A throwback to the muscle wars of the '60s, where big V8s found their way under stately sedans, the hot rod Chrysler 300C SRT8 represents a modern interpretation of a bygone era. Yet for all of its grunt, it has soldiered on mostly unchanged while the Pentastar was tossed between German, American and, now, Italian ownership.

Boasting groundbreaking-in-2005 style, the 300C's biggest appeal is its unique configuration: Rear wheel drive, a honkin' V8 and room for the whole gang. If this sounds familiar, it's because the big and powerful rear wheel drive sedan was a Detroit staple until the oil crisis of the 1970s, but only Chrysler has really succeeded in reconquering the lost segment.

While we tap our feet in anticipation of the refreshed 300 sedan that's due this fall, we decided to sample the automaker's current halo sedan, the rorty and muscular 300C SRT8. We couldn't resist the Cavanaugh Flight Museum's invitation to introduce it to one of its predecessors, a vintage Chrysler Airflow. The wind tunnel-engineered Airflow was so revolutionary at its launch that Chrysler had to tone down the look to keep buyers from running - a problem the automaker didn't have when the neo-300 launched in late 2004.

What is it?

At its introduction, the 300C - and its Dodge Charger platform cousin - was the only modern rear-wheel-drive sedan Detroit offered. Sure, Mercury is still happy to sell Grandma a Grand Marquis with innovations like a tape player and a bench seat, but rear-drive large sedan enthusiasts either need to stick with a coupe or seek out a pricier offering.

The reborn 300 evoked the grand style of its namesake predecessors at its launch and while cash-strapped Chrysler hasn't done much to change it since, the SRT8's NASCAR-style 6.1-liter Hemi V8 has kept most critics content.

At just under $50,000 as-tested, our 300C SRT8 was well optioned - including a hefty $1,700 gas guzzler tax. A Toyota Prius it ain't.

What's it up against?

Once upon a time - oh, about a year ago - the 300C SRT8 had a natural domestic rival: The Pontiac G8 GXP. We raved about that Australian-bred Pontiac-badged four-door, but a shaky General Motors pulled the plug just as things were getting exciting. Nowadays, GM's best effort in a sub-$50 grand full-size V8 sedan is the Buick Lucerne Super. Yeah, right.

Now, the 300C SRT8's only real rival comes from the Dodge camp: The more NASCAR-licious Charger SRT8. Ford offers a Taurus SHO, which is similarly sized and positioned compared to the standard 300C, but it comes up short on grunt compared to the SRT-massaged variant.

Conversely, you could drop tens of thousands more into a German hot rod, like the BMW M5, Audi S6 or Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG, and you won't beat the Chrysler's performance by much - even if you get a lot more luxury for your coin. Or, you could stay on the Detroit kick with the track-honed Cadillac CTS-V, but you'd still be talking Kia Forte money over the Chrysler.

Any breakthroughs?

Back in ought five, the 300C was revolutionary for Chrysler - but five years on, the "latest and greatest" is more like "on time and all right."

But let's not dwell on what's not high-tech because that's not what the 300C SRT8 is about - at least not in its current configuration. We're hoping Chrysler pulls out a few wows with the next-gen 300.

How does it look?

Low slung, bling-tastic and hunkered down even in entry-level 300 Touring configuration (which offers just over half the engine displacement of its SRT8 brother), the 300 became a subtly different animal in the looks department after Chrysler's SRT team pulled it apart.

The base package is unmodified 300, which means you'll find a short greenhouse, a bulging nose with a Bentley-esque front grille and a blandly understated tail. If you haven't seen a 300 on the road, you need to get out more often.

For the SRT treatment, a front lip spoiler adds the appearance of ground effects up front, while polished dual exhaust pipes serve duty out back. Those little modifications would go almost unnoticed if not for the hulking 20-inch Alcoa forged alloy wheels - finally a set of dubs that proportionally fill the 300's huge wheel wells without looking like it just rolled through Rent-A-Rim.

Sure, the look is getting old - but it is as distinctive today as it was when it was new. Familiarity might breed contempt when it comes to Camrys and Impalas, but the 300C SRT8 is still a stylishly unique design in its own right, even if it's a little long in the tooth.

And on the inside?

Sometimes a book just doesn't live up to its cover.

Such is the case with the 300C SRT8's inner trappings. Although the overall look isn't necessarily bad, the style is bland and not generally screwed together with the nicest materials available. It pales in comparison to the uniquely Australian look and feel offered in the now-defunct G8 and it doesn't offer the luxury we would like to see riding behind the elegant Chrysler badge.

