Sunday, September 13, 2009

2009 Chrysler 300C SRT8, an AutoWeek Drivers Log

The Chrysler 300 SRT8 is tire-smokin' fun.

EXECUTIVE EDITOR WES RAYNAL: This car is an old-school hoot with its rear drive and big honkin' V8. The 425-hp figure is magical. That was the power output of the mighty 426 Hemi through the 1960s and '70s. The chassis feels rock solid, and the body has been lowered. According to Chrysler, a set of Bilstein shocks has been added, along with stiffer antiroll bars and 20-inch aluminum wheels. Even with all of that, it drives like a 4,100-pounder--that is to say heavy, though it jumps off the line like the proverbial bat outta hell.
I'm mixed on the interior. On the one hand, it might not be up to snuff on a car that costs $50,000-plus. But one could argue that it is understated and the design is clean. I thought the seats were good, holding me in place well while I tossed the car around a little.

That's not a complaint about the price. For the performance level, this car delivers; it's a bargain. One of my neighbors said it's a poor man's BMW M5. With BMW's awful SMG transmission on the M5 and nearly double the price, and as a kid who grew up with muscle cars in a Dodge/Plymouth dealership, I'd take the Chrysler all day over the BMW.
SENIOR EDITOR FOR NEWS BOB GRITZINGER: Driving the SRT8 version of the Chrysler 300C makes you realize what America lost during all those years following the oil embargo and the gas crises of the early 1970s leading to a proliferation of little crapwagons, mostly of the front-drive, small-engine ilk. If rear-drive V8 development had been allowed to continue unfettered, maybe we would have been driving wonderful pieces of Hemi hardware like this 20 years ago.
Then again, without all of the computer controls and improvements in manufacturing, quality and systems--including brakes, steering and suspension--425 hp in a big rear-drive sedan probably would have been enough to send most of us to the nearest ditch not of our choosing. So maybe those oil sheikhs did us a favor.
No matter how you look at it, though, this 300C SRT8 is one great American sedan, starting with grin-inducing power under the hood, monster clampers on the corners and a suspension and body structure capable of managing it all. I particularly liked it when the auto transmission downshifted on braking, setting the car and engine revs up for the next launch. Inside, the car is well equipped and well crafted, without any little details unattended to.
At $50,000, it is expensive, but then again, it's not for everybody. The V6 300C, not a bad car itself, is for everybody. This one is for the select few who can really appreciate what might be the best example of a truly American performance sedan.
EDITORIAL ASSISTANT JONATHAN WONG: This 300C SRT8 is one big, bad American. It's the big guy who sits at the corner of the bar with a bunch of tattoos and a stony facial expression whom you know not to mess around with because you fear getting beaten to a bloody pulp.
Except that on the car, the tattoos are the SRT8 badges, and the stony facial expression is the car's lowered stance, large wheels and menacing front SRT-specific fascia. And the car will gladly scare the living daylights out of you if you disable traction control and stab the throttle without preparing yourself. Wheelspin seems as if it can go on until next Sunday, and the soundtrack the Hemi plays is intoxicating to the point where you can lose your common sense and possibly end up in a ditch or a guardrail.
The 300C in this iteration is getting long in the tooth, but I still think the SRT8 model makes a strong case for being relevant. No matter how high the price of gasoline goes, there will still be a market for high-powered sedans. It may be getting smaller, but in that niche market, the Chrysler is a bargain player. And it's a darn good one.
Its chassis is sturdy and handles the Hemi's power very well. The car stays relatively flat when you sling it around, and the ride is fairly comfortable. With large Brembos on the job, the brakes stops the car quickly, and steering is snappy through the large, heavily weighted wheel.
The best interior executions remain on this platform from Chrysler. From this 300C to the Charger and the Challenger, they are all built with quality materials and feature a no-nonsense design. The SRT seats offer lots of support with large bolsters that keep you snugly in place.
Are there faults? Yes, there are. It would be cool for them to offer the six-speed manual (they do in the Challenger), but the five-speed does a respectable job, efficiently laying down the power. I think the styling is getting a little tired. Chrysler says it's working on an updated model.
MOTORSPORTS EDITOR MAC MORRISON: Count me as a fan. In fact, for some reason, this car felt more powerful and fun to drive than the last Dodge Challenger SRT8 that passed through our fleet, though surely that should not be the case.
I'm always pleased to drive a 300 SRT. Great engine with great sound, a ridiculous propensity for throttle steering and under-the-radar yet intimidating style. You could easily trick one of these out into one mega-badass styling exercise: Black out the windows, source some flat-finished wheels, add some body trim. Game over.
Especially at this price.
2009 Chrysler 300C SRT8
In Fleet: Feb. 2-17
As-Tested Price: $50,220
Drivetrain: 6.1-liter V8; RWD, five-speed automatic
Output: 425 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 420 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm
Curb Weight: 4,160 lb
Fuel Economy: (EPA/AW) 15/16.0 mpg
Options: Video entertainment system, one-year satellite TV service ($1,460); SRT option group II, including uConnect GPS, multimedia navigation system with GPS, satellite traffic, uConnect phone, auto-dimming rearview mirror, iPod interface ($900); premium sound ($685); SRT option group I, including supplemental airbags, instrument cluster with performance display screen ($640); inferno red crystal paint ($225)

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