Conventional wisdom says the graying LX platform should have been put out to pasture years ago. The architecture that underpins the Dodge Charger dates back to the halcyon pre-recession days, when Chrysler had access to the Daimler parts bin and an itch to capitalize on its performance heritage. It's an anachronism in a rapidly modernizing world. And that's a huge part of its appeal.
As the auto industry slouches towards Bethlehem, Dodge continues to mostly ignore talk of electrification and autonomous tech in favor of a screaming burnout. Hence the glorious existence of the 2020 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody, in which the company's taken one of the last classic sedans left in America and doubled down on its muscle car heritage with fat hips and heaps of grip. It's clear the Widebody is squarely in line with Dodge's plan to squeeze every last ounce of potential out of that 15-year-old platform.
"One thing we heard loud and clear from [our fans] was that they felt like the Challenger was getting more love than the Charger. We wanted to rectify that," Dodge's Senior Manager of Sales Operations Jeff Strauss said, sitting in the paddocks at California's Sonoma Raceway last week. So after debuting on the 840-hp Challenger SRT Demon and spreading through the Challenger lineup, the Widebody package now makes the jump to Dodge’s four-door.
Thing is, it's working—they're not all Scat Packs and Hellcats, but the Charger is up 20 percent in year-to-date sales, making it the only Dodge model besides the Durango in the black for 2019. Although the changes wrought by the Widebody kit aren't wholly unpredictable, they bring some interesting new elements to the fore in Dodge's performance sedan, going beyond curb appeal to improve performance without sacrificing drivability or comfort.
The 2020 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody, By The Numbers
- Base Price: $69,645
- Powertrain: 6.2-liter supercharged V8 / 707 horsepower @ 6000 RPM, 650 lb-ft of torque @ 4800 RPM / 8-speed automatic / rear-wheel drive
- 0-60 MPH: 3.6 seconds
- Top Speed: 196 MPH
- Weight Distribution: 56% (front) / 44% (rear)
- Curb Weight: 4586 lbs
- Quick Take: The Charger Widebody is hilarious fun, a wild take on an old form that falls shy of transformative.
Moving The Needle
Now standard on all Charger SRT Hellcat models and optional the Charger R/T Scat Pack, the Widebody treatment extends the car’s already-significant width by 3.5 inches in total in order to accommodate new 20x11-inch wheels shod in 305mm three-season Pirelli P Zero rubber at all four corners. But the package brings with it more than just flares and stretched out rollers. To help make better use of the newfound grip, SRT also applied some tweaks to the suspension. The front springs are now 32% stiffer, the sway bars see an increase in diameter (from 32mm to 34mm up front, and 19mm to 22mm in the rear), and the three-mode Bilstein adaptive dampers get revised valving. The Widebody package also brings a new EPS steering system into the fold with selectable steering weight.
Unlike the Challenger, Charger Widebodies also receive unique front and rear fascias that do a better job of blending into the fender flares, resulting in a substantially more cohesive look for the sedan. The rest of the Hellcat goodies carry over from last year’s narrow-bodied car, but that ain’t much to scoff at. A 6.2-liter supercharged Hemi V8 provides a still-hair-raising 707 horsepower and 650 lb-ft for those brave enough to keep their foot in it, churning the rear wheels through a ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic with paddle shifters. To rein things in, six-piston Brembo calipers clamp down on 15.4-inch two-piece rotors up front while four-piston units are paired with 13.8-inch discs at the rear.
Drive modes are accessed via the 8.4-inch touchscreen infotainment display—still serving up that snappy Uconnect software—with Street serving as the default mode while the Sport and Track modes up the ante for suspension stiffness, steering effort, and transmission behavior while also weakening the reign of the traction control system accordingly. A Custom mode allows the driver to manually configure things and choose their own adventure.
On The Road
Dodge’s modern muscle cars have always been a step or two behind the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro in terms of handling, but they've made up for some of that with their ability to comfortably eat up a ton of miles at high speed. The Charger Widebody is no exception—but that wasn't a guarantee.
Thing is, wide tires like these Pirellis tend to come with some compromises. Head down the highway in, say, a Mustang Shelby GT350R and you’ll immediately notice the car tramlining as it encounters various features in the pavement. While all that grip pays dividends at the track, it can make for a nervous front end out on the road—where the car will be used the majority of the time. Yet the Charger Widebody manages to make virtually no compromises versus the outgoing narrow-bodied car here.
"We tuned the tire for it," explained Jim Wilder, SRT’s Vehicle Development Manager for Charger and Challenger. "We were very conscious of that. When we do a tire, we basically have a spider chart of objectives. Things like noise, impact harshness, grip, et cetera, and you sort of arrange things by priority. So if lateral grip was a 9, 'wandering' was a 10."
Bombing around the back roads of Petaluma, the car offers a commendable amount of poise. Sure, it will still melt the tires if you bury the throttle at anything under freeway speeds, but it's not so easily lured off course by road imperfections. The tire work also delivers more immediacy at turn in, and with this much grip on tap, you’d really have to really overcook a corner to get it to push.
Despite the significant increases in spring rates and anti-roll stiffness, the Widebody still coddles in the Street setting, only introducing hints of harshness over the roughest pavement at speed. Whether commuting or carving corners, these cars tend to be at their best with the softest suspension setting that your pace will allow for. Stiffening the shocks corrals body motion to a tangible degree when you’re going hell for leather at the track, but out on public roads, the more aggressive modes can unsettle the car a bit on less-than-perfect tarmac, effectively lowering the amount of available grip.
And in terms of road noise—good luck detecting any over the banshee wail of that blown Hemi.
At The Track
After terrorizing the good people of Marin County, we headed back to Sonoma Raceway to put in a few laps around the course in the 2020 Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody. Sonoma is a fast track with lots of elevation change, making it a great place for a big, high-horsepower car like this to really stretch its legs. But a few off-camber corners and some particularly unforgiving braking zones mean it’s definitely not a cakewalk.
Dodge says that applying the Widebody treatment to the Charger SRT Hellcat pushed its lateral grip skidpad numbers from .90g to .96g, which equates to a 2.1-second per lap boost on FCA’s test track. At speed, the improvements are self-evident. The additional grip also allows you to get on the power earlier and brake later, fundamental stuff when you’re looking to improve lap times.
But it’s important to remember that there’s a lot of weight hanging over that front axle, and it’s paired with a massive amount power that can still overwhelm the rear tires with ease. Widebody or not, the Charger remains a car that rewards deliberate, patient inputs, so expect to do some counter steering if you get on the gas too early out of a corner. That’s definitely the fun way to drive it—and Hellcats respond well to a good thrashing—but don’t expect the tires to last more than a couple laps before they turn to goo.
Aside from the beefed-up look, what the Widebody package really provides is additional headroom to explore its limits while still retaining the fundamental strengths that have helped to make the Charger a success story despite heavy headwinds. This car isn’t as much about finesse or refinement as it is entertainment—and that’s why it works.
"The question was how far we were willing to push it. I wanted to dial in as much performance as I could—but I still want this to be a car you can drive coast to coast in comfortably. And I’m not trying to brag, but I really think we’ve reached a really good balance here," Wilder said as we listened to Charger after Charger roar by on hot laps. Judging by all the wide grins in the pits, he’s not wrong.