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2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat: Manual or Automatic?

Since driving the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, I have been asked by countless people whether the 6-speed manual transmission or the new heavy duty 8-speed automatic transmission is the better choice so today I will answer the $60,000 question – although there is really no “right” answer to that question.

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Aside from the fact that the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat has 67 more horsepower and 50lb-ft more torque than the current Dodge Viper SRT, the biggest advantage for the 707 horsepower Challenger is that it will come with a new automatic transmission. The Viper has only ever been offered with a manual gearbox so those folks who were physically unable – or too uncoordinated – to drive a stick shift have not been able to enjoy the pinnacle of Mopar performance. However, that all changes with the 2015 Challenger SRT Hellcat, as the Chrysler Group engineers have worked up a new heavy duty 8-speed automatic transmission that is easily among the best performance oriented, non-dual clutch self-shifting transmissions I’ve tested.

There was a point in time where anyone buying an ultra high performance would have quickly insisted that a manual transmission is the only way to go, but that has changed a great deal as many high performance cars aside from the Hellcat Challenger have gone to some sort of self-shifting transmission. Many of the pricier brands like Ferrari, Porsche and Lamborghini have gone to a dual clutch setup while others – like General Motors new Z06 and the Hellcat Challenger - have gone with a traditional automatic transmission. However, the automatic gearboxes in the new Z06 and Hellcat Challenger are a far cry from the sloppy, parasitic automatic transmissions of yesteryear and as a result, these transmissions “eat” less power and offer lightning fast shifts that would be hard for most drivers to imitate.

While at the launch of the 2015 Dodge Challenger, I had a chance to log some miles in a collection of Hellcat powered models – allowing me to experience both the manual and the automatic transmission. Both are remarkable and while it is a tough choice, it is one that I would love to be making.

Other 2015 Challenger Hellcat News:
The First Official Hellcat Challenger Photos
My Review of the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat
Full Pricing for the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, Orders Begin 8/6
The 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Weighs 4,439lbs

The Tremec 6-Speed Manual Transmission
The standard transmission for the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat is a similar Tremec 6-speed manual gearbox that has been borrowed from the current Dodge Viper. The only difference is that the Challenger’s 6-speed manual transmission has an external oil cooler, but in every other way this transmission feels and acts just like the one in the Viper…and that is a very good thing.

hellcat high green

When driving the 2015 Challenger Hellcat with the manual transmission, I was immediately in love with the stiffness of the clutch and the connected feel that the shifter provides. The clutch pedal is incredibly stiff (just like a sports car clutch should be) and it has quite a bit of travel. The massive torque of the Hellcat Hemi makes pulling out from a stop simple and the clutch is very easy to learn for an experienced driver, but the same torque that makes this transmission easy to operate could also be a headache for an inexperienced driver. Let the clutch out a little too quick or with a little too much throttle, and the Challenger Hellcat will absolutely destroy the rear tires. Even when blasting down the straightaway on Portland International Raceway and shifting into 4th gear at speeds over 100mph, shifting too hard to get the tires spinning. This means that powershifting – no matter what the speed or gear – can bring about traction problems so getting the most out of the Hellcat Challenger takes some skill and practice.

I suspect that the 6-speed manual transmission in the new Challenger SRT Hellcat would allow moderately experienced drivers to shift with confidence, but someone who struggles with the coordination of clutch shifting might find managing all of the power to be a nightmare.

Like all manual transmissions, the upsides have to do with control – but only in experienced hands. The Tremec allows you to accurately adjust how much power is being sent from the engine to the wheels; both under a hard launch and when coming out of hard turns on a road course. This transmission also includes the predictable gear-banging fun that you just cannot get from even the best automatic transmissions in the world.

The 8HP90 TorqueFlite Automatic Transmission
The 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat will feature an all-new TorqueFlite automatic transmission that has 8 gears just like the rest of the automatic transmissions in the 2015 Challenger lineup, but this new 8HP90 transmission has been beefed up to handle the massive power of the Hellcat Hemi. I spent time on public roads and on the quarter mile with the TorqueFlite equipped Hellcat Challenger and while I thought that it would be an easy choice to pick the manual – I quickly fell in love with the new 8-speed automatic gearbox.

hellcat side

The biggest advantages with the 8-speed automatic transmission is that it is geared far more aggressively than the 6-speed manual transmission. This allows the self-shifting Hellcat Challenger to get through the RPMs and accelerate more quickly with the help of lightning quick shifts that are rivaled by only the most expensive hypercars in the world. The 8HP90 slams from gear to gear in the blink of an eye with little drop in RPM between gears (again, thanks to 8 speeds) and while an experienced driver might be able to get the manual transmission shifting this fast – the average driver will only ever dream of getting through the gears as quickly as the Hellcat’s automatic. Also the automatic transmission is able to shift as hard as possible without risking traction problems so there is less “touch” needed when racing down a straightaway when the car is shifting by itself – or when you are using the excellent paddle shift system. When the automatic transmission is set to manual shift mode, the driver uses the two paddles to control the upshifts and downshifts and unlike other systems, the driver has full control. The Challenger will not upshift on its own and there is a rev matching system that allows you to downshift at higher RPM levels to improve the on-road performance…all of which adds more fun to drive factor than almost any automatic transmission sold in America.

