In summer 2023, Dodge CEO Tim Kuniskis announced that the production of the Charger and Challenger will end in December. After years of carving out a niche as the politically incorrect tire-shredding performance machines for the everyday American, it seems that there is no more space for V8s and the brand, like most of the automotive world, is going electric. To celebrate the end of the Challenger Era, we decided to pick one its wildest evolution for the last Escape.
The San Francisco Bay Area is the world’s technology center and the home of electric car giant Tesla. With every third car on the road, some modern electric appliance, the easiest way to stand out is from behind the wheel of a petrol-burning muscle car.
A maze of freeways and wide multi-lane boulevards, exciting driving isn’t the first thing that comes to mind around here. But what is hiding to the west of the hustle and bustle of Silicon Valley are some of the most exciting and technical roads in the United States- traversing the Santa Cruz mountains and ending up along the stunning California coast.
Choosing the right car for this drive is no small task; the roads are narrow and made even tighter with the steady stream of cyclists heading for the crest. The surfaces are all over the place- with some smooth sections followed immediately by near-washboard-like pavement. The ideal car is likely something vintage without a ton of power, a car you can extract the most from at lower speeds- but we ended up with the exact opposite.
The Dodge Challenger is a full-size coupe that shares portions of its underbody architecture with the Mercedes Benz E-Class and S-Class from the late 1990s. A truly archaic car, the Challenger and its 4-door Charger stablemate were designed for the long, straight roads found in middle America. So naturally, for our trip up these small twisty roads, we located the most powerful Challenger we could find- a Hellcat Redeye- and headed for the mountain.
When Dodge debuted the Hellcat Challenger in 2015, it brought renewed enthusiasm to the dying platform and helped the company realize that all it took to make people excited about their aging product line was the “Hellcat” 6.2-liter Supercharged V8. This Redeye version features extra wide bodywork and a power increase of 90hp and 11 lb-ft of torque, bringing the total to 797 horsepower and 707 lb-ft of torque.
Waking up in the morning and firing up the Redeye sounds closer to an off-shore power boat than a car, and from behind the wheel, it feels a bit like a boat as well. As we make our way through town, there is no doubt the car is fast, but the suspension is floaty and far more suited to long-distance touring. This is going to be an interesting drive.
At the start of the road, there are some open sweeping corners to help get acclimated to the chassis, but quickly, the road narrows, and the Hellcat is sitting right on the dotted yellow centerline. The steering takes much more input than a full-on sports car but is still quicker than a classic, and the car is fun to throw around tight turns, though it is clearly not in its element. That Hellcat V8 under the hood is barely working at all, with just a brush of the throttle pedal either spinning the rear tires or taking you from the corner exit to the entrance of the next corner in the blink of an eye.
The road opens up significantly when we get to the mountain’s crest along Skyline Boulevard, and the Redeye can truly shine here. This road runs along the spine of the mountain range and is both wide and fast, with long sweeping turns and stunning vistas along both sides of the road. We take this route down to Alice’s Restaurant, the region’s famous hang-out spot where car and motorcycle enthusiasts gather for lunch after a morning enjoying the twisties.
After a quick lunch, we head down the other side of the mountain along Highway 84. A far better-paved bit of road, Highway 84, sends you winding down through a thick canopy of trees toward the coast. This road suits the Hellcat far better, and we make great time down to San Gregorio on the coast.
Once we are out to the coast and on Highway 1, the Hellcat Redeye has room to breathe- a big, smooth road that traverses more than 650 miles of California coastline. With the windows down and the supercharged 6.2 liter V8 burbling along in front of us, the Redeye is happy to loaf along at highway speeds, not even breaking a sweat, but when the dotted center line appears, a short press of the throttle and the caravans that were in front of you are quickly placed in your rearview mirror.
In many ways, the Dodge Challenger Hellcat Redeye is the antithesis of everything the San Francisco Bay Area stands for. It is not technologically advanced or even slightly efficient, but unlike so much modern technology, it is packed full of character. It may not have been the right car for our windy backroad adventure, but it was certainly a more memorable trip than if we were driving a Tesla.