2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8Posted on November 9th, 2011
Full-sized sedan races on Sunday, commutes on Monday
By Nina Russin
Although Americans can’t take credit for inventing the full-sized sedan, they were instrumental in perfecting it. Before the era of sport and cross-utility vehicles, husbands drove their wives and children around in full-sized sedans.
The end of the Second World War ushered in a new era of American car design, during which the sedan was front and center. A country deprived on new car models for over half a decade swarmed into showrooms to discover sleek, muscular new machines that bore little resemblance to the cars of the early 1940s.
Models such as the fabulous Hudson Hornet, the Olds Rocket 88 and the original Chrysler 300 series were the early heroes of the newly formed NASCAR racing series. Skunk-works teams working late at night transformed plain vanilla sedans into the first muscle cars. They became instant classics.
The Chrysler 300 SRT8 takes its name and spirit from these sedans of the 1950s and 60s, with a dynamic profile and driver-focused interior. The division’s Street and Racing Technology team takes the formula a step further by adding an all-new hemi V-8 engine which accelerates from zero-to-sixty miles-per-hour in less than five seconds.
While its powerful engine is the sedan’s most obvious nod towards driving enthusiasts, it is not the only one. Formula-style shift paddles on a specially-designed steering wheel, on-board telemetry, and colossal Brembo brakes engineered to withstand the rigors of long days at the track make the 300 SRT8 a car which can go racing over the weekend and commute to the office during the week.
Base price is $47,170, not including an $825 delivery charge. The test car comes with a safety option package which adds blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control and power folding mirrors with redundant signals ($1995). Other options include leather seating ($2500), an audio upgrade which consists of 18 speakers with a 900-watt amplifier ($1995), a dual-pane panoramic sunroof ($1295) and performance tires ($150). A $1000 gas guzzler tax brings the price as tested to $56,930.
New engine technology extends gas mileage
Engineers utilized a new variable exhaust valve system to extend the hemi engine’s gas mileage. Under low load conditions, the engine automatically shifts from eight to four cylinder operation to save gasoline. EPA estimates highway fuel economy for the 2012 300 SRT 8 at 23 miles-per-gallon. Mileage during my 100-mile test drive was similar.
Although the sedan’s five-speed automatic transmission performs handsomely, I wish engineers had invested in a six or seven-speed box to further extend the sedan’s fuel economy. Perhaps it might have saved buyers the costly gas guzzler tax. It would also save money at the pump, since the manufacturer recommends (but does not require) 91 octane gasoline.
The biggest difference between the new engine and the block it replaces is in low-end acceleration, thanks to an additional 80 foot-pounds of torque. For those readers who don’t know what 470 foot-pounds of torque feels like, imagine being launched out of a cannon in a very well-bolstered seat.
Despite its abundance of power, the 300 SRT8 is a very civilized sedan to drive around town. The optional blind spot monitoring system illuminates LED signals in the side mirrors when cars in the adjacent lanes pass through blind spots. It significantly improves the ease with which the driver can weave through dense traffic.
The independent front and rear suspension utilizes Bilstein shock absorbers for quicker rebound. It is firm enough to function well on a track without beating up passengers on inner city streets. Adaptive damping adjusts the suspension to react instantaneously to variations in the road surface.
Standard twenty-inch wheels keep the sedan glued to the road. I had the opportunity to drive through some rain showers on the highway and was impressed with the sedan’s traction. Because of the car’s low-end torque, the wheels tend to spin on wet pavement if the driver is at all aggressive, but traction control prevents the back end from coming loose.
The sport-tuned power steering system offers ample assist at low speeds for maneuverability while maintaining excellent on-center response on the highway.
Although visibility around the perimeter is limited by the sedan’s thick rear pillars, the blind sport warning system effectively eliminates the problem. A standard rearview camera projects a wide angle view to the back. Lines superimposed over the image show the car’s trajectory according to steering inputs.
Driver focused interior
From its custom flat-bottomed steering wheel to the telemetry on the information display, the 300 SRT8’s interior is all about the driver. Although the steering wheel is a bit big for a woman, it’s a gorgeous piece of work. A power tilt-and-telescoping function enables smaller drivers to maintain a safe distance from the front airbag.
My favorite feature on the interior is the telemetry, which appears as a graphic on the center screen. The driver can monitor oil pressure and temperature, G-force, tire pressures and other vital functions in real time. For anybody who plans to take their car to the track, it’s a dream come true.
Graphics on the center information screen are well designed and easy to follow. The only time I had a problem seeing the display was when I turned the headlamps on during a rain shower. Although visibility was low, it was quite bright out making the darkened screen difficult to see.
The front bucket seats are heavily bolstered to keep the driver and front passenger in place during aggressive driving. Since these are also designed for people bigger than me, I had a hard time with the bolsters hitting pressure points in my hips. Sitting in the seats for more than about an hour was rather uncomfortable.
Second-row passengers should have plenty of head, hip and legroom. A fold-down armrest adds an extra set of cupholders for passengers in back. Second-row seats fold flat to extend the cargo floor for larger items.
The dual panel sunroof brightens up what can be a dark interior, due to the test car’s black upholstery and headliner. Overhead reading lamps over both rows of seating illuminate the interior at night.
Chrysler designers always do a phenomenal job of packaging and the 300 is no exception. Both rows of passengers have access to large storage pockets, cup and bottle holders. Beverage holders in the center console are heated and cooled. An abundance of 12-volt power points makes it easy to recharge electronic devices on the go.
A large locking glovebox provides secure storage inside the passenger compartment. The center console bin includes a removable change holder.
The Chrysler 300 has an ample trunk, with plenty of room for luggage, groceries and golf bags.
The Chrysler 300 SRT8 comes with front, side and side curtain airbags, active front headrests, antilock brakes, traction and stability control. The sedan carries the company’s five-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty. The factory warranty includes three years of 24-hour roadside assistance.
Chrysler builds the 300 SRT8 at its Brampton, Ontario Canada assembly plant.
Likes: An attractive powerful full-sized sedan with track-worthy performance.
Dislike: Uncomfortable front seats.
Model: 300 SRT8
Base price: $47,170
As tested: $56,930
Horsepower: 470 Hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 470 lbs.-ft. @ 4300 rpm
Zero-to-sixty: High four seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 14/23 mpg city/highway
Comment: The manufacturer recommends but does not require the use of 91 octane fuel.
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