By on September 18, 2020

2020 Dodge Charger Hellcat Widebody. Photo: Tim Healey/TTAC

I didn’t plan for it to happen. It just did.

I had requested a Shelby GT500 loan because I’d driven the car on the launch but wanted to see what it’s like to live with the king of current Mustangs in the real world. Because the car is likely in high demand among Chicago-area automotive journalists, the loan would be short. So I’d have a gap in my schedule.

I don’t need test cars to get around. I am not dependent on them – I don’t feel beholden to the fleets or the automakers. I have other ways to get around, whether it be walking, biking, using a cab/Uber, or whatever. But I try to schedule cars each week, either so I can review them for TTAC (even if it takes a while to actually get around to the write-up, sorry gang) or at least use them as background for knowledge and comparison.

So I politely asked the fleet if they could send me something to cover the five-day gap between the time a Cadillac went home and the Shelby arrived. I didn’t care what – coupe or minivan, big or small, we review ‘em all.

“Sure, how about a Dodge Charger Hellcat widebody?”

Um, yeah, OK. I think that will work.

A peek behind the curtains is necessary here. As I said above, I’d asked for the Shelby for the real-world experience. I make it a policy to try to arrange a home loan for every car I’ve been invited on a junket to drive. The reason? Because California pavement and sunshine and canyon roads aren’t representative of our pothole-plagued infrastructure here in the Midwest. Because you see things living with a car for a week – or even two days – that you don’t on a one-day event. Because I don’t get groceries or take three other adults to dinner (during non-pandemic times, of course) or haul furniture or help someone move while on a press launch.

2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500. Photo: Tim Healey/TTAC

I don’t always succeed. For example, I still haven’t tested a Honda Accord or Passport since launch. No beef with Honda, the vehicles just haven’t been available when I’ve asked. I also don’t think I’ve driven a Hellcat widebody since last year’s launch event. Which was held, where else, in California.

Anyway, that explains why I had two cars that make over 700 horsepower back to back over the course of a week.

This isn’t your standard comparison test. For one thing, despite the similarities in power and layout, the two cars are different in key ways. One has four doors, the other two. While both can be tracked or drag-raced quite easily, one is clearly more focused on those activities than the other.

2020 Dodge Charger Hellcat Widebody. Photo: Tim Healey/TTAC

Not to mention that I drove them on different roads in different parts of the Chicago area. Or that I don’t have any way to do actual instrumented testing.

So, no, there will be no scoring system here, no winner, no loser. Not even a spirited debate among staffers, since we all live in different parts of the U.S. and Canada and we weren’t gathering for this. It’s just my observations of life in the real world while behind the wheel of V8-powered muscle cars that are insanely fast.

Full reviews of each car will come later.

Let’s start with the Hellcat. The supercharged 6.2-liter V8 makes 707 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque and pairs to an eight-speed automatic. And it’s a goddamn delight of an engine.

Get into the gas even a little bit, and even at lower RPMs you’ll get a wonderful supercharger whine. And you don’t need a lot of RPM to get into the torque.

2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500. Photo: Tim Healey/TTAC

Yet, the Hellcat CAN be driven gently. Under 2,000 RPM, it almost loafs. When you need to pass or get up to speed, you can dial up just enough power to do what you need to do without digging so deep into the throttle that you launch yourself into outer space.

Of course, should the tap of the shoulder from the evil side of your personality arrive, there’s lots of tire-smoking, all-American power to get into. Especially with the red key activated.

Real-world conditions prevented me from exploring most of this car’s potential – you need a track, or the freakin’ Bonneville Salt Flats, to do that. Still, I managed a few back-road blasts and time-and-space warping merges. The Charger isn’t light (over 4,500 pounds), but with all that torque on hand, it doesn’t matter. You can get into serious speed seriously quickly.

And if you want to be truly bad, you can find a shady spot, select Sport (no need for Track mode, even), and floor the go pedal from idle. When I attempted this, the car got more sideways than Hemingway on a bender and left a cloud of smoke that completely obscured the rearview mirror. When the rears finally hooked up and the car found forward momentum, I moseyed away from the scene of the crime, giggling as if laughing gas had leaked into the car.

Yeah, like that scene in Black Sheep. “Roads…ro-ads”. That one, but sober. High only on octane, horsepower, and torque.

2020 Dodge Charger Hellcat Widebody. Photo: Tim Healey/TTAC

I admit, at first I found myself resistant to catching any feels, as the kids say, for this Charger. I didn’t want to let all that power paper over the fact that this platform would be old enough to drink legally, were it human, or that the rear-seat space is a bit tight for a large car. The interior is functional and attractive but doesn’t feel special, really, at least for over 80 large. And while the Charger handles well given its size and power, it’s better in a straight line. Also, that wide-load rear makes you nervous on tight roads or narrow one-way streets in the urban jungle.

