As General Motors and Ford push to make their muscle cars leaner, meaner and more agile, Fiat Chrysler has taken a different route. To hell with new chassis and lighter weights, the solution is simple: add power.
That's how we got here, to a series-production Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye with 797 horsepower.
Now that the 840-horsepower, limited-edition Challenger SRT Demon's production run is over, this is the most powerful Challenger you can get. More to the point, it's the most powerful muscle car on sale. It's big, it's crazy and it's a ton of fun.
To put 797 horsepower in context, consider that the $411,300 McLaren 720S Spider supercar we tested produced 87 fewer horsepower than this manic Dodge. The Ford Mustang Bullitt, the quickest 'Stang you can buy without a Shelby badge, offered 475 horsepower. In fact, the Redeye makes more power than any other production vehicle costing less than $1 million. If you want to top it, you'll need something with a name like "Bugatti" or "Koenigsegg." That's amazing for a car that, even with as many options as our tester, costs $90,040.
In fact, at this point, power is far from the limiting factor. As evidenced by the Redeye's stunning willingness to smoke its rear tires any time the traction control is off, the Challenger has more power than it has grip. In sport mode, the traction and stability control systems will let you slide enough to make you howl with laughter but not enough to end up dead.
In a straight line, the Challenger is unstoppable. At any speed, in any gear, on any road, you can mat the gas and be rocketing past the speed limit in a moment's notice. You can reach 60 mph in 3.4 seconds, but that doesn't convey how quick the Redeye is once it has grip. Above 60, it's truly a rocketship.
You also benefit from the soul-stirring roar of the 6.2-liter V-8 and the devilish whine of its supercharger. With the thunder of its exhaust, the screech of its blower and the squealing of its tires, every drive in the Hellcat Redeye feels like a self-contained theatrical event. Over a week, it never once got old.
That accessibility of power is what makes the Redeye special. In other cars with this much power, they feel constantly on edge and stiff. The Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye is, for all its power, still a Dodge coupe. That means if you stay out of sport mode and are gentle on the throttle, it feels like a big comfy American car.
You can cruise down the highway, relaxing in huge heated and cooled leather bucket seats without even remembering that you've got more power than a Lamborghini Aventador SVJ. Then, one stab of the gas later, and the eight-speed automatic flicks down a few gears and the engine thrusts you back in your seat.
Because the Challenger is gigantic, you also get five seats and a big trunk. If you can stomach the terrible fuel economy that comes with occasionally unleashing 797 horsepower, you could even use this as your daily driver. Sure it's a monster muscle car, but it's got a nice interior, great seats and more than enough space for people and cargo.
As mentioned, Fiat Chrysler has avoided completely rehauling the Challenger and has instead opted to release faster and faster versions. While that's a good way to win the horsepower wars, there are compromises.
First off, the Redeye is heavy. Not for a sports car, but for any car. At 4,436 pounds, the Redeye outweighs even the portliest version of the three-row Honda Pilot family SUV. That's a lot of heft to throw around in the corners. Like true muscle cars of the 60s, the Redeye can be sloppy and unpredictable on twisty roads. This is a car built for straight-line speed.
The weight also doesn't help fuel economy. The Environmental Protection Agency rates it at 13 miles per gallon in the city and 22 mpg on the highway for a total of 16 mpg combined, but we never saw anything close to that. If you're ever going to use your 797-horsepower muscle car like, well, a 797-horsepower muscle car, don't expect to see 22 mpg.
We should also report that it's nearly impossible to have fun in this car without eliciting serious dirty looks. With its battleship size and constantly screeching, bellowing and whining symphony of speed, you can't ever avoid attention if you want to move quickly. Even when parked, its flared fenders and angry nostrils project aggression and insanity like nothing else.
And though it's the most powerful production car you can get under $1 million, it's still a $90,040 version of a car that starts at under $30,000. So if you prioritize prestige, subtlety or cornering, there are better options.
For everyone else, it's going to be a lot of fun. You can get a Redeye for $71,945, but we'd highly recommend spending $6,000 to upgrade to the Widebody package. Not only do the wide fenders look better, but they allow Dodge to squeeze in larger tires that give you more grip. Based on our experience testing the Widebody, we couldn't imagine the same amount of power with less grip.
Most colors are free, but there are two that cost $69 or $70. There are also a few stripe packages and two wheel options, so style your Challenger as you wish.
In terms of features, though, we'd recommend a few. We didn't love the standard Alpine premium audio system, so we'd option the $1,595 Harman Kardon sound system. You're going to need a good stereo to overpower the car's built-in soundtrack.
Finally, we'd add the $1,095 Driver Convenience group, mainly for the blind spot monitoring system. Since the Challenger is big and has a low roof, we think this a good safety option. As a whole, our Challenger comes to $82,130 with the destination charge. Cosmetic options will push that up, but Dodge has also been offering some aggressive incentives.
The Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye is big, brash and frankly has no reason to exist. But with its intoxicating power, crazy sounds and supervillain looks, we're glad it does. It's not cheap, but it's the last true muscle car you can buy.
Driving Experience: 4.5
Price as tested: $90,040
*Ratings out of 5.