At this point, what is there to say about the Dodge Challenger? The model we know today debuted in the 2008 model year. It predated the bank bailout. Its biggest aesthetic update, in 2015, brought a hugely improved interior and redesigned front and rear fascias but not one inch of change to the sheetmetal. If you’ve spent 5 minutes on a corner where people cruise, or in a parking lot ripe for donuts, or in the social media alleys where vehicular hooliganism is documented, you’ve seen—and heard—a million Challengers.
And yet, Dodge keeps managing to create new Challengers to sell. First we had the Hellcat, in 2015, with 707 supercharged horsepower. Then in 2017 came the Demon, an ultra-limited-edition machine built for the drag strip. It made 808 hp on pump gas, rising to 840 with a custom ECU and 104-octane race fuel. The Demon had barely-street-legal drag radials, 315mm wide, tucked under tack-on fender flares that made the already-huge Challenger somehow huger. That widebody look tricked down to the Hellcat and naturally aspirated Challenger 392 in 2019, a year that also brought the Hellcat Redeye, a 797-hp middle ground between the base Hellcat and the discontinued Demon.
Now we have this: The 2022 Dodge Challenger SRT Super Stock. It’s a Hellcat, a Redeye, and most of a Demon, all in one. Out of the thousands of variants Dodge will sell you, this one embodies the spirit of the Challenger better than any other.
The Super Stock starts as a Hellcat Redeye and adds 10 horsepower, bringing the total to 807. (Torque stays the same, at 707 lb-ft.) It comes from the factory on four Nitto NT05R drag radials, 315/40R-18s, identical to the tires that 3000 lucky Demon owners got on their dragsters, with the blistered fenders to match. The Super Stock revs 100 rpm higher than the Redeye (to 6400) and gets the Demon’s adaptive suspension: Track mode softens the rebound on the front dampers to improve rear weight transfer on a launch. You thought “track” meant “turn”? This thing is all about the quarter mile.
The Super Stock also gets the Demon’s Power Chiller (also available on Redeye), which reroutes the car’s air conditioning to cool down the engine intake charge, for more launch horsepower. It also benefits from the Demon’s drag-optimized traction control, which combats wheelspin while still keeping the engine at full boost. It does not, however, get the Demon’s tricky transmission brake, which locks the gearbox to hold the car at the starting line. Also, the Super Stock sacrifices one horsepower compared to the Demon on pump gas, and it won’t make any more power if you fill up with 104. Hierarchy must be maintained.
Long story short, it’s another drag-racing Dodge. I took it on the windiest, narrowest, most challenging mountain roads outside San Francisco anyway.
I drove the Super Stock on my visit to Northern California as part of Road & Track’s Route to Vine, a three-day road rally that saw us climbing out of San Francisco and exploring the secret mountain switchbacks of the region’s finest roads. At first blush, the Super Stock seemed woefully ill-prepared. Those squishy, tall tires are designed to sag on a hard launch. They maximize grip but sponge away any semblance of cornering feedback. The 18-inch wheels they’re mounted to require a brake downgradethe front rotors 1.2 inches smaller, making do with four-piston front calipers to the Redeye’s six.
Our guests showed up in Ferraris, Porsches, C7 and C8 Corvettes. Muscle wagons, too, a moody gray Audi RS6 and a stately blue Mercedes-AMG E63. My Challenger stuck out like a double-quarter-pounder on a caviar tray. I looked at our route, three days of serpentine switchbacks through vineyards and redwoods, and broke out in a sweat.
It doesn’t help that a widebody challenger is, frankly, enormous. It’s styled like a ten-pound salami. Sitting behind the wheel, looking out over that pectoral twin-nostril hood, you feel like you’re driving around in John Cena.
Here’s the bad news: This is not one of those cars that “shrinks around you.” The only way to forget the Super Stock’s sprawl is to park it in the middle of the great American prairie.
But you’ll never want to park it. You never want it to be anything but exactly what it is.
After a week of roaring around in the Super Stock, I can’t tell you if it’s measurably faster than any of the other Hellcats. Once Dodge eclipsed 700 horses, power was never the limiting factor. Those cheater slicks seem to help, in the sense that when you floor it, you actually get some forward momentum to go with your tire vapor. I’m certain that if you took a Super Stock to a real, prepared drag strip and followed the whole rigamarole—activate the Power Chiller, warm the tires with a line-locked burnout, carefully reverse over your fresh rubber patches, engage launch control to hold the engine at the ideal RPM, don’t mess up—you’d leave any lesser Hellcat hopelessly spinning its tires or gingerly attempting not to.
