Payne: Dodge Charger Widebody turns up wick on family sedan

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 12, 2019

Taking the family sedan on track. At Sonoma Raceway in California, the 2020 Dodge Charger Widebody Hellcat feels right at home.

Taking the family sedan on track. At Sonoma Raceway in California, the 2020 Dodge Charger Widebody Hellcat feels right at home. (Photo: Henry Payne, The Detroit News)

Rounding Sonoma Raceway’s high-speed downhill Turn 6, the 2020 Dodge Charger Hellcat Widebody compresses underneath me on stiffened performance springs and shocks. The 4,500-pound beast’s big rear-end twitches as I slowly feed 707 horses through 11-inch-wide Michelin tires. I open the throttle wide onto the back straight and the Hellcat explodes like a Saturn rocket pointed at the moon.

I love Dodge family sedans.

Since its debut at the 2015 Woodward Dream Cruise, the Charger Hellcat has redefined the full-size car segment. The first four-door to produce over 700 horsepower, the Charger became an instant icon alongside its two-door muscle-car brother Challenger.

More importantly, it did its job as a brand halo, injecting the bloodline with performance steroids that have benefited all Chargers. Not to mention their sales.

While the rest of the big sedan class — Chevy Impala, Ford Taurus, Toyota Avalon — have been buried under an SUV wave, Charger has survived with Captain Hellcat at the helm despite the fact that it sits on one of the oldest hulls in the business.

Dodge isn’t sitting on its laurels.

For 2020 it’s introducing a Charger Widebody variant for top Hellcat and Scat Pack trims. Widebody as in bodybuilding. Similar muscles are available on its brother Challenger.

“I just want to make bad-ass looking cars,” says Dodge designer Mark Trostle. He’s in the right place.

 Looking like pecs rippling from Charger’s torso, the Widebody’s enlarged fenders allow a wider track for the performance sedan. Wider track as in 1.5 more inches of rubber, a significant improvement on a big sedan like this — and a clever way to make the Charger’s chassis more nimble in its twilight years. (Fiat Chrysler CEO Mike Manley says a new platform for Charger is coming next decade.)

More than just flesh and rubber are upgraded for 2020. To deal with the added tire grip, chief engineer Jim Wilder and his team of bodybuilders have imbued both the Hellcat and Scat Pack with significant upgrades for shocks, springs and sway-bars. All this muscle doesn’t come cheap, and Widebody versions add abou$5,000 to the bottom line.

That means a standard Charger Hellcat commands a price just under $70,000, with my fully loaded Sonoma warrior (brooding, black-painted hood and all) clocking in at a nose-bleed $80,555. That tops a price spread not unlike the luxury cars whose specs Charger competes with.

The Charger family can be had from the entry-level $30,965V-6, all the way to Hellcat. Compare that to a BMW M5 which starts at $50,000 and stretches to $135,000.

I don’t imagine BMW and Charger customers will ever attend the same dinner parties, but if they do, Team Charger doesn’t need to be shy.

For $50,000 less, the Charger boasts 107 more ponies than the M5 and crosses the quarter-mile in the same 10.9 seconds. Yeah, M5 will spring to 60 mph nearly a second quicker (2.8 vs. 3.6), but credit that to the BMW’s all-wheel drive. The real mindblower here is Charger Hellcat’s near identical (0.96 vs. the M5’s 0.98) g-load cornering capability, despite weighing 300 pounds more than the state-of-the-art German.

I experienced this capability on twisty, country roads where the Saturn rocket feels strapped to the tarmac by its stiff suspension and giant Brembo brakes (yeah, M5 gets Brembos, too).

Best Charger ever? Not so fast. Hellcat, meet sibling Scat Pack.

Adopting the Hellcat’s same bodybuilding secrets — right down to those Brembos — the Widebody Scat Pack benefits from a lighter, 6.4-liter normally aspirated V-8 up front. Without Hellcat’s extra plumbing to feed more air to its supercharged, 6.2-liter eight-cylinder, the Scat Pack’s lighter weight translates to an M5-matching 0.98 cornering Gs.

I’m not making this up.

The result is a $45,000 Scat Pack Widebody (my loaded tester hit an even $60,000) that is a serious $20,000 cheaper than Hellcat (ahem, $70,000 south of the M5) that is just as sinister-looking in the rear-view mirror.

Sure, the Hellcat’s otherworldly supercharger whine will send chills up your spine, but at full bellow the Scat Pack’s V-8 roar will make grown men’s knees buckle. On-track at Sonoma, the Hellcat outpaced the Scat Pack thanks to the former’s prodigious torque. But with its rippled bod, the Scat Pack is as emotionally satisfying.

But wait, there’s more.

Due to packaging constraints, the Hellcat does not benefit from the latest safety-assist systems — meaning the $45,000 Scat Pack Widebody gets adaptive cruise-control. The Hellcat does not. That’s a huge plus for owners (most of us) who intend to use sedans for daily, family chores.

Is $45,000 still too rich for your stomach? Performance DNA trickles down.

For just $35,000, buyers can opt for the plenty-powerful, 300-horse Charger GT that comes equipped with the same rear-wheel drive handling (exclusive to class), hood scoop, Skittles color palette, brooding cowl … even the 20-inch tires found on its richer brothers.

Entranced by the V-8’s siren call? You can option up to the R/T and still leave the dealership for less than $40,000. The kids will love you when you come pick them up at school.

Speaking of which, all Chargers come with the secret sauce that makes them unique in muscledom: room.

Front-wheel drive competitors like the Avalon and Impala offer room without sex appeal. Rear-wheel drive coupes like the Camaro and Mustang offer sex appeal without the legroom (even the roomy Challenger requires hurdling the front seat to get in back).

The Charger sedan stretches Challenger’s wheelbase by 4 inches and puts it all to work in the back seat. My 6-foot-5 basketballer’s frame folded easily into back, letting me take thrill rides around Sonoma with French pro driver Nico Rondet.

You can enjoy this roominess with the best interior in American muscle, period. A simple, sculpted dash cups a standard 8.4-inch screen and intuitive UConnect infotainment system. Apple CarPlay is standard for getting you where you want to go.

The Hellcat adds red-tinted gauges that appropriately mimic the bloodshot eyes of some kind of underworld creature.

Someday Dodge will build Charger on a new, lighter platform. But for now, Detroit’s favorite son has managed to maintain Dodge swagger while dusting it with a personality that only luxury German performance makes (well, and Fiat Chrysler brother Jeep) can match.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I gotta take the family sedan back out on the track.

2020 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody and Scat Pack Widebody

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, five-passenger sedan

Price: Base price Hellcat $71,140, including $1,495 destination charge ($80,555 as tested). Base price Scat Pack $47,490, including $1,495 destination charge ($61,445 as tested)

Powerplant: 6.2-liter, supercharged V-8; 6.4-liter V-8

Power: 707 horsepower, 650 pound-feet of torque (6.2-liter); 485 horsepower, 475 pound-feet of torque (5.7-liter)

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, Hellcat 3.6 seconds, Scat Pack 4.3 (mfr.); top speed, 196 mph (Hellcat Widebody)

Weight: Hellcat, 4,596 pounds; Scat Pack, 4,385 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA mpg, 13 city/22 highway/16 combined (Hellcat, est.); EPA mpg, 15 city/24 highway/18 combined (Scat Pack, est.)

Report card

Highs: BMW performance, Dodge price; Scat Pack stick

Lows: Hellcat gets pricey; handle with care, 707 is a lotta ponies

Overall: 4 stars

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