6 April 2015

Is Dodge’s Hellcat the Top Cat?

With 707 horsepower, the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat was quickly branded the best muscle car ever. But today, being the best takes more than just muscles.

Determining the greatest pitcher or quarterback in history is easy, because the number of no-hitters pitched or TDs thrown is a simple matter of record. But more than 50 years after Pontiac’s GTO debuted, choosing the best-ever muscle car is more difficult, since it’s not just a matter of sales success. By this measure, the 1964½ to 1966 Mustang, which sold nearly 1.3 million units in 2½ years, must be the all-time winner. Even so, the original Mustang certainly wasn’t the best muscle car ever produced, because like early Camaros and Firebirds, AMXs‘Cudas and Challengers that followed, it lacked the bandwidth of today’s models.

Ah, bandwidth. Techies that live in air-conditioned clean rooms with servers know that bandwidth means data-processing capability. But the term can also define overall capability for cars. And generation-by-generation, muscle-car bandwidth has improved. The big-block demons of the 1960s looked great and accelerated like Saturn rockets, yet they were sorely lacking in bandwidth. They had dubious handling, drum brakes, primitive suspension, bias-ply tires, and often, no power steering. In some ways, they were the automotive equivalent of the one-trick pony.

Fast-forward halfway to 2015, and the muscle cars of the late 1980s were better. They were learning how to handle, and horses that had been lost to emissions controls were starting to return. Even so, a late-’80s Buick Grand National GNX only made 276 horsepower. Good for the time, but hardly legendary when you consider the plethora of 500+ horsepower models now available.

For proof of just how awesome today’s muscle cars are, look beyond Detroit’s Woodward Ave. to Germany’s Nürburgring Nordschleife, where manufacturers measure their performance products against the world’s best. Lapping quickly here requires enormous bandwidth, from power to handling to brakes. Among the top 100 cars around the 17.6-mile circuit are the 2016 Shelby GT350R in 31st and the 2014 Chevy Camaro Z/28 in 39th – not far behind such exotica as the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG. Impressive.

At the launch of the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat last year, its 707 advertised horsepower quickly earned it recognition as the best muscle car ever. But is it really? On paper, its power-to-weight ratio of 6.4 lbs. per hp is significantly better than the GT350R’s estimated 7.2 lbs. per hp and the Z/28’s 7.6 lbs. per hp. Using this as a guideline, the Hellcat certainly has a legitimate claim. But approaching the “greatest ever” question from the standpoint of bandwidth, I feel you have to include a car’s aggregate performance. And until the hefty 4488-pound Hellcat goes to the Nürburgring to sharpen its claws, my vote goes to the vastly lighter new Shelby GT350R.

