There’s no better place to test drive the Dodge Challenger SRT Demon than a dragstrip. And there’s no better dragstrip than Atco Dragway in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, a muscle car hotbed and home to the legendary Jersey Devil.
That’s where I had the chance to strap into the driver’s seat and take a Demon for a dozen runs. I should say “the seat,” because it comes with only one, making it the world’s most awesome pizza delivery vehicle.
And it can haul.
The Demon is the most powerful American car ever made. It has a 6.2-liter supercharged V8 that puts out 808 hp and still gets 22 mph on the highway. It’s an update of the Challenger SRT Hellcat’s 707 hp motor, which now seems quaint — even more so if you fit the Demon with the special engine control module, included in a tool-and-parts kit called the Demon Crate, that allows it to run on 100 octane race gas and bumps the power up to 840 hp to go with its 770 lb-ft of torque.
Over half of the Hellcat engine’s components were modified in the, including the block, and a monstrous 2.7-liter supercharger strapped on to the top of it. The Demon’s 8-speed automatic transmission, driveshaft, differential and half shafts are appropriately beefed-up, as well.
There is no manual transmission available, but the automatic is one of the coolest ever made. It’s equipped with a feature called a TransBrake. It’s a drag racing technology that, in this case, engages first and second gears simultaneously to bind the transmission, so you can step on the gas to build up torque in the engine and drivetrain without having to use the brakes, which wouldn’t be able to hold back much of what the Demon dishes out before the tires started spinning. Meanwhile, a torque converter with a high stall speed lets you rev engine even higher than you normally could without moving as you await the green light.
Before we get to that, a few other notes on the Challenger’s transformation from Hellcat to Demon. With the project’s goals being a sub-10-second quarter-mile and the ability to lift the front wheels on launch, the SRT team knew it had to trim a few pounds — 232 pounds, it turns out — from the coupe’s over 2-ton weight.
Eliminating the passenger seat and rear bench (both can be added back in for $1 each) along with the trunk carpet and spare tire was the easy part. Swapping in some lightweight suspension parts and smaller brakes is indicative of the Demon’s drag racing focus — although it retains its computer-controlled shock absorber system and still handles pretty well for a behemoth.
The suspension plays an important role in the Demon’s straight-line speed, too. When you set the car to Drag Mode, it stiffens the rear shocks and softens the fronts to help transfer the weight to the meaty, 12.4-inch wide Nitto drag radials at launch. The result is a car that can cover a quarter mile in 9.96 seconds on premium fuel and 9.65 seconds on race gas in ideal conditions with a set of skinny “front-runner” tires installed. The Demon Crate comes with a set of rims for a pair.
The first time I gave it a shot, I skipped the TransBrake and used the traditional launch control system to get a feel for things. And oh, how it felt.
You simply press the brake pedal hard, floor the gas, release the brake and become one with the deep bucket seat. I’ve been in quick production cars before, but none prepared me for the violence the Demon took off with. The thunder coming out of the exhaust mixed with the screeching supercharger enhanced the experience in a way the silent electric motors of a ‘Ludicrous’ Tesla never could.
And it pulled all the way down the strip, which I covered in 10.2 seconds at 134 mph. And to think that launch control neuters the car. Using the TransBrake is the way to unleash its full abilities, but you’ll need plenty of your own to go with it.
To engage it, you pull both paddles behind the steering wheel, give it some gas (but not too much) and then, when the screen on the instrument cluster tells you it’s OK, you let one paddle go and take your foot off the brake.
It’ll let you sit there like that for about 15 seconds. You release the other paddle to get moving, and then it’s all you. There’s no traction control in this mode, so you need to modulate the throttle to keep from smoking the tires. It’s easier said than done with all that power, even on a strip prepped with sticky traction compound and rubbered-in. On my first three tries, I botched it pretty good.
I eventually managed to get away cleanly a couple of times, but never did better than the launch control. I’m sure a drag racing regular could.
Jim Wilder, the Demon’s development manager, is one of those. He took me for a run in a two-seat car with front-runners on it and pretty much all I can remember is getting walloped in the back and looking at the sky as we left the line. He may have overseen its development, but the launch control has nothing on him. I was so taken aback by the ride that I spaced out and forgot to check his time. Pride wouldn’t allow me to tell you what it was, anyway.
Dodge isn’t the first to hop up a Hellcat, of course. Plenty of shops have figured out how to get this much power and more out of it. The difference is that the Demon comes with a warranty. Wilder said his team did over 500 quarter-mile runs on a single axle, and more than 900 with the same transmission, and both looked like new when they pulled them out to inspect them. It’s doubtful any Demons will see that much action in the real world.
The Demon starts at $86,090. That’s a lot for a toy, and that’s exactly what it is. But it’s likely a steal at that price.
Dodge is building only 3,300 of them for the U.S. and Canada, and they’ve all been allocated. It did its best to keep dealers from marking them up, but some people are already trying to flip cars they don’t have yet for double what they’re paying, and a few probably will. If not now, then in a few years at one of those collector car auctions on TV.
That is, unless Dodge manages to outdo itself. When the Hellcat came out a few years ago, everyone thought it marked the end of days for the muscle car, and then they went and made the Demon and turned the Hellcat into a commodity. While it is a one-year-and-done model, the Challenger is going to be around at least until 2020, so there’s time for an even more evil encore.
But what the devil would they call it?
2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon
Base price: $86,060
Type: 1- to 5-passenger, 2-door, rear-wheel-drive coupe
Engine: 6.2-liter supercharged V8
Power: 808/840 hp, 770 lb-ft
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
MPG: 13 city/22 highway