Before driving a selection of Dodge’s latest Challengers, I fondly looked back on my past experiences with the stout two-door, particularly the SRT Hellcat. The first time I was tossed the keys to the supercharged tire killer I spent the majority of my week exploring remote roads outside of Los Angeles, charting my course mostly from gas station to gas station. Around town, I let the rear end step out whenever traffic conditions allowed, which meant lots of driving late night into the early morning hours. There was even a day trip to El Mirage dry lake bed where I intended to hunt down that 199 mph top speed, but only managed 179 – not bad for a manual transmission on a loose surface.

“I’m here for a good time, not a long time” I declared as I trotted over to a 2019 Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye Widebody, which as it turns out is more of a mouthful than it is a handful. A surprisingly compliant chassis is just one of the many enjoyable aspects of Dodge’s seemingly brutal top-dog, as was demonstrated throughout my day driving it from Portland, Maine to Club Motorsports in Tamworth, NH and back. My past experiences with the Challenger in wide open spaces out west were a far cry from this go-round that was mostly cruising through quaint little towns like the one where I grew up in Southern Vermont. Still, even on the thin strips of asphalt that qualify as roads in parts of rural New England, the Redeye Widebody remained enjoyable and entertaining. However, it should come as no surprise that once the car is turned loose on a track, that’s where its capability can be fully appreciated.

The Good: When it comes to the Challenger overall, you’re truly spoiled for choice, starting with the available color spectrum: IndiGo Blue and Plum Crazy, Destroyer Grey and (my personal favorite) F8 Green.

The list of attractive qualities for the Hellcat Redeye specifically is also lengthy, but it’s the hardware and tricks I enjoy the most. First, there’s the new dual-snorkel hood (also found on the regular ol’717-hp Hellcat) that’s fully functional, wolfing down as much air as possible to feed the 2.7-liter supercharger borrowed from the Demon. In addition to the new hood, the Redeye makes use of a duct at the center of the inner driver side headlamp and a new inlet near the wheel liner to bring air-flow up 18 percent over last year’s Hellcat.

Keeping the high output V8 and the industry’s largest supercharger cool is what allows it to deliver up to 3.9 psi of boost at launch and max out at 14.5 psi. Assisting the air wrangling elements is the SRT Power Chiller and After-Run Chiller. The former lowers intake air temperature by sending A/C refrigerant to a chiller unit; then, it’s further cooled by air passing through the front radiator. Before that, frosty coolant flows to the heat exchangers in the supercharger. The latter minimizes the effects of heat soak by keeping the engine’s cooling fan and low-temperature circuit coolant pump running after the car is off. Additionally, you can track the supercharger coolant temperature, along with a myriad of other things, through the SRT Performance Pages included in the industry standout UConnect infotainment system. This is crucial information to have if you’re attempting to squeeze every bit of performance out of the car and gain an edge over your competition.

The Redeye makes use of eight heat exchangers in total so can execute many impressive, tire-annihilating launches or cruise all day long through sweltering, inhospitable locales. If you can keep your right foot under control, it’s rated at 22mpg highway. Of course it’s much more tempting to see if you can drain the fuel tank in just under 11 minutes, as Dodge claims is possible – that’s 1.43 gallons a minute. I find those numbers even more impressive than the 10.8 second quarter mile it’ll run with a trap speed of 131 mph. Get you a car that can do both right?

Who It’s For: Anyone who likes to smile regularly, and who likes a big scoop of more on top of their extra. Muscle car fans will continue to flock to it because it maintains all the character of a classic but includes modern conveniences like ventilated seats, adaptive cruise control and a damn good infotainment system.

Watch Out For: As is the case with most really fun toys, the Redeye doesn’t come cheap. A base SRT Hellcat runs $58,650, but adding Customer Preferred Package 27Z bumps the price up $11K; however, it also bumps the speedometer to 220mph, so you judge the value. The $6,000 Widebody Package is quite necessary as well as it adds 3.5 inches to the overall body width, making space for the 20×11 inch “Devil’s Rim” forged aluminum wheels that wear 305/35/ZR20 All-Season Performance or Pirelli P Zero summer tires ($695 for the set). You’ll need all the rubber you can get to keep the Redeye in line.

Alternatives: The Mustang and Camaro draw inspiration from their muscle car heritage but are now poised to duke it out with sports coupes on a global scale. The Challenger is content being the only domestic two-door that’s a true GT muscle car. I wouldn’t want to drive cross country in a Mustang or Camaro; I’d happily do so in a Challenger.

Given the massive amount of power the Hellcat Redeye makes and its roomy interior, true competition is comprised entirely of vehicles above its price bracket. It’s hard to imagine buyers cross shopping the Redeye with a Lexus LC500, BMW M6 or Audi RS5, let alone an AMG S63 Coupe, or *gulp* a Bentley Continental GT, but that’s the weight class which the Redeye punches up into. If comfort and power trump fit and finish, then it’s a no-brainer. You’ll win every drag race and have money left over to fill your tank a few times too.

