"Why do brands build halo cars? It sure as hell isn't for the business case," admits Tim Kuniskis, head of passenger car brands for FCA North America. The Challenger SRT Demon won't sell in huge numbers, but it will hopefully build excitement around Dodge's other, more attainable performance cars.
I joined other journalists at Fiat Chrysler's U.S. headquarters to see the Demon and learn its secrets many months before the car would ever be shown to the general public. But by the time you're reading this, pretty much all of the Demon's exciting secrets have been spoiled by Dodge's incessant weekly teasers, as well as by an array of spy shots and even leaked photos.
How insane is the car? Well, Dodge is saying so far that it set a new Guinness World Record for longest wheelie by a production car – traveling 2.92 feet from a standing start with its front tires airborne. And the Demon is apparently so quick that the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA), the nation's preeminent sanctioning body for all things quarter-mile, has "banned" it because it doesn't have the safety equipment required for such performance.
The overriding questions on the minds of everyone following the Demon teasers are of course horsepower and performance. Those questions are finally answered: Dodge says the Demon makes 840 horsepower and rips to 60 miles per hour in just 2.3 seconds, pulling 1.8 times the force of gravity at launch. Stay in the throttle, and the Demon will cross the quarter-mile in 9.65 seconds at 140 mph. Not bad, Dodge.
Compared to the Hellcat, the 6.2-liter V8 in the Demon benefits from dual fuel pumps inside of a single one, a 2.7-liter supercharger displacement instead of 2.4, 14.5 psi of boost versus 11.6, and a redline raised from 6,200 to 6,500 rpm.
As by now has become evident from the aforementioned teasers, the 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon is more than just a stripped-down Hellcat. It's fully street legal and, at least hypothetically, could still be driven to church, yet it's designed to obliterate the competition at drag strips with ease.
"No one has ever built a VIN-ed, street-legal drag car before," boasts Kuniskis. He says a team of about 25 dedicated SRT engineers, plus other FIat Chrysler employees, spent more than two years from start to finish working on the project.
The Demon tweaks begin with an intensive diet that removes 232 pounds (105 kilograms) of mass compared to the Hellcat on which it is based. The final car is actually only 215 pounds skinnier, though, because it adds 17 pounds in the course of its widened fenders, new wheels, and other enhancements.
As we've detailed before, much of the weight savings come from ditching the 55-pound back seat and the 58-pound passenger seat. However, Dodge will let customers pay a small amount to add them back in – and expects a lot of buyers will take them up on that offer.
"If you want the creature comforts back, you can get them for a reasonable amount," Kuniskis says. "Almost 100 percent of the people will opt up to the [passenger] seat ... The rear seat, nah, I don't think anyone will."
When you ditch the back seat, you can also then opt for a bolt-in harness bar (designed by, but not sold by, Dodge) as well as a special net to hold your helmet.
The Demon's brakes are also smaller, saving 16 pounds (four-piston front calipers on 14.2-inch discs instead of six-piston calipers and 15.4-inch discs in the Hellcat); smaller, hollow anti-roll bars cut 19 pounds; new wheels with open lug nuts drop 16 pounds; and removing various pieces of interior trim, sound deadening, all but two of the speakers, and so on helps bring the diet to that impressive 232-pound total.
Those wheels are 18 inches in diameter and 11 inches wide. They wear 315/40R18 Nitto NTO5R drag radials, marking the first time a production car has been sold with drag radials from the factory. Though the NT05R is not a new tire, the Demon uses a unique compound specifically designed for this car. These are supposed to give the Demon triple the traction coefficient of a Hellcat at launch. The tires are also mounted with 0.5 degrees less negative camber than on a Hellcat, thanks to new rear knuckles, to improve straight-line traction.
No, there's no manual-transmission option. It would be slower.
Dodge says ride quality might even be a little improved compared to a Hellcat thanks to the Demon's more generous sidewalls; the Hellcat comes with 20-inch wheels wrapped in low-profile 275/40 rubber.
Having grip, however, isn't the only critical element to pulling off super-fast drag launches. The Demon is said to have 35-percent more "launch force" than the Hellcat, enabled in part by a shorter final-drive ratio of 3.09:1 instead of 2.62:1. The torque converter for the eight-speed automatic has an 11-percent higher stall speed, and provides 18-percent more torque multiplication off the line. In other words, there's more grunt going to the road. To cope with this added stress, all the car's driveline parts have been strengthened.
And before you ask, no, there's no manual-transmission option. It would be slower and less consistent for drag racing, and some of the car's Drag Mode features (more on that soon) require the eight-speed box.
Buying a 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon, however, isn't the only step necessary for quarter-mile heroics. Anyone serious about getting the most out of the car will also want to pay extra for a special branded crate – it has a plaque with the owner's name and the car's VIN – that helps transform the Demon into a strip monster.
Inside, you get two super-skinny front-runner wheels that you can put on the front of the car for drag racing. No tires are supplied, so racers can pick their favorite brand. With this arrangement, by the way, Kuniskis says the factory front drag radials essentially become spare rear tires. The kit also includes Snap-on tools, including a jack, torque wrench, and other components needed to swap wheels.