Then again, the highway ride is generally compliant. On the stiff side, sure, but not so rough as to make a long drive a chore. And the muscle-car soundtrack that’s so intoxicating even at idle fades nicely into the background at highway speeds when the revs are below 2,000. The supercharger whine and V8 rumble/roar are great, but the noise fades when the car is being driven softly. You can always summon it with your right foot.

Contrast that with the Shelby. The Mustang is jumpy and jittery, at least on broken pavement, which Chicago has plenty of. It seems louder (no chance to actually measure) than the Charger, even in normal mode.

The sounds coming out of the tailpipe sound a bit higher-pitched, too. The supercharged 5.2-liter V8 makes 760 horsepower and 625 lb-ft of torque and mates to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

It’s immediately obvious that while the Charger is a large car that just happens to have lots of power on hand, the Mustang is meant to play. And it’s not nearly as happy to commute as the Dodge is.

2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500. Photo: Tim Healey/TTAC

You can feel the car settle into a rhythm when you get on the gas during a break in traffic, or if you push it, even relatively mildly, in a corner. And smooth pavement does reduce the jitters, to be sure, though the car still feels more high-strung than the Hellcat.

I got used to the exhaust noise after a time, and a quiet mode is available at the flip of a switch if you tire of the racket.

The Charger Hellcat handles relatively well for its size – as noted, I tracked it last year, and it attacked on-ramps without drama during my loan. But the Mustang, well, it’s a whole different beast.

Turn-in too lazily, and the ‘Stang is easily corrected. The steering that’s a bit too vague and light on-center, even in Sport mode, tightens up when you’re hustling the car through corners. The car just feels happier. And when the fun is over, the binders are almost too good – you feel like you stomped on them 50 feet too soon.

The Shelby has enough grunt to break the rear end loose on dry pavement if you light-switch the throttle in track mode, but oddly enough, I couldn’t quite replicate the Charger’s epic burnout in a parking lot (safely socially-distanced from cars and light poles, of course). Instead, I got tire squeal, some waggle, and then the car hooked up and took off. Then I had to take off – the arrival of at least one jogger and my desire to not be that guy who pulls a Cars and Coffee in a Mustang meant I had to saunter on.

2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500. Photo: Tim Healey/TTAC

I found it easier to live with the Mustang as time wore on, but it’s not as user-friendly for the daily grind as the Hellcat. The console is tiny, for one, and the backseat remains useless for transporting humans other than small children. I swear my Fox body, a smaller car overall, had more rear-seat room. A friend of mine who possesses an SN95 Mustang said the same thing.

Also, the bolstered Recaros suck for comfort. I’d not select them unless I was tracking the car on a frequent basis.

Still, there’s enough trunk space for most people, and outside the super-stiff ride and the ever-present exhaust, the car is easy enough to drive in commuter mode, as long as you don’t mat the throttle when leaving every stoplight.

At least Ford’s Synch worked without bugs this go-round, though it initially refused to connect to CarPlay. A restart solved that snafu, and it was smooth sailing from there.

Both these cars cost a hair over $80K, with the Shelby being cheaper by about a grand. If you gave me a check and said “pick one”, I’d look at you funny and try to convince you to give me both.

2020 Dodge Charger Hellcat Widebody. Photo: Tim Healey/TTAC

If you held your ground, I’d begrudgingly pick the Charger, if only because it handles shitty pavement better and has real rear-seat room. But that doesn’t make the Shelby a loser – if I lived in California and never had more than one passenger, I’d probably select the Ford.

Which, again, is why this isn’t a real comparison test. Both cars have different missions. The Shelby is best set against a Camaro ZL1 or Challenger SRT Hellcat (with or without the widebody), while the Charger Hellcat has no real competition.

Instead, consider this a retrospective of what it’s like to live with two of the most powerful American cars you can buy – two cars with similar sticker prices and power numbers and track ability but also with obvious major differences.

I’m on record as being generally in favor of moving the market towards a more fuel-efficient future, because we need the environment to be in tip-top shape if we want to continue to survive and thrive as a species. But even if 99 percent of the fleet goes all-electric, I hope there is still some room for niche cars like this.

The sounds, the speed, the tire smoke – it’s a wonderful throwback to a muscle-car past that ended almost a decade before I was born, while my parents were far younger than I am now. It’s also a reminder that while this kind of speed and power isn’t necessary, and the world would be worse off if all cars sucked fuel this way – I saw 16 mpg at best in the Hellcat and around 12 in the ‘Stang (had somewhat fewer highway miles in the Shelby, by my estimate) – it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500. Photo: Tim Healey/TTAC

I’m glad most cars now are fuel-efficient and quiet, and certainly there are fun-to-drive sports cars out there that get respectable fuel-economy numbers while being smooth and silent. And in some cases, affordable. You can get into a sporty compact car for less than half the price of one of these cars. You can get a family sedan that is perfectly sedate most of the time but still fun when you want to push it. If you’re an enthusiast, it’s a great time to be alive.

