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.
These wheels, and the Brembo brake calipers riding the discs, set the tone for the 300 SRT8.
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.
Pull this screen up from the SRT menu, and the car is ready to commence a 0-to-60 mph run.
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.
Traffic flow information and incidents are shown on the navigation system's maps. Chrysler also integrates Sirius Travel Link data into this system, which means access to fuel prices from nearby gas stations, weather, and movie times.
The 300's stereo includes the usual suspects for audio sources, such as iPod integration, Bluetooth streaming audio, and satellite radio. It even has an SD card slot, an oddball addition that some will find useful. But Chrysler has not yet embraced app integration, so the system lacks Pandora or other online music services.
To pump music into the car, the audio system boasts a 900-watt amp and nine speakers. But when playing music, it didn't feel like 900 watts. It was a perfectly fine system, producing music with nice balance and certainly above average, but it never came through with sublimely throbbing bass. However, Chrysler should be making itsavailable in the 300 SRT8, a premium audio system with very tight and controlled music reproduction, which I tested at CES 2012 in a Dodge Charger.
That audio system had heavy competition as I found some back roads to push the 300 SRT8. The engine has a very strong bass note, sounding lightly at idle but going profundo when the engine speed climbed. As noted above, giving it the gas in a straight line burns rubber and time; I had to modulate the throttle to get something like a decent 60 mph time, which was hampered by a rainy testing day.
Chrysler affixes paddle shifters to the steering wheel, complementing the manual gear-selection ability of the console shifter. But with only five gears to work with and laggy shift times, typical for an automatic transmission, it often seemed just as well to let it do its own shifting.
Going into the turns, the big sedan maintained composure, without any body roll theatrics. Chrysler tuned the suspension for handling, and it tells. But I would not describe this car as nimble. Its wide tires help it keep grip but its size and weight made it feel like a boat. Well, a speedboat.
As much as I enjoyed the rumbling power of the 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8's big Hemi V-8, I also had to concede that it is hardly the latest word in engine technology. Companies such as Audi and BMW are getting similar power with much less displacement. The five-speed automatic is also a bit of a tech disappointment, which Chrysler itself seems to acknowledge with its rollout of the new eight-speed transmission.
Surprisingly, considering its muscle car character, the 300 SRT8 did much better in CNET's cabin tech rating. The stereo and phone system, are all very competitive in the current car technology space. And the capabilities of the Garmin navigation software also give it a boost.
As for style, the 300 SRT8 is a standout. It cuts a very distinct figure among the hodgepodge of cars on the road today, with a particularly nice roofline. That upright roofline leads to very accessible interior space, as well. The design of the cabin tech interface is also very good, but it takes a hit for the jarring look of the Garmin software.
|Model||2012 Chrysler 300|
|Power train||6.4-liter V-8, 5-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||14 mpg city/23 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||17.9 mpg|
|Navigation||Standard flash memory-based system with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard with contact list download|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single-CD|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||Bluetooth streaming, SD card, USB drive, auxiliary input, satellite radio|
|Audio system||900-watt, 9-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Adaptive cruise control, blind-spot detection, precollision warning, rearview camera|
|Price as tested||$57,725|