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2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon and Durango SRT First Drive

The golden age of horsepower By ,

Indianapolis, IN — Forget the late 1960s, dimly remembered through a nostalgic haze that conveniently omits the casual nature of gross horsepower ratings and the prominence of pasta-noodle chassis designs, because the past several years have proven that we're currently living in the golden age of the muscle car. If you don't believe me, well, the 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon has about 840 highly persuasive points it would like to make with you.

If we're living in a turbocharged world where small-displacement engines rule the roads, it's clear that someone forgot to send that memo to the Demon. This drag-focused monster makes a supercharged 6.2L V8 its centrepiece, a motor lifted from the more “modest” 707-horsepower Challenger SRT Hellcat and then massaged to within an inch of its life to deliver 808 ponies on pump gas or 840 horses when fed 100-octane race fuel. A larger blower, a cooling system fit for a nuclear power station, and a series of intakes that harvest more air than a Bussard scoop hoovering free-range hydrogen are each integral to generating enough torque (770 lb-ft) to momentarily pause the rotation of the Earth with the pedal down.

2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon with street tires
Photo: B.Hunting
2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon with street tires

Drag strip hero
I'm not looking to spin the planet backwards here at Lucas Oil Raceway. I just want to master the Dodge Challenger SRT Demon's unique transbrake launch system and kill the quarter mile stretched out before me at Indianapolis' famous drag strip. Truly, there is no better factory tool for achieving total dominance over whatever might be foolish enough to line up beside you in the opposite lane.

From the showroom floor the Demon doesn't even come with a rear bench or a front passenger seat. You have to add them yourself for the modest sum of a single dollar. However, if you only have a single buck in your pocket, it might be better spent on the other ultra-cheap, but essential option, the Demon Crate. This chest of goodies includes several Demon Connection Performance parts such as the ECU tune required to run race fuel, a special air filter, narrow front wheels to reduce friction and weight at the front end of the car, and a raft of tools such as a jack, a tool bag, and even an impact wrench.

Back to that transbrake and the staging lane at Lucas Oil Raceway. I've just lit up the rear 315/40R18 Nitto NT05 drag tires using the Demon's line-lock feature, and I'm ready to rock the tree and see if I can muster up enough traction to come close to the Demon's phenomenal 9.65-second advertised quarter-mile time. The track has been prepared with VHT glue, giving me my best shot at drag strip glory, but while you can left-foot brake boost the Challenger, or use a street-focused launch control system, it's the ability to lock the car's wheels with the transmission and build revs via the transbrake feature that gives the best, and most consistent hook-up.

2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon with narrow front tires
Photo: B.Hunting
2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon with narrow front tires

Initiate sequence
It's a bit of a dance to remember the correct sequence for transbrake activation: pull both shift paddles in (the Demon comes exclusively with an armoured 8-speed automatic transmission), stomp the brake pedal, build revs to just over 2,000 rpm, release one paddle, release the brake, then drop the remaining paddle to dump power to the rear meats, which lifts the front end off the ground should you nail it perfectly and roll smoothly into full throttle to continue the cannon shot down the track.

After striking out on my initial few passes, the first time I managed to pull off this DDR-sourced button-and-pedal dance I was rewarded with the quickest elapsed time I'd ever seen in my life: 10.6 seconds at 128 mph. The next time up was even faster, and then faster still, until at the end of the day I had run an incredible 10.2-second quarter mile in a street car that had taken a beating for an entire afternoon in 33oC weather. Most performance vehicles heat-soak themselves to sleep after the first few shots down the 1320 (Ed. Note: drag-racing talk for the quarter mile as measured in feet), but the Demon only got better as the day went on, an amazing testament to SRT's engineering prowess.

2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon
Photo: B.Hunting
2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon

No widowmaker
Making this even more unbelievable is the Dodge Challenger SRT Demon's pussycat character out on public roads. With the skinny tires in the trunk the car is actually more compliant in daily driving than its Hellcat sibling (thanks to softer suspension tuning that's designed with front-to-rear weight transfer rather than lap times in mind).

I felt more than comfortable driving the Demon through small-town Indiana, but on the off-chance you'd rather tow the coupe to the strip, the SRT team still has you covered by way of the new 2018 Dodge Durango SRT.

Tow or track
The Durango SRT can be thought of as the 3-row cousin of the successful Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT, as both SUVs share the same platform and drivetrain. This means a 475-horsepower 6.4L V8 that dumps 470 lb-ft of torque through an 8-speed automatic transmission to all four wheels. Auto, Sport, Track, Snow, and Tow drive modes are all present and accounted for (with the Durango SRT delivering 3,954 kilos of hauling capacity), and its adaptive suspension system has been tuned to deliver road course-ready levels of handling.

I personally verified the latter on the Grand Prix infield course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where the Dodge Durango SRT felt remarkably competent in dispatching corners, if somewhat ponderous due to its substantial curb weight and exceptional size.

2018 Dodge Durango SRT
Photo: B.Hunting
2018 Dodge Durango SRT

A better choice for track duty would be the Widebody edition of the Challenger SRT Hellcat, which was also present for us to sample at Indy. With its pushed-out track and wider rubber, the Widebody presented none of the nervousness at the limit inherent in the original Hellcat.

Getting your 2,000-hp fix
The number of 1960s-era muscle cars you would have to line up beside each other to come close to 2,000 SAE-certified horsepower would most likely surprise you. However, with Dodge you can now walk into a single dealership and simply head over to the SRT display, where the Demon, the Durango SRT, and the Hellcat Widebody are waiting to blow your mind (and your wallet, with prices ranging from $72,995 for the SUV to $109,995 for the Demon). Never mind the time machine, because the fantasies of the past are finally personified here in the present.

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Photos:B. Hunting
2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon, Challenger SRT Hellcat Widebody and Durango SRT pictures