You have tons of choice, and as stated, you can get a fun car for relatively cheap, without sacrificing comfort, convenience, or fuel economy. That’s great, and I’d never look askance at the Volkswagen Golf GTI or Honda Civic Si driver. I’d probably own something in that class if I owned a car.

But there’s something to be said about cars like the Shelby and the Hellcat. I don’t know if regulations or market forces or a shift to electrification or an eventual increase in autonomous driving will kill off cars like these. Hell, EV versions might be fun in their own way, thanks to the instant torque of an electric motor.

So the days for cars like this may be numbered. Or not. All one can do for now is enjoy them.

Grab the keys (red, if it’s the Dodge), press the start button, crank the ZZ Top, lay some rubber, and be happy you’re alive.

[Images © 2020 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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18 Comments on “Life in the Fast Lane: A Week with 1,467 Horsepower...”

  • avatar

    First a C8 ‘Vette, and now a Hellcat AND a Shelby Mustang? Yeah, I’m drooling.

    I was jealous of Chris for getting tossed the keys to that ‘Vette for a week, and now I’m doubly jealous of Tim!

    I’m going to go with the best car-writeup week at TTAC in a LONG time. Keep it up!

  • avatar

    A French company won’t allow for this kind of American performance.

  • avatar

    I’m definitely too poor.

  • avatar

    I’m sure there’s tons of profit in these cars, and likely they will want to suck as much money as they can from the US operation to prop up everything else (see DaimlerChrysler). I guess you can call it “vampire management(TM)”.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    If I had to choose between the Charger and the Mustang, I’d pick the Challenger because I’ve never cared for the looks of the Charger.

    In any case, these top trims are too much car for me to handle. The hottest cars I’ve ever driven are a Tesla P85 (416 HP) and a C6 Corvette (400 HP), which are different animals from these beasts.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve had many a Hemi Charger or Challenger as rentals, and more than a few V8 Mustangs, and have a bit of a soft spot for them (as long as someone else is paying for the gas). Why I would want 75% MORE power than an already ridiculously powerful car is beyond me.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve driven a C6 Corvette and a C7 that had a modified engine with about 680HP, and a Hellcat Challenger is easier to live with than either of them, if you have any control over your right foot. Even with my lowly Scat Pack Challenger, I have to constantly watch my speed, as I tend to run about 15 over if I zone out on some of the roads outside of town, where the speed limits are far too low. So far in a little over 2 years of owning it, I got a warning from OSP once, and then he asked me to do a nice burnout for him. I always comply to a police request.

    • 0 avatar

      Ford at least took the time to make sure the GT500 is as competent as the GT350 when it comes to driving the car aggressively and as long as your not one of those buffoons hell bent on disabling the traction management system the car works pretty well.

  • avatar

    Stories like this one are why I come here, thanks Tim! I have a Scat pack Charger and love it. This car has more power than I could ever use, cannot imagine what a Hellcat would be like. Bought a new Mustang LX back in 88, got me in lots of trouble, think I would have killed myself with this much power back then.

  • avatar

    How about a tug-of-war between them, like on Roadkill?

  • avatar

    I saw one show that compared the Hellcat Challenger, GT500, and Camaro. They did a laying rubber competition and found that the GT500 hooked up too well to win. The Camaro also hooked up well. Part of me believes that Dodge deliberately sets up their cars so burnouts are easy. The ability to vaporize tires at will is part of the appeal.

  • avatar

    This review needs way more foul language.

  • avatar
    Avid Fan

    Praise Jeebus! An automotive website with good content written by intelligent people, who seem to have experience! Unlike some “no experience required” fcking pansy mothefer sites with their, oh never mind.

  • avatar

    I could have swung a Hellcat Challenger, but the Scat Pack was enough for me. A friend bought a Hellcat recently, not a Red Eye, just a “normal” one. I just don’t see the sense in paying more than enough to buy a cheap winter car extra for the power, but I’m glad FCA or Stellantis? is making them. I’ve owned a Challenger since 2010 (R/T), and people stop and talk to me about it all the time, not like back in 2010, when I would have person after person pull up next to me at stoplights and ask me stuff or give me a thumbs up, but there is still a lot of interest out there. On Thursday, I got a thumbs up from a kid in an old WRX, and a few minutes later in a drive through line, the person giving me my food asked about it. Of all the vehicles I’ve owned, my present car is the one that comes closest to “perfect” in my mind. What would make it perfect? Petty blue with white stripes, a tiny bit louder exhaust, no change other than sound level, and cheaper insurance.

  • avatar

    I go for more, “exotic” stuff:

  • avatar

    Nice article, Tim, a rational review of irrational cars. I like it.

    I almost got myself into trouble last weekend at significant speeds on a curvy 40 mph road with only 265 hp; I don’t think having this much horsepower available would be a good thing for me!

  • avatar
    Amara Martin

    Hell Yay. I would love to experience that drive too. !467 horsepower is insane. I can just think about the sound that the car would make while keeping the leg on the accelerator. Already in the love with the though me driving this car.

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