Driving Every Modern Dodge Performance Vehicle on the Road and Track – Part I

1 month ago Reviews Video

Not everyone knows this, but every time that Dodge introduces a new vehicle, the brand holds a drive event where they host journalists who travel to the event location to drive and review the vehicles. About 99% of the time, when you read a “first drive review”, the person writing it got their seat time at one of these events. All of these events have extensive on-road driving time, but since the introduction of the 2015 Challenger and Charger, every new Dodge vehicle debut has also included track time. This allows the reviewers to get a feel for the vehicles on the street – where most owners will use them – while track time lets them push the vehicles to their high-performance limits in a safe environment.

As a member of the media, I have been fortunate enough to have attended every one of these Dodge vehicle debuts over the past decade or so. As a result, I was one of the first people in the world to drive the likes of the SRT® Hellcat cars, the Durango SRT Hellcat and the 2018 Challenger SRT Demon on the street and on the track. This is an exciting perk of the job for many automotive writers, but having grown up a hardcore Dodge lover, the experiences I have enjoyed with the brand over the past few years is nothing short of a dream come true.

Today, I take a look back at the media first drive events for all of the Dodge performance vehicles, starting with the introduction of the Scat Pack and SRT Hellcat cars back in 2014.

2015 Dodge Challenger Lineup, Portland, Oregon, Summer of 2014

When I headed to Oregon in the summer of 2014 for the 2015 Dodge Challenger lineup drive event, I had never been so excited for a drive program. I had driven plenty of high-performance vehicles in the past, but no 707-horsepower muscle cars, and I was more than excited to be among the first people in the world to drive the then-new SRT Hellcat.

Challenger Scat Pack

The drive event was actually for the entire 2015 Challenger lineup, so my day began in an R/T Scat Pack. Like most drive events for a performance car, the route began in downtown Portland and wound its way around the area, eventually ending up at Portland International Speedway. On the way there, I got to experience the 485-horsepower muscle car, along with twisty roads and some straight stretches that allowed us to put the hammer down a bit. It was a fun drive, making it clear why so many Dodge lovers have purchased a Scat Pack Challenger, but when we arrived at the track, it was time for the main event.

Upon parking the Scat Pack, I traded the keys in for a set from a Sublime SRT Hellcat Challenger. That would be the car that I drove back to the hotel at the end of track time, but I didn’t want to wait. I immediately got into the supercharged muscle car and headed back out onto the street for my introduction to SRT Hellcat power. After spending a few minutes getting the general feel for the steering and brakes, I found myself in a desolate commercial area with a long, straight stretch. I was carefully aware of the speed limit, but I used the straight, empty road to stop and make a few light launches, rolling into full power once the car was moving. It only took a few seconds of hard pull to reach the speed limit, at which point I lifted, but after the first few hard digs, I turned to the journalist riding with me and said, “They are going to sell a million of these – this car is incredible.” We then switched seats, he drove for a bit and agreed with me, then we headed back to the track.

Once there, we spent the next few hours lapping the road course in a variety of 2015 Dodge Challengers, focusing on the Scat Pack and SRT Hellcat models. While my SRT Hellcat road test car had the 8-speed automatic, the road course cars had the 6-speed manual, which allowed great power control on the big track. It was during that time that we learned how well the 707-horsepower Challenger handled on a curvy course, as while it is marketed as being more of a drag car, they get through the corners remarkably well. More importantly, the long straightaways of Portland International let us use all of that power in a safe environment and it was nothing short of intoxicating. I quickly fell in love with the SRT Hellcat Challenger, but when we switched to the drag racing portion of the program, I was hooked.

Having grown up in the motorsports world as a drag racer, I couldn’t wait to hit the quarter-mile with the most powerful Dodge performance car ever. We were on an unprepped surface, so the footing wasn’t the best, but I still managed to run in the mid-11-second range on the slick pavement. However, running mid-11s with almost no seat time on a slick track impressed me a great deal. The drive back to the hotel only secured my love affair with the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, but only after a jaw-dropping burnout by a member of the engineering team.

2015 Dodge Charger Lineup, Washington, D.C., Fall of 2014

A few months later, Dodge held the media first drive event for the 2015 Charger in Washington, D.C., with the drive route including a stop at Summit Point Motorsports Park for track time. For this event, we started at Reagan Airport, where all of the cars were parked in an empty hangar. We left the airport area, headed northwest to the race track, spending some time on the highway before hitting the twisty country roads. That stint on the highway gave us a chance to experience the higher speed power of the supercharged sedan, quickly making it clear that the Charger was every bit as wicked as the Challenger.

