It’s no secret that for the past decade or so, Chrysler has seen some rough times. There was that ill-fated partnership with Mercedes-Benz, followed by sharply declining sales due to a stale product lineup, and then near bankruptcy, and finally a U.S. government bail-out aided by a stock sale to Italian automaker, Fiat. Yet, remarkably, through all those trials and tribulations one tiny ember of the old Chrysler company was kept burning, and that was the desire to make horsepower.
|1. Powered by a 6.4-liter V8 engine with 470 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque, it has a 0-60 time of under 5.0 seconds.
2. SRT8 models get a blacked-out grille, four exhaust pipes, 20-inch wheels, a one inch lower suspension and massive 6-piston front brakes with 14.2-inch rotors.
3. An 8-inch touch screen can show performance data including acceleration times and cornering forces.
4. Pricing starts at $47,170.
So a group of Chrysler engineers, who were all weekend racers, tuners, drifters, hot rod enthusiasts and speed freaks, led by Ralph Gilles, the current president of the newly minted SRT brand, developed some special cars, using a Hemi engine to bring back some of the excitement of the muscle car era that Chrysler was so closely associated with.
As a result, Chrysler has done a sharp U-turn and is gobbling back US market share in huge chunks. And a lot of that success is due to the SRT8 program. SRT stands for Street and Racing Technology, and the purpose is to put the technology learned from racing, into an affordable street package that will appeal to enthusiasts. And while SRT8 products don’t sell by the tens of thousands, their halo effect on the other trim models is huge.
SERIOUS V8 POWER
The 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 is an outstanding automobile. The heart of the beast is a new direct fuel injected, 6.4-liter engine which produces 470 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque. Those numbers will shoot you from zero to 60 in 4.6 seconds, and hit the timing lights at the end of a quarter-mile in 13 seconds. And if top speed is your thing, this puppy do 174 miles per hour.
Compared to the previous model, that means the new motor gains 40 horses and 80 lb-ft of thrust. Remarkably, at the same time, it increases fuel economy to 16 city and 25 highway. Those highway numbers are aided by the fact that while you’re cruising, 4 cylinders will deactivate seamlessly to save some fossil fuel. If you need to make a passing maneuver, those cylinders will reactivate instantly, and again, you won’t feel the transition.
The power and performance numbers put this SRT8 into the same category with cars such as an Audi A7, BMW 550i, or Mercedes CLS550. But none of those cars can come close to providing the visceral experience of listening to that wonderful V8 Hemi roar when the driver tromps down on the accelerator. One can assume that the first set of rear tires will wear out prematurely, until the owner gets tired of hearing the Hemi motor and smelling tire smoke. It is a uniquely American motor, with a uniquely American muscle song that nothing from Europe or Japan can match.
Should you be wondering if this Chrysler is just a drag strip queen, unlike the cars mentioned above, rest assured that the SRT8’s handling capabilities are just as crisp and precise as anything you’ll get from the German marques. The adaptive suspension, changes the character of the car from boulevard cruiser, to track monster with the push of a button. And you can display performance readouts such as zero to 60 time or ¼ mile times, steering angle, torque and horsepower, and even g-forces right on the 8.4-inch touchscreen display on the center stack. Brembo brakes with vented rotors and 4 piston calipers are standard for excellent stopping power, too.
And yet, by just pushing the button on the adaptive suspension, and backing off the gas pedal from “lead foot” to “merely aggressive”, the 300 transforms into a plush cruiser that will move you through town and country with all the luxury quiet and composure you or your grandmother could want.
A SINGLE DRAWBACK
The only fly in the Chrysler 300 SRT8’s soup is the 5-speed automatic transmission. It does a good job overall in handling the prodigious horsepower and torque, and is fine in the normal drive mode. But when you wish to use the paddle shifters, you’ll find that they shift slower than you’d like, and feel clunky in operation. The new 8-speed unit can’t come soon enough.
