Functional status in chronic heart failure is evaluated in general by subjective means, such as the New York Heart Association class, or by invasive techniques difficult to use routinely. The aim of this study was to evaluate noninvasively the contractile reserve in cases of heart failure as a means to define the functional status of the patients. Cardiac peak power, a new noninvasively obtained afterload-independent index of contractility, was calculated from online Doppler and central arterial blood pressure estimated noninvasively in 35 patients with heart failure and 10 healthy subjects during dobutamine infusion. Cardiac output increased in all patients to the same extent, without differentiation among the functional classes. Contractile reserve, as assessed by peak power, was found to be a good marker of functional class: it was significantly higher in functional class 1 than in functional classes 2 through 4. A correlation of r = 0.99 and probability of p < 0.001 was found with the functional status. This new, noninvasive contractility index, peak power, allows an objective evaluation of the severity of heart failure.