The words “living legend” first come to mind. “Badass” follows. Plus “overkill,” and dare I say “collectable.” But of the all superlatives that pop into my head, “last hurrah” are the saddest of the bunch when gathering my thoughts about the week I spent with the 797hp 2021 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye Widebody.
Yet this isn’t a story about how ever-tightening emissions standards are strangling the future of outrageous performance or that EVs are marching in to replace the beloved roar of internal combustion engines. Nope. By all rights, the Hellcat variants of the Charger and Challenger should probably never have made it to production in the first place, so the fact that the Redeyes exist is extraordinary and something to be celebrated.
So being that this is RACER, we did exactly what you would do when handed the infamous SRT “red key” that unlocks all 797 ponies, and we hit the racetrack. But this wasn’t all for fun; rather, our specific data goal revolved around road course performance potential between that notorious red key and the lower powered, 500hp black key.
But first, the basics…
In both Charger and Challenger forms, the Redeye is quite literally a boosted version of — if you can call it this — the run-of-the-mill 717hp Hellcat, pumping an extra 80hp out of the 6.2-liter supercharged V8 motor. The 2021 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye Widebody we tested sported a Hellcat Redeye base price of $78,440 optioned with goodies, which included a bevy of Hellcat signage (some wearing the telltale red jewel in the eye of the beast), as well as a 220mph speedometer, navigation, a Harmon Kardon audio system, sunroof, 305/35-20 Pirelli PZero all-season tires and an awesome carbon fiber and suede interior. All in, the four-door sedan we were testing rang up at $90,060. It’s notable that the price includes the $1,495 destination charge and $2,100 gas-guzzler tax (12 mpg city, 21 highway and 15 mpg combined, if you care, with those numbers largely aligning with our experience).
Behind the illuminated SRT steering wheel badge, it’s easy to sink comfortably into the bolstered leather. In fact, while this $90,000 Charger shares its bones with a $29,995 version, outside of some hard plastics on the door and dash, it’s difficult to spot this car’s humble roots. Granted, BMW M5 or Mercedes-Benz AMG E63 this is not, but neither of those have 797hp nor drip with the enviable image of American overindulgence. They’re also far more expensive.
Something neither BMW nor Mercedes will get you is the attention from those in the know. My first outing in an unavoidably bright “TorRed” painted Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye involved someone going out of their way to complement the car; and this occurrence was far from isolated.
Another thing the BMW and Mercedes aren’t are 4,600lbs, like the Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye Widebody. Yet, it should be said, they’re not far off, either. Regardless, the Charger is more content cruising the boulevard than being pushed to the limit on a racetrack road course. But even on the racing circuit, I found a simple trick to bettering the car’s cornering dynamics was only a button push away.
Setting the stage
Hellcats offer a “red key” that unlocks full power; meanwhile, the Hemi will also output a measly 500hp with the black key (or via a tap of the finger on the center display menu while using the red key), dropping some 300hp from the Redeye’s full capabilities. And there is where our challenge arose: How far off the pace would a Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye Widebody be lapping a racetrack in 500hp mode vs. with 797hp?
We needn’t say, 797hp on the street is ridiculous. Pressing the gas with any zest unleashes burned rubber from the back tires and giddy laughter from within the cabin. There’s no trick to it, either. Don’t bother turning off traction control or defeating stability — the car simply wants to burn tires. At the same time, it features three sets of LATCH mounts in the rear for children’s seats — not a common occurrence even in vehicles claiming to be family friendly. So with my three young kids securely mounted, we cruised the town far under the speed limit with no bucking or tire chirps. Remove the pleasant sounds of the 6.2-liter Hemi and Redeye’s 2.7-liter twin-screw supercharger (0.3L more than the standard Hellcat’s supercharger) and you’d never know this easy driver was capable of massive tire shredding.
On the racetrack, that 797hp is still a handful. Our test version came equipped with 305mm width Pirelli PZero all-season tires sporting a 500 UTQG rating. The tires are designed to handle all but snowy conditions, thus they struggle at the track with power application and lugging the sedan’s weight through the turns. Can’t blame the tires or car on this one — physics are physics.
My time at the track took place in pleasant temperatures in the mid- to high 70s F. Also, all track time was completed with no traction algorithm or stability as a backup — my hands and right foot controlled all.
Speaking of feet, all Redeyes come equipped with the 8-speed TorqueFlite HP90 automatic transmission and paddle shifters, which is probably for the best since it allows both hands to remain on the steering wheel at all times, tapping paddle shifters when needed. If a manual transmission is on your wish list, you’re out of luck matching that to a Charger chassis. For a third pedal and 700-plus horsepower, you’ll be buying a Challenger SRT Hellcat to get the Tremec 6-speed.