We’ve reviewed both these cars before and enjoy them for their attitude and history, but never gravitated toward them for a fun road. In truth, both platforms are a poor structure for making a world-beating car. The Dodge Challenger Hellcat (Muscle Kings Pt1) may be a two-door coupe, but at 4,500lbs it is as big and heavy as many seven seat SUVs. The Camaro isn’t a lightweight either, but its problems stem from poor visibility, tight headroom, and a car that always had more attitude than agility.
And yet, in the ultimate “run-what-you-brung” scenario, Dodge and Chevy have transformed their beasts into genuine alternatives.
The Challenger offers the same things generally found in cars with AMG or M on the trunk. For someone wanting a long-distance touring car with deep power reserves and plenty of amenities, the Hellcat gives more grunt than you’ll ever need, truck-sized space, every technology Dodge has available, and enough speed to run with the fastest things on the autobahn. Too bad we’re on the wrong side of the ocean.
The Camaro seems like a reverse homologation idea, stripping down a street-car into something track focused. In the style of a Porsche GT3 or a Ferrari Stradale, the interior has lost content, while the structure, tires, and steering have all been turned up to 11 before breaking the dial completely. All four corners of the Z28 sport one foot wide Pirelli Trofeo Rs, a tire so track ready that it actually slides too easily until driving warms them into flypaper.
If you told me I needed to hammer through a thousand miles, I’d pick the Hellcat every time. There would probably be many speeding tickets to follow, as normal driving only requires the top quarter of the gas pedal. The temptation to floorboard the Supercharged 6.2 liter simply overwhelms good sense any time an empty straight reveals itself. Laughter follows. But until triple digit speeds are allowed on our interstates, the best of the Hellcat is only experienced in blasts of a few seconds and filled with glances over your shoulder.
The best thing about the Z28 is the way it attacks any corner with the unfluttered tenacity of an assassin. There’s lots of great muscle car noise here, but no drama or surprises. Corner after corner, the Z28 just sticks and communicates. The steering has more information than the Hellcat’s hydraulic rack, in spite of being electric. Body control is firm and perfect, using race-adapted suspension instead of GM’s otherwise superb Magnetic Ride Control. This Z28 has a special driver connection and encourages exploration. With each corner I try different things and soon realize this car doesn’t surprise or kick back and has such deep capability that it would require a track and some time to learn all it can accomplish. In the right hands, I’m certain this would best any car at your local track day or run some of the most jaw-dropping canyon runs you’ve ever imagined.
While these two cars are the kings of respective model line-ups, they are extremely different beasts. In a perfect world, a muscle-car lover would own both and pick one in the same way we pick shoes based on activity. A cross-country blast through the south means the rugged all-around usability and power of a steel-toed boot like the Hellcat. A trip to a canyon or racetrack requires the precision of the tight-fitting running-shoe that is the Z28.
Though it seems absurd to recommend both cars, and take this almost affordable discussion into fantasy, the truth is there’s no other way to spend so little (less than $150,000 combined) and come away with so much range of talent and ridiculous grunt.
Two cars. 1,200 horsepower. Money well spent.