Welcome to Critic's Notebook, a quick and off-the-cuff car review consisting of impressions, jottings, and marginalia regarding whatever The Drive writers happen to be driving. Today's edition: the 2019 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye.
The 2019 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye, By the Numbers:
- Base Price (Price as Tested): $72,745 ($89,405)
- Powertrain: 6.2-liter supercharged V8, 797 horsepower, 707 pound-feet; eight-speed automatic; rear-wheel-drive
- EPA Fuel Economy: 13 mpg city / 22 mpg highway
- 0-60 MPH: 3.4 seconds (manufacturer claim)
- Quarter Mile: 10.8 seconds at 131 mph (manufacturer claim)
- Top Speed: 203 mph (manufacturer claim)
If the Dodge Challenger Hellcat Redeye were a man, it would be Jack Reacher. Not Tom Cruise's pint-sized movie version, either, but the version author Lee Child has written into 23 novels and counting—a six-foot-five, 250-pound pulp hero with hands the size of dinner plates, who wanders America cracking mysteries with deductive reasoning and dishing out justice with those dishware-sized mitts.
Like the military policeman-turned-wandering vigilante, the Challenger is getting on in years. Unlike, say, Superman, Reacher's age has long since been locked down—he was born in 1960, and he's been growing older with every passing year, just like the rest of us. In car years, the Chally is equally old—its LX platform dates back to 2004, suggesting development on it started back when today's high school juniors were still in the womb. Like Reacher, this high-power Challenger hails from working-class, average Joe roots: Reacher was a major in the U.S. Army whose father was a Marine; the Hellcat Redeye has the same bones as the V6 rental car version that Fiat Chrysler makes a profit on at a $28,000 starting price.
But most importantly, just like Jack Reacher, the Challenger Redeye is still capable of kicking an inordinate amount of ass through sheer brute force. No nuance, no delicacy. In Reacher's case, his capabilities come from his near-superhuman strength that buts right up against the line between action hero and superhero. In the Redeye's case, it's a supercharged Hellcat heart that steals parts like a bigger supercharger, an extra fuel pump, and beefed-up pistons and connecting rods from the Demon parts bin (not to be confused with the Demon Crate, by the way) to squeeze 797 horsepower and 707 pound-feet of torque from 6.2 liters of displacement.
2019 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye: The Pros
- With nearly 800 horsepower trying to make its way to the rear wheels...the Redeye's power may not be all that usable, but it sure is fun. Off the line, it's little faster than lesser Hellcats, which in turn are not that much faster than those naturally-aspirated SRT 392 Challengers—even the 305-series tires that come with the widebody package are little match for the supercar-worthy levels of power cranked out by Lucifer's lap cat—but once all 4,500 pounds of car are rolling along, the ponies and torques shove this brute forward like it weighs half that. I developed a bad case of the giggles on an empty interstate winding through the Adirondacks by repeatedly hammering the throttle up to speeds my attorney suggests I not disclose in a public forum, letting the car coast back down to the speed limit, then doing it all over again.
- Like all Challengers, this beast makes for an amazing highway cruiser, thanks to its expansive cabin, rock-steady ride, and Barca-Lounger seating. Unlike all Challengers, however—looking at you, AWD Challenger GT—the Redeye is always, always able to pass any other vehicle, under any other circumstances. Need to pass a mile-long line of semis clambering up to Eisenhower Pass? A pokey RV and the six cars stuck behind it during a quarter-mile break in the double-yellow? A Ferrari F355 driven by a Nineties-era douche-tool? Doesn't matter. The Redeye'll whip 'em all.
- As always, Fiat Chrysler is a master of the details. Look hard, and you'll notice a few Easter eggs of the sort we've come to expect from the carmaker that hides silhouettes of Sasquatch on assorted Jeeps. I'll give you a hint about one: The Hellcat logos on the instrument panel and flanks of the car? Yeah, that kitty's eyes look awfully bloodshot.
