2014 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 vs. 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Comparison
Hellcat Dogfight: Mopar and GM Square off for the Musclecar Title
Taking a look at some of America's most iconic manmade machines over the past century or so reveals much about our national psyche. The World War II Iowa class battleship was among the most powerful ever built, with 212,000 shaft horsepower, nine 16-inch guns, and a displacement of 58,000 tons by the time it went out of service. The big Grumman F6F Hellcat was one of the deadliest naval fighters of all time. The Saturn V rocket is the tallest, heaviest, and most powerful rocket ever made, producing more than 1 million pounds of thrust.
Big power isn't just limited to our war and space machines. Our cars are powerful too, as evidenced by the two iconic musclecars gracing this article. The recently refreshed 2014 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 is the most powerful Camaro ever made, with 580 hp on tap. The 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, also new this year, is among the most powerful mass-production vehicles ever made, with 707 screaming ponies under the hood. With Ford and its 662-hp Shelby Mustang currently out of the production, the Camaro ZL1 and Challenger Hellcat and their combined 1287 horsepower represent the two toughest musclecars around. One has to be better than the other, though, and as was the case back in the musclecar's heyday, the winner of this comparo must show itself to be dominant at the test track, fast in a straight line, be the best boulevard cruiser, and ooze street presence. With that in mind, we saddled up and took these two steroid-injected ponycars to some of SoCal's most iconic Americana hot spots to figure out which is best.
Comparing the 707-hp Challenger Hellcat to the 580-hp Camaro ZL1 isn't exactly a one-sided affair. Both musclecars are powered by supercharged 6.2-liter V-8s, with the Camaro's LSA featuring a 1.9-liter Roots type blower, while the Challenger's Hemi Hellcat has a 2.4-liter Lysholm blower on top. Though the Camaro only produces an SAE-certified 580 hp and 556 lb-ft of torque compared to the Challenger's 707 hp and 650 lb-ft of torque (at the crank; see our the related Challenger/Camaro blog for wheel hp, it makes up the difference with a curb weight about 400 pounds less than the Challenger's. Besides, the Camaro beat the 662-hp 2013 Ford Shelby GT500 in its last go-around. The Challenger sports the optional eight-speed automatic (a six-speed manual is standard) and the Camaro has the standard six-speed manual. Both cars feature electronically adjustable suspensions and a variety of performance driving modes.
The first stop for our pearlescent Sublime Green Challenger Hellcat and our Silver Ice Metallic Camaro ZL1 was our test track, where we were eager to see what kind of numbers the two cars would throw down. The Camaro ZL1 was the poster child for consistency with a 3.9-second 0-60-mph run, blasting through the quarter mile in 12.2 seconds at 116.6 mph. That's fast any way you look at it, and yet the Dodge makes the Chevy feel oh so slow. Not surprisingly with more than 700 horsepower on tap and narrow 275-width Pirelli P Zero rear tires, the Challenger proved difficult to launch even with launch control enabled. The drag-race-ready Challenger's best 0-60 mph run was with a second-gear start, resulting in a 3.7-second time, and an impressive quarter-mile performance of 11.7 seconds at a stupid-fast 125.4 mph. That trap speed doesn't embarrass Camaro ZL1 owners alone, but both Nissan GT-R Nismo and Porsche 911 Turbo S owners, too.
The figure eight did much to reveal the different intended functions of the Camaro and the Challenger. The Camaro is well-balanced; you can tell its engineers were just as interested in making a track-capable car as they were a street-racer. The ZL1 is well-suited for handling work, with quick, accurate steering that weights up nicely, and a well-controlled ride, thanks to GM's trick magnetic shocks. The ZL1 lapped the figure eight in 24.0 seconds at a 0.85 g average, and pulled 0.99 g average on the skidpad. Lapping the Camaro quickly is an exercise in point and shoot, as the Chevy for the most part just sticks and goes without the driver having to do much work at all.
While the Camaro behaves like a sports car, the Challenger pretends to be nothing else than a straight-line dragster, and when you toss a corner its way it can be a handful. As associate editor Scott Evans put it, the Hellcat handles "just like a Challenger. Understeer into the corner, oversteer out." The quickest way around the figure eight ultimately was the old tried and true racing mantra of "slow in, fast out" as you lap the boat-like car. The result is still pretty impressive, even if it doesn't feel it, with a 24.7-second figure-eight time with a 0.85 average g, and a 0.94 lateral g average skidpad performance. The Hellcat may not inspire confidence in the corners, but it'll do the most glorious drifts you can possibly imagine as it shreds through its rear tires.
