2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Widebody: fatter equals faster
2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Widebody. Photo courtesy FCA.
The team at FCA’s SRT Group have been quite busy for the past few years, as evidenced by the unveiling of the Challenger SRT Demon this spring, followed by the rollout of that model to the media just last month. Yet, in spite of that dragstrip-focused model’s incredible capability, it’s not the only thing the team has been working on. Among other things, another variation of the Challenger was revealed recently, though it may have been somewhat overshadowed by the Demon, and it’s definitely worth a closer look.
The flares required a reworking of the marker lamp. Photo by author.
This latest offering is known as the Challenger SRT Hellcat Widebody, and at a glance, you could mistake it for a Demon. But closer inspection will reveal the 20-inch wheels (rather than the Demon’s 18s) and the absence of the Demon’s wide-mouthed Air Grabber hood. Your gaze will no doubt be drawn to those wheel flares that give the Widebody its name, and in fact, they are the same ones on the Demon, along with its splitter-style front air dam.
The absence of the Demon’s Air Grabber hood is one way to tell the Hellcat Widebody from its stablemate. Photo by author.
For the most part, the Hellcat Widebody shares its mechanical specifications with the standard Hellcat. That means a 707-hp 6.2-liter supercharged Hemi V-8 with your choice of eight-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission. The differences lie with the flares, the wheel/tire package, and the power steering, which is electric, rather than the conventional hydraulic system found on standard Hellcats.
During the press introduction of the Widebody, SRT development team members explained the car and how and why it came to be. In a sense, the project was an offshoot of the Demon, or at least, it was enabled by that program.
Photo by author.
According to the engineers, the project to create the Demon involved running four same-sized drag radials, which, in turn, required extra clearance at the wheel openings in the fenders and quarter panels. An early test “mule” for Demon development was built using a former Hellcat test car, with custom-made wheels and the meaty “off-the-shelf” Nitto drag radials that necessitated cutting out the body panels to gain the required clearance. Once it was determined that the wheel/tire package was indeed going to be a part of the Demon, and that the extra clearance would therefore be a mandate, the wheel opening flares were designed.
Spending some time with the members of the SRT team revealed that most are more than just automotive engineers—they’re also gearheads and hot rodders. So, once the flares existed, those gears in their heads started turning again. The thinking was that the Hellcat’s showroom-stock performance figures were actually a bit hindered by the model’s tires. Even with the available “three-season” Pirellis, the Hellcat’s 650 lb-ft of torque can easily overwhelm the 275/40-20 tires, so acceleration times suffer. But what if they could stuff a little more rubber under there?
The Hellcat Widebody’s “Devil’s Rim” wheels. Photo by author.
And so, the Demon flares were pirated to do just that. Bigger tires required bigger wheels, so a dedicated set was designed that also feature new styling. The appropriately named “Devil’s Rim” measures 20 x 11 inches and mounts 305/35-20 Pirelli P-Zeroes to provide the larger contact patch the team knew would support better performance. The new wheels also make use of a split five-spoke design that really shows off the 15.4-inch, six-piston Brembos, and are said to have been designed with easy cleaning in mind as a bonus.
Now, given the appearance of the Widebody, and the type of tires it has, it would be easy to assume it had been created to provide better cornering, supported by the fact that when it was shown to the press, the driving event was held on the infield road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There, driving instructors coached journalists on the best techniques for jockeying the Widebody through the course. Having experienced this, we can say that it is fairly amazing that such a big, heavy car with so much power and torque going only to the rear wheels can be made to dance through a track formatted with plenty of tight twists. And dance it does, even when having to compensate for the lack of talent behind the wheel. Dodge says it was able to shave two seconds off lap times compared to the standard Hellcat at an unnamed 1.7-mile road course.
Remaining photos courtesy FCA.
And yet, road course duty was not the initial intent of the Widebody, and team members made clear that it was not created as a sports car or some sort of “track rat” for track day fans. Instead, it was simply that desire to make the Hellcat accelerate even faster that led to its existence. A standard Challenger Hellcat with an automatic and three-season rubber can muster about an 11.2-second quarter-mile pass, while the team tells us the Widebody can now do it in 10.9 seconds. So mission accomplished, it would seem.
But what about the electric power steering? We’re told that using an electrically assisted steering system allowed for providing more actual assist to better handle the bigger tires, while also providing a decent level of feedback. That last bit may sound a bit counter-intuitive—electric power steering rapidly developed a reputation for being somewhat numb from behind the wheel shortly after hitting the market. But the Dodge engineers maintain that most early cars with electric steering were not actually designed to have it—they were really designed for hydraulic steering and then essentially retrofitted with the electric systems. However, by designing the car to have electric steering (other, non-Hellcat Chargers and Challengers have been using this type of system for some time), Dodge was able to dial in some of the feedback that makes the whole experience more palpable for enthusiasts. Plus, using the electric system also allows for having multiple modes, as SRT has been fond of offering elsewhere: Street, Sport and Track.
There is a cost for these improvements, but it seems plenty reasonable: Around $72,000 for a Widebody, fitting nicely between the $65,000 standard Hellcat and the $86,000 Demon. The Widebody should now be available to order, with deliveries starting this fall.