Scalpel or Hammer?

2019 Acura NSX vs 2019 Dodge Challenger Hellcat Redeye

If you’re like me, you might be anticipating a major life phase change. And as a car person, likely the next thing on your mind will be how this might positively affect your future stable. My current phase is one of “peak college”, let’s call it. Come autumn, three of my offspring will be chasing higher education. The title of this post does not represent which of my kids are shooting to become a doctor and which are aiming for trade school. But, instead, which car might anyone in anticipating that slide down from peak college and into the mode of recovering automotive leisure time, might decide.

So, like going to school to be a doctor, the scalpel choice is also the more expensive choice in this discussion. Likewise, the hammer choice is that of sweaty-brow, all American horsepower. They both can carry their own air of distinction in circles, and downright pride on others. Aside from which affects the outcome of your choices, I’m here to offer some seat of the pants help.

Through an unnatural confluence of events, opportunities and roughly 30 miles of interstate highway improvements just North of the Illinois state line in through Wisconsin, I found myself in the enviable position to try two diametrically opposed tools for mid-life enjoyment.  One 2019 Acura NSX pitted against one 2019 Dodge Challenger Hellcat Redeye. The aforementioned scalpel and hammer.

The patient or project in this unlikely pairing was the mist-drenched Road America track just Northwest of Milwaukee. A beautiful setting, along a serene lake, and idyllic small town, nested out of immediate reach of that interstate project. But very much worth the extra effort to visit. Idyllic serenity of the area, just like our comparison here, is shattered in the most enjoyable manner when driving the track.

First, the 2019 Acura NSX impressions. Svelt, low slung, quietly assuring. For all that is going on with the drivetrain and precision engineering, it can sneak up on you. You’ll catch it out of the corner of your eye, a bit on the non-assuming character side of the design spectrum. It welcomes you with a not too fancy for its own good door. A very inviting, low width door sill lift over, slip, in and slide like Cinderella into the glass slipper.  A perfect fit. Ok, it’s snug, but in a nice hug way, not a re-arrange your kidney, and hold my phone way. Still, just you and one other for this trip. Since we were going to be doing some high speed, slightly damp maneuvers, one more thing must fit. One’s helmet. And barely, it does.

The NSX is both easy to get going in, but at same time can offer many customizations to suit your off-menu ordering quirk. Much more approachable than some high-end sports cars that are almost IQ tests to see if you were paying attention to the overview ten minutes earlier. No, the NSX actually is a car you can get in and drive and feel more at home that one would at first think.

It’s worth reiterating that for all the electronic and mechanical goings-on on the machine side of the foot and steering wheel, it belies all of that for a smooth, well dialed-in dose of confident, no drama track time. Throaty when it needs to be; all gizmo-laden wizardry that keeps you headed in the general direction intended. Always makes for a good experience when driver and car are well connected and driver is in control.

The NSX design, like its former version, takes the best lines and adds no more. In white, it accentuates what few and functional curves and ducts it has. The wheels fill the wells looking neither too small nor overly massive for the overall design. The interior of this one was a deep blue leather, and really set off the sportiness better than had it been black. Steering wheel is thick and easy to manage. Knees could have used a tad more room for my liking to get up and over the wheel a bit more. But overall ergonomics are good, for a more laid-back, reclined position this style of coupe requires.

Slicing the track with this scalpel of a car never once gave rise to anything I had not wanted to summon from the drivetrain. Very linear in its predictive delivery of control and power. The over 550 HP V6 worked very well, and seems like it would do so at every asking of it. The least frenetic 500+ HP drivetrain I think I’ve driven. Worth keeping in mind. If you must be a bit scared, or out of control from peak power, this car might not tick that box for you. And for some, that’s perfect.

Contrast that with my next ride of the day, the 2019 Dodge Challenger Hellcat Redeye (at this point you run out space for more name)…. For one, we’re talking $75,000 versus Acura NSX’s roughly twice that amount. Also two-wheel drive versus all-wheel drive. And high levels of electric-machine symbiosis versus brute force air into large holes with fire and impunity.

First impressions, is it’s a Challenger. And that’s fine with me, as I grew up in an area where many of us guys in high school got their dad’s hand me down muscle cars, and often Challengers. I’ve always appreciated Dodge’s pure old school take on the new models. It’s all big. Bigger than the NSX. Not snug, no hug. You can store your phone, and room for your entourage in back, too. And the nice thing is the helmets fit with some room for play. Again, one can get in and drive just like the NSX. But you will want to make sure you scroll through great Dodge power information options. The most prominent one is definitely the 797 HP choice. Seriously, who would think that road going Dodge, dare I say “family” car since it has back seats and all, produces nearly 800 horsies! Let’s see how this goes…

First things first, how will this rear wheel drive do with this much power on twisty track and mega-power? Spoilers: Delightfully well. Emphasis added. The Redeye has a good 600 pounds on the NSX, but also has nearly 300 more horsepower as well. It’s all a big, heavy visceral hammer. Slams you back in your seat, rockets you out of the apex. But does it kill you? No. Unless you’re one prone to dying laughing. This track allows two modes. Windows up or windows down. For the all in your face attitude, definitely windows down.

Heavy on my mind. I mean, the heft was on my mind. Starting out, taking off, first application of brakes, into the non-existent turn two (their words not mine), shooting straight out, down into the very much existent turn three, again brakes. Or better yet, where is the heft? Just like a game that uses the hammer to negotiate into and out of turns, the Challenger Hellcat Redeye is like a Gulliver’s game of Croquet, with us being the ball. Hammered towards and through the next gate, shot out and towards the next. For all the stats that make this almost a literal monster, it never showed its cat fangs and bit me. The tires and driver safeties are there to keep you alive, as well, but not at the expense of making you feel thoroughly tossed about at high g-forces. So much torque. I know the Challenger Demon is not quite the namesake to have a “halo” car tagline, but if a Demon ever did at one time have the halo title put upon it, I’d say the Challenger Hellcat Redeye took a late apex, and snatched it off the Demon’s head like reaching for the golden ring on a merry-go-round. And it looks good on it, too.


In the end, I like calling them as I see them. I’ll use the Dodge app to outfit the Hellcat Redeye to my liking, and on the checkout confirmation page, I’ll tick that little up-arrow to raise the quantity to two. And not because I just want free shipping, either.

Back when the Dodge Charger Hellcat was announced Tim Kuniskis and I compared our flashy driver’s shoes, and he winked at me and told me to wait to see what they had in store for more power. Well done, Dodge! Our kids will love these future great hand-me-down muscle cars. Just like I did in my youth.