Review: 2014 Chrysler 300 SRT8

By Mark Elias
Sunday, Dec 22nd, 2013 @ 4:52 am

The Chrysler 300 SRT8 is an anomaly. Packing more power than it should in a squarish shape that defies the edicts of aerodynamicists and the laws of physics at the same time, it's a car that could have gone extinct long ago. But in a town that built its reputation on big shoulders and getting to work, it has a big vibe that pushes the envelope on almost every level.

It's that in-your-faceness that makes the Chrysler 300 SRT8 so compelling. We spent a week putting on our best gangster in it, so why not hop in?

What is it?

This bad boy has roots dating back to the classic Chrysler 300 "letter cars" that first appeared in 1955. The nameplate was realigned to just 300 about a decade ago and, today, the Brampton, Ontario-built 300 is in its second generation.

A five-passenger four-door, rear-wheel-drive conveyance, the Chrysler 300 SRT8 is powered by a brutish 6.4-liter (392-cubic inch) HEMI V8 that delivers 470 x 470 (470 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque). Fueled by a multi-port fuel injection system, it is also equipped with an active valve exhaust system and standard cylinder displacement that shuts down four cylinders of the V8 once it achieves cruising speed. This technology allows the Hemi to achieve a somewhat surprising but hardly compelling 23 mpg.

The engine is mated to a decidedly old-school (by today's standards) five-speed automatic transmission and a limited slip rear differential. The SRT8 shifter is equipped with Chrysler's AutoStick functionality for slapstick use from side to side. We've never been fond of this interface, but we were happy to see it included magnesium paddle shift levers as well.

The SRT8 is equipped with a Bilstein adaptive damping suspension, which can also vary throttle, steering angle and speed, brake torque, and g-forces settings three ways: Auto, Sport and even, well, sportier Track mode.Auto mode sets the tone all day, changing up according to throttle, steering angle and speed, brake torque, and g-forces, to change up the system according to optimal conditions. Sport firms things up and track holds gears even longer.

A full suite of track software is standard on the SRT8 including launch control, drag strip (quarter and eighth mile) timers and G-force meters to measure the loads and cornering abilities of this bad-assed Chrysler. After a romp like that, the braking system better be good. In this case, the SRT8 does not disappoint, offering exceptional stopping power from the nearly 14-inch drilled and slotted Brembo brake kit.

In addition to the 300C SRT8, other 300 models range from 3.6-liter V6-powered base models up to more style-oriented models powered by an optional 5.7-liter HEMI V8. A recent addition is the lower-price SRT8 Core, which supplies a relatively low spec level with the SRT-massaged V8. Stickering at just shy of $60,000, our SRT8 Premium tester as clearly not that model.

If you're pinching pennies, you'll find much of the 300 SRT8's swagger in its Dodge Charger SRT8 sibling for thousands less.

What's it up against?

The Chrysler 300 SRT8 can compete on a size basis with the Toyota Avalon and Buick LaCrosse, yes. But on a performance level, look at everything from the new Chevrolet SS up to the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG and Audi S6.

How does it look?

Take a classic three-box design, white it out with a pearl-metallic finish, and drop it a half inch. That's a good start, and with the large expanses of sheetmetal on the side, it makes for quite an impressive canvas. Side skirting makes the appearance seem even more hunkered down than normal. The look is utterly aggressive with the ability to shove lesser vehicles out of the way in the same fashion as a cowcatcher-equipped steam locomotive. It sits half an inch lower than stock, but it appears more hunkered down thanks to those deep side skirts that reach nearly to the ground.

At the same time, the black vapor look of the 20-inch wheels coupled with the blacked-out appearance of the greenhouse lends a mobster stance that few will attempt to mess with.

If the 300 SRT8 design has a flaw at all, it would be the large expanses of sheetmetal that tend to create rear visibility issues. As a result, constant mirror monitoring is a must, even if things are better now than with the original gangster-spec 300.