Review: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the Challenger is one of the most honest cars you can buy. It doesn’t try to be anything it’s not. It’s the polar opposite of the wheezing malaise-era muscle cars that over-promised and drastically under-delivered. For all the bravado and chest thumping automatically associated with the Challenger, it’s actually fairly laid back the majority of the time you’re driving it if you can behave yourself. Sure the Hellcat Redeye wears two screaming feline heads with a red jewel in their eye on either fender, but it does so with a wink and nod. Folks at FCA enjoy a good time and that really comes through in their products, especially their performance variants.

Splitting my time between rural two-lane roads and the exceptional blacktop playground that is Club Motorsports made for a well rounded day. A lesser track would have made for a rather hairy experience, but Club Motorsports was the perfect place to give the Redeye a go. Cut out the side of a damn mountain, the track offers incredible scenic views to go along with the 15 turns you need to navigate over 2.5 miles. There is 250 feet of elevation change to contend with as well, so you’ve got to be on it, regardless of what you’re driving. When what you’re driving happens to be a hefty muscle car with so much torque it just might wrinkle the road, you’ve got to be incredibly patient in addition to being hyper-focused.

Driving the Redeye is an exercise in restraint whether on the street or track, but given the layout of Club Motorsports, you have to be on your absolute best behavior to put down clean laps. If I’d been given carte blanche and an endless supply of tires I would have spent the majority of the day doing my best Chris Harris impression at every corner, but while going sideways in a Redeye is a hoot, it’s not much of an (ahem) challenge. Much more indicative of the SRT division’s engineering is the car’s ability to get around corners without much drama. The formula for navigating the not-straight sections of a track in the Redeye goes like this: accelerate hard, choose your line, brake harder than you accelerated, turn in, be surprised the nose is going right where you wanted it to, coast through your line, check your watch, lightly engage throttle, straighten the steering wheel, use the rest of the throttle and repeat.

Once you realize that a simple drop of the right foot results in a rumbling, guttural howl from the exhaust and delightful whine from the supercharger it becomes quite challenging to stay the course. I resigned myself to being responsible and was duly rewarded with a top speed of 130 mph down the back straight following a particularly well executed trip around the last corner. Getting even just one corner really right on a track is always highly satisfying, but in a car like the Redeye it’s truly special.

On the drive over to Club Motorsports and back I was afforded ample time to see what’s new in the way of interior bits. The answer: not much. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because while the interior of the Challenger could accurately be described as “sparse,” it’s also driver focused and there are soft touch materials in enough places that it doesn’t feel cheap. The thickness of the flat bottom steering wheel may be a bit much for some, as will the illuminated SRT logo at the base of it. However you could hardly have a dainty wheel paired with this car, it just wouldn’t feel right. The “more is more” theme continues with comfy, if not oversized, sport bucket seats that come covered in Houndstooth cloth at the base trim level and are available in three other styles. Given that I don’t exactly fill the seat and the side bolsters aren’t adjustable, I enjoyed having Alcantara inserts paired with either Nappa or Laguna leather trim to help hold me in place. The full Laguna leather seats do look the business in “Sepia” brown and I imagine they’ll age quite nicely too, so if you’re not a fan of Alcantara or just fit the seat profile better than I do, they’re a solid choice.

The drive over and back also yielded a number of opportunities to “lay a patch” as they say. One need not turn off traction control to do so, but with that pesky system shut down and a straight section of road absent other vehicles on hand, one could theoretically smoke out a small town.

Verdict: The Redeye is a victory lap in a contest with one participant, the vehicular equivalent of the guy who does “The Worm” on the dance floor at weddings. Sure it’s ridiculous, but it’s a hell of a party trick and never gets old. Most of all though, it’s proof that Dodge’s SRT folks are equally as studied in the dark arts of performance wizardry as their European counterparts; arguably, their results are more impressive given that they’re doing more with less. It’s been a decade since the Challenger came onto the scene and it’s only received minor cosmetic updates during that time. Why mess with a winning formula?

The Redeye that gets the spotlight as the most powerful Challenger in the family and in the segment overall. Is it the best of the bunch? That depends entirely upon what you value most in your muscle car. If it’s bragging rights, straight line power and the ability to do lurid burnouts anytime, anywhere, then the Redeye is the Challenger for you. Personally, I’d go for the new Challenger R/T Scat Pack Widebody with a six-speed manual transmission, but that’s another story entirely.

What Others Are Saying:

• “The big muscle car stands on its nose strongly enough make that monstrous rear-end wiggle just a bit under braking. The 4,492-pound beast feels surprisingly lively in that respect, but the rest of its track performance is more stoic.” — Tim Stevens, CNET

• “No, the big surprise is that this doesn’t feel like the lumbering beast I expected. Certainly, a Miata or something similarly nimble will feel more adept in the twists, but there’s a pleasing sense of involvement as you get confident making slow-then-surge progress.” — Chris Davies, Slash Gear

2019 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye Key Specs

Engine: 6.2-liter supercharged V8
Transmission: eight-speed automatic with paddle shifters
Horsepower: 797
Torque: 707 lb-ft
Weight: 4,492 lbs
0-60: 3.4 seconds
Top Speed: 203 mph
Price: $69,650 (base); $92,290 (as tested)

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