39 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Pete Loscalzo Lebanon, NJ April 8, 2015 at 15:49
    The Chevy Corvette ZR1 and Z06 beats them al, at 12th and 14th place in 2009 and 2011respectively. What do you want to bet they've both moved up in place with the new 2015's?
  • 2
    Jim socal April 8, 2015 at 15:51
    I'm going with the Hellcat ! What a ride with all of the computer mastery and also such power with all of that weight makes for one real nice ride.
  • 3
    John Harvey Utah April 8, 2015 at 15:55
    If you are after "bandwidth" (as measured by going around the "'Ring" try the Corvette Z06/Z07 it leaves the Hellcat in the dust on a track (and most other cars in the world for that matter), and if you want a back seat then get in the Z28. Either will spank the Hellcat (and likely the GT350R) around the "'Ring".
  • 4
    EG Florida April 8, 2015 at 16:16
    The power-to-weight ratios quoted in this article are not correct. By definition, power-to-weight ratio is power (hp) divided by weight (lb) in units of hp per lb. This article has it backwards and is quoting lbs per hp. If you are quoting it backwards, then you actually want as small of a number as possible. There is no way that a street car is going to get a power-to-weight ratio greater than 1. For a 3500 lb car, that would equate to over 3500 hp. Just saying....
  • 5
    Bob Vigus Placerville, Ca. April 8, 2015 at 16:16
    Being one of the older guys now and a owner of a real 67, GT500 and working for BMW with all there fast cars. I still love the raw horsepower and the smell of unburned fuel, the way it doesn't stop and the way you have to muscle that bad boy around a corner. Helps keep me young. Thanks,
  • 6
    David St. Hubbins Phoenix April 8, 2015 at 16:30
    Bandwidth? Your first use of the word was probably one too many for a muscle car article...but you jammed it in there three more times? Not to mention the fact that you never made your point.
  • 7
    Bob Palma brownsburg in April 8, 2015 at 16:52
    With all due respects, John, how about broadening your own personal bandwidth on muscle car basics by acknowledging the supercharged 1963 Studebaker Super Larks and Super Hawks that predated 1964 Pontiac LeMans Customs with GTO option package by one full year? All Studebaker Super Larks and Super Hawks had factory-installed caliper disc brakes AND front and rear stabilizer bars AND rear axle radius rods to aid handling. Further, they had so much straight-line power that, in the last four years running at The Pure Stock Muscle Car Drag Race, no 1964 or 1965 GTO-packaged LeMans Custom has posted as low an Elapsed Time or as high a Terminal Speed as the fastest 1963 Studebaker Super Lark at the event, one owned and driven by famous Studebaker drag racer Ted Harbit of Summitville IN....a car that has three times been subjected to voluntary and involuntary tear-downs to validate its "stock" status under the event's stringent rules. On top of that, Ted's Super Lark is powered by the LOWER horsepower of Studebaker's two supercharged engines, the 289 CID / 289 HP R2. Another Studebaker at the event, a 1964 Studebaker Challenger with the larger, 304.5 CID / 335 HP R3 supercharged engine, has done even better. (Yes, Studebaker had a model named The Challenger for the first half of the 1964 model year. It was discontinued when production ceased in South Bend Indiana and all domestic Studebakers were then sourced from the Hamilton Ontario Studebaker assembly plant.) Believe it or not, there really were high-performance muscle cars before John DeLorean, himself a Studebaker-Packard Corporation alumnus by that time, created the GTO package with 389 engines...and then, mysteriously, dispatched a slew of 421 "ringers" to the press that resulted in early GTO-package cars having more street cred than they might have, had all the Press Preview cars been equipped with one of the stock 389 engines. Bob Palma, Technical Editor, The Studebaker Drivers Club
  • 8
    Robert Windsor Ontario Canada April 8, 2015 at 16:56
    If someone wants one for their collection and not a daily driver will Hagerty insure it ?
  • 9
    Mark Paul United States April 8, 2015 at 17:12
    I have a 2009 Tor Red 6.1 SRT Challenger I bought new. It looks much more evil than the new hellcat and I have a 2014 Z-51 Corvette 7 spd manual for when I feel like going faster and around a track. The Challenger, in any trim, is a straight line heavy cruiser.
  • 10
    Joe Central VA April 8, 2015 at 18:03
    I beg to differ. The computer-assisted everything on these new cars deters normal folks from working on them or modding them easily. That was a joy of the first era. I'd call the Hellcat "New Muscle." The old era ended in '71 when the de-tuning began. Story over. I will add that of all the New Muscle, the Challenger gets the stance down best. In dark colors the Camaro is nice, but the newest Mustang is a crying shame. I looked one over at the dealer's and it looks melted. The best of the new Stangs was two generations back. I loved its retro looks. I'll waffle in one regard about old v. new: my retirement ride may be an early 90s Fox-body Mustang 5.0 with fuel injection rather than a carb. It offers the best of the old and new performance, with decent handling, ease of shade-tree work, and respectable performance.
  • 11
    David Cohasset, MA April 8, 2015 at 18:34
    Wrong. Muscle cars are about muscle. Sports cars and race cars are made for tracks. Muscle cars are made for the street. DCPD has earned my respect for the for their superior commitment to the type. Thank you, David
  • 12
    John norman 34293 April 8, 2015 at 19:00
    The new Corvette ZO6 with the 8 spd automatic not only will destroy it but will run around it when it comes to handling as to appearance fadda get about it
