Muscle Mania: Why Dodge's 707-Horsepower Hellcat Shouldn't Be Your Next Toy

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Jul 07, 2015

Muscle car sales are booming, and Fiat Chrysler is reaping the rewards. The Dodge Charger Hellcat, which produces a whopping 707 horsepower, is sold out for the rest of 2015. Meanwhile, Ford’s happy about a 40-percent increase in Mustang sales, and Chevrolet is gearing up to sell tons of its new 2016 Camaro.

Get out of the way of the hard-charging Hellcat! (Dodge photo)On the auction block, 60s' muscle cars are commanding premium prices, even though the leaded gas they need to run properly is unobtainium. An unrestored 1969 Boss Mustang fastback with a full-race 429 under the hood recently sold for $465,000. I can just hear that engine pinging as it runs on today’s pump fuel.

One reason I’ve seen cited for the big resurgence of muscle is “low” gas prices. Low! Our muscle-car-driving ancestors paid 30 cents a gallon, which even with inflation isn’t much. They’d also never heard of climate change or ground-level air pollution. Gas prices over the Fourth of July weekend averaged “only” $2.77, says AAA, but Steve McQueen and his speed-crazed buddies would have switched to Volkswagen Beetles with prices like that.

A 429 Boss Mustang like this one recently went for crazy money. (Ford photo)Let’s do the numbers on the Hellcat. First, 204, that’s the top speed in mph. 11, that’s the quarter mile time in seconds. 13, that’s the zero to 100 mph time. But also, $1,700, that’s the gas-guzzler tax. And $63,995, the MSRP. How about 13? That’s the in-town fuel economy you’ll see while you’re burning rubber from Dunkin’ Donuts to the Dairy Queen on the Strip. And 16, that’s the combined fuel economy.

I admit to being one car guy who never got the appeal of muscle cars. Somehow the basic 60s' formula—great in a straight line, but a handful around corners—has never really gone away. But stability control and other modern innovations certainly help—unless their bonehead owners turn them off for maximum Fast and Furious “action.”

I’ve been entertained in classic muscle, from a SS 396 Chevelle to a Sunbeam Tiger, but was more than willing to hand back the keys when the test ride was over. Heavy steering, heavy clutches, can’t-hear-myself-think noise levels, sub-10 mpg fuel economy, cheap vinyl-clad interiors with useless rear seats—nein danke, as the Germans say.

I know what you’re thinking, a hopeless stick in the mud who should be behind the wheel of a Toyota Yaris. Actually, I was driving a Yaris test car this week, and found it an altogether pleasant experience. And the 32 mpg combined isn’t bad either. This car is much improved from its earliest bare-bones configuration, and quite pleasant to drive, albeit with a rather basic infotainment system. 

My Toyota Yaris. Humble as it might be, the 32 mpg combined is stellar. (Maya Motavalli photo)I’ve also spent a lot of seat time this week in a Nissan Altima, and took it into New York City. As an all-round city/suburbia family car, the Altima can’t be beat. And fuel economy numbers of 27 city/38 highway are possible in an Altima. And I finally bought a Mazda Miata, a 1999 that had recently seen a power increase—from 1.6 to 1.8 liters—and from 115 horsepower in the early cars to 140 horsepower in mine. I’d be just as happy with the smaller engine, which some aficionados say makes for a more balanced car.

The Altima in New York. It's "streetwise," but suburbia-friendly, too. (Jim Motavalli photo)I’m not the only one who thinks that horsepower wars are a bad idea. Car Talk has a long history of ranting and raving about ridiculous horsepower. Here's one set off by the overpowered BMW M Roadster:

Some of us had the audacity to think that the horsepower wars of the ‘60s were mercifully coming to an end. On the contrary, the trend seems to be moving in the opposite direction. BMW, which had a perfectly fine sports car in its four-cylinder Z-3, felt the need to turn it into an outrageously powered car. Mercedes is getting power-crazed. Even mild-mannered Toyota is touting the power of its vehicles. And the Viper—along with the people who produce it—makes me puke.

Well, the Viper is history, and now we have…the Hellcat!

For your viewing pleasure, here's a reel of mega-exotic, high-horsepower cars driven by people with more money than brains, crashing into each other:

 

Get the Car Talk Newsletter