There isn’t one particular thing about the new Chrysler 300 SRT8 that makes it special. Not the 470-horsepower V8, which also grunts out 470 lb-ft of torque, nor the refined traction control system beneath it. It’s not the crystal-clear, 900-watt, 19-speaker sound system, nor the classy suede interior it bathes in auditory excellence.
No, what makes the 300 SRT8 so special is how well all the high-performance technology and luxury styling can co-exist so successfully in one machine. In that sense, the 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 is a nearly perfect car. And yes, I realize that’s a remarkable thing to say about a Chrysler.
The massive amount of brawn comes from a 6.4-liter engine developed by SRT, Chrysler’s performance division. Don’t let the HEMI badges and combustion chambers fool you, this is not an old-school American V8. That’s a good thing. Granted, nearly six and half liters of displacement is old-school huge, but everything else about it is thoroughly modern. Variable-length intakes and variable cam (there’s still only one) timing ensure a fat power curve across the 6,400 RPM rev range. An unobtrusive cylinder deactivation system kills four cylinders under light loads. This boosts the highway fuel economy to around 30 mpg, and the car maintains the burbling exhaust note even as it operates as a V4.
With roots firmly planted in Mercedes sedans from the ’90s, you’d be forgiven for dismissing the 300’s five-speed automatic as an outdated spec. But the SRT team spent a lot of time and money refining the transmission’s programming, so the box puts the power to the ground flawlessly. Unlike those old Mercedes sedans, this modern Chrysler lets you choose your own shifts via cast aluminum paddles mounted behind the wheel. Hustling the 4,365-pound behemoth around California’s Willow Springs Raceway, the gearbox actually helped me set my fastest time in “Sport” mode, with it doing the shifting for me. That’s impressive for a transmission that’s sold as part of a refined and smooth luxury car where most drivers aren’t spending a lot of time mashing the pedals.
Chrysler didn’t set out to make the 300 SRT8 a focused go-fast machine. Off the track, it’s a civilized, well-appointed luxury car — just one that can also throw down decent lap times.
The other intelligent computer is the one making decisions about your slide angles, brake applications and throttle openings. Traction control used to be a silly safety net that noticeably reduced the amount of driver control, something you’d have to switch off if you wanted to drive fast. No longer — SRT set out to design a system that focuses on the smoothest possible application of power while maintaining a high level of driver control. That means you can go flat out through race track turns while the computer helps you maintain a slight drift without cutting power. A little more throttle and that slide starts to go sideways, with you navigating through the side window as the rear tires disappear in a cloud of smoke. But the car doesn’t spin out of control. The traction control system works unobtrusively in the background, constantly monitoring your lines, braking points and slide angles, making subtle corrections to your inputs when necessary. Basically, it makes you look and feel like a hero.
As impressive as it is, all that performance stays hidden. Chrysler didn’t set out to make the 300 SRT8 a focused go-fast machine. Off the track, it’s a civilized, well-appointed luxury car — just one that can also throw down decent lap times. To do that, Chrysler gave the SRT8 an interior free of cheap plastic crap. The stereo and nav system are controlled through a touchscreen, while a few simple buttons and knobs run auxiliary controls. I was able to master the whole cockpit during a short drive from L.A out and over Angeles Crest.
The seats grip your butt surprisingly well as lateral Gs approach the magic 1.0 figure. But they’re also all-day comfortable. One thing I found was that the driver’s seat is a nice place to sit and do your best impression of the Maxell “Blown Away Guy” while the stereo system does its thing.
That Chrysler spec’d a stereo beefy enough to crack your enamel tells you something about what makes this car special. It’s nice to drive at 100 percent on the track, but it’s equally nice to drive down Sunset Boulevard in rush hour traffic with the A/C cranked and the stereo blasting distortion-free tracks through its 19 speakers.
Most new cars have a stereo that only sounds good on paper; turn the the volume beyond 75 percent and the bass drops out, the highs distort and the mids become overpowering. But SRT actually delivers. And I’m an audiophile — at home, I enjoy music through exotic custom speakers and a vintage amp I gutted and rebuilt myself. If I owned this car, I’d take it out for drives just to get my Daft Punk or Miles Davis fix at max volume.
This new 300 is part of a long legacy of Chrysler muscle cars dating back more than half a century. The original 1955 C-300 was built so Chrysler could go NASCAR racing. The 300 denoted its horsepower, which went up to 355 in 1956. By the time 1960’s 300F came around, the horsepower had climbed to 375 and the car had gained a tuned cross-ram intake system.
The variable-length intakes on the 2012 model echo the function of that cross-ram system. Even more interesting, and perhaps coincidentally, the 4,365-pound curb weight of the 2012 model is shockingly close to that of the original 4,300-pound C-300.
And, just like that 1955 original, this new 300 proves that power and luxury are not mutually exclusive.
WIRED Incredibly fast — and incredibly easy to drive at faster speeds, thanks to an advanced traction control system. Factory stereo will please even the snobbiest audio geek. Attractive luxury package will cosset you and your passengers.
TIRED Over two tons of fun. Tires commit suicide if you turn traction control off. Styling is almost too subtle, it looks too much like the soon-to-be-commonplace base model. 48 grand is a hard pill to swallow when it wears a Chrysler badge and comes on an ancient Mercedes platform.
Photo courtesy Chrysler