For 2018, FCA has made the economically wise decision to offer the wider bodywork from the drag-special Dodge Demon available as an option on the normal Hellcat, if you can call a 707-horsepower studio apartment on dubs “normal.” I, a self-professed fan of the Hellcat engine no matter what it’s powering, took the opportunity to spend a week on the road and a day at the track with Dodge’s newest wide Challenger.
You need to have a lot of space to own a Challenger; any old garage or driveway won’t do. My garage opens on to the street. There's no driveway, just a roll-up door, then road. You approach the garage from a 90-degree angle. Most cars, even my Ford Focus RS with what may be the world’s worst turning radius, can make the sweep into the garage without three-pointing it. In the three years I’ve lived in this house, only two cars couldn’t make it in one move: the 2018 Chevy Tahoe, and the 2016 Honda Odyssey.
The Hellcat Widebody needs three. The Challenger is America’s last Personal Luxury Coupe, where hood and trunk real estate eclipses cabin space. Where brash style–and the need for positively gigantic engines–outweighs tight tolerances, precision build quality, or a feeling that the skin has been pulled, taut, over the chassis, minimizing excess bulk.
Dodge went and took the hugest coupe Murrica has to offer and made it even huger. Overall width goes up by 3.5 inches, with the front track growing by 1.6 inches and the rear track by two inches even. The wide bodywork itself doesn’t make the Chally harder to park, but the fact that you know it’s there–and that you also can’t see a single corner of the car from the driver’s seat–never escapes your mind.
The best move is, therefore, to escape the daily grind with your Widebody Hellcat and go straight to the desert, where there’s space, or better yet, where there’s a racetrack.
Buttonwillow Raceway Park is 3.1 miles long and, in today’s configuration for a Test & Tune day, features 16 corners. I’m sharing the track with R&T's Sam Smith, Travis Okulski, and roughly 20 other closed-wheel vintage racecars. The Hellcat looks like the Hindenburg in the paddock, glub-glubbbing its way to pit road through a sea of BMW 2002s, Midgets, and Healeys, whose drivers can barely see over the Chally’s door handles.
You have to ride the brake pedal all the way through the paddock. The 6.2L supercharged engine makes so much torque at idle that, unchecked, the Hellcat will comfortably idle itself through four gears and cruise at 34 mph without your foot on the gas at all. You heard it here first folks: do not attempt to ghost ride a Hellcat. You will not catch it.
The $6,000 Wide Body option doesn’t just get you some overfenders and wheel spacers on the Hellcat; you also get new twenty-inchers shod in 305-section Pirelli P-Zero’s at all four corners, retaining the Hellcat’s square stance... there’s just a lot more of it now.
Fun Fact: The Challenger’s assembly line can’t fit any tires wider than the 275’s on the standard Hellcat. So the Wide Body and Demon Challengers are rolled down the assembly line on damaged Hellcat wheels with 275s on them, with the 305’s fitted at the end, once they are fully built.
The additional meat adds some weight to the steering, and the recalibrated adaptive suspension feels stiffer than before. Occasionally, you get some tramlining, (catching ruts in the road), as should be expected from any car running 305’s at the front. Aside from that, for the most part, all seems familiar. The interior, trunk space, and powertrain are unchanged from narrow to wide body.
The Hellcat’s upgrades become instantly apparent on track. The 4,500 lb battle cruiser is significantly less nervous under high-G bends, and though it’s as easy as ever to blow off the rear tires at every corner exit (what’s an additional 30mm to 700 HP?), the wider fronts really do a better job of managing 57 percent of the Hellcat’s weight over the front end on corner entry. It’s obvious by lap two that the wider tires aren’t there to harness the car’s horsepower. That simply isn’t gonna happen on a street tire no matter what–it’s there to harness the weight. There’s a significant reduction in not only understeer, but also snap oversteer, compared to the narrow-tired model. The Pirelli P-Zero’s aren’t the stickiest tire I’ve driven on recently, but they do break free progressively, audibly, and the “meh” amount of grip remains consistently meh throughout a 20-minute track session.
The Hellcat is still quite a bit of work to drive on track. It has so much power that you need to train yourself to be a gear higher than expected, and to use less throttle than you are probably used to. Sure, the 650 lb-ft of peak torque arrives at a relatively lofty 4,000 RPM, but trust me, on at least half of Buttonwillow’s 16 corners, you don’t want anywhere near peak torque until you’ve got that wheel pointed straight.
Though the Hellcat comes standard with 15.4 inch six-piston brakes in front and 13.8 inch four-pistons in back, bigger than most of the wheels on the vintage racers lapping Buttonwillow around me, there simply is no masking forty-five hundred pounds. That’s the weight of a current-generation Honda Odyssey, which comes with a freakin’ vacuum cleaner. It’s embarrassing, really, to fit a car with 15.4 inch brakes and have those brakes melt to practically nothing on lap three. It’s not even the brakes’ fault. It would be like asking Nike why a pair of sneakers can’t hold up to a 450-pounder’s jump-roping habits for more than a month. You cannot get around physics. Well, Porsche can. The Panamera Turbo S e-Hybrid can. But it costs two hundred grand, and this Hellcat costs seventy-five. For $75,000, you cannot get around physics.
In my second session of the day, I found myself with a rearview mirror full of Sam Smith in a hot-rodded and slick-shod, forty-year-old BMW 2002 racecar. With Sam’s vintage racer weighing in at roughly 2100 pounds driver and making in the neighborhood of 200 horsepower, the impromptu battle went about as you’d expect: I used the loud pedal to motor a thirty-length gap down Buttonwillow’s kinked back straight, and by turn thirteen, less than a mile later, Sam would be right back on my bumper. In all honesty, Sam has 1.5 - 2 seconds a lap on me in the same car on any track in America; the man is a fantastic driver. But a lap of watching my mirrors while my brake sank closer and closer to the floor was enough; the lanky club racer got a point-by, down a mere 500 horsepower on me. I would love to revisit a battle like this with high-temp brake fluid and pads, and a real set of tires on the Chally. It would be a riot.
I love the idea of the Hellcat. I love the idea that you can have a 700-horsepower car, with comfortable, air conditioned seats and a warranty that will actually work properly in daily life and pass California smog, even if it is the size of a bus. And, if I’m totally honest, the Wide Body option is well worth the $6,000. It looks tough, you get around corners better, and most people will think you’re in a Demon at a glance (at least they did with me). And as a betting man, I’d bet that you get at least half the upgrade money for the Wide Body option back at resale.
But if you really plan on any kind of moderate track work at all, or even spending Sundays in the canyons, consider brake pads, fluid, and an ultra-high performance set of tires. Oh, and budget for consumables. Driving the Hellcat from LA to Buttonwillow, 120 miles each way, running 80 minutes on track, and going home again required four fill-ups. You don’t even want to know what a matched set of 305R/20’s goes for.
Moral of the story: if you’re going to keep up with Sam Smith’s 2002 at Buttonwillow, in a streetcar, even a 707-horsepower one, you’re going to need every trick in the book.
And a big garage.