Time is short. With a looming election in November and the prospect of winter on the horizon, you never know what the future holds. However, up here in Minnesota, there’s something in the air. It’s the faint smell of burned rubber, not that I would know anything about that after testing a 2016 Dodge Charger Hellcat for a few days.
I learned a few lessons about life driving this 707-horsepower silver and black demon, some of which I plan to pass on to my children and maybe recall in my twilight years: Choose the road less travelled (to avoid Farmer Bob and his tractor caravan), let the wind blow in your hair (while you still have some), and press the gas pedal firmly down to the floor mat and keep it there because you never know how many days you have on this planet (plus the press loaner is only until Monday).
As you may know, the Hellcat model provides two keys. You are a pale and gaunt Keanu Reeves wearing a trench coat and three days worth of stubble, someone who has stared into the deep soul of a Linux kernel for too long and may need more coffee. The car is Laurence Fishburne holding out two pills (er, I mean keys). Will you pick the black one that limits the engine to around 500 horsepower or the red one that will remove the shackles from your eyes and also make you wish you had not eaten a fish taco for lunch when you punch it? I always picked the red key and avoided the tacos. My life has been changed forever.
Here’s what it’s like to launch yourself in a Dodge Charger. 14 million tweaks later to the settings on the touchscreen, including making sure the paddle shifters are enabled and the traction control is disabled, you rev the engine a little to warn people about the very real possibility of being eaten for lunch by an overly aggressive muscle car. You put your head back on the headrest because that’s what they do in the movies. You nod to your passenger knowingly. Then, you hold on for dear life.
I’ve driven a Bugatti Veyron before, which has a way of inventing a new atmospheric condition, but the Charger has more growl. It explodes, not like a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 or in a terrifying way at all, but from an alternate universe, one where all the roads crumple up like an accordion and the sun jumps out of the way.
In several tests, the Charger always gave me the sense that this is a fleeting moment. When you drive, you realize you are seated in not only one of the best cars you will test all year but perhaps one of the best cars of all time—an entity unto itself. European sedans like the M series from BMW and most Audis have a way of fast-forwarding you through life, a trim and elegant transport. Trees blend into the periphery. In a Charger, trees hunch over and hope they don’t erupt into flames.
As I drove, I kept seeing people look at the car with a perplexed look, curious about the echoing thunder and the rumble in the pit of their stomach. It’s not just the 6.2 liter engine or the 650 lb-ft of torque, enough to pull a stump up from the ground like butter. It’s the essence of the vehicle, the fact that you can control every detail. Launch control, which holds the brake for you and raises the RPMs to push you off the starting block, is a finger tap away. The car offers a time trial system called Performance Pages (the quarter mile test is a blast) that helps you record all of this mayhem for later review (when you can breathe again).
Yet, there are little things you don’t even notice. In the rain, if you activate the windshield wipers, the car uses a pressure system to eject water from the brake pads. Who knew? There’s a lot to discover on the Charger, in between the burn outs. You can choose a few methods of transportation in life, the safe route with the black key on familiar roads. The Charger is all about the red key, life lived at the extremes. And, thankfully, fewer tacos.