The Charger SRT Hellcat also felt surprisingly nimble on the back roads leading to the race track in West Virginia. Like the Challenger, the Charger’s Bilstein adaptive suspension and Brembo brakes lead to shockingly enjoyable handling for a 4,500-pound full-sized sedan. Once we got to the track, we learned that the on-road handling was only the tip of the iceberg.

On the track at Summit Point, the supercharged Dodge sedan handled the sharp curves and the sweeping turns smoothly, easily getting down from big speeds to carve through the corners. Of course, once we hit the straightaways of the road course, the SRT Hellcat Charger made it clear that it was the fastest four-door sedan in the world. The engineering team capped the track day off with a unique three-car burnout.

Once again, I headed back to the hotel – this time in an SRT Hellcat car – having fallen even deeper in love with the supercharged HEMI® engine.

Indianapolis, Dodge SRT Hellcat Widebody, Durango SRT and Challenger SRT Demon, Summer of 2017

It was almost three years until the next Dodge media drive event, but in the summer of 2017, select media headed to Indianapolis to test the Challenger SRT Hellcat Widebody, the Durango SRT and the Challenger SRT Demon. Not only were we going to hit the drag strip with the quickest production road car ever built by any automaker in the world, but we got to push the widebody SRT Hellcat Challenger to its limits on the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

On the morning of the drive event, we were shuttled to the track and we parked behind the row of garages lining the front straightaway and pit row. We walked through the garages and out onto pit row, right under the shadow of the famous scoring pylon and the pagoda. The pit row was lined with SRT Durangos and Challenger SRT Hellcat Widebody models, and after the safety meeting that we have with the driving instructors at every track event, we each got into a Durango or Challenger. We spent the next few hours lapping Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Grand Prix course and it was easily the most memorable track time of my career. Rocketing down the front straightaway of the Indy 500 track – crossing the brick starting line at speeds topping 150 miles per hour – was nothing short of amazing.

It was also pretty impressive to experience how well the widebody SRT Hellcat Challenger handled itself in the turns on a track made for lightweight open wheel racecars. Making the whole experience even more exciting was the fact that there were construction crews working in other parts of the track, so we were almost racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with spectators. It was an amazing morning.

The Durango SRT was also a blast on the road course, but the Challenger was the star of the show.

After a few hours of fun on the road course, we headed out on the road drive portion of the program in a Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Widebody with the 6-speed manual transmission. While I own and love an SRT Hellcat Challenger with the 8-speed automatic, the 6-speed models are a ton of fun to drive on the open road. It never gets old to bang through the gears with all of that torque, but during this road drive, my key concern was getting to the track where the 2018 SRT Demon was waiting.

Challenger

We arrived at Indianapolis Raceway Park, where there was one 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon staged for a presentation, one prepared for road testing and a handful of others sitting near the starting line of the drag strip – fully prepared for a few hours of quarter-mile blasts. After lunch and the presentation, it was time to get my hands on a new SRT Demon.

Line of Dodge vehicles

Since there was only one road testing car, we all put our names on a list and someone would come get us when it was our turn. In the meantime, we took turns making drag strip passes, first with an instructor in the 8th mile for a few schooling runs and after that, those who made clear 8th mile runs were permitted to make quarter-mile passes without the instructor. In my group of around 20 journalists, only three made quarter-mile runs and since I was the last person to take the road testing car out, I spent the longest time at the drag strip. On my early runs, I ran in the low-11s, but after a half-dozen runs, I managed to get down to a 10.5. That is a far cry from the 9-second times turned in by owners, but it was one of the quickest times by anyone in media testing and it ran those numbers on a very hot, humid day.

When my time came to take an SRT Demon out on the local roads, I quickly learned that this drag strip-ready muscle car handles the curves very well. Thanks to the meaty sidewalls of the 18-inch drag radials, the Challenger SRT Demon offers a very smooth ride, but it is still fun to hustle through some corners. That aspect is often lost with the SRT Demon, but for a factory-built 9-second car, there is no compromise in comfort or drivability.

Finally, my day and that event ended with a road drive in the Durango SRT, during which time I got to check out the first high-performance Dodge SUV of the modern era. Stay tuned for the second half of this piece, where I look at my first drive time with the Redeye cars, the widebody Charger and the Durango SRT Hellcat.

Author: Patrick Rall

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