Don't Fear the Manual Transmission Hellcat Challenger
The 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat is offered with the buyer’s choice of a 6-speed manual transmission or an 8-speed automatic transmission, and while the manual transmission seems like the logical option for the most powerful muscle car ever, the new heavy duty TorqueFlite 8-speed is easily one of the best automatic transmissions ever offered by the Chrysler Group. Chrysler has been knocked for the quality of their automatic transmissions over the past 20 years or so, and even when longevity issues were taken care of in the past decade, Chrysler’s high performance automatic transmissions didn’t offer the kind of sporty properties that you would expect in a high performance vehicle.
However, that all changed with the introduction of the new 8-speed TorqueFlite that is at work in every rear wheel drive-based vehicle the company sells now and the heavy duty version at use in the Hellcat Challenger and Charger is a truly remarkable gearbox. The Hellcat transmission affords the driver precise gear selection control with the shift paddles, while the drive mode system allows the driver to pick between nice, calm, comfortable shifts in normal driving situations or lightning quick, rock hard shifts when you are letting the Hellcat Hemi flex its muscles. The automatic transmission is the more efficient of the two gearbox options for the Hellcat Challenger and it also offers the quickest quarter mile times, dipping into the high 10 second range in stock form.
The only downside to the excellence of the new automatic transmission that is paired with the Hellcat Hemi is that the huge rush for the 707hp Challenger and Charger has led to a shortage of the 8-speed transmission. This has led to a surplus of sorts with the Hellcat Challenger fitted with the manual transmission, but it seems that some people are avoiding the Hellcat/6-speed manual combo over a concern that it is too hard to handle.
I am here to tell you that there is no reason to avoid the Hellcat Challenger with the manual transmission provided that you know how to drive a stick.
Don’t Fear the Manual Hellcat
I recently attended a Chrysler media drive event at the company proving grounds and at that event, there were several Hellcat cars of both the Charger and Challenger variety. They were obviously very popular with the vast majority of the people in attendance, but oddly, the Hellcat Challenger with the manual transmission spent a great deal of time sitting, while there was generally a waiting line for the self-shifting Charger. I spoke with a few other members of the media who had not driven the Hellcat Challenger with the manual transmission and the consensus among those who hadn’t driven it is that it has to be a handful to drive. I urged some of those folks to give the car a try and those who did, agreed that the manually shifted Hellcat Challenger is surprisingly easy to drive.
I have also heard this concern from car guys at local shows and online, some of whom have considered buying a Hellcat Challenger. They expect that a car with 707 horsepower and 650lb-ft of torque paired with a manual transmission will constantly be smoking the tires every time you let the clutch out. Fortunately, the company knew that the Hellcat Challenger needed to be drivable, so they have fitted the beast with a clutch that allows for some play. As a result, the clutch is gradual enough to let the driver get a good feel to balance throttle input. Unlike some high performance clutches that are either engaged or not, the Hellcat clutch is far more forgiving.
Also, since the Hellcat Challenger uses a similar gearbox to that found in the modern Dodge Viper, it has a super short throw, with a very clear feel as you move the shifter from gear to gear. The pattern is small and it is very easy to find the gears during stints of spirited driving. In fact, I have raced the Hellcat Challenger with the manual transmission around a road course, where I had to do a great deal of shifting, and I was amazed at how easy it was to bang through the gears under the most extreme conditions.
Of course, the Hellcat Challenger has gobs of power, so if you should decide to bring up the revs and side step the clutch, it will lay massive strips of black rubber on the pavement, so while the company has done a masterful job of designing the drivetrain to be functional for daily use, this transmission still has the properties that you would demand from a high performance transmission.
So, if you are considering a new Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat and all you can find it manual transmission models, I strongly recommend that you drive the car before insisting on waiting for an automatic model. The automatic might be quicker and more efficient, but the manual transmission in the Hellcat Challenger is a work of art – one that includes the unmistakable fun of rowing your own gears in a 700 horsepower car. If you can drive a manual transmission, drive a Hellcat Challenger with the third pedal before making any judgements on this incredible Mopar muscle car.