Thumbs Up: May be the perfect American muscle sedan.
Thumbs Down: Thirsty when driven hard (as you’d expect).
Buy This Car If: Your idea of a weekend get away involves multiple time zones.
There are very few perfect things in life. Take enough pictures, and maybe you’ll eventually snag the perfect shot (hey, it worked for Ansel Adams). Try hard enough and you may concoct the perfect breakfast sandwich, to unseat McDonald’s Egg McMuffin (although we doubt that very much). Drive a particular track long enough in the same car, and you may eventually find the perfect line.
That’s why I’m trying so hard to wrap my head around the Chrysler 300 SRT8, because perfection in anything is so rarely encountered. To be clear, the 300 SRT8 isn’t the perfect car. It won’t beat a Prius in fuel economy and it won’t go around a racetrack faster than a new Nissan GT-R; in fact, it isn’t even close on either point. No, the Chrysler 300 SRT8 isn’t the perfect car, but it may very well be the perfect interpretation of the American muscle sedan.
Is it big and heavy? Yes, it is. Does it suck down gas? Sure, if you keep your foot in it. But it will also haul four people in supreme comfort from one end of the country to the other, at speeds that would make the average man curl into the fetal position and whimper for mercy. It will also lay down a righteous burnout, emitting clouds of smoke so dense they can be seen from the International Space Station. Or so I’m told, because I’d never actually do a burnout in a press fleet car.
I didn’t expect to be this impressed with the new Chrysler 300 SRT8, but the fact of the matter is that I was blown away by it. Forget everything you know about the old Chrysler, because the fit and finish of the 300 SRT8 was on par with import luxury sedans, and noticeably better than recent luxury sedans from other American manufacturers. Maybe it’s Chrysler’s way of apologizing for cars like the Dodge Caliber, but whatever the reason, the new 300 SRT8 is the most impressive sedan I’ve driven in a long time.
Chrysler updated the looks of the 300 for the 2011 model year, but it was an evolutionary restyle, not a revolutionary one. The front of the car is now more aerodynamic, with a less pronounced grille and more contemporary headlights. The car retains it slab-sided styling and low greenhouse, but that’s not criticism. The original Chrysler 300 won a significant amount of attention for the brand, and Chrysler knows not to mess with a good thing. While the exterior styling won’t appeal to everyone, it probably won’t offend anyone, either.
Inside, any remnants of the old Chrysler have been erased. Gone are the acres of cheap black plastic, replaced by coarse-grained, soft-touch vinyl trimmed in genuine carbon-fiber. Yes, the dash bottom is still plastic, but it’s solid plastic, and my 300 SRT8 press fleet tester didn’t emit a single squeak or groan during my time behind the wheel. Even the infotainment system has been seriously reworked; while Chrysler used to produce the least user-friendly systems on the market, its new ones are among the best and most intuitive. Even the steering wheel (sized to fit my extra-large paws) was above average in feel and comfort.
Since the 300 gives a nod towards luxury, the instrumentation was a bit flashy for my tastes. The tach and speedometer sit in tunnels bathed in ambient blue light, and numbers for both gauges are on the small side. They’re still functional, but I’d have preferred something a bit easier to acquire, perhaps with a little less glitz. I’m a fan of Chrysler’s driver information display (located between tach and speedo), which provides some entertaining performance data (like lateral acceleration, 0-60 time, 1/8 mile time) on the SRT8 version of the 300.
Front seats are road-trip worthy, and SRT8 models get both heat and ventilation. There’s enough bolstering to keep front seat passengers in place during spirited cornering, aided by the suede center panels of the seats. I’m not a huge fan of the red seats, but they aren’t mandatory since the SRT8 can be ordered with a black interior, too.
Rear seats lack serious bolstering, but you probably won’t be going as fast through the twisties with three (or four) passengers. As you’d expect from a car of the 300’s size, there’s a reasonable amount of rear seat legroom, though those much taller than six feet will need to watch their heads entering or exiting the rear accommodations. The rear passenger headrests aren’t adjustable, either, which may or may not be an issue depending upon how often you haul three passengers of varying sizes around.
The heart of the 300 SRT8 is its 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 engine, rated at 470 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque and mated to a six-speed AutoStick transmission equipped with wheel-mounted paddle shifters. While it’s likely that an eight-speed will be stuffed into next year’s car, the six-speed provides crisp and quick shifts, regardless of whether you leave it in auto or shift it yourself. The combination of engine, transmission and gearing is good enough to produce a 0 to 60 time of 4.7 seconds, which is even more impressive given the car’s 4,400 pound curb weight.
Despite being saddled with a gas guzzler tax of $1,000, the 300 SRT8 returned semi-reasonable fuel economy, thanks to Chrysler’s cylinder deactivation system that turns the car into a 3.2-liter V-4 under steady-state driving. The EPA says to expect 14 mpg in the city, 23 mpg on the highway and 17 mpg combined, but a reasonable blend of city and highway driving returned an indicated 18.8 mpg. I wouldn’t call that “fuel efficient,” but it’s a whole lot better than a car with 300 SRT8 mass and power would suggest.
SRT head Ralph Giles once described the new Dodge Challenger SRT8 as “driving a thousand pounds lighter than it really is,” and I’d apply the same logic to the 300 SRT8. Yes, it’s a big car, but it doesn’t drive like a big car. Turn-in is immediate, especially with the suspension in sport mode, and the car is capable of carrying a surprising amount of speed into corners without complaint. When ordinary sedans (and even a few sport sedans I can think of) would be plowing into the weeds, the 300 SRT8 just keeps sticking to the pavement. That said, you won’t be winning any SCCA Solo championships in the car, because you just can’t re-write the laws of physics. Quick left-right transitions are a weak point, simply because the car weighs in at over two tons.
While lapping a short, technical track at speed isn’t the 300 SRT8’s forte, gobbling up highway miles at whatever speed you care to drive is. I can’t think of a better platform to take cross-country, especially if your plans call for the occasional winding-road side trip. The great American road trip, where families packed their kids into giant sedans or station wagons and set off to find the real America, is quickly going the way of the dinosaur. Cars like the 300 SRT8 may not be around much longer, so here’s my suggestion to you: do whatever you have to buy one (or its Charger SRT8 cousin), pack your family into it and set off on an adventure you can call your own. In a not-too-distant future, you’ll be glad you did it while you still had the chance.
Chrysler provided the 2012 300 SRT8 for my evaluation. Base price of the SRT8 model is $48,995, including a destination charge of $870 and a gass-guzzler tax of $1,000. Options on my press fleet tester included the $1,995 Customer Preferred Package 21X (power folding mirrors, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, blind spot and cross path detection, rear fog lamps, side mirror signals and side mirror courtesy lamps), the $1,995 Premium Speaker Group (18 premium speakers, subwoofer, 900-watt amplifier), the $1,295 Dual-Pane Sunroof and the $150 summer performance tire upgrade for a total sticker price of $54,430.
For comparison, a similarly equipped Dodge Charger SRT8 would list for $50,405, while a comparable Infiniti M56 would sticker for $73,065.