From a Focus ST to a Challenger Hellcat - An Exercise in Control
In the early afternoon of an even earlier August day, I was called upon by a relative to help move them up the coast. Painting, packing, and other activities had already been completed and left just one task left to check off the list; the *moving* part. I gleefully scheduled a short vacation from work as soon as I was off the phone, and prepared myself to drive a Dodge Challenger Hellcat 500 miles - from Atlanta, to Raleigh NC.
The Hellcat is absolutely no joke - a supercharged, 707 horsepower V8 is bursting from under the hood and barely restrained by the rumbling and throaty exhaust. Inside, the interior attempts to play the part of a luxurious and classy vehicle - but reveals the true character as soon as the 'start' button is pressed, the supercharger turns over, and leather seats succumb to the vibration and rattle of the engine. The clutch is comparable to a brick that has been dipped in lead and the steering of similar grade. Whatever this monster is - it sure as hell isn't my Focus ST.
I am a simple woman - I drive cars that I like. The Focus ST blends power, comfort, economy, and sportiness without sacrificing gas mileage or drivability for long distances. The clutch is light and springy and gear shifts are effortless - never mind how easy it is to point it in a direction on the highway and set the cruise control. I didn't opt for the Recaro seats or navigation, and am satisfied with my archaic Bluetooth compatibility and a good playlist for my commute. However, a 253 horsepower four-cylinder can leave you asking for more when on the throttle, and torque steer is rampant during spirited acceleration. This only deepened my curiosity on what exactly it is like to live with and drive one of the fastest American cars in the muscle segment.
We started out from Atlanta - well, 40 minutes southwest of it - at around 3PM. Loaded with various personal items (and a cat), I followed a rental Ford Edge onto the subdivision street. A quick stall for good measure as I squeezed the front splitter off of the driveway, and off we went.
The Hellcat has no real comparison to a Mustang equivalent; at least the Mustang gives you some livability with an easy-to-use clutch and a subdued ride. Pulling onto a rural highway and accelerating to 55 miles per hour, it was obvious that I, the novice driver, was struggling against the transmission and engine capacity. A slight blip of the throttle resulted in a roar and was not necessary to start in first gear - though if your RPMs are too low, you'll find yourself stalled after starving the supercharger. A perfect balance is to be achieved to smoothly start and stop in the Hellcat - 11 inch Brembos are not a friendly companion when you attempt to come to a limo-quality stop. Trial and error was absolute necessity as we fought stop-and-go traffic all the way to I-85.
We battled traffic until 7PM - then the highways opened up for a blissful driving experience. 5th gear pulled to from 70 to 100 with an astonishingly small amount of effort, and continued upwards in speed until you were too uncomfortable to go any faster. The bolstered seats offered a perfect cushion and support for highway travels, but was offset by the drone of the exhaust at 80 miles per hour. Truly, the Hellcat is a grand touring vehicle by blood and offered comfort at any speed - only at the cost of your hearing.
We arrived in Raleigh at 11PM, and pulled into a small townhouse division where the challenges of a muscle car began. Parking the Hellcat is like parking any long wheelbase vehicle, with the added difficulty of choosing whether to do a reverse gear burnout or puttering into a stall. I handed the car off to my cousin who accomplished parking, and went inside to reflect upon my experience and hopefully get a bit of rest.
I'd like to start by saying that the Focus ST is a fantastic car in almost every way, as I detailed above. However, I learned something about myself I previously hadn't known or explored - my utter fascination with and love for horsepower. It's easy to wide open throttle an ST and enjoy the 5 second 0-60. In the ST, there is no fear of what you could do if you gave it too much throttle - you simply correct the torque steer and carry on about your day. The Hellcat challenged the ideal and preference of 'slow car fast' for me - half throttle gave me a dark feeling in the pit of my stomach that helped me envision myself wrapped around a tree. 120 miles per hour came up on the speedometer much too quickly in fourth gear, and it seemed disappointed in me, the driver, when the throttle was let off and geared into sixth. The engine screamed for more - not 140, not 150, no, 160 miles per hour or even higher than that. Despite struggling with the clutch, the steering, and the absolute monstrosity of the V8 - I fell in love.
You could compare the ST and the Hellcat, but you would do it for no good reason. Both are cars designed and built for extremely different purposes and budgets and offer driving experiences on opposite ends of the spectrum. But if you're looking for more; more than you'll ever be truly comfortable with, and something that will push your driving expertise and skill to the limits of what you think possible - you will adore the Challenger Hellcat.