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Challenger SRT Hellcat
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Dodge’s $60,000 Challenger Hellcat Screams Detroit Metal
I pop the clutch and slam the gas, and my dad’s cowboy hat flies off. His passenger seat leans back under the massive G-force and, briefly, I think he’s going to tumble into the back seat.

Sorry, pop.

The rear of the Dodge Challenger skews sideways, Pirelli tires battling for grip and losing the good fight. Thick curlicue coils of tire smoke erupt under the rear wheels.

And yet the Dodge muscle car is only crabbing forward, rear tires spinning so furiously that they seem to be scrubbing the road clean.

I let off the gas, ever so slightly, and the tires get just enough traction to catch, and kablam! We’re off. My father looks over at me, smiling slightly. “Just where have I gone wrong, son?” he asks, clowning around.

Now we’re moving, fast, the full 650 pound-feet of torque catapulting us down the road.

“Hey!” His smile falters, then slides clean off. “Jason, stop it now. That’s enough.”

Of course, it isn’t. I’m fully into the gas now, and the car seems to be reverberating all around us, a thudding frequency most often heard from heavy farm machinery and M1 Abrams tanks.

We hit a bump in the road, unsettling the chassis. I’m laughing, maniacally. His face turns red. My father doesn’t scare easily, but he’s never been in a car quite like the Hellcat.

Shift Change
I hit 60 miles (97 kilometers) per hour in first gear, then kick in the clutch and pull down the shifter into second. The road is sliding underneath us at an alarming pace, fence posts on either side clicking by like reels in an eight-millimeter film.

Then, the first yellow sign that reads, “Pavement ends.” I look over at dad, wonder if that’s his life flashing before his eyes. Then I haul on the brakes.

There is no conceivable need for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCAU)’s brand-new 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat. In some other form, I suppose, its 6.2-liter, supercharged Hemi V-8 could be used to power a Navy destroyer, or open and shut the gates of the Hoover Dam, or just shove the San Andreas Fault back in the right direction.

But, no, instead Chrysler’s Dodge division decided it needed to outfit the special Challenger model with an oxygen-gurgling heart that produces 707 horsepower. That’s more powerful than most exotic supercars. And then they gave it a starting price of about $60,000.

That is the rough equivalent of buying a bespoke suit for $300 or an apartment on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue for $500,000. You don’t get that big a bang for such little bucks. It’s spit in the eye of all convention.

American Throwback
For whatever reason, muscle cars are very much still part of the conversation when it comes to American vehicles, efficiency and practicality be damned. And the Challenger, a big beefy slab of throwback Detroit metal, has long been eclipsed by Ford Motor Co.’s Mustang and General Motors Co.’s Chevy Camaro. Its masters decided it was time to be heard. Enter the Hellcat.

(Only a killjoy would ask about its gas mileage. OK, fine: 13 miles per gallon in the city, 21 mpg on the highway. That’s still better than many a Rolls-Royce or Lamborghini.)

It should be noted that the 2015 Challenger can be had in all kinds of variants, including the base V-6 that starts well short of $30,000 and gets a very sane 30 mpg highway. That car is more stylish than the Hellcat, with brightwork and details like the double grille that show attention to detail. It’s a very cool car indeed.

Broad Shoulders
The first model-year Challenger was born in the 1970s and was reborn in 2008. This new generation has the same broad shoulders and swaying hips as the first models. But with only two doors and sheet metal that stretches on for days, it neither looks nor plays the part of a modern sports car, let alone a crowd-pleasing crossover or sensible sedan.

I could talk about how the interior is much improved, but, really? Hellcat buyers will ante up the $61,000-something to put a Joker-worthy smile on their faces.

Backing up for a moment to me and my dad and the Hellcat: I’d flown to northern New Mexico, where my family lives, and where Dodge had managed to procure me a Hellcat. I could think of few other places on Earth where I could better exploit the powertrain with fewer constraints.

We caravaned out to the desert where prairie dogs outnumbered humans some thousands to none. There was nobody to complain or even observe all that noise and tire smoke.

Lay Rubber
It was time to lay rubber.

One might think that, as an adult, we would outgrow the joy of a burnout. In fact, as a teenager, I don’t think I ever performed that act. (The spirit was willing but the equipment wanting. My first car was a Nissan Sentra.)

The Hellcat comes as a standard six-speed manual transmission or very slick eight-speed automatic. It’s equally easy to burn out in either. And it goes like this.

In sport mode, with traction control still fully on, slam on the gas. Hang on to the wheel and keep it pointed straight. Control the front wheels, which have suddenly gone light because the hood is lifting heavenward. Look in the rearview mirror; observe smoke. Let off the gas slightly. Proceed onward in orderly fashion, pretending that high-definition strips of rubber left on road are in no way related to your Challenger muscle car.

I gave rides to my entire family. My older cousin Tim (smile fixed, maybe terrified), my 20-something cousin Dustin (gleeful; he might have whooped). My stepdad Mark (His co-workers surrounded the car like hungry vultures.) And my grandmother, who had just celebrated her 97th birthday. (She thought the Challenger was “very pretty.”)

Fun was had by the whole family. And what more could any prodigal son ask for?

The 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat
Engine: 6.2-liter supercharged V-8 with 707 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque.

Transmission: Six-speed manual.

Speed: 0 to 60 mph in 2.9 seconds.

Gas mileage per gallon: 13 city, 21 highway.

Price as tested: $63,380.

Best feature: Wild, mad fun.

Worst feature: Trying not to access that wild, mad fun.
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