Testing director Kim Reynolds summed up the differences in personalities between the Camaro and Challenger best. After lapping the Hellcat as well as a Camaro 1LE that happened to be at the track, he pointed to the Camaro and said it felt like it was designed by McLaren or Red Bull's Formula 1 teams. The Hellcat, on the other hand, "feels like it was developed by [Hot Rod's] Freiburger and Finnegan."
After a day at the track, we kicked the next day off at Camarillo airport, where the Commemorative Air Force's SoCal wing was kind enough to pull out an F6F Hellcat and F8F Bearcat for a photo op. The F6F Hellcat strangely links both old GM and modern-day Chrysler together. The Hellcat's predecessor, the Wildcat, was built in large numbers by GM during World War II. GM's Buick division also built its own Hellcat during the war -- the M18 Hellcat Tank Destroyer. Now it's Chrysler pushing out its own Hellcat. While not armed like the other vehicles that share its name, its Hemi does produce more than twice as many horses as the M18 Hellcat, which 70 years later is still one of the fastest armored vehicles ever produced.
Getting from the airport to our other locations required lots of highway driving, and this is where the Chevy and Dodge really began to distinguish themselves. The Camaro is the more relaxed of the two. Its V-8 quietly hums in the background, it rides beautifully, and it really makes a great grand touring car. The Challenger also excels on the freeway. Its ride is a bit busier, but its lounge seats make up the difference. The Hellcat Hemi has a burly exhaust note and a wicked supercharger whine while hustling, but the eight-speed transmission does much to tame the cat while cruising along, ready to swap cogs quickly should the need arise.
On the highway we got our first real preview of the kind of reaction the two musclecars inspire. Evans and I were motoring along the freeway heading back into L.A. He led in the Challenger with me following close behind in the Camaro, when all of a sudden a California Highway Patrol Explorer made a beeline for us. The cop slowly passed me on the right, eyeing me as he moved up to flank the Challenger. The officer matched the Hellcat's speed for a good minute or two and I was convinced we were seconds away from getting pulled over.
All of a sudden the Hellcat's Hemi roared to life as the Challenger sat back on its rear haunches and the car rocketed forward, right next to the Highway Patrol. "Way to go, Evans," I thought to myself as the Explorer raced forward to match his speed. Then something beyond strange happened: We didn't get pulled over. The cop dropped his pace and I could see he was holding up his phone, filming the Hellcat in all its glory. I pinched myself. Is this real life? I'd be in cuffs if I attempted the same thing in the Camaro. My phone rang seconds later. "Please tell me you saw that!" Evans exclaimed, as he went on to explain that the cop had motioned for him to make a quick highway pull. Never in our entire lives have either of us ever seen the feared CHP appreciate a car -- let alone a blue-collar Dodge Challenger -- in such a way.
Public reaction to our Challenger, and to a somewhat lesser extent our Camaro, remained strong throughout the day along old Route 66 and at the Route 66 motel, but when we visited Irwindale Speedway for Thursday night drag racing it became pretty clear which car had more street presence. From the moment we pulled into the lots, it was obvious which car the crowds cared more about. People immediately began flocking to the Hellcat, leaving the poor Camaro, and Evans alone in line. Fathers and sons, young and old, import and domestic fans -- it didn't matter; all had to have a peek at the new Challenger for themselves.
Even after our first photo runs down the eighth-mile strip, the initial curiosity didn't wear off. The Challenger drew constant crowds of kids, car enthusiasts, and even a random local journalist who wanted to know exactly what all the fuss was about. The Hellcat and ZL1 went head to head at least three times throughout the night, with the races neck and neck due to the Camaro's very real traction and weight advantage compared to the Challenger over the short strip.
Still high after our night of drag racing, our first stop the next morning was the USS Iowa Museum in San Pedro. Even with the iconic battleship in the background, the two cars -- especially the Hellcat -- drew a crowd. Underneath the sinister sheetmetal and aside from the blown engine, the 2015 Challenger SRT Hellcat is really quite the complete package. It sports one of the best interiors in the segment with high-quality materials, a great infotainment system, an even better audio system, room for five, and a stunningly low starting price of just $60,995, with an as-tested price of $64,570.
