For the past few years on the day before the Spring Festival of LX, Dodge has invited us media types to come check out their latest performance hardware on the back roads of Southern California, and of course we’d be remiss if we didn’t heed such a call.
This year, the menu included not only Dodge’s new SRT-tuned Durango three-row SUV, but also the Challenger SRT Hellcat Widebody – a model which gains some of the tooling involved in creating the world-beating Challenger SRT Demon.
But before we hopped behind the wheel of these Hemi-powered beasts, the Dodge communications team introduced us to a few of the custom builds they’ve created, both past and present, to illustrate how those concepts have influenced the products that would eventually end up on showroom floors.
The Challenger’s Latest And Greatest
“Here we have the original Shakedown, which was a 2016 SEMA car that was put together to show off the 392 crate engine,” explained Kevin Hellman, Dodge’s brand manager for the Challenger. “When we introduced this car, really, we liked the reaction we got to its unique stripe package – it’s something a little different than what we’ve done in the past, kind of an asymmetrical design. So here we have the production version of that visual package, which includes that satin black stripe, along with the Shaker hood scoop, white heritage gauges and upgraded audio.”
Available on R/T, R/T Plus, and R/T 392 Scat Pack Challengers, Hellman explained that the order banks for the $995 Shakedown package have already been open for a few weeks, so folks who are chomping at the bit for this unique appearance package can get the ball rolling as soon as they’re ready to pull the trigger.
As cool as the Shakedown cars are, our attention couldn’t help but gravitate toward the new Challenger SRT Hellcat Widebody cars. Not only are these beasts packing the now-legendary 6.2-liter, 707 horsepower supercharged Hellcat Hemi, they’ve gained the fenders and front splitter from the SRT Demon, allowing Dodge to outfit the cars with 305mm rubber at all four corners, in turn providing more grip for improved handling, braking, and off-the-line acceleration.
“The package adds three and half inches of overall width to the vehicle, which allowed us to give the car the grip that our customers have been asking for,” Hellman told us. “The car rides on new 20 x 11-inch forged wheels that we call the Devil’s Rim, or Coffin wheels because of those cool little design cues, which are wrapped in Pirelli Pzero rubber.”
Like the Demon, the Widebody ditches the hydraulically-assisted power steering found on the standard-fender Hellcats for an electrically-assisted rack tuned for the widened footprint of the vehicle. While electric racks are typically less communicative than their hydraulically-assisted counterparts, the design has some technological advantages that aren’t possible with a hydraulic rack.
“In your drive mode menu, you used to be limited to traction control, suspension stiffness, power level and [when applicable] the transmission mode,” Hellman said. “With this rack, we can also adjust the steering weight, so you’ll see different steering mode settings as well. The steering gets progressively stiffer as you move up modes from Street, to Sport, to Track.”
On a race track, you’re looking at about one second every mile, so on most road courses you’re going to see around a two-second-per-lap improvement versus the standard Hellcat. -Kevin Hellman, Dodge brand manager, Challenger
Although the bulging bodywork does take a toll on the Challenger’s aerodynamic efficiency, dropping the official top speed by four miles per hour to 195, the increased contact patch improves the car in nearly every other performance metric.
The wider rubber has obvious benefits when it comes to acceleration from a standstill, with Dodge’s own numbers putting the Widebody a tenth quicker to 60 mph than the standard-fender Hellcat at 3.4 seconds. The quarter-mile time drops three tenths as well, making the Widebody a 10-second car right off the showroom floor with an e.t. of 10.9. But what might be less obvious is how much of an improvement it makes in the Challenger’s ability to carve up a race track.
“On a race track, you’re looking at about one second every mile,” Hellman told us. “So on most road courses you’re going to see around a two second per lap improvement versus the standard Hellcat.” Two-seconds-per-lap might not sound like a whole lot on paper, but trust us, it is a substantial improvement that skilled drivers will immediately notice out on track. With the newfound grip, lateral G figures also increase from .93 to .97 when compared to the standard Challenger SRT Hellcat.
SRT Fun For the Whole Family
Zero to sixty in 4.4 seconds. A 12-second-quarter-mile. No, this isn’t some svelte sports car, it’s Dodge’s new SRT-tuned Durango, a two and a half-ton, six-passenger SUV that can make a Porsche Cayman sweat at the stop light. “We look at this as our three-row Charger,” says Pete Jacobsen, Dodge’s vehicle development manager for the Durango SRT. “And like the Charger, it also has two distinct faces – one of a performance vehicle and the other as a family vehicle.”
