Dodge Charger family Car

DSC_1130A supercharged Hemi V8 engine that produces 707 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque, a top speed of 204 miles per hour and an 11 second quarter mile time. These are Dodge’s defining attributes for the “fastest and most powerful sedan ever.” A quick consideration of the 2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat and you are left with an image of brawny drag racing prowess and cruise night greatness.

Make no mistake, this is more than marketing; the Hellcat is the angriest major manufacturer-built machine on four wheels. Simply revving up the supercharged monster in the driveway causes all the neighborhood dogs to start howling.

However, there is another set of numbers that are equally impressive, but garner far less attention. For instance, the 120.8 cubic feet of interior volume is greater than that offered by the full-size Toyota Avalon and Nissan Maxima. The Hellcat’s 40.1 inches of rear legroom makes the Lexus LS 460L’s 36.7 inches feel cramped. The Dodge Charger’s trunk swallows 16.5 cubic feet of luggage, which is cavernous compared to the Maxima’s 14.3 cubic feet.

While the Hellcat’s interior numbers may not dominate the segment like the performance figures do, the Charger is a true full-size family-friendly sedan. When you add in the Hellcat’s super-comfy heated and ventilated seats, ample cup holders and storage, the argument can easily be made that the 707-horsepower Charger SRT Hellcat is the greatest family car ever built.

Sure there are plenty of cars with more goodies for the kiddos; I recently reviewed a Honda Odyssey that included a cheerio-slurping vacuum cleaner built right into the interior. But how many vehicles can spank a purpose-built race car at the drag strip a few hours after running the neighborhood carpool?

DSC_1052The Charger SRT Hellcat is the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of the automotive industry. Drive it casually and you forget that the engine can suck all the oxygen out of a room in 60 seconds, but apply even more than a resting foot on the throttle and an immediate downshift from the Charger’s eight-speed automatic transmission will induce the craziest amount of wheel spin you can imagine. Rumor has it that installing a wheel and tire wide enough to tame the cat’s burnouts and wheel hop will put so much strain on the driveshaft it will snap like a twig.

In full disclosure I am a little biased. I own a sublime 2007 Dodge Charger Daytona as my daily driver. As a dad, I’ve long appreciated the family-friendly nature of the enthusiast-flavored sedan. While my Hemi-powered Charger’s 350 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque may only punch half as hard as the Hellcat’s 6.2-liter fist, I’ve found the V8-powered Charger is a nice balance between economy, utility and all-out performance. The fact that I bought the 2007 Dodge Charger R/T used with low miles for a fraction of the brand-new sticker price only adds to the value. In my assessment, regardless of how you serve it up, the 2006 and newer Dodge Charger makes for the perfect family car.

Every year, right around Thanksgiving, my wife and I take the kids on a family road trip. Each year we reach out to a manufacturer for an interesting vehicle that will add a bit of fun to the journey. Last year we ventured out in the incredibly tiny, but very fun to drive, Fiat 500 Abarth Cabrio. Technically the experiment worked. The Abarth is a blast to drive, the peppy little 160-horsepower, turbocharged engine aims to please and the sound emanating from the exhaust is giggle inducing. Unfortunately, the Fiat 500 is so small you can use the word “miniscule” to describe it. We spent more time learning how four people can live out of two carry-on bags than enjoying the open road.

DSC_1152This year we learned our lesson and I asked for the familiar with a twist. Take the essence of my beloved Charger and cram an engine that produces more than four times the 500 Abarth’s horsepower under the hood. The combination would be sure to make the backseat-dwelling kids happy and keep the dad in the driver’s seat grinning from ear to ear. I think my kids called it a “perma-smile.” Whatever it was, I had to take ibuprofen to relieve the pain from my jaw by the end of the week.

The road trip across Florida to the Walt Disney World Dolphin resort is a little over 150 miles, plenty of time for the top-trim Charger to prove its worth on the highway. The EPA reports that the SRT Hellcat is rated at 13/22 mpg city/highway, but my time on Florida’s flat as a pancake interstates resulted in almost 24 mpg. In truth, that is about what I get from my much less powerful 2007 Charger, which is quite impressive considering the potential power that the Hellcat has on tap.

DSC_1060I have long been a fan of Dodge’s infotainment systems and the Uconnect unit found in the Hellcat is among the best. The 3-D navigation system is easy to program and read, with exceptionally quick response times. The trip also gave us a chance to put the Hellcat’s optional 19-speaker Harman Kardon audio system through its paces. Much to our delight, we found that the system delivers crystal clear audio, regardless of whether the source is USB, Bluetooth, HD Radio or SiriusXM.

Pulling up to the resort provided some comic relief. Watching the valets jostle for position to park the sedan reminded me of the scenes posted from that weekend’s Black Friday sales event gone bad, without the cursing and tackling of course. The look in the lucky winning valet’s eyes instantly alerted me to choose the “self-park” option. Frankly, I wouldn’t even blame the guy if he took the really long way to the parking lot, I mean this is the car that just about every outlet has praised with the vigor of finding the Golden Ticket to visit Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.

Our stay at the Dolphin was wonderful. I always enjoy time spent with family and the location of the resort provides excellent access to the theme parks. The food is great too. There is an ice cream shop called “The Fountain” where we spent quite a bit of money and we would have handed over even more if we weren’t so full. The Dolphin also has some incredible amenities, like a waterslide and game room, which kept everyone busy while I would slip away to burn a little premium fuel touring the winding roads that run throughout the Disney compound.

Our time with the Hellcat ended too quickly. Perhaps it was the fact that we were on vacation at Disney, but it felt like I was handing the keys back over to the representative from Dodge just when I was starting to get the hang of driving the beast. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the 707-horsepower sedan is not the easiest vehicle to drive aggressively. She likes to drift and float and wheel hop and frankly, even at highway speeds, full throttle will leave evidence of melted tires behind. You have to respect the cat or she will bite you, which only adds to the perfection of Dodge’s nomenclature.

The 2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat starts at $62, 295. My family-friendly and vacation-ready review vehicle included Ivory Tri-Coat Pearl exterior paint ($500), the aforementioned Harman Kardon audio system ($1, 995), a Uconnect 8.4-inch touch-screen infotainment system ($695), 275/40ZR20 tires ($195), and a gas-guzzler tax ($1, 700) for a grand total of $68, 375.

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