  1. MUST SEE: 7 Reasons Why You Really Dont Want to Own the 2015 Hellcat Challenger
  2. LEARN: Full Pricing for the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat
  3. WATCH Videos of the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Racing
  4. BUILD Your Own 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Today
  5. DON'T MISS: 2015 Challenger SRT Hellcat's HP vs Ford's Shelby/SVT Mustang

The new automatic transmission allows anyone to enjoy the power of the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat and a variety of assist systems like Launch Control will make any driver much more capable of handling the 707 horses.

The Verdict
While I was as impressed by the new 8-speed TorqueFlite heavy duty transmission as I have been with any other automatic transmission I’ve experienced in cars that cost under $100k, I would still opt for the 6-speed manual transmission. I love the feel of the clutch and shifter, and banging through gears with my right hand and left foot just adds that much more fun factor to the Challenger. Truth be told, I expect that you will see the fastest Hellcat Challengers packing the automatic transmission, but Im not a super stock racer – fun to drive factor trumps flat out performance. That being said, the automatic transmission is a beautiful option that really doesn’t force you to compromise performance in any way like you would have to with past self-shifting transmissions.

hellcat rear green

Add in the fact that the automatic transmission knocks $1,000 worth of gas guzzler tax off of the final price of the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat and you have one incredibly attractive package – one that I strongly believe will be more popular than the tried and true manual transmission. The automatic transmission turns the Hellcat Challenger into a very accessible and very user friendly super muscle car so I believe that many buyers will go that direction but for my money, I wouldn’t pass up the pure, raw driving experience that you get with the Viper’s manual transmission.

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Mark Day (not verified)    August 8, 2014 - 3:35AM

It is a real joy to finally see automatics getting attention in high-performance vehicles. GM's auto trans in the early GTOs was a 2-speed! A paddle shifting automatic, in a high-performance vehicle - especially with a heads up display - is approaching nirvana.

Nick (not verified)    August 8, 2014 - 8:57AM

Good article as I am trying to make the 6M or 8 auto decision myself...a big concern for me is the massive difference in gearing. 1st gear in the auto final drive (trans gear x rear end) is 12.34 and manual is 8.36 (nearly 2nd gear in the auto!). So how does it feel launching such a TALL first gear? Does it take a lot of clutch? Essentially in a side by side final ratio comparison the 6 speed is like 2nd to 7th in the auto...losing the low rev highway and the super low gear 1st for going from auto to manual trans.

What about wheel hop? I'm no drag racer but like a solid launch and prior 6M Challengers suffer some from hop on hard launch...

I have the ZF 8HP70 trans in my Ram and LOVE it...and I have the 6 manual in my current 392 and LOVE it also...making the decision very tough. I pre-ordered a HellCat with a manual though as I enjoy shifting and having that involvement with the car...but concerned about the gearing selection one vs the other...looking forward to your reply to the above questions.

Nick (not verified)    August 12, 2014 - 10:41PM

In reply to by Frank (not verified)

No I did a "pre-order" - I am first on my dealerships list of buyers and went in and filled out a form with what soon as the order banks open my order goes in. About all that can be done right now...supposedly opens on the 18th!

Nick (not verified)    August 11, 2014 - 9:23AM

Patrick -
Another concern for us manual guys is wheel hop on hard launch with the current platform...has this been addressed with the HellCat? I'd imagine wheel hop with 600 whp could be harmful quicker than what it is with 400 whp...

Patrick Rall    August 11, 2014 - 4:50PM

In reply to by Nick (not verified)

Nick, we did not get a chance to drag race the manually shifted Hellcat. I am only assuming - and you know how that goes - but in driving the Hellcat cars and talking with the engineers, I would be stunned if they hadnt addressed that least to some degree. Then again, it is SO strong, I suspect that any wheelhop will quickly turn into a burnout.

Nick (not verified)    August 12, 2014 - 10:43PM

In reply to by Patrick Rall

Thanks Patrick. So how does it feel launching such a TALL first gear? Does it take a lot of clutch? Essentially in a side by side final ratio comparison the 6 speed is like 2nd to 7th in the auto...losing the low rev highway and the super low gear 1st for going from auto to manual trans.

Dave (not verified)    January 17, 2016 - 10:39PM

I have a 2015 challenger 5.7 8 speed hard launch wheel hop is nasty this thing needs help I don't know what thy were thinking. What did thy think you were going to do with this car it looks good standing still but you aren't going to beat no one with that kind of wheel hop