2018 Dodge Challenger Hellcat Widebody 1st Drive: Bigger is Better
The Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat set the bar for the baddest muscle car in America, with a supercharged engine which delivers 707 horsepower and 650lb-ft of torque. This powerful mill makes the Challenger the quickest factory production muscle car ever (11.2 per the NHRA with the stock tires), but all of that power isn’t easy to put to the ground. Because of the traction troubles which come with 650lb-ft of torque, many Hellcat Challenger owners swap to wider tires for a bit more grip. Many of those folks insist that Dodge should have installed a much wider tire on the Hellcat Challenger from the factory, but due to industry regulations on tire fitment for production road cars, the company couldn’t run a wider tire on the Hellcat coupe from the factory.
Fortunately, with the introduction of the new Dodge Challenger SRT Demon, which includes flared front fenders and rear quarter panels, Dodge was able to move up to a 305mm-wide tire on the 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Widebody. In addition to the wider body and wider tires at all four corners, the Widebody Hellcat package introduces a new Electronic Power Steering (EPS) system and unique suspension tuning to make the most of the wider tires. As a result, the Widebody Hellcat is 3 seconds quicker than a “normal” Hellcat on an unspecified road course while also running a 10.9 quarter mile in fully stock form.
That all sounds great, but do these changes really make a difference that you can feel when driving the 2018 Challenger SRT Hellcat Widebdy? Based on my time on the road and on the track, I would say that the answer is a definite “yes”.
Better Grip on Launch
While I didn’t get to make any drag strip runs with the 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Widebody, I did get to make a few hard launches on the pit road and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as well as a few quick hits on the back roads of Indiana. Prior to driving the new Widebody Hellcat, I have made dozens of test runs with the original Hellcat Challenger, so Im familiar with the rigors of launching the 707 horsepower muscle car on a 275mm-wide rear tire.
On both the smooth, clean pavement of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the dirtier surface streets around town, the Widebody Hellcat Challenger’s 305mm-wide rear tires make launching quite a bit easier. I spent time in cars with the 8-speed automatic and the 6-speed manual, and in both cases, the extra rubber out back makes putting the power to the ground more manageable. Mind you, it still takes some skill to pull mid 3-secon 0-60 times, but these new Pirelli tires allow you to launch a little harder while also permitting you to push the pedal all the way to the floor sooner in a short sprint.
Of course, the supercharged Hemi will still absolutely roast the rear tires if you launch too hard, but on a hard pull from a stop, the Widebody Hellcat Challenger lets you make use of all of the power sooner while putting more power to the ground on launch.
Better Grip in Turns
So, swapping to the 305mm-wide rear tires helps the 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Widebody launch harder and put more power to the ground, but that is pretty obvious. Going to a wider tire is almost always going to improve grip on launch, but that isn’t the only advantage of the Widebody Hellcat upgrades. Thanks to the wider tires up front and the new Electronic Power Steering system, which is now incorporated into the Drive Mode system, the 2018 Challenger Hellcat Widebody handles better as well.
To get the big picture on the improved handling of the 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Widebody, we spent a morning racing around the F1 Grand Prix road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This included a high speed run down the long front straightaway, across the famous brick starting line and into the road course just inside of turn 1. We then carved through a series of turns, including turn 2 of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval, during which time the Widebody Hellcat Challenger performed very well.
Prior to testing the new Widebody Hellcat at Indy, I have driven the Hellcat Challenger on the road course of Portland International and a few different curvy test tracks at the Chrysler Proving Grounds. The wider front tires allow the Hellcat to brake a bit quicker, but far more importantly, the extra inch (or so) or rubber on both front corners allow the Widebody Challenger to turn into corners harder and grip those turns harder. It is still a 4,500lb car, so if you get into a turn too hot, the car will still understeer, but the wider tires and the retuned suspension setup help the bigger Hellcat Challenger stick to the turns at higher speeds.
I did find that if I powered through a long, sweeping turn too hard or too soon, the Widebody Hellcat Challenger will happily smoke the wide rear tires and create some predictably-fun oversteer, but the simple addition of the wider front and rear tires under the flared body allows you to attack turns more aggressively than you can with the original Hellcat Challenger.
Also, with the Drive Mode set to Track, the new Electronic Power Steering system provides a more connected feeling while blasting around the track, with a minor amount of assist and a greater level of feedback. Later in the day, I would play with the Drive Modes and the EPS settings while on the road, and if you want a less laborious drive, the power steering system swaps to the more comfortable setting with the push of a button on the radio face. However, I like a steering system with less assist, so I prefer the feel of the Track steering setup and I spent the majority of my drive time using that setting.
Improved Performance, Debatable Appearance
The 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Widebody grips better on a hard launch, it grips better when powering out of a turn and it holds the turns better at higher speeds, so in every measureable area of performance, the Widebody package improves the Hellcat Challenger. There is no disputing the fact that the wider tires and the new power steering system improve performance without compromising any drivability, but there are more than a few people posting on the internet who make it very clear that they do not like the look of the Widebody package.
The Widebody Hellcat Challenger uses flares comprised of the same composite material as the front and rear fascia, with 22 mounting points to the metal portions of the body. Under these composite flares is unique sheet metal from what is found on the non-Widebody Hellcat Challenger, so this isn’t as simple as a set of flares bolted onto a standard Challenger. Instead, the metal has unique raised and cutout portions to adequately support the flares while also providing more room for the wide wheels and tires.
I personally love the look of the Widebody package on the 2018 Hellcat Challenger, as it gives the mean looking muscle car an even more aggressive stance. I understand the importance of the body changes made for the Widebody package and I understand why Dodge had to run some sort of flared body to fit a wider tire, so in addition to liking the look – I get why this package needed this unique bodywork. However, some people don’t like the look, and while they can’t offer any useful input as to how the company could have gotten around the industry regulations on wheel/tire fitment, critics just won’t accept this new look. That is fine though, as the people who don’t like the widebody look can opt for the original exterior design of the Hellcat Challenger while those who like the wider stance and the improved performance can buy up the new Widebody package.
The only real downside to the 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Widebody is the price, as with a base MSRP of $72,590 (including gas guzzler tax and destination fees), the Widebody package is $7,300 more than the base price of the 2017 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, but when you consider the performance improvements on the drag strip and the road course, buyers are paying more for the best Hellcat car to date.