Not all is bad; the basic layout is convenient, with big, clear indiglo-style gauges, Chrysler's still decent Media Center in-dash navigation is optional and all five passengers will find plenty of stretch-out room in every seat. The front seats are where you'll want to be, of course, since they're nicely bolstered SRT-specific captain's chairs. While the centers are swathed in attractive faux suede, the leather bolsters were cracking like Humpty Dumpty on our 6,000-mile press car. Quality leather - like that we saw in the pre-production 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee last year - isn't found in the 300C SRT8.

All was mostly forgiven when we fired up the honkin' V8, but allow us to nit pick a few more things: The huge steering wheel would be better fitted to a Sprinter van and, unfortunately, the 300's sexy low greenhouse significantly compromises the view astern.

But does it go?

Let's get to that V8. Although it might look and sound like the standard 5.7-liter V8 used in the 300C, not to mention about half of the Chrysler Group portfolio, the 6.1 is in a class of its own - even if it's not really much of a true hemi(spherical combustion chamber). It uses a unique engine block with light weight go fast bits, like a forged crankshaft and pistons on a diet, as well as an aluminum intake manifold to crank out a sold 425 horsepower and 420 lb-ft. of torque.

The horsepower peaks at a high 6,200 rpm, but there's plenty of torque to be found right off the line. The 300C SRT8 never hesitates to provide more and more grunt - the road will end before this beast is out of steam. And it's all accompanied by a five star soundtrack that will have you mashing the skinny pedal just for the aural delight. Sonorous and growling V8s like this are why we love to drive.

Sending power to the rear wheels is a five-speed Mercedes-Benz W5A580 automatic transmission gleaned from Chrysler's brief and mostly unpleasant period of Daimler control. Perhaps Mercedes-Benz's true modern hallmark is in its transmissions; this five-speed fires off rapid fire shifts when left in drive and can also be controlled via Chrysler's Auto Stick manual control lever.

We enjoyed using the 300C SRT8's built-in performance calculator, which can measure skidpad grip and acceleration sprints. Although we can't confirm the accuracy of the calculator, we were able to consistently achieve 4.9-second 0-60 sprints in the 300C SRT8. If the bulkier, all-wheel-drive Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 that shares this powertrain is any indication, we could have scrubbed a few tenths away if the big sedan came with a launch control system - in the 300C SRT8, it's best to just hammer the throttle and hang on.

The 300C SRT8 isn't just a straight line rocket ship. Chrysler's LX platform, which also underpins Dodge's Charger and Challenger, is another byproduct of the brief DaimlerChrysler puppet show. While it's easy to write off the platform as old Mercedes tech - which it is, since it incorporates '90s Mercedes suspension components - it shares only its control and stability with its German brethren. The 300C SRT8 drives as an entirely different beast compared to the cossetting Germanic feel of a Mercedes-Benz.

Lowered and stiffened, the 300C SRT8's suspension nonetheless proved amazingly compliant over rough pavement, imparting a quality, upscale feel that continued to surprise us in its ability to soak up bumps yet remain poised and flat on curvy roads.

Only overly light, slightly numb steering really dampened our enthusiasm for the 300C SRT8. Although it feels much more nimble than its girth would imply (4,160 lbs.), the tiller's response wasn't as predictable as Pontiac's defunct G8.

Don't even bother asking about fuel economy; the 300C SRT8 eschews the standard 300C's multi-cylinder displacement tech and guzzles premium fuel at a rate of 13 mpg in the city and 19 mpg on the highway, per the feds. We did see 19 mpg on the highway, but the urge to give in to spontaneous stop light drag races resulted in a laughable 11 mpg in mostly city driving.

Why you would buy it:

Detroit muscle lives on - at least until the EPA mandates its upcoming fuel economy requirements.

Why you wouldn't:

The next-generation 300C SRT8 promises more of what we love: Grunt, tech and luxury.

Leftlane's bottom line

Call it dated. Call it conspicuous. Call it brash. Call it thirsty. Call it a flashback to the '60s that will look goofy parked next to your oh-so-responsible tan Camry and white HHR, you ninny, you.

Call it love at first sound.

Strap into a Chrysler 300C SRT8 for the ultimate Detroit thrill ride. Sure, the G8 GXP was a little more polished and toned - but the only Pontiac dealer you'll today find is in your dreams. The 2011 Chrysler 300C SRT8 is a modern muscle sedan that has aged surprisingly well since its launch - but we can't wait for the next generation model, which promises to excite us even more.

2010 Chrysler 300C SRT8 base price, $44,865. As tested, $49,125.

Inferno Red Crystal Paint, $225; SRT Option Group II, $900; Kicker audio system, $685; Gas guzzler tax, $1,700; Destination, $750.

Words and photos by Andrew Ganz.