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2017 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat: Launch Control Learning Curve

2017 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat: Launch Control Learning Curve

Few cars are quick enough to challenge the 707-horsepower 2017 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, arguably one of the fastest and most hair-raising muscle cars of all time. Punch the gas pedal to let the car's supercharged V-8 Used Engine run wild, and the sprint from zero-to-60 mph takes only about 3.5 seconds.

Except it's not always quite that simple, especially when the road is slippery or the pavement isn't drag-strip smooth. And, let's admit it, not all of us have razor-sharp driving instincts that eek every ounce of performance out of any car we drive. To that end, Dodge offers something of a cheat code when it comes to making sure your Mopar machine lives up to its full potential. Launch control, available on all Jeep and Dodge SRT-branded vehicles and, for the 2017 model year, properly equipped Dodge Challenger coupes and Charger sedans, uses the car's own electronic brains to get you down the road as fast as possible.

In the case of our test car, a 2017 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat fitted with the optional eight-speed automatic transmission and finished in searing Yellow Jacket paint with twin black racing stripes, the launch control feature is a lesson in both power and patience.

Technically, using launch control is as simple as pushing a button. After coming to a stop, all you need is to push the launch control button on the center console. The car will even remind you to make sure the steering wheel is even and that the car is pointed straight ahead — trust me, you don't want to launch a Hellcat sideways.

With the automatic transmission, the process is simple: Keep your left foot on the brake pedal, press the accelerator with your right foot, and the V-8 starts snarling and revving while the traction control system keeps everything in check. Take your foot off the brake and, wham, off you go ... unless you somehow screw it all up.

I did exactly that, on several occasions.

To your author's credit, the road was damp and not exactly billiard-table smooth. I'm sure Dodge didn't conduct it's official zero-to-60-mph runs on an empty country road on a cold and misty day. Still, why wasn't I getting anywhere close to those official numbers? A personal best of 4.9 seconds — as shown by Dodge's handy in-car performance tracker — seemed downright embarrassing.

So, I reached out to Dodge, to ask if there was a trick to propelling roughly 4,400 pounds of muscle car down the road. In a written response, an SRT spokesperson explained how the system operates, and why practice makes perfect, even when it seems the car is doing all the work.

"The systems work basically the same in both manual and automatic equipped vehicles," explained the SRT expert. "The system first allows the driver to select launch rpm, which is maintained with the pedal on the floor. This makes it much easier to launch at the correct rpm. When the brake pedal is released for an automatic or the clutch is released for a manual, the tires need to break loose and then the system controls the amount of wheel slip."

The real estate mantra about "location, location, location" also applies to launch control. Sure, the system will function on damp or uneven surfaces, but the result will fall short of any heroic driving aspirations. Our SRT expert once again chimed in with useful advice.

"It's best to use launch control on clean, regular concrete or pavement in dry conditions," he explained.  "To generate maximum acceleration traction, the tires need to slip [spin] between 10-20 percent. Out on the street — it works extremely well when used correctly, but it does take some practice to get the most [out] of it. And it's fun to use and practice with."

That last line seemed patently obvious, though I found it amusing our helpful SRT guide found it necessary to tell us it's "fun" to pound the gas pedal in a Hellcat. You might want to alert your passengers when doing so, however. To the uninitiated, launch control sounds like you're trying to rip the guts out of the car. The Hellcat feels and sounds like a rampaging bull, one that's raring to be let loose out of a rodeo gate.

The Used Engine bellows, the supercharger whines, and the entire car shudders and strains against the electronic leash keeping it in check. It's fantastic, in a terrifying sort of way. Yet, it's worth mentioning that even a perfect getaway using launch control is not the necessarily going to equal the best possible acceleration run.

Our SRT spokesperson once again came to the rescue, explaining that professional drivers, or a skilled amateur with lots of practice behind the wheel, can eventually beat the best launch control system. Again, the key here is practice.

So how did Dodge go about achieving that surreal 2.3-second zero-to-60-mph time for the 840-hp 2018 Challenger SRT Demon? As the fastest accelerating production car of all time, I had to be let in on the secret.

As it turns out, the Demon's transbrake system, not to mention a "fully prepped drag strip surface" (according to SRT) helps make this possible. Unlike our Challenger Hellcat, where launch control requires both feet to operate, the Demon's transbrake allows the driver to push a button, press the accelerator pedal and, when ready, press the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifter to launch the car.

The transbrake system locks the automatic transmission's output shaft, while the fingertip controls are said to dramatically improve response times — Dodge estimates full torque delivery is available in only 150 milliseconds. That's fast folks, really fast.

Now, all we need to do is convince Dodge to allow us plenty of practice time with the Demon ...

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