  • 13
    Ken K So. Ca. April 8, 2015 at 19:12
    I have to agree with the author on the Mustang choice, as the driving experience for me is behind the wheel of the car, any car. The Challenger and the Camaro both offer terrible sight lines from behind the wheel, you feel like you are looking out the windows of an armored car, which I did years ago as a part time job, and you dread changing lanes relying solely on your side mirrors. I like the retro looks of all three cars, but the Mustang is the best driving choice for me. What do the rest of you think?
  • 14
    Jim Austin TX April 8, 2015 at 19:21
    Gee, I dunno. The Hellcat is a hell of a car, but the measure of a muscle car is the crowd it draws. Park a Hellcat and a 1970 Plymouth Superbird Hemi 4-speed in the same acre lot, and see where the bigger crowd forms. The Superbird can't touch the Hellcat in any respect except more gallons gulped per mile, but there's more to cars than JUST performance.
  • 15
    B PA April 8, 2015 at 19:28
    In the word of the infamous Col. Potter, "Horse Puckey"
  • 16
    Roger SF April 8, 2015 at 19:34
    It is hard to beat the Shelby 427 Cobra, then or now.
  • 17
    Rick Reinstein Vermont April 8, 2015 at 19:47
    There's no question it's a head turner. But the sticker price puts it out of the range of a Camaro SS or Mustang GT. You're talking Vette territory now, and IMHO, the Vette gets the thumbs up over the Hellcat--just barely. :)
  • 18
    Bob H Spokane WA April 8, 2015 at 19:52
    Cruising in the 60's & 70's was all about brute straight forward power. And it was available. When it broke you fixed it. I love the brute power of the current monsters but it's not the same. Break it, get out your credit card. And as much as I'd like to get behind the wheel of a Hellcat, where can I go to use all of the handling abilities it has (or doesn't have). If you can afford one you drive it because it's just one bad monster of power and roasting the tires will give you a smile very little else can. You will probably never use all it has to offer, but knowing it's there....
  • 19
    RW Michigan April 8, 2015 at 20:00
    No, the Hellokitty is a let down. Can not really be modified after purchasing. And the ones that were made are catching on fire and under recall already. So you can not even buy or order one. FCA wants people to believe it's because supply can't meet demand. Truth is they can't sell anymore until they fix them! Give me the same amount of money and 6.4 Challenger and after some work it will be better and STRONGER.
  • 20
    Dal smith Marshall Texas April 8, 2015 at 20:40
    I thank it could be considered as one of the best muscle cars ever. Where else can you get a car from the factory at this price with a warranty even though the dealears are pulling their same old tricks and screwing the buyers with an additional 10-20 k over sticker. If Dodge could keep up with production they could sell all they could build instead of limiting production.
  • 21
    Gittarded Sunny California April 8, 2015 at 21:23
    Really??? So a 1964 GTO that produced 348 HP and 428 foot pounds of torque FIFTY plus years ago should be rated & measured against new technology cars? Let's rate them by the number of thumbs up the 64 GTO's receive as they cruise downtown and see who wins.
  • 22
    Kurt TN April 8, 2015 at 22:27
    This would have been a better article if the title was "Why I changed my definition of what a muscle car should be."
  • 23
    Walt United States April 9, 2015 at 15:01
    The techno plastic rides of today are cool but I prefer the overall experience of a manual steering 60's muscle car with a big engine and drum brakes.They have beautiful steel bodies with crisp lines and chrome bumpers. I'm just saying.
  • 24
    Dale Canada April 9, 2015 at 17:03
    Should be. Noted the gnx hp was advertise at 276 but was indeed much higher
  • 25
    Bill Lawellin Idaho April 9, 2015 at 05:07
    Could fool me, branding the Hellcat the best ever. The mfg talks the talk but how about their lack of ability to deliver them to solid buyers? If I can't buy one, I call it a dud!.
  • 26
    steveo United States April 9, 2015 at 18:04
    'The muscle cars of the late 1980s were better"...Wow, I never thought I'd see those words in print, let alone in this publication. Sorry, I can't go for that, oh no, no can do.
  • 27
    David Daniels Beach Meadows Queens Co N.S. Canada April 9, 2015 at 10:17
    Amazing, having 707 hp available from the showroom floor to the track without adjusting a thing is great. Most guys would not have a clue what was under the hood until you left them sitting at the light as you quickly sped off. Looks good on Detroit.
  • 28
    John Atlanta April 9, 2015 at 10:19
    It's an American muscle car. Can't compare it to AMG Mercedes breeds. It's a Mopar and in the American muscle car world horsepower is everything and while handling and braking is a big plus we Americans love our horsepower as long as we can keep it in a straight line we are happy. Now if I can just get my hands on one of those hellcat drive trains from a junk yard on the cheap to somehow stuff into my 67 barracuda coupe I'll be one happy camper.
  • 29
    Randy Abercrombie South Carolina April 9, 2015 at 10:36
    Blahhh with bandwidth. Hang that up with all the other eco-friendly, uber modern techno sanitary hang-ups of the 21st century. Heck the Beatles and the Stones didn't have bandwidth either, but the captured something real and almost sensual.... Just as the Detroit moguls of the 60's and 70's did. Give me a petrol guzzling sexy beat wrapped in early 70's sheet metal any day... Dodge did just that with the Hellcat. They wrapped up all that fire breathing muscle in sheet metal stylized from the early 70's. I believe they succeeded in capturing what real men desire in a sexy muscle machine. Y'all go take your bandwidth. I'll take my feeler gauges and 8-track tapes and lay me some rubber!
