2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 First Drive Review

[Editor's note: Chrysler gave auto journalist Nathan Adlen an early look at its powerful SRT8s. (The ones with all the big HEMI engines.) This is the second of four first-drive reviews he filed. His review of the Jeep Grand Cherokee is linked within the story.]

The 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 is power and poise in a three-piece suit. It is far more forgiving than its predecessor and, quite frankly, a better car. The overall feel is lighter, lively and precise with none of the slop of the old 300 SRT8. Steering feel has good weight and doesn’t feel over-boosted. It could use more feel, but it really is quite good.

Handling is downright German-ish.

An all-new adaptive dampening suspension (ADS) system will tighten the shocks with the push of a button. Keep everything on Auto and the feel is similar to a Mercedes Benz CLS 63 AMG. Hit the Sport setting and the feel is reminiscent of a BMW M5. With but a few controls to master (unlike the cacophony of German settings), I think, for the class, the 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 is an easier car to live with over the aforementioned.

I don’t say that lightly as we all know that American cars can’t compete with Germany’s finest, right? Well, just as fast as you can scream “sauerkraut” you have to remember the astonishing 470 hp engine. It is silky smooth and much more intelligent than the HEMI it replaces. For one thing, it has larger, yet lighter internal engine components, like intake and exhaust valves. The new cylinder deactivation system can improve mileage up to 25 percent despite the major power increase.

Put your foot in it and prepare to scare passengers.

Indeed, this is a car that is deceptively calm, kind of like an Icelandic volcano. Everything is peaceful on the surface until the HEMI rips to life. On the track, at Willow Springs Raceway in Southern California, I was astonished at how such a civilized car can rip open its tailored shirt and pound its burly chest. My primitive equipment backed up the car’s telemetry of screaming from 0 to 60 mