Blasting through the capital in a Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat

By Russ Heaps
Clanging Bell

(November 28, 2014) I'm not the kind of guy who wants to spend a lot of time in Washington D.C. walking the monuments, gazing at the cherry blossoms or dealing with the traffic. Been there; done that. It's one of those places I think everyone should visit at least once — like the French Quarter in New Orleans, Key West, Las Vegas and so on and so forth — but once you've had the experience, you've had the experience.

So, when Dodge invited me there for an event a few weeks ago, I didn't accept to see the Capitol's sites. Nope, the draw was the opportunity to get behind the wheel of the new Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat....on a race track no less. Hey, not only am I a guy; I'm a car guy. What'd you think I'd do?

Truth be told, though, I arrived early enough on our travel day to walk around for a couple of hours. I mean, I'm not a total Philistine, for the love of God.

Dodge put us up at the W on 15th Street, only two or three blocks from the Washington Monument. I'm not a huge fan of W hotels in general. I've stayed in a bunch of them around the country. They try just a little too hard to be edgy. I was in a couple of Ws years ago with hallways so dark, you needed a flashlight to find the room numbers. Recently I've noticed they are moving a little more mainstream. At least now you can see where you are going once you step out of the elevator.

The W in D.C. is quite quite nice, actually. Centrally located to what most visitors want to see? You bet.

In fact, from the rooftop bar, we could clearly see the top quarter or so of the White House. Only the Treasury Building (and some Secret Service agents – supposedly) stood between us and the Prez.

I hiked the few blocks to the Washington Monument, gazed up at it, and, like the Griswolds at the Grand Canyon, counted one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi before turning and heading off. I covered the distance back to the hotel and then walked another three or four blocks past it to the Capitol City Brewing Company (pictured below). Yes, I had found a craft brewery within a stone's throw of the W. Reason enough to stay at the W on your next D.C. visit. While there I quaffed a pint of
Prohibition Porter with notes of chocolate and malt. Mmmm....

Dinner that night was at the Lincoln Restaurant on Vermont Avenue. Specializing in American fare, the food was wonderful with friendly and attentive servers. I was impressed with the well-stocked bar. My order of Elmer T. Lee bourbon came with a square ice cube the size of a child's fist. I'm a pushover for over-sized hunks of ice be they round or cube.

After-dinner libations both nights were offered at the W's POV Terrace — otherwise known as the rooftop bar. From this perch all of the Capitol stretches out before you. The view notwithstanding, I was a bit disappointed in the beverage selection that was pretty ordinary to say the least. Think of what one might find at an open-bar wedding reception. Thank, God, the company was good.

As has become a feature of Chrysler (Now called FCA for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) media launches, journalists were spirited away from the hotel after breakfast to another location for the product presentations and walk arounds. Reagan National Airport was that morning's destination where 25 or so Dodge Chargers of various stripes were arranged in an airplane hangar.

 After the presentations, we paired up, claimed a Charger and aimed ourselves toward West Virginia's Summit Point Motorsports Park about 70 miles away. My driving partner and I chose a $47,385 silver Charger SRT 392 for the two-hour or so sprint to the track.

Although the $62,295 Hellcat was the star of the day, the SRT 392 is no slouch. In fact, on any other day I would have been blown away by its 485-horsepower 6.4-liter Hemi V8. The “392” in its nomenclature comes from its engine's 392 cubic inches. What a rush to drive! From the curb it looks fast and its performance lives up to its looks. An eight-speed, driver-shiftable automatic transmission with shift paddles mounted to its flat-bottom steering wheel transfers engine grunt to the rear wheels.

These performance Chargers aren't just about acceleration. Sport-tuned suspensions provide an uber stable platform, promoting surefooted cornering. Inside, quality materials, impressive craftsmanship and loads of technology create an ideal passenger environment. It's a sedan to haul the kids to school Monday through Friday then take to the track on the weekend.

 Once at the track and with all the instruction and waiver signing out of the way, we donned helmets and headed to the SRT Hellcats. Each SRT Hellcat comes with two key fobs: Black dampens the pony count; while Red unleashes the Hellcat's full fury. (There is even a “Valet” mode that really tones down performance.) Needless to say, Dodge tossed us the Red fob.

Have you ever held the reins of a 707-horsepower screamer? Neither had I. It's not an experience soon forgotten. Piloting the Charger with the 6.2-liter Hellcat V8 Supercharged with its sub-4-second 0-to-60 time, is something akin to being strapped to a stick of dynamite. Roaring down Summit Point's 2,900-foot straightaway is about as close to being fired out of a cannon as I want to experience. The world really streaks by when the speedometer needle crosses that 120 mph mark.

The best part about this fresh generation of V8 Chargers is the obvious lack of compromise in the way of passenger comfort and safety. Charger is a at its core a five-passenger family sedan. This doesn't change as you wind your way from the base SE with its 292-horsepower V6 and 31 mpg highway fuel economy all the way up to the SRT Hellcat. My driving partner and I drove an SRT Hellcat back to the W. Despite the roar of its exhaust and its instant and unreserved response to throttle input, it proved a civilized, if sinister, commuter.

No question about it: Dodge is Chrysler's performance division.

Clanging Bell