I remember the first time I heard about the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat. 707 horsepower? That was insane way back in 2015. After all, the 2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 was reportedly a handful with 638 ponies, and I knew for a fact that the 662-hp 2013 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 was a tire-shredding menace – what would over 700 horsepower be like in a streetcar?
As it turned out, not much. The most notorious thing about the first Hellcat was how easy it was to drive and, if you applied just an ounce of respect, how manageable its immense power could be. The Hellcat is a pussycat.
The Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye, though, is anything but. This is the car I thought the first supercharged Challenger would be – an overpowered, under-tired, recalcitrant thing. From its huge output and immediate delivery to woefully inadequate tires, it's both a righteous middle finger to modern eco-minded motoring and a reminder of how lairy muscle cars could be before automakers transformed them into sports cars.
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If you enjoy the look of the Challenger, the Redeye Widebody treatment doesn't change much. The Challenger has aged better than arguably any other example of retro design, thanks in large part to modern touches – LED running lights and big wheels, mainly – and Dodge's willingness to embrace the styling of the big coupe's forebears. Consider this tester, which wears a satin black hood, roof, and rear deck, giving it a two-tone theme that’s clearly reminiscent of an old Challenger T/A.
The Redeye doesn't lead to substantial changes in the cabin either. This is the same functional, modestly equipped environment we've been living with since the 2015 facelift, and unlike the exterior, it's beginning to show its age. The material quality is adequate for a muscle car, but the shapes, layout, and physical gauges are all things that feel a bit stale in 2021.
Again, there's not much new to say here. The Hellcat Redeye features the same big, cushy chairs which are plenty comfortable for cruising but lack the kind of firm, supportive quality you'll find in the more track-focused Recaro chairs of the GT500 or Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. This tester deletes the rear seat, which is neat as hell but kind of disappointing too, since the Challenger is the only muscle car with a usable second row and seating for five.
As is the case with the Hellcat, the ride is polished even on rough roads, and the Challenger does a fine job of quashing wind and tire noise. Only when you switch the adaptive dampers to Track do things get firm and unpleasant, and considering the Challenger's ponderous handling character, trading ride quality for agility is a poor deal.
While there are plenty of reasons to consider the Challenger over a Ford or Chevy, one of the most underappreciated is the space the Dodge affords. The cabin is expansive, with plenty of head, leg, and shoulder room in the front row. The trunk, too, is cavernous – I wouldn't hesitate to force a collection of suitcases into the back of the Challenger and set off for a long weekend. The Challenger is as close as a muscle car can get to grand touring.
The Challenger continues to feature Fiat Chrysler's well-received Uconnect 4 infotainment suite and the associated 8.4-inch touchscreen. This is one of the best setups on the market – it's perfectly functional and nice enough to look at.
But like the interior, the system's age is beginning to show, and the coming years may be difficult as rivals receive redesigns and newer infotainment suites (I’m looking at you next-gen Mustang and Sync 4). Still, for the time being, Uconnect 4 does about everything you could ask well, responding quickly to inputs and being a cinch to navigate.
The broader tech suite remains solid, too. You'll find plenty of neat, performance-specific content via the SRT Performance Pages – whether it's actual controls for the Challenger's drive modes or a readout of throttle/brake inputs or how much torque the supercharged 6.2-liter V8 produces while cruising at 45 miles per hour. And while its fair to criticize Uconnect 4 for its age, this infotainment does still include 4G LTE Wi-Fi connectivity.
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I'm not going to sit here and say that 797 horsepower and 707 pound-feet of torque are bad things. To be sure, Dodge and SRT have done great work with the Hellcat Redeye's supercharged 6.2-liter V8 and the eight-speed ZF-sourced automatic that serves with it. I just wish as much thought went into the rest of the performance package.
Let's talk tires, for a start. Every version of the GT500 and Camaro ZL1 features standard summer tires and optional ultra-high-performance summers (Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s and Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar 3Rs, respectively). The Challenger, despite being the most powerful of the bunch, packs standard all-seasons and optional summers ($695), both from Pirelli.