Steering is responsive with exceptional feedback, and the car feels much lighter than its 4,365 lbs would indicate. You just don’t expect the level of communication and control you get with this car, but each component transmits its condition and intention to the driver to produce a wonderful driving experience. Mild understeer is the norm, and yet the driver can modulate the gas pedal to aid in mid corner corrections, or use a heavier foot to induce oversteer drift until you can’t wipe the smile off your face. You wouldn’t think a car this large could be considered playful, and yet it loves to be pushed. It wasn’t that long ago that only turbocharged Porsches could lay down acceleration, lateral forces, braking distances, and top speed numbers that this 4-door family sedan can manage.
FINALLY, A HIGH PERFORMANCE INTERIOR TO MATCH
While we have always been impressed with the Chrysler SRT8 series of cars, one area that was always lacking was the interior. The engine and technology could push up the costs of an SRT8 to over $50,000, from a lower trim model of $32,000, yet the interior was still pretty much the same as the $32,000 car – with too much hard plastic, and uninspired interior appointments. Not so with the 2012 model. This SRT8 has an interior commensurate with its price tag. In fact, Chrysler has responded to the criticism about their interiors in all their cars (from Dodge and Jeep as well) and every model has been vastly improved.
The heated and cooled race-inspired luxury leather seats, with contrasting double stitching, are comfortable and feature Alcantara inserts which work together with the hip and shoulders bolsters to hold the driver in place when driving aggressively. And our test car was done up in beautiful and striking Radar Red leather that will get your heart pumping even before you start the engine. Gone is the cheap looking wood and silver trim in favor of carbon fiber trim and inserts in the doors, dash, and shifter bezel. Electroluminescent dash gauges with SRT8 badging, a sculpted analogue clock above the info screen on the handsome center stack, soft touch leather for the door sills, center console, and all the upgraded materials now give the entire cabin the executive level look and feel that the car deserves. It is comfortable, inviting, and a great place to spend long hours behind the wheel.
Head and legroom for 5 passengers is generous. The rear seating area will please even tall adults, with comfortable seats that are also heated. And the trunk is cavernous, with 60/40 fold down split bench seat offering even more cargo room. Plus, there is a large list of amenities that the driver will enjoy, such as rain sensitive wipers, power adjustable pedals with memory to fine tune the drivers seating position and relationship to the controls and steering wheel, SmartBeam Headlamps, remote start and even heated and cooled front console cupholders. The sound system is excellent and has Satellite, CD/DVD/MP3 and voice command with Bluetooth connectivity. And the Garmin NAV system is easy to use. Adaptive cruise control is outstanding, and the thick rim, flat bottom steering wheel is heated, and has redundant controls for the sound system and cruise control.
Looking at the exterior, this stylish Chrysler 300 SRT8 is a real stealth machine, a feature that will come in handy with owners who wish to keep their drivers licenses. All indications that it is the SRT8 are subtle, such as the special design 20-inch aluminum wheels, or the modest trunk spoiler. In front, you get darkened lenses covering the string of LED running lights, a blacked out front grille and there are some subtle changes to the front air dam. If you need to shout about your cars performance, you should be looking in the Dodge showroom at the flashier Charger, or Challenger. Or for a really wild ride, you can check out the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8. All come with the same 392 cubic inch Hemi with roughly the same performance statistics.
The Chrysler 300 SRT8 starts out at $47,170. Our test car added the $1,995 Customer Preferred Package which consists of power folding multi-function mirrors, Adaptive Cruise Control, Forward Collision Warning, Blind Spot Detection System, rear fog lamps, Exterior mirrors with supplemental signals and courtesy lamps. Also for $1,995 the car had the Premium Speaker Group with 19 speakers including a subwoofer and a 900-watt amplifier. Unfortunately the car does also come with a $1,000 gas guzzler tax. A businessman should be able to write that off as a mental health expense, but check with your tax advisor on that. Bottom line: $53,135.
That isn’t chump change, but it is a steal compared to the European cars costing thousands more with equal or lesser performance. And no SRT8 owner will feel like a second class citizen when comparing interior appointments or luxury amenities either. This is a world class car that can live happily during the week as a family car or executive work commuter, and then on the weekends, the owner can flex the car’s muscles and carve up all the canyon roads he can find, or even take it out to the occasional track day and hunt down 911s.