- Sorry, Camaro and Mustang, but the Dodge Challenger is still the best-looking muscle car on sale today—especially in the dark-blue-with-dual-racing stripe livery slapped on my test car. And it's better than ever in post-facelift widebody Hellcat form, with the twin hood scoops and flared fenders serving up all the attitude of an A-10 Warthog smoking a chewed-up cigar and wearing an eye patch. Every time I climbed into the car and started it up, I expected the stereo to start blasting the opening bars of AC/DC's "Let There Be Rock" on a loop just to set the mood.
2019 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye: The Cons
- That width that gives this Hellcat such visual menace comes back to bite you in the ass on tight, winding roads where the car takes up enough lane to make you nervous when trucks whiz by on your left. And it's doubly inconvenient when sneaking through parking lots, where placing the fenders located somewhere past those squared-off corners is a sort of clenched-jaw guessing game with the potential to end in a very expensive crunching sound.
- Not helping matters: The handling, which suffers a bit from a soft suspension and slightly numb steering that make it hard to place during spirited driving. Granted, in a vacuum, that's what you'd expect from a two-and-a-quarter-ton American car...but considering how much more dynamic and exciting the Challenger's main Motown rivals feel when you toss them through turns, this beast never feels more past its prime than when hustling down winding roads.
- Look, I know a dollar doesn't go as far as it used to in the automotive world, and I appreciate all the performance and potential Dodge has crammed into this Canadian-made hunk of all-American iron. But this car, as tested, is a few hundred bucks shy of $90,000—and if you check every box, you can get within spitting distance of $100K. Playing the "for that kinda money, you could have..." game is always subjective when it comes to toys like this—one man's waste of cash is another man's bargain-at-any-price obsession—but the regular Challenger Hellcat looks identical, is only a couple ticks of the stopwatch slower, and starts at $11,000 less, making the Redeye seem particularly built for those with more money than sense. (On the other hand, the Challenger Redeye is by far the cheapest two-door production car that can break 200 mph. So there's that.)
2019 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye: Another View
Senior video editor Andrew Siceloff also drove the Redeye for a few days. His thoughts:
"The 2018 Challenger Redeye is a raw, instantaneous thrill that forces nervous smiles from drivers, passengers, and on-lookers. The main downsides were the lack of upgraded interior for the price, and the back-of-the-mind reminder that every pull of acceleration drinks a pint of gas. Still, the Redeye is an apex predator, and in my book, the best (and angriest) bang for your buck on the road at this price."
2019 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye: The Bottom Line
Much like Jack Reacher, it seems inevitable that the Dodge Challenger will, sooner or later, wind up on the receiving end of a reboot. Aging action heroes may be great for the arthouse set, but when it comes to mass-market appeal, the public wants their franchise stars young and sexy, not eligible for AARP membership.
As a character who lives in the world of the written word, Reacher may well be able to live out the rest of his existence without a hard reset, his legend perpetually burnished by new adventures set in the past. But the Challenger can only dodge the fickle whims of the new car market for so long. Before he passed, FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne suggested a new version of the car and its Charger cousin were likely to arrive before long, built on a heavily-revised version of the current chassis; but while carmakers can admittedly work near-miracles on aging platforms using modern technology, in this case, it feels like FCA is just buying time, doubling down on the car's nostalgic nature in the face of an onslaught of electrification and automation and praying buyers stay too drunk on lofty power outputs to notice how much more nimble the muscle cars are at the Chevy and Ford dealerships down the road.
Should that remain the plan and the Challenger not fall by the wayside as part of FCA's next master plan, however, we can expect Dodge to stand by its current strategy, and continue to find ways to eke more ponies from that tried-and-true Hellcat in order to keep people talking (and buyers buying). That said—FCA, if you do indeed plan on making the Redeye obsolete someday with an even more powerful model, let me give you a little advice: Ask your engineers if they can squeeze the all-wheel-drive system from the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk in there to help make the most of that power, because at this point, there's probably not much more accelerative performance to be found without switching over to drag radials.
Then see if they can add in a front wheel-disengaging drift mode, because, y'know, we'll still want burnouts.