  • 30
    mike KY April 9, 2015 at 11:18
    You missed the point. A muscle car is specifically intended to look aggressive and accelerate. There is nothing in the specifications that require braking or handling. It was about the stop light gran Prix and the occasional trip to the track. Mustangs were not Muscle cars until they started getting big block engines. They were originally pony cars and closer resemble your definition. The Hellcat is precisely what a modern interpretation of a muscle car is. If it were to beat the mustang on the nurburgring it would increase its credentials and bandwidth but the status as a muscle car would not change. That being said, I also prefer the mustang but not because its a better muscle car. Its a better total performance car. 31st to be exact. Save the muscle car moniker for the HP monkeys. I still want the Hellcat to . I'll take the charger so I can scare the hell out of my kids without battling the car seats for an hour first.
  • 31
    Allen Williams Dallas, TX. April 9, 2015 at 00:33
    I think it's a nice car, straight line power. cornering want be that good. I would not pay the price for this car. I would rather buy a better handling car and add super charger if I needed 700 ponies.
  • 32
    Bob Markovich Pleasantville, NY April 9, 2015 at 12:34
    I've got to agree with John: "Best muscle car ever" is about far more than just horses--and always was. An example: the lighter, leaner Mopar B-bodies of the early '60s, which smoked their similarly powered but heftier Ford and GM competitors on the drag strips as well through the corners. Today, with so many taut-handling cars to choose from, I'd much sooner jump into the better-balanced Viper or--with apologies to my fellow Mopar aficionados--any number of lighter and tighter offerings from Europe and certainly Japan.
  • 33
    Glenn Rodgerson Maple Ridge, B.C. Canada April 9, 2015 at 00:58
    If it can handle and brake its hefty girth down from speed without filling the shorts. Then it might be legit. Just saying, Glenn
  • 34
    Curtis Stewart Utah April 10, 2015 at 15:34
    It is great to see New Muscle Cars being produced today and even though they are producing a lot of horse power I do not consider any of them the "Greatest". I am still stuck back in giving the title "The Greatest" to those cars produced from 1964 through 1971. My favorite is the 1970 Cuda 440 6 pak.
  • 35
    Kenny Moreland Haughton, LA USA April 10, 2015 at 16:21
    So sorry to differ with everyone, but with over 30 years in the automotive productions segment, my expertise, leans towards the Corvette C6 Z06, but the little known 1989 turbo-charged Pontiac Trans Am Pace Car, is by far the best.
  • 36
    Eric Florida April 10, 2015 at 18:05
    I think the author is confused in quoting power-to-weight ratio. By definition, power-to-weight ratio is power (hp) divided by weight (lbs), so the units would be hp per lb, and you would want a number as high as possible. For a street car, the power-to-weight ratio will always be less than 1. To be greater than 1, a 3500 lb car would be putting out over 3500 hp, which is not very likely. The author is confused and is quoting the inverse of power-to-weight ratio, which would be the weight-to-power ratio (not generally a very meaning parameter). The weight-to-power ratio of 6.4 and 7.2 lb per hp sounds about right for these cars. However, it should be noted that for weight-to-power ratio, you want as small of a number as possible. So, in this case, the 6.4 is actually the better number. Just sayin...
  • 37
    Mark Peters Arden, NC April 10, 2015 at 20:11
    60's muscle was OK, If you lived in a part of the country with strait, flat roads (thinking Beach Boy's So. California) - having 3 friends killed in a GTO half way up a tree on a mild curve in '67 in Boston suburbs sucked! Bandwidth rules. We're finally catching up in our own way to what German engineers have known since the 1st 911 (which still took skill to manage), i.e., we can do better than build machines that are death traps!
  • 38
    Ken W. Michigan April 21, 2015 at 15:10
    The best of all time is the 2013-14 Shelby GT500 Mustang. It has a higher power to weight ratio, turns faster quarter mile times and speeds (not counting the trumpted up exhibitions by Dodge), was the first to post a top speed over 200mph. The Hellcat is an obese (4500 lb !) oversized attempt by Dodge to copy what the GT500 had already accomplished.
  • 39
    Rob howard Tennessee April 22, 2015 at 10:53
    I don't know... I think you're confusing muscle car and sports car when you start talking Nurburgring. I don't think anyone is saying that the Hellcat is a sports car. I think the definition of sports car is high horsepower and off the line torque in a relatively mid-sized "family" car. That's what the GTO was, and 442, SS454, Grand National and many others of the day. I even consider Camaro, Firebird and Mustang to be in a separate category - Pony Car, which are too small to be considered a family car. The Challenger arguably leans into that category as well, but it is considerably larger than those and has an actual back seat that an adult can comfortably ride in, which I think pushes it back across the line to "Muscle Car". Based on that description, I think its hard to argue against Hellcat being the best "Muscle Car" ever. I believe that it is (coming from a current owner of a 2nd Gen Trans Am and a modern Charger R/T and recent owner of a modern Camaro)

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