The Camaro ZL1 feels somewhat less special than the Challenger inside. Sure, it's got Alcantara just about everywhere, and snug bucket seats, but you can tell Chevy's focus was elsewhere. The Challenger gets all the little details that make a musclecar special right (like the Dodge Brothers logo hidden in the center console), whereas the Camaro doesn't really have a cohesive interior design, with things such as its navigation system tacked on like an afterthought. Even so, the Camaro ZL1 is the cheaper of the two, with a $57,650 base price and an as-tested price of $59,045.
While the Camaro and Challenger have traded blows in straight-line versus cornering speed, and been evenly matched just about everywhere else, street presence is an important criterion. Simply put, the Challenger SRT Hellcat has tons and the Camaro ZL1 has considerably less. Musclecars are supposed to be as much about the show as they are about the go. Dodge proves that it still understands that with the new Challenger, while what's supposed to be the most potent Camaro on the block appears to have forgotten that.
Ultimately, this is America, and in America, like in baseball, there are no ties. The Challenger Hellcat comes out on top. Its focus on power, presence, and straight-line performance shows that the Dodge boys still know how to make a killer musclecar after years of being consistently stomped on by Chevrolet and Ford. As capable and well-balanced as the Camaro ZL1 is, the Challenger SRT Hellcat cements itself as the ultimate musclecar. Like the musclecars of the late '60s and early '70s, it's built to be a street king with some serious power under the hood, and it looks the part with its new drool-worthy sheetmetal. The Hellcat proves that the heyday of the musclecar wasn't 45 years ago -- it's now.
|2014 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1||2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat|
|ENGINE TYPE||Front engine, RWD||Front-engine, RWD|
|VALVETRAIN||Supercharged 90-deg V-8, alum block/heads OHV, 2 valves/cyl||Supercharged 90-deg V-8, iron block, alum heads OHV, 2 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||376.0 cu in/6162 cc||376.2 cu in/6166 cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||580 hp @ 6100 rpm*||707 hp @ 6000 rpm*|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||556 lb-ft @ 3800 rpm*||650 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm*|
|REDLINE||6200 rpm||5750 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||7.0 lb/hp||6.3 lb/hp|
|TRANSMISSION||6-speed manual||8-speed automatic|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Strut, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multi-link, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar||Control arms, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multi-link, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F;R||14.6-in vented disc; 14.4-in vented disc, ABS||15.4-in vented disc; 13.8-in vented disc, ABS|
|WHEELS, F;R||10.0 x 20-in; 11.0 x 20-in, cast aluminum||9.5 x 20-in, forged aluminum|
|TIRES, F;R|| 285/35ZR20 100Y; 305/35ZR20 104Y|
Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar G:2
|275/40ZR Pirelli P Zero|
|WHEELBASE||112.3 in||116.2 in|
|TRACK, F/R||63.7/63.7 in||64.0/63.7 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||190.6 x 75.5 x 54.2 in||197.5 x 75.7 x 55.7 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||37.7 ft||38.5 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||4051 lb||4449 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST., F/R||52/48 %||57/43 %|
|HEADROOM, F/R||37.4/35.3 in||39.3/37.1 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||42.4/29.9 in||42.0/33.1 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||56.9/42.5 in||58.5/53.9 in|
|CARGO VOLUME||11.3 cu ft||16.2 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|0-30||1.6 sec||1.8 sec|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||1.8||1.4|
|QUARTER MILE||12.2 sec @ 116.6 mph||11.7 sec @ 125.4 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||100 ft||109 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.99 g (avg)||0.94 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||24.0 sec @ 0.85 g (avg)||24.7 sec @ 0.85 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||1700 rpm||1250 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$59,045||$64,670|
|AIRBAGS||Dual front, front side, f/r curtain||Dual front, front side, f/r curtain|
|BASIC WARRANTY||3 yrs/36,000 miles||3 yrs/36,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||5 yrs/100,000 miles||5 yrs/100,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||5 yrs/100,000||5 yrs/100,000 miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||19.0 gal||18.5 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY ECON||14/19/16 mpg||Not yet rated|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||241/177 kW-hrs/100 miles||-|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||1.22 lb/mile||-|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded premium||Unleaded premium|
|* SAE Certified|