This tester wore the latter, and friends, they're woefully inadequate, struggling to manage even modest amounts of the Redeye's 797 ponies or 707 lb-ft (80 hp and 51 lb-ft more than the standard Hellcat). Unlike the standard Hellcat, which feels playful in the way the rear end moves around under throttle, the Redeye feels like it's barely tolerating your antics. It's an unpleasant kind of loose. My advice is to get the standard tires and then immediately order the stickiest street-legal rubber you can find – see the ZL1 and GT500 for suggestions.
However, if you can manage the disturbing lack of grip, this powertrain remains one of the most exciting and enticing around. Power is instant and effortless at any speed (although it still feels unstable during rolling pulls), while the urgency that the V8 revs is notably greater than in the standard Hellcat. I banged off the rev limiter a few times because I wasn't expecting the tach to climb so quickly in first gear. Despite this, the eight-speed auto remains a faultless partner – manual mode is fun and engaging (if you can acclimate to the way the engine revs), even if the smallish paddles themselves leave a lot to be desired, but auto is a better tool for this particular Hellcat.
Handling has always played second fiddle to the Challenger's straight-line charms and that's still the case here. Standard adaptive dampers work with the modest tires – the 305/35/20s are the same size as those on the other Widebody Challenger models, including the 495-hp Scat Pack – to provide adequate handling ability. There's plenty of roll, squat, and dive, while the steering rack takes inputs in stride. Far more than either the Camaro or the Mustang, the Challenger remains a muscle car, for better and worse.
I know this all seems like lukewarm for a car that inspires such breathless praise, but this 800-hp car deserves more aggressive tires. You need confidence in the total vehicle to deploy so much power, and with all-season rubber, I simply didn't have that.
Put simply, going for the Redeye means sacrificing active safety. While every other version of the Challenger is available with adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, and automatic emergency braking, the Redeye's specific cooling needs mean it can't accommodate the sensors for these active safety systems. In its favor, though, are excellent sightlines forward, rearward, and over the shoulder, as well as a good set of HID headlights.
Shockingly, the Hellcat Redeye is not the most inefficient car in its class. That honor goes to the GT500's 14-mile-per-gallon combined rating. The Redeye, meanwhile, returns an EPA-estimated 13 mpg city, 21 highway, and 15 combined. Premium fuel is required, and it disappears quickly.
By comparison, the aforementioned Shelby gets to its 14 combined by way of a 12-mpg city and an 18-mpg highway figure. As for the class's third entry, the Camaro ZL1 is the leader at 13 mpg city, 21 highway, and 16 combined – see, there’s a perk to being the least powerful.
If dollars per horsepower is the only measure you care about, the Hellcat Redeye is tough to beat. But for most people, they may recoil at the fact that this Dodge is the priciest car in its segment – the Widebody trim featured here starts at $76,595, which doesn't include its mandatory $2,100 federal gas-guzzler tax or a $1,495 destination charge. That's $6,295 more than the $70,300 GT500 and $13,595 more than the $63,000 Camaro ZL1. Only the upcoming Challenger SRT Super Stock will cost more, with prices starting at $79,595.
The Challenger loses points for its high price, but also for how easily options can increase that number. This stormtrooper-esque model bears a sticker price of $95,540, owing to a number of four-figure option packages. The satin black graphics are worthwhile, but they're also the priciest option on the sheet, at $3,495. Adding ventilated seats, upgraded interior trim, and a power steering column adds $2,095, while the suede headliner and carbon-fiber accents add $1,595. Blind-spot monitoring and the HID headlights demand $1,295, while both the Harmon/Kardon audio system and Laguna leather upholstery cost $1,795, respectively. Even navigation is a cost option, adding $795.
The big difference between the Hellcat Redeye and the GT500 I recently reviewed, though, is that most of these options feel necessary, while the big $18,500 package that inflated the Mustang's price didn't. I think most people would be very happy with an optionless Shelby, but owing to the Challenger’s more refined on-road behavior and more livable character, they'd be a little miffed at some of the items missing from a base Redeye.
Gallery: 2020 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye Widebody: Review
2020 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye Widebody