Fred Croatti often drives his silver Dodge Charger Hellcat to the grocery store, turning heads as he rumbles through the parking lot with a supercharged 6.2-Liter 707-horsepower engine.
Although Croatti’s car sounds like a NASCAR racer, the retired pilot from Port Orange, Fla., isn’t looking for attention. He just loves the power.
“The visceral effect of the air, the sound,” he says. “All you’ve got to do is tickle the gas a little bit and the hairs on the back of your head stand up.”
At a time when mainstream and luxury cars look similar inside and out, buyers like Croatti are hungry for sound and speed, and car companies are happy to oblige.
On Tuesday night, Fiat Chrysler’s Dodge brand used explosions, burnouts and a small drag strip to ramp up horsepower even more. Ahead of the press days of the New York auto show, Dodge rolled out the 840-horsepower Demon Challenger, which FCA says is the fastest and most powerful production car made.
The horsepower craze isn’t limited to big cars or domestic automakers. In New York, Honda’s 306-horsepower compact Civic Type R will make its U.S. debut. Mercedes will roll out two new AMG high-performance vehicles including the AMG GLC63 Coupe with a 469-horsepower 4-Liter V-8 twin turbo engine. Both can go zero-to-60 in under four seconds. Porsche’s 911 GT3 will make its North American debut with total output of 500 horsepower.
With the exploding popularity of SUVs, the craze extends there, too. One of the Mercedes AMGs is an SUV. Last week Chevrolet rolled out the Tahoe RST with a 420-horsepower version of the Corvette V-8 and a zero-to-60 time of 5.7 seconds, unheard of previously for a truck-based vehicle. Not to be outdone, Fiat Chrysler on Sunday unveiled a 707-horsepower Jeep Grand Cherokee, which it says is the fastest SUV ever with a zero-to-60 time of 3.5 seconds and a top speed of 180 mph.
Horsepower has risen so high that some experts are proclaiming a new “golden age of muscle cars” that far outpace the first generation from the 1960s.
“Horsepower is actually creeping up on every single car across the board,” says Tim Kuniskis, head of FCA’s Street and Racing Technology unit, who on Tuesday introduced the Demon — along with “The Fast and the Furious” actor Vin Diesel. “A lot of it is due to the fact that we have the technology that allows you to have the power now and not have any downside” such as poor handling or reliability problems.
The Demon can go from zero to 60 miles per hour in only 2.3 seconds. That beats electric car maker Tesla Motors’ Model S P100D sedan, which hits 60 in 2.5 seconds.
The Demon is street legal, but it’s also made with special parts allowing it to run on a drag strip. And run it does. The car can do the quarter-mile in 9.65 seconds, hitting 140 mph. Ordinary muscle cars cover the same distance in 11 or 12 seconds.
The cars aren’t made for gas mileage, but even the powerful Hellcat can get 22 miles per gallon on the highway, Kuniskis said.