Chevrolet’s had the 5th-generation Camaro ZL1 out for a couple of model years now, and it’s only real muscle car competition was the now-defunct Ford Mustang Shelby GT500.  The GT500 is now out of production, as the 2015 Mustang will go into production soon.  Dodge’s heavy Challenger SRT8 is a great car for cruising the boulevards and highways of America, it’s just not a handling muscle car like the ZL1.  The ZL1 is meant to be a car that you can take to your local track day without a trailer, win, and drive home.  Dodge desperately needed a competitor to the ZL1, so they rolled out the awesome Challenger Hellcat.  The Hellcat is the most powerful stock American V8 ever.  It makes a thundering, throaty, screaming, 707 horsepower.  That’s right.  However, a dyno test by Motor Trend showed that the Hellcat actually makes more than that.  Back to that later.  The Hellcat is meant to be a car that you can drive to your local drag strip, win against other bone-stock cars, and drive home.

The Camaro uses a detuned LS9 6.2-liter supercharged V8 that pumps out 580 horsepower.  It puts the power down to the ground through either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission.  Plus, you can get it as a convertible, which would eliminate most of the visibility issues associated with the 5th-generation Camaro coupe.  While the Camaro may make far less horsepower than the Challenger Hellcat, it makes up for it in a trick suspension and 400 fewer pounds than the Challenger Hellcat.  Sometimes less is more.  Besides, the Camaro beat the 662-horsepower Mustang GT500 in it’s last shootout.

The Challenger uses an all-new 6.2-liter supercharged Hellcat V8 that pumps out a claimed 707 horsepower.  It puts all of those raging ponies down to the ground through either a six-speed manual or a quick-shifting 8-speed automatic adapted from the ZF 8-speed slushbox found in many cars nowadays.  It also comes with a trick suspension adapted from the Viper, and a variety of cool driving modes (like Valet Mode, which lowers the horsepower to 300, limits the revs to 4,000 RPM, and turns all of the nannies on).  Plus, it comes with more street appeal than just about any other new car on the market.  Well, with the exception of the Pagani Huayra…

If you want to kill them with consistency in the acceleration department, go for the ZL1.  It thunders to 60 mph in just 3.9 seconds.  It then goes on to slaughter the 1/4 mile in a stonking fast 12.2 seconds at 116.6 mph.  Whatever way you look at it, that’s pretty fast.  Enter the Hellcat.  It makes the Camaro feel slow.  That’s not surprising.  What makes it’s times even more impressive is the fact that it puts 707+ horsepower down to the ground through relatively skinny 275 millimeter-width tires.  Granted, the tires are Pirelli P Zeroes, but that’s a lot of power going to the ground through not very much tire.  This, of course, makes the Hellcat a difficult one to launch.  Even with launch control enabled, the Hellcat’s best 0-60 run was “just” 3.7 seconds to 60 mph.  It’s probably best to launch the Hellcat in 2nd gear, as that much power can get the Hellcat up to speed quickly, plus it eliminates a time-sapping gearshift.  It then goes on to absolutely embarrass the ZL1 in the 1/4 mile by doing a crazy-fast 11.7 second at 125.4 mph run.  That trap speed won’t only embarrass a Camaro ZL1 owner – it will embarrass a Porsche 911 Turbo S AND a Nissan GT-R Nismo in the 1/4 mile.  America for the win.

Then, you go onto a skid pad.  This is where the intended functions of these two cars show.  The Camaro ZL1 pulled 0.99 G’s on the skidpad.  This is probably thanks to the cool Delphi magnetic shocks, and the quick steering in the ZL1.  While the ZL1 may behave like a sports car, the Hellcat doesn’t.  As Motor Trend‘s Scott Evans put it, “The Challenger handles just like a Challenger.  Understeer into the corner, oversteer out.”  The Hellcat may handle like a boat, but it sticks.  Just ask the 0.94 G’s pulled on the skidpad.  The Challenger may not be the best choice for corner carving on a tight, windy race track, but it will put to shame many well-tuned drift cars as it shreds its skinny rear tires.

I literally couldn’t stop laughing when I heard this, but it’s 100% true.  Motor Trend‘s Kim Reynolds said that the Camaro felt like something developed by Infiniti’s Red Bull Racing Formula 1 team or McLaren’s Formula 1 team.  The Hellcat, on the opposite side of the spectrum, “feels like it was developed by HOT ROD’s Freiburger and Finnegan.”