In addition, this special dealer-purchased crate comes with a new thermostat, air intake, and computer for the 6.2-liter supercharged V8, plus new center-stack buttons. Once all installed, drivers can push a button inside to switch to a high-octane engine map – Kuniskis jokes the lawyers won't let him call it a race-fuel mode – that unlocks even more power. Various knock sensors check the fuel blend and will turn off the mode if your fuel doesn't have a high enough octane rating, for instance if a driver blended 100- and 91- octane in the tank. The car is still emissions-legal when running in the high-octane mode, too.
All that power comes from several new air-management strategies. For starters, the Demon gets what's claimed to be the world's biggest production-car hood scoop, named Air Grabber and 45.2 square inches in size, as well as dual Air Catcher headlights. That alone can reduce air inlet temperatures by 30 degrees Fahrenheit, Kuniskis says. Yet the Demon goes even further with a patent-pending technology called Air-Charge Cooler. When activated, it uses the air conditioning system to chill the supercharger's intercooler. That can reduce inlet charges by 45 degrees Fahrenheit. As every racer knows, cooler air means more fuel and more power. By the way, running your A/C at a drag strip is a huge no-no because condensation can drip onto the prepared surface, so the Demon has a special foam-lined belly pan to catch and absorb drips when the Cooler is in use.
After each run, there's a function to bring the supercharged V8's temperature back down to normal. Called After-Run Cooler (and also patent-pending), it keeps the engine fan and intercooler pump running even with the engine turned off to bring underhood temps back down to a reasonable level before the next drag run. Again, consistency and heat management are the names of the game.
When it comes time to put all this into practice, Kuniskis wants Demon drivers to have a far easier time behind the wheel than he recalls from racing in his youth. Drag Mode, accessible via the car's infotainment system, configures every component for optimum hole-shot performance. It starts by adjusting the adaptive suspension: the rear suspension goes fully stiff, while the front has lots of compression damping but little rebound damping, allowing the car's nose to lift easily during a hard launch. (By the way, as standard the Demon's spring rates and anti-roll bars are much softer than in a regular Hellcat.)
When he was younger, Kuniskis recalls with a smile, he and his friends would simply bolt worn-out, blown shocks on the front of their drag cars – but that left little lateral control if things got squirrelly. This specially optimized suspension setup is intended to provide the same effect without any of the downsides of old-school methods.
Drag Mode also disables traction control for maximum wheel-slip potential, while keeping stability control enabled, for maximum wall-hitting prevention. An electronic anti-wheel-hop feature also keeps engine output in check should the rear axle start to "hop," which can damage driveline components.
Most important of all, Drag Mode also enables what is essentially a two-step launch control. By using the cylinder deactivation system to fire just four cylinders, while opening a bypass valve in the supercharger, the Demon's engine can start to build up supercharger boost pressure as revs build (recall that there's a much higher stall speed from the new torque converter). And to help with that, there's a transbrake built into the eight-speed automatic that physically locks the driveshaft still. Simply hold the steering wheel paddle shifter to keep the car stationary while standing on the gas pedal and building engine revs. Then just release the paddle and hold on tight.
And, like the Ford Mustang, the Demon will also have a factory line-lock feature for standing burnouts. Ideally, for warming up your tires for the strip, but also potentially for showing off at Cars and Coffee. Sadly, Dodge is limiting line lock to "400 rear wheel revolutions" at a time.
Demon will be sold for just one model year in extremely limited quantities.
In terms of creature comforts, well, the Challenger Demon doesn't have many. There are just two speakers for the sound system, and only federally required safety systems – a backup camera, stability control, and tire-pressure monitoring – are included. There is also a Valet mode, which limits engine speed to 4,000 rpm and disables launch control, plus an Eco Mode that nobody will ever activate.
It's worth noting that the Dodge Challenger SRT Demon comes with a three-year/36,000-mile warranty despite its performance focus. Kuniskis also says that Dodge will honor the warranty even if you use the crate parts; the company's warranties cover "timed competition" but not racing, so most casual weekend quarter-mile hounds will be in the clear.
If you're a drag-racing dilettante, by the way, fear not: That aforementioned parts crate comes with a leather-bound book explaining how the car works, how to set it up, and how to extract the best performance at the strip.
Buyers also get a pass for a one-day driver training class at the Bob Bondurant driving school. And if you're struggling to find someone to insure your street-legal drag racer, Dodge says it has partnered with Hagerty Insurance as the car's "official insurance provider."
The Dodge Demon will be sold for just one model year in extremely limited quantities. For the U.S. market, 3,000 cars will be built starting this summer, with another 300 cars destined for Canada.
All that remains to be seen is how enthusiasts will respond to the latest Dodge muscle machine. Will the Challenger Demon be used as intended, to blitz drag strips with ease? Will it become a garage queen that spends more time in collections than burnout boxes? Either way, it's clear the car is Dodge's way of throwing down a huge gauntlet. The Hellcat paved the way with a ludicrously overpowered street car, and now the Demon is following up by putting that power (and more) into a useful package.
If you missed Dodge's livestream reveal of the SRT Demon, you can catch it here. Jump ahead to 26:11 for the start of the video.