Here’s what I can tell you: The Super Stock is always ready to party. Red light? Freeway at 70 mph in top gear? In N Out? Uproarious noise, riotous wheelspin, and heroic acceleration, in that exact order, are never more than a toe-tap away.
There are, of course, downsides. Those big, squishy tires love to follow a crease or crack in the road, especially if it’s heading toward the guardrail. There’s a booming exhaust resonance around 2500 rpm, right where the engine sits in 8th gear on every freeway in America. Between the high trunk lid and the bulbous fenders, reversing this thing into a tight parking spot is a dice roll (setting your mirrors like you’re backing up a trailer helps). Somehow, the rear suspension is starved for down-travel, making it easy to pop the inside-rear wheel in the air when navigating a steep driveway or canyon hairpin. It’s embarrassing to have all that grippy rubber spinning uselessly a quarter-inch off the pavement.
These aren’t really even complaints. The Challenger’s single-mindedness is the heart of its charm. Mostly, that comes in the form of horsepower. In 2022, the big Dodge offers V-8s boasting 375, 485, 717, 797, or 807 horsepower, a candy shop of choices. But it’s also about how these hefty coupes present their power. Every V-8 Challenger is loud, all the time. Camaro and Mustang offer switchable mufflers; Dodge can’t hear you. Every Challenger, even the lowest V-6 rental, has big-body swagger, an unabashedness you can’t help but find striking.
The Challenger is completely and unapologetically itself. The Mustang and Camaro have tried, almost since the beginning, to distance themselves from the declasse Status of the pony car or muscle car. The Challenger relishes it. The Super Stock, with its baloney tires and quarter-mile doodads, is the proudest brawler of the bunch.
As compromised as a 4500-pound coupe on wallowing 40-series rubber should be, the Super Stock makes sense, even when physics don’t. The steepest San Francisco hill? No match for the Super Stock’s grunt. Every boot of the throttle comes with an unrestrained yawp from the supercharger belt, a rising note like Ol’ Scratch warming up his fiddle to face off with Charlie Daniels. Crank it into a corner, and you just have to trust that there’s insane grip at the end of all that body roll and tire squish. That’s what you get, good and bad, from more than a foot of rubber under each wheel, mostly uninterrupted save for two grooves that, the DOT assures us, provide the legal minimum amount of water evacuation. The electrically assisted steering has mushy, far away feel, but it’s precise, as you’d hope when placing a six-foot-four-inch-wide car (without the mirrors) in a gap between an oncoming car and a 5000-year- old redwood.
None of this is to be taken as criticism. The Super Stock is an absolute joy to hustle. The transmission, the ubiquitous ZF eight-speed automatic, is geared to take every advantage of the supercharged 6.2-liter’s barrel-chested midrange thrust. Left to itself, it’ll fire off downshifts and keep the engine boiling under heavy braking. It holds a gear impeccably through curves. The response from the paddle shifters is immediate; with all that stuff churning around inside and on top of the big Hemi, there’s a ton of engine braking, great for mid-corner speed adjustments. The brakes, downsized though they may be, never put up a protest, fade-free through a day of steep mountain drops.
The modern Dodge Challenger has evolved like the Fast and the Furious movie franchise. It’s always been there, and it’s always felt the same. There’s a unified theme drawn through each new installation and variant. It’s a family. But park a 2022 Challenger next to a 2008, and the two feel completely different, like jumping from Dom Toretto’s DVD player heists directly to F9.
It’s hard to pull that off—a decade and a half of evolution tucked comfortably beneath a familiar silhouette. One presumes the Challenger and Charger are dying in 2024 in part because Dodge ran out of new lumps, scoops, shakers and spoilers to tack on to these venerable bodies. (There are other, more pragmatic reasons, but let me have this.)
I’m sure there will be numerous new Challenger variants between now and then. Decal kits, commemorative editions, a final last-hurrah with some kind of outrageous drivetrain and tire combo we haven’t yet heard of. The details will be irrelevant. The Dodge Challenger is forever.