And on the inside?

The tan hide leather interior offered terrific bolstering from the two front bucket seats that kept us well-fitted during aggressive driving moves. Add to that the ventilation that managed to keep flop sweats at bay and you have quite the package. A tilt and telescoping steering wheel and adjustable pedals allowed a perfect driving position for nearly every pilot who encountered the car during our weeklong driving extravaganza.

The rear seat offered room for three with adequate legroom for long haul trips and around-town jaunts alike.

The interior displayed good fit and finish and shows what America does well: build a great, well-appointed big car. Carbon fiber trim, French stitching and soft touch materials class up the joint and the high line 19-speaker Harman-Kardon system with Chrysler's Uconnect infotainment system offer all the audio candy and connectivity anyone could ask for.

Uconnect includes a massive 8.4-inch touchscreen that, for lack of a more overt explanation, simply works well. The big, clear screen and "just right" amount of information make it absolutely the model of in-car infotainment systems.

But not all items received raves from our checklist. The SRT8's gearshift continues to be one of the big disappointments in the lineup. Side-to-side slapsticks just don't cut it in our book from a functionality or appearance standpoint and so we say thank goodness for steering wheel-mounted paddle shift levers.

But does it go?

Tipping the scales at nearly 4,400 lbs., the 300 SRT8 is no lightweight by any stretch. Still, blistering acceleration accompanied by a roar from the exhaust is bound to put a smile on your face. And Goodyear, which supplies the 300 SRT8 with Eagle F1 tires, is probably pretty happy at the rate at which its rubber is being shredded.

Zero to 60 mph comes in at 4.3 seconds. Using the SRT timing package, we achieved a quarter-mile romp of 13.3 seconds at 111 mph, which was just a hair off the 12.7 achieved by professional drag racers. Chrysler says that a top speed of 175 mph is not impossible, and we have little reason to doubt them.

Play gently and the 300 SRT8 is an accomplished boulevardier that will deliver on everything you ask of it, from deft cornering to tail-wagging if provoked. Just remember: This is a big tail.

This Chrysler displays proper poise through the sweeping turns, even if its hydraulic steering is a little slow and vague up against the Chevrolet SS' electric unit. In the twisties, the 300 is more maneuverable than you might expect, but nobody would ever call it nimble. Still, it gets through the rough stuff efficiently; to see such a display of physics at work is impressive. And, if things go wrong, the big brakes reel in this hefty sedan with a quickness.

On the highway, the 300's adaptive cruise control varied the trailing distance from the car in front of us depending on how we dialed in its settings. The one thing that had us concerned was how it disables itself once it drops below a certain speed. While other vehicles can bring you to a complete stop if the car in front does likewise, this one flashes a warning on the dash letting you know you are on your own to apply the brakes to a final stop. Don't forget that.

From a fuel economy standard, it's not bashful about its penchant for gulping fuel, but then if you buy a vehicle like this, you won't be either. The EPA says to expect this 4,365 lbs rig to achieve 14/23 mpg with a combined 17 mpg, which is about what we achieved.

Leftlane's bottom line

This is a case of "The Fast and Furious Growing Up." Big and brawny, like the city of its creation, the Chrysler 300 SRT8 revisits an era that was Detroit in its heyday.

The Australia-built Chevrolet SS might not outrun the 300 SRT8, but it's more polished overall. Still, there's something about the Chrysler's swagger that reels us in.

This car is so wrong on so many levels - and that happens to make it so right.

2014 Chrysler 300 SRT8 base price, $48,450. As tested, $59,875.

Ivory tri-coat paint, $500; Package 21X, $1,995; Black vapor chrome group, $795; Laguna leather package, $1,495; Leather interior group, $2,500; Harman/Kardon Audio, $1,995; 20-inch Goodyear Eagle F1 tires, $150; Gas Guzzler Tax, $1,000; Destination, $995.

Photos by Mark Elias.

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