Should you choose to road-trip either of these two cars, invite me or some friends along!  The Camaro has visibility akin to a solitary confinement prison cell at Abu Grahib, but it’s V8 hums along, the cool shocks absorb anything any road can throw at it, and it’s got a great sound system.  The Challenger Hellcat is THE ultimate road trip car.  I’ve heard that it’s ride is a bit busier, but it keeps you more alert than the quiet, subdued Camaro ZL1.  It’s seats are something that you’ll want in your living room.  The supercharged Hellcat Hemi has an absolutely demonic supercharger whine when you step on it – batten the hatches when the Hellcat comes to town!  The 8-speed automatic transmission is found in almost every new Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep/Ram/SRT product these days, and it is more beefed up in the Challenger Hellcat to handle the crazy power numbers.  The Hellcat’s engine note when you step on it sounds like somebody supercharged Roadkill’s Blasphemi 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air gasser.  It sounds absolutely spectacular.  The best part is, Dodge has released a Hellcat Hemi engine note ringtone.

Inside, the Challenger is definitely the car of choice.  Aside from the crazy powerful engine and the sinister sheetmetal that looks straight out of 1970, the Challenger is really quite the ticket to being comfortable.  It’s got one of the best interiors in the segment, which it has had since day 1, an intuitive infotainment system, an even better Boston Acoustics sound system, plenty of room for five adults, and a stunningly low entry price of $60,995.  Then, the Camaro ZL1 enters the room.  Sure, it’s got Alcantara all over the bloody cabin, and snug, comfortable Recaro bucket seats, but you can tell Chevy cared more about what was under the hood.  Dodge didn’t have to try very hard to update the cabin in the Challenger.  If you can’t swing $60,995, no worries.  Chevy has a great Camaro ZL1 with your name on it for just $57,650.

While these two cars have traded blows in straight lines, in the curves, and elsewhere, street appeal is definitely part of what muscle cars are all about.  In a nutshell, the Camaro looks like just another Camaro with big black wheels and a vented hood, while the Challenger looks like it just stepped out of the Trans-Am racing series.  It just looks like pure evil.

This is America.  Just like basketball (and many other ball sports), there are NO ties.  There are only winners and losers.  In my humble opinion, the Challenger Hellcat will always come out on top.  It’s got a focus on power, presence, and straight-line performance define what a muscle car is supposed to be.  It shows that the boys over at Dodge know how to make a world-class muscle car after years and years of being pushed around by Ford and Chevy.  While I like the ZL1 as a capable and well-balanced sports car, it just doesn’t really seem like as good of a muscle car of the Challenger Hellcat.  Like the muscle cars of the 1960’s and 1970’s, the Challenger Hellcat is built to dominate the streets with some serious power under the beautifully sculpted hood.  The Hellcat proves to me that the ultimate muscle car wasn’t built in the 1960’s or 1970’s – it is now, and here to stay.

Now for the dyno results.  The Challenger Hellcat is rated by the SAE (Society of American Engineers) at 707 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque at the crank.  Dodge is lying through their teeth.  This engine is almost as powerful as an engine in NASCAR’s Nationwide Series.  The Hellcat Challenger puts down 635 horsepower and 591 pound-feet of torque at the wheels.  Factor in a 12% driveline loss (automatics are getting more and more efficient every year), and the Challenger Hellcat makes about 722 horsepower and 672 pound-feet of torque at the crank.  Both of those are more than advertised.  Some other cool things about the Challenger Hellcat:  When Motor Trend did their dyno test at K&N Air Filter’s Riverside, CA dyno shop, the Hellcat was the fastest car ever strapped down to the massive rollers there.  The speedometer topped out at 202 mph, but the Hellcat accelerated to 225 mph, which is the fastest the dyno can possibly go there.  While the Hellcat will never, ever get up to 225 mph stock (a brick goes through the air better), it’s cool to know that the SRT team of engineers didn’t bother fitting a speed limiter to the car.  Not only is it the fastest, but it’s also the hottest.  The Hellcat took five industrial fans pointed at it to keep it cool for it’s dyno pull.  An interesting fact to know about the Hellcat is that it will suck all of the air out of a 10 X 13 foot room in just one minute at full throttle.  It will also drain all 19 gallons of it’s fuel tank in a minute at full throttle.