While the 475 horsepower, 6.4-liter Hemi under the hood of the Durango SRT is undoubtedly the headline act, Dodge didn’t just throw a 392 cube V8 in the engine bay and call it a day. Walking around the Durango, astute observers will note the more muscular bodywork, which ratchets up the visual aggression but also serves a functional purpose.
“We came up with a new ducting system that delivers cold air directly into the air box,” Jacobsen said. “And when we took this car to Virginia International Raceway for testing on the Grand Course, we brought a second car without the duct. We ran in the morning and then again in the afternoon – I think it was late fall, so it was cool in the morning, but it got pretty warm in the afternoon. The car with the duct lost .3 seconds per lap from morning to afternoon, while the car without the duct lost almost two seconds. So we’re talking about a second and half over a 4.2 mile road course, just from that duct alone.”
We look at this as our three-row Charger, and like the Charger, it also has two distinct faces – one of a performance vehicle and the other as a family vehicle. –Pete Jacobsen, Vehicle Development Manager, Durango SRT.
Jacobsen said the Durango SRT’s 8,700-pound towing capacity was also affected, with the duct dropping air intake temperatures 17 degrees versus the Durango that wasn’t equipped with it.
“Suspension is a big part of the performance equation, too – it’s not a small vehicle,” he added. “So we needed a setup that could handle the Durango.”
Like Dodge’s Challenger and Charger (along with the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT models), the Durango SRT gets a three-mode adaptive suspension with Bilstein dampers, along with stiffer springs and a beefed up sway bar at the rear.
Of course with the newfound thrust comes a need to slow the car down rapidly as well, so SRT outfitted the Durango with massive six-piston Brembo calipers that clamp down on 15-inch vented rotors up front, while four-piston units are paired with 13.8-inch vented discs in the rear.
On The Road
For our first leg of the drive we selected a Widebody dressed in F8 Green. Our journey would lead us from Auto Club Raceway in Ponoma out into the winding mountain roads of the Angeles National Forest, where we’d rendezvous at Newcomb’s Ranch, a restaurant stationed just off Angeles Crest Highway.
Having had no shortage of seat time in a standard Challenger SRT Hellcat out on these same roads, your author was anxious to see if the tweaks made to the Widebody car would be noticeable in familiar territory.
For us it was the change in steering systems that made the most noticeable impact out on public roads. While more artificial than the standard Hellcat’s hydraulic rack, the adjustability was a nice feature to have while hammering through the twisties. It’s particularly useful on less-than-perfect tarmac like Angeles Crest Highway’s, where the ability to weight up the steering equates to less mid-corner correction due to bumps that unsettle the car, and in turn, your hands on the wheel.
Although the wider rubber pays dividends on a race track, at-limit handling is generally inadvisable on mountain roads with oncoming traffic in the mix. Still, it’s clear that the threshold is higher in the Widebody – corner turn-in felt a bit sharper, braking slightly more urgent, and we definitely spent less time modulating the throttle to corral wheelspin.
After grabbing some grub at Newcomb’s we swapped our Challenger for some seat time in the Durango. This sequence of events proved serendipitous, as the further we traveled up Angeles Crest, the more snow runoff and rocks we discovered out on the road. That made us thankful for the Durango SRT’s elevated ride height and all-wheel drive grip – the big brute was unfazed by the rocks and patches of wet tarmac we discovered along the way, and we were left wondering if the low, rear-drive Challengers fared similarly.
While the physics of the Durango’s 5,500 pound curb weight can never be truly hidden, we were impressed by the SUV’s flat, neutral handling characteristics and its ability to put the power to the ground. SRT has created an entire business model around making large objects move very fast, and the Durango is certainly no exception to the rule. Its straight-line spirit from rest is impressively urgent, brought on by a winning combination of Hemi grunt, all-wheel drive grip, and the excellent, ZF-derived eight-speed automatic gearbox.
Best of all, the Durango doesn’t lose its capability as a comfortable road trip hauler in the pursuit of high performance, as the adjustable suspension soaks up the bumps with minimal drama in the Street setting. At the end of the day we were back at Auto Club Raceway feeling no worse for wear after lengthy stints in both the Widebody and the Durango.
“Tomorrow’s going to be an unbelievable day,” said Scott Brown of FCA, referencing the Spring Fest event. “To see the enthusiasm of these owners is just invigorating, and we wanted to give you guys a taste of what makes these folks so passionate about our products.”
With the roar of Hemi power still at the forefront of our minds as we headed home for the day, it was pretty clear what all the fuss was about.