– Immense power
– Great handling
– Expensive looks
– Somewhat harsh ride
– Midsize cabin in fullsize body
– Economy interior materials
Chrysler single-handedly brought back retro styling at the beginning of this millennium, and one of their success stories included the 300C, a full-size rear-wheel-drive sedan motivated by a massive Hemi V8. It evoked strong responses from consumers tired of bubbly blobs and edgy wedges, resurrecting old-school American design cues such as big chrome grilles and chopped tops. The infusion of German expertise from new step-parents Mercedes-Benz also improved quality and technology. But DaimlerChrysler didn’t seem content with the beefcake 300C 5.7-litre Hemi, and are now offering an SRT-8 version, complete with an insane 6.1-litre V8 rioting under the hood.
The Chrysler 300C SRT-8 looks exactly the same as its lesser 5.7-litre twin externally, except for some hard-to-spot items such as a front chin spoiler, a rear lip spoiler, big 20-inch rims, extra front vents and just one SRT exterior badge. The SRT-8 also features stiffer suspension that lowers the car by a centimetre. The profile looks undeniably more upscale than its price suggests, even though the amount of chrome is largely limited to the big grille, the badges and the wheels. While not palatable for many people, it has the charm of a 1960s Cadillac, much more so than an actual modern Cadillac, while also costing less, kilo for kilo. It is perfect for cruising the local version of Sin City in style. We expect it to garner respect in front of any nightclub or hotel, if you fancy such places.
Enter the cabin however, and it suddenly hits you why the car is value-priced. There is a distinct lack of gadgetry besides the usual power features. Sure, standard features include power front seats, mirrors, sunroof and windows, and there is the basic CD/MP3 stereo with pounding speakers as well as keyless entry and HID headlights, while thoughtful additions include power-adjustable steering wheel and pedals, four cup-holders, front and side airbags, rear parking sensors, and strong dual-zone a/c with rear vents. However, standard features do not include a navigation system, a DVD screen, digital a/c controls or even leather on the doors. All doors and dashboard surfaces are covered with soft-touch material that isn’t really that soft, while lower hard plastic trim pieces feel hollow. The interior design is angular and non-descript, while fit and finish is passable at best.
In fact, the only saving grace of the interior are the amazing ventilated front bucket seats and sculpted rear seats, all trimmed in tight leather and suede, bolstered with muscular bulges and plastered with sharp SRT logos. But while front seat passengers enjoy ample legroom and space, rear seat passengers might feel a bit claustrophobic if the front seats are holding tall occupants. It is surprising that this issue arises in a car this big, and the luggage trunk looks about the same size as that of a midsize Toyota Camry. Weirdly, our test car had a huge spare 20-inch wheel taking up the luggage trunk area, but an actual showroom car comes with a space-saver spare tyre, thus freeing up luggage space. So besides the excellent seats, one starts wondering where all the money went on this car.
The money, in fact, mostly went into the monstrous 6.1-litre Hemi V8 that fills up the engine bay. Stirring up an eye-popping 425 hp at 6000 rpm, it has as much juice as some recent Ferrari incarnations, and with 569 Nm of torque on tap at 4800 rpm, the SRT-8 has the capacity to shred its rear tyres in minutes. The 0-to-100 kph sprint is supposed to take 5 seconds flat, though we could get nowhere near that figure with the stability control turned on. The five-speed automatic, which also offers basic manual shifting, changes gears fast, with the slightest of jerks under full throttle. This engine loves the highway more, and it is possible to go from a dull 120 kph to a stable 170 kph in just above five seconds without a second thought. We managed relatively remarkable fuel economy numbers, averaging around 16 litres per hundred real-world kilometres, which is still high, but it is similar to many V6-powered 4WD mall-hoppers, and better than expected for a heavy 6.1-litre barge.
The real revelation is the excellent handling characteristics for such a large car. With the stability control on, the car can be driven very fast around curves safely by anyone. Throw the car into a curve at high speed, and the ESP computer kicks in to noticeably apply braking pulses to slow down the car but not enough to kill the fun, allowing for easy control and almost negligible sliding. Turn off the ESP and the real fun begins. Charge into tight corners without accelerative throttle input, and the defining trait is safe understeer as the wide low-profile tyres wrapping the 20-inch rims fight for grip with enthusiasm. Pound the throttle pedal in the middle of the turn, and the car powerslides with smoke pouring from the rear tyres. The oversteer is easily controllable, assuming you know when to back off. There is a foot-operated parking brake instead of a proper handbrake, but sharp turns can be handled with a dollop of brute power instead. We thought this torque monster would be hard to drive at the limit, but its handling composure is admirable even without the help of electronic gimmicks. Body roll is hardly felt from inside the cabin, and the steering is firm but not overly so, while the massive ABS-assisted four-wheel disc brakes are progressive in feel and eye-poppingly strong.
Such sporting control comes with some obvious sacrifices. The highway ride is decidedly harsh on imperfect surfaces, similar to that of a Mini Cooper, and there is very noticeable road rumble and wind noise from 100 kph onwards that increases with speed. The car hates you for driving over mild potholes, letting you know by making you feel the texture of the crevice with your bottom. This should be expected from a car that does not utilise expensive computerised air suspension systems and has the aerodynamics of a brick. The high door sills do not help visibility, but do not hinder lane changes or parking too much thanks to decent mirrors. The eye-level wing mirrors do inhibit forward visibility around corners though. And the excessive power makes the car a jerky operator under light accelerator inputs when inching along in traffic. All this puts a damper on the exotic luxury effect that the exterior styling emanates, but it just confirms that this is, first and foremost, a traditional muscle car, with all the idiosyncrasies that define the genre.
In its price range, the 300C SRT-8 has no direct competition whatsoever. While it is not cheap, no other car offers more than 400 horses for less, and no other car manages to look this expensive without actually being so. It is a true driver’s car that is more civilised than pure sports cars, but still brutal enough to send shivers down the spines of surrounding traffic.
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