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Automatic transmissions, traction control, and the prevalence of front-wheel drive made doing burn-outs a thing of the past. But it is from this past that the 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 comes. Like in my old 1969 Dodge Coronet, put the pedal to the metal in the 300 and the back tires rip loose from the pavement.
Eventually the car will start going forward, or possibly sideways depending on pavement conditions and steering-wheel angle. This throwback performance comes courtesy of the 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 under the hood, a chunk of old-school pushrod-powered iron.
The numbers read a balanced 470 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque, delivered to the rear wheels through a five-speed automatic transmission. The 300 SRT8 is about as pure a muscle car as you can find today.
If that driveline makes your gearhead heart pitter-patter, you should probably get one of these cars as soon as you can. This old power technology and its attendant fuel economy of 14 mpg city and 23 mpg highway are likely to put the 300 SRT8 on the endangered species list. The truly devoted will start organizing lobbying groups to preserve this dying breed.
As slight tribute to the gods of efficiency, Chrysler gives the 300 SRT8 something it calls Fuel Saver Technology, an active exhaust valve timing system that accounts for the car's 23 mpg highway fuel economy. During our time with the car, we observed an average of 17.9 mpg, which seemed decent for such a large engine.
And waiting in the wings, Chrysler has an eight-speed automatic transmission it will deploy among various of its cars. But how much the higher gears will help is questionable, as an engine with this much power only needs to turn at about 1,500rpm to maintain 70 mph on the freeway with its current five-speed automatic.
Beyond the massive engine, which even makes its presence known when the car is stopped at idle by a little shimmying, SRT8 means a number of other additions to the basic 300. As a top trim model, this full-size sedan has leather seats, pimp red in CNET's car, and a standard navigation system. Dark chrome SRT wheels with Brembo brakes add to the car's allure.
But the feature I found most appropriate in marrying tech and performance was the built-in performance computer. Under an SRT icon on the main screen, and also accessible with steering-wheel-mounted buttons on the instrument cluster LCD, are a set of apps for measuring g-forces, 0-to-60 mph times, quarter-mile times, and braking distance. Now if it only had a handbrake for power slides.
The performance computer hints at some of the other high-tech features that belie the old-school impression left by the engine. A blind-spot warning system lit up icons in the side mirrors when another car was traveling in the next lane. This system worked even at slow, city speeds. An adaptive cruise control system, which uses radar to read the speed of the car in the lane ahead, let me set the speed and following distance for many miles of pedal-free driving.
The cruise control's radar also makes up part of a precollision system. I thankfully never got to experience its full effect, but while barreling down one back road, coming up fast on a tight turn, the car read the tree directly in front of it as an obstacle, and flashed a helpful warning sign in the instrument cluster display that said "Brake." In that particular instance, I declined the suggestion.
Front and center in the dashboard sits an 8.4-inch touch screen, the gateway to the car's stereo, phone system, and navigation. Just about all the screens have a modern-looking, consistent design, with navigation being a glaring exception. Chrysler integrates Garmin navigation software, the interface for which will be instantly recognizable to anyone who has used a Garmin portable navigation device.
The Garmin software, with maps stored on a flash drive, does an excellent job with turn-by-turn directions, no surprise as Garmin has been a leader in navigation for many years. But frequently the maps were slow to update, leaving big blank areas on the screen. And the integration could be better. Beyond the aesthetics, the Garmin interface has its own settings menu, separate from the more general settings menu available in the infotainment system's main menu. On the other hand, when I had route guidance active, the instrument cluster display also showed turn-by-turn guidance.