2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8
All-new high-performance Chrysler 300 SRT8 among the year's most pleasant surprises
Every now and then a book reviewer picks up a work by an author he has read many times before and literally can't put it down. It turns out to be an unexpected surprise, easily that writer's best-ever work. Same thing when reviewing movies, or cars. Such is the case with this very surprisingly satisfying 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 full-size high-performance sedan.
Chrysler 300 SRT8 Styling
We reviewers belt ourselves into each new vehicle with expectations born of years of experience with its automaker's products and, in most cases, with earlier iterations of that particular model. We're used to annual evolutionary improvements from virtually every manufacturer, as well as all-new models that typically trump their predecessors in virtually every way.
And we've been pleasantly surprised and impressed with every all-new and much-improved vehicle that Chrysler has launched since narrowly escaping oblivion in 2009. Most notable: the all-new Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango SUVs, the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger large sedans and the nicely re-trimmed and re-powered Jeep Wrangler.
But good as that 2011 Chrysler 300 was, we were not prepared for the all-around excellence of this top-of-the-line, high-performance 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 version. Billing it as the brand's "most powerful, best-handling sedan ever" Chrysler positions it as a way-less-expensive competitor to big-name (BMW and Mercedes) rear-wheel-drive large, luxury import sedans. After spending a week and many miles in it, we agree. It really is.
Chrysler's SRT (Street and Racing Technology) group develops performance versions of Chrysler products that focus on five specific attributes: "awe-inspiring" powertrains, outstanding ride and handling, "benchmark" braking, "aggressive" exteriors and "race-inspired" interiors. The 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 wears its own front fascia with a new grille and new Chrysler wing badge. It's lowered a half inch and sports SRT-exclusive body-color side sill cladding. The rear view is dominated by a unique lower fascia with a chrome accent bar, four-inch round dual exhaust tips and an SRT8 deck-lid badge.
"The 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 adds high-performance hardware...to provide the ultimate combination of world-class luxury, power and handling," Chrysler says. "[It] is targeted at customers who seek heart-pounding, adrenaline-filled excitement but don't want to sacrifice comfort and features." SRT buyers even get a day of professional driving instruction at one of several selected racetracks.
Chrysler 300 SRT8 Powertrain
The 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 6.4-liter HEMI V8 offers 470 galloping horses and 470 lb.-ft. of tarmac-shredding torque, up 45 hp and 50 lb.-ft. over the 6.1-liter HEMI V-8 it replaces. It can thunder from rest to 60 mph in less than five seconds, run the quarter-mile in the high 12-seconds, stop from 60 mph in 120 feet and accelerate to 100 mph, then brake back to a stop, in less than 16 seconds. That's total performance!
Yet it uses Chrysler's Fuel Saver Technology (cylinder deactivation) to boost fuel efficiency by shutting down four of its eight cylinders under light loads. While its EPA city fuel economy is a thirsty 14 mpg, its 2012 highway number is up 21 percent from the previous generation's to a respectable 23 mpg. The smooth five-speed automatic (not yet a six-speed or the regular 2012 300's new, more fuel-efficient eight-speed) offers a choice of "Normal" or "Sport" modes and new steering wheel paddles for quick and easy manual shifting.
New motor mounts improve idle stability and ride control, while an active intake manifold and a high-lift phased camshaft maximize both low-end torque and high-end power. A new active valve exhaust system for the Chrysler 300 SRT8 allows the Fuel Saver mode to operate over a wider range of engine speeds and opens the mufflers for an awesome exhaust note when you mash the gas.
Chrysler 300 SRT8 Interior
The 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 interior "combines world-class luxury accommodations with performance-oriented technology and appointments," Chrysler says. Two-tone black and red trim is standard, as are Nappa leather seats with perforated suede inserts and silver stitching. The heated and ventilated front seats have active headrests with embroidered SRT logos on their backs, and the rear seats are also heated. Premium Leather with leather-wrapped upper door, instrument and side panels and a 900-watt, 19-speaker Harman Kardon stereo are available.
Real carbon fiber trim adorns the instrument panel, door spears and shifter bezel, and the new leather-wrapped, heated, SRT steering wheel has contoured palm rests and controls on its horizontal spokes for the audio system and a new full-color Electronic Vehicle Information Center (EVIC). Both the EVIC and the big 8.4-in. central color touchscreen offer Performance Pages with 0-60 mph, one-eighth mile and quarter-mile acceleration and 60-0 braking distance timers and lateral and longitudinal g-forces read-outs. The latter also displays engine gauges, steering angle, horsepower and torque.
Chrysler 300 SRT8 Safety
The 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 comes with more than 70 safety and security features, including standard reactive front head restraints, Keyless Enter-N-Go, electronic stability control (ESC) with (segment-exclusive) Ready Alert Braking and Rain Brake Support, and front-seat-mounted side, side-curtain and driver's knee air bags. An optional SafetyTec Group adds an alphabet soup of features, including adaptive-forward lighting (AFL), high-intensity discharge (HID) projector high and low beams with automatic headlamp leveling, Forward Collision Warning (FCW) with adaptive cruise control (ACC), Blind-spot Monitoring (BSM) with Rear Cross Path (RCP) detection, ParkSense front and rear park assist, LED rear fog lamps and exterior mirrors with supplemental turn signals and approach lamps.
Chrysler 300 SRT8 Test Drive
During our week with the 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8, we drove it to Northern Michigan and back, and didn't want to give it up. Mostly cruising, rarely sampling its awesome SRT8 performance credentials, we averaged about 20 mpg in a customer-realistic combination of suburban, freeway and twisty two-lane cruising. We got quickly comfortable with the intuitive, easy-to-use Uconnect Touch infotainment system, its large touchscreen display and available Garmin navigation. SiriusXM Travel Link offered weather, fuel prices, sports scores and movie information, while SiriusXM Traffic gave us real-time traffic reports (where available).
In "Auto" mode, its new adaptive damping suspension (ADS) reads a wide range of on-road and driver inputs – including vehicle speed, steering angle and rate of change, brake torque, throttle and lateral/vertical accelerations—and automatically tunes the chassis for those conditions. In "Sport" mode, it gives higher damping rates for "more spirited" driving.
The bottom line with the Chrysler 300 SRT8 was a supremely satisfying, Teutonic-style balance of corner carving capability and buttoned-down, rough-road-eating ride. The SRT-tuned (fully hydraulic) steering provided direct feel and precise on-center response, while the large, powerful SRT brakes snubbed this big sedan down from speed in world-class fashion—sure, fast, fade-free.
Not everyone wants a large, rear-wheel drive, V8-powered performance sedan, but those who do should test-drive and seriously consider this all-new 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8—a rare domestic example that, at about $48K to start, gives serious competition to luxury German entries costing nearly twice as much. www.chrysler.com
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