Tired of stories about driverless cars? Then how about a story of the 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon, one of the world's quickest cars ever made? It's so tuned to driving it comes standard with only a driver's seat.
The latest addition to the Challenger lineup is specifically engineered for drag racing. The Demon is one of the new "widebody" Challengers, distinguished by voluminous fender flares encompassing some larger tires chasing more grip, starting with the 707-horsepower Challenger Hellcat and now the 840-horsepower Demon.
Yes, 840 horsepower. And 770 pound-feet of torque. Sixty miles per hour in 2.3 seconds. Quarter mile in 9.65 seconds.
But what is it like in its natural habitat, the endangered drag strip?
Our test took place at US 131 Motorsports Park in Martin, Mich., on a fully prepped professional drag strip. Were the Demon's electronic aids going to do all the work so you can just point-and-shoot? Not exactly. Even on a super-sticky surface, the Demon will spin the rear tires with an overzealous application of throttle. Of course you do want to smoke 'em in a puddle of water for the obligatory pre-run burnout in order to clean and warm up the tires for maximum traction. An electronic line lock feature holds the front brakes to facilitate this, but it still takes some finesse with the throttle to do it right.
The easiest way to clock a good time is using Launch Assist in Drag Mode, though it still requires a bit of fancy footwork. Similar to Hellcat-powered products, it allows you to select a higher engine speed on the screen, hold the brake, mash the throttle to the floor, and when you let go of the brake the Demon launches at your preset engine speed. Traction and stability control let you go as fast as the surface allows.
Otherwise in Drag Mode traction control is off. Therein lies the challenge. You can two-foot it the old-fashioned way, left foot brake and throttle up. Or else there is TransBrake, a software feature using the transmission to rev it up higher than the brakes would be able to hold. It's even more of a dance to hold the gas pedal at the desired engine speed while using the steering wheel shift paddles and brake pedal in sequence to actuate the electronic component. Roll into the throttle too fast and the rear tires will break loose; with this kind of power on tap, breaking loose can mean breaking things. What sounds like chirping tires from the sidelines, feels from behind the wheel like crossing railroad tracks -- where there is no crossing.
The key in either method is to ease into the throttle until the hood comes up, indicating weight is on the rear wheels for traction -- it happens really fast -- then floor it. The seat hits you in the back and off you go. Stability control stays on in Drag Mode, surely a good thing to maintain a straight line, especially since the Demon will lift the front wheels off the ground. The one standout difference from a Hellcat -- other than you just reached 60 mph around a second faster -- is a more pronounced sound from the supercharger, like the shrieking of tortured souls in the underworld. Rather fitting for the Demon.
With TransBrake I ran back-to-back 10.8- and 10.9-second quarter-mile runs toward the conclusion of the day's festivities. Jim Wilder, vehicle development manager for Charger and Challenger, took me for a run in a Demon optioned out with a full interior and sunroof, resulting in a 10.5-second run.
A few things have to happen to get maximum acceleration out of the Demon. First of all, ideal track conditions. These were found at Gainesville, where a 9.65-second quarter mile at 140 mph was certified by the National Hot Rod Association as the fastest quarter-mile time ever recorded by a production car.
Next, the buyer is going to have pop for another $1 (yes, one dollar) for the Demon Crate, which includes some skinny wheels for the front, a different powertrain controller and tools. The rear tires are street-legal drag racing tires adapted specifically for the Demon. Achieving highest horsepower requires 100-octane gas.
Engineers shaved weight wherever they could, so the dollar gimmick extends to the deleted passenger seat, rear seat, or trunk carpeting, optional for a dollar each. A list of more traditionally priced options is offered with the limited production of 3,000 Demons (plus 300 for Canada).
Driving the same on-road loop with a Demon and a Hellcat showed the Demon has a softer ride and less engine noise when cruising. The fat sticky tires were noisier on grooved pavement and made on-center steering response slower.
Pundits criticize the Challenger as an aging platform, but Dodge has kept things interesting with an array of variants. Drag racing is the last vestige of parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' dwindling involvement in motor sports, and the Demon proves there's some real engineering talent in the ranks of SRT.
2018 DODGE CHALLENGER SRT DEMON AT A GLANCE
Vehicle Type: RWD two-door coupe
Base Price: $84,995 (including $1,700 gas guzzler tax)
As tested: $84,997 (exluding $1,095 destination)
Mpg: 13 city, 22 highway
Engine: 6.2-liter supercharged V-8
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Parting Shot: The most decadent vehicle you can buy for under $100,000.
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