. Yes, the wide console and T-handle shifter resemble the designs of the 1970 model, but not too much as to look dated. Overall, the interior is well constructed, nicely appointed, and visually appealing. All the controls are well-placed, and the 8.4-inch touchscreen in the center of the dash is one of the largest in this class. There’s a 200-mph speedometer, and the red-faced analog instruments are racy and easy to read. The audio and climate controls offer large knobs and big buttons. Nothing here is overly complicated.

This is a large car, and the Challenger seats four comfortably and five in a pinch. Visibility compromised by the coupe’s low roofline and thick pillars, but its heated and cooled front sport seats are firm, heavily bolstered, and comfortable. Its thick leather-covered steering wheel is also heated.

High-Tech Features, Big Trunk

Pay up for the high-horsepower Hellcat, and Dodge throws in all of its available in-cabin tech features. Our test vehicle came standard with an 18-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio system, navigation, voice command, and, of course, Bluetooth. The system is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible, though Wi-Fi connectivity is unfortunately not offered.

There’s also a configurable 7-inch screen between the speedometer and the tachometer, rear parking sensors, blind spot monitors, rear cross path detection, keyless entry, push-button start, and a backup camera. A folding rear seat for additional cargo volume comes standard, and the Challenger’s trunk measures 16.2 cubic feet, which large for the class.

Incredible Acceleration

Punch its gas pedal to the floor and the Hellcat Widebody doesn’t just accelerate, it compresses time and space, not to mention your major internal organs. The incredible thrust provided by its big, blown Hemi tries to send your spleen, lungs, liver, and stomach into the back seat. One passenger said our Challenger’s shove was strong enough to disrupt her inner ear.

That’s if the traction control is on or if you’re using the Challenger’s Launch Control feature. With no electronic help, the Hellcat Widebody combines that ungodly acceleration with enough tire smoke to fumigate downtown Los Angeles. With a reckless right foot, you can smoke the very large and very expensive Pirellis for an entire city block, leaving black strips on the pavement, like a dog marking its territory.  At full throttle, the rumble of the massive V8 combines with a high-pitched blower whine, and it’s the ultimate ego trip to look out over that long black hood and big hood scoop knowing you can outrun every other car on the road. For a muscle car lover, the Hellcat Widebody defines fun-to-drive.

Good Handling and Braking

With its tire-shredding horsepower, some mistake the Challenger Hellcat Widebody for one-note samba, a straight-line brawler that can’t carve corners. That is an unfortunate misconception. At 4,500 lbs, the Hellcat Widebody is heavy, but it handles its heft well and manages to feel nimble and maneuverable. The grip is there thanks to the massive 20-inch Pirelli tires, which keep the big coupe stuck to the road, and body roll isn’t a problem even during hard corning. Although the steering is heavier than it needs to be, the ratio and feel are both spot-on, while the massive Brembo brakes are properly powerful.

With the SRT Drive Mode system, the driver can dial in Street, Sport, or Track settings for the steering, suspension, transmission, and traction control. Even in the Street setting, the suspension is firm but comfortable, thanks to special Bilstein shocks. The Challenger rides well and is pleasant to be in day after day. I wouldn’t hesitate to the drive the Hellcat Widebody two states over.

Thirsty for Fuel

With 707 hp, the Challenger Hellcat Widebody is a thirsty beast. It’s rated at just 13 mpg in the city and a more respectable 22 mpg on the highway. However, drive it like it is meant to be driven and you won’t get anywhere near those numbers. Joyride around like a high schooler, smoking the Challenger’s tires like Courtney Force, accomplishes three things. 1) It puts a huge smile on your face. 2) It earns dirty looks from Prius drivers. And 3) It destroys your fuel economy. I averaged 8 mpg in the Hellcat while driving it like an adolescent.

With a little more maturity and discipline, however, those numbers can rise considerably. In mixed driving with the throttle control of a responsible middle-aged father of two, I averaged 15 mpg, just below the Hellcat’s combined EPA rating.

Looking at the Competition

Head-on competitors for the 2018 Dodge Challenger Hellcat Widebody are easy to pluck from the crowd. There are two, the Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 and the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. All three are rear-wheel drive American muscle cars, but they each have their own unique flavoring.

The Mustang is significantly less powerful than the Hellcat with “only” 526 hp. Its engine is also naturally aspirated and revs to an incredible 8,250 rpm. It’s not as quick as the Hellcat, but it’s much lighter and it will outhandle the Dodge. The Shelby Mustang is also only available with a manual transmission. The Camaro ZL1 falls between the other two. Like the Challenger, its big V8 is supercharged and it’s offered with an automatic or a manual transmission. It’s quicker than the Shelby, but it’s “only” packing 650 hp, so it’s slower than the Dodge.  Like the Mustang, the Camaro’s chassis is more sophisticated than the Challenger’s, so it will out handled the Hellcat. Plus, the Camaro is offered as a coupe or a convertible, while the other two are coupe-only.

Already a Legend

The first Dodge Challenger Hellcat was introduced in 2015, and the 707-hp muscle car has become a legend in those three short years. This year’s addition of the Widebody Performance Package, however, dials up the awesome and takes the Hellcat’s desirability up several notches.

This car is something special. It delivers high levels of style, features, and technology, and it’s bursting with power. Few cars are this fun to drive.  For those in the market for a good old-fashioned American muscle car with tire-shredding might, the 2018 Dodge Challenger Hellcat Widebody is a very desirable overall choice.