As we maneuvered the 707-horsepower Hellcat's long prow through the turns (sort of like captaining the Titanic), our fears were confirmed. This Dodge -- although an extremely nice piece for the money, inside and out -- is indeed a little on the plump side.
To back up our case, we use two pieces of evidence: 1) our track drive shortly thereafter of the comparatively lean and tossable Camaro Z/28, and 2) some dimension numbers that might shock you a bit.
Depending on whose specs you read, there's about a 300 to 600 lb. weight difference between the Chevy and the Dodge. Both the length and wheelbase of the Z/28 are several inches shorter than the Dodge, although the Chevy is still wider by a little over an inch. When you sit in the Z/28, you may notice the power bulge, but the hood and fenders then dip down to give the appearance of a smaller car. Behind the wheel of the Hellcat, you feel like a family of four could set up a dining table on the hood.
As a result, the Hellcat turned out to be no track car. There was little opportunity to use the gobs of reserve power and there was significant understeer as the Dodge plowed through the turns. If we owned this car, we'd want to live near a drag strip or own an abandoned airfield because, to us, the Hellcat is more of an old-school muscle car. Straight-line acceleration, burnouts and horsepower bragging rights are the top priorities.
The problem is that modern muscle machines should also handle. That's one reason why Ford has finally gone to an independent rear suspension on the Mustang and GM has done right by the Camaro's chassis. On the track, the Camaro was a lighter and far more balanced handler around the curves. Plus, the 505 horsepower is more than enough to make the Chevy appealing for street or track, assuming you don't mind losing to the Hellcat owner during those bench racing sessions.
The dimensions speak for themselves, with the Hellcat also bigger and heavier than an original 1970 Challenger. But the real surprise is that this Dodge is also porkier than even the full-sized Buick LaCrosse sedan. The Hellcat is about an inch longer, almost three inches wider and up to 400 lbs. heavier, so you can understand why it's a handful.
Yes, we like this new Dodge very much, but it is no track car. It needs to go on a diet. Until it does, we'll opt for a Z/28, even with a price tag that's $15,000 more.
Two interesting things we learned about the Hellcat:
1. Badging is so subtle that most of a pack of aggressive automotive writers walked right past the car without realizing what it was. (Look for the chrome "SUPERCHARGED" letters on each side.)
2. There are two separate ignition keys: one for you to put pedal to the metal and one for the valet that dumbs down the horsepower.