We still don’t know how much it will cost, or how much power the new supercharged “Hellcat” V8 engine will deliver, beyond “over 600” — enough to ensure that the new Challenger will be a very, very fast car.
But we do know that the new Hellcat-powered Challenger will come loaded with high-tech features — and we know that the importance of the car goes well beyond a hot new model for a few hardcore enthusiasts.
A high-tech makeover for a classic Dodge model
The Challenger’s platform is far from new — the basic underpinnings go all the way back to the original Chrysler 300’s introduction in 2004 — but it has received a host of updates for 2015, including a cast aluminum axle housing (to save weight) and several new high-tech safety systems.
There’s also an 8-speed automatic transmission that is being offered with V8 engines for the first time in 2015. It replaces a durable-but-dated 5 speed automatic, and should enhance both acceleration and fuel economy.
And all 2015 Challengers get a new interior, similar to the Charger sedan’s — with a new dash, and a new computerized “infotainment” system that gives drivers the ability to configure a number of engine, suspension, and transmission settings.
Some of those things are optional on lesser Challengers, but we learned this week that nearly all of the high-tech goodies will be standard on the Hellcat-powered Challenger SRT — including HID headlights, advanced adaptive cruise control, and a collision warning radar system.
There’s no question, in other words, that the Hellcat-powered Challenger SRT is Dodge’s top-of-the-line muscle car. Clearly Fiat Chrysler is thinking of this new Challenger as a “halo car” for the Dodge brand — and that makes it important.
An important component of a high-risk brand strategy
Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne is taking something of a risk with his plan for the Dodge and Chrysler brands.
FCA’s five-year plan, released earlier this month, calls for Dodge to become a specialty high-performance brand, while Chrysler — long a premium brand — will be reworked to compete directly with mass-market rivals like Ford (NYSE: F ) and Toyota (NYSE: TM ) .
The risk is this: Will consumers get it?
For instance, will car-shoppers considering a Subaru Legacy or Ford Fusion understand that the brand-new Chrysler 200 is a direct competitor to both, priced accordingly — and worth their consideration? (And will they understand that Dodge no longer offers a car in that category?)
Reworking both brands will take time, of course — both have several new products set to arrive over the next few years. But FCA will need to start setting strong (new) identities for each brand, as soon as possible.
For Chrysler, the new 200 is already starting that process, thanks to some strong early reviews.
But for Dodge, that’s where the Hellcat comes in.
The Hellcat is about recasting the Dodge brand
While it’s true that the Dodge brand already has a “flagship” — the outrageous Viper sports car — it’s one that is sold in tiny quantities at a six-figure starting price. The Hellcat-powered Challenger is likely to be a lot more visible than the Viper, and it’s already making an impression.
I don’t think the timing of this new model is a coincidence. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Dodge brand chief Tim Kuniskis happened to have a very red Hellcat-powered preproduction 2015 Challenger at a media event last week — or that the car happened to be started up and revved while cameras were rolling, resulting in an instant YouTube hit:
This isn’t just about a high-performance model to give a few well-heeled car enthusiasts some bragging rights — or even about giving FCA the usual benefits of a limited-run high-performance model. It’s about starting the process of recasting Dodge as a brand associated with exciting high-performance cars.
And it seems to be working — even before a single Hellcat engine has been shipped.
What do you think? Is this new car making the right kind of noise for Dodge? Scroll down to leave a comment with your thoughts.