Now on to the Camaro ZL1.  The ZL1 makes only 580 horsepower and 556 pound-feet of SAE-rated torque.  The car that Motor Trend tested made just 472 horsepower and 482 pound-feet of torque at the wheels.  K&N noted that that’s about 20 fewer horsepower than they are used to seeing from a stock Camaro ZL1.  Assuming a 10% driveline loss for the Camaro, it’s making a still-impressive 524 horsepower and 536 pound-feet at the crank.  That’s almost 60 horsepower than rated.

Why did the Hellcat need five industrial fans pointed at it?  Well, the Hellcat needs a LOT of air to operate optimally, and superchargers throw off lots of heat.  This 2.9-liter supercharger shoves 11.9 pounds of boost into the engine.  This supercharger is common in tuned muscle cars, and it’s not uncommon to see more boost out of it.  However, I just think that the Hellcat’s engine can’t easily make more power before it presses the self-destruct button.  It’s like the Nissan GT-R, where the engine has been tuned so much that Motor Trend found in a test last year that the engine kept loosing 5 pounds of boost from the two massive turbos.  That’s a lot of boost, so you’ve got to wonder if engines this powerful are tuned to within an inch of their life.

What about the ZL1?  Was it a dud car, or has GM just been radically overrating their engines?  Who knows?  Dyno results range anywhere from far more than what the manufacturer says to far below.  It depends on the dyno itself, the way the car is strapped down, if it has enough air going into the engine, the temperature of the air, and what gear the car is in.  There are literally thousands of different factors in dynoing a car.  It probably wasn’t in Motor Trend’s best interest to dyno two powerful cars with heat-making superchargers in the end of a SoCal summer in Riverside.  While Dodge does say that the Hellcat will last 20 minutes in 100 degree heat at a track and get consistent results, one has to wonder if the Challenger can really last that long without overheating.  Time will tell (pardon the pun) the reliability of this powerful engine.

The engine technology in the Hellcat Hemi goes back to 2002.  That’s a really long time for a cylinder head design to be around in one basic form or another.  Granted, that design works – really well, but Ford and Chevy have definitely stepped up their engine game.  The Mustang GT500 used an aluminum block, which took off 100 pounds off of the front of an already-heavy car, and a bunch of other really cutting-edge engine technology.  Chevy’s LS9 and LSA V8’s are really beasts of engines, but obviously not in the ZL1 dynoed by Motor Trend.  The Hellcat engine block was originally going to be aluminum, but was vetoed at the 11th hour by a Dodge executive.  It’s a shame.  The aluminum engine block would have shaved at least 100 pounds off of the front of a nose-heavy car, bringing it’s curb weight down to about 4350 pounds or so, which would be almost 100 pounds heavier than the also-chubby Camaro.

When it comes to transmissions, the ZF 8-speed automatic is the best transmission in a muscle car now.  Chevy’s six-speed automatic doesn’t like to downshift, even when told to.  Ford didn’t offer an automatic transmission in the GT500, but it used a TREMEC TR6060 six-speed manual.  This is a great six-speed manual.  It’s used by Ford, Chevy, and Dodge.  It’s also common in road-racing cars.  It’s beefy, reliable, and has good gearing for almost any engine.  The fact is, the Hellcat with the 8-speed ZF transmission is probably the best combination.  It’s going to be hard for even an experienced driver of a manual transmission to put 635 horsepower and 591 pound-feet of torque down to the ground.  That’s why Dodge offers 3 power settings – 300 horsepower, 500 horsepower, and 700+ horsepower.  In daily driving, the most power anybody will ever really need is 150 horsepower and about 200 pound-feet of torque.  Plus, the Hellcat with the automatic transmission will get 24 mpg on the highway.  The Camaro only gets 21.  The Mustang only got 22.

If you get a Hellcat, please, please, pretty please, let me know!  I will feature you on my blog, but ONLY if you either take me for a ride, or let me drive it!  If you do either of these, I will interview you, take wonderful pictures, and wax poetic about being in a Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat for the rest of my life.

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10 thoughts on “Bad Boys: Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Vs. Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

  1. i was young when i started to read this most informative article….will finish this comment when i finish the posting…meanwhile…

  2. Those are some really cool cars, and some really in-depth reporting. The gt-500 would also make an interesting comparison.

    1. Ford has had what we know to be a GT350 prototype running around the Nurburgring for the past few months, so I don’t know when the next generation GT500 comes out. My best guess is that it will be about 3-5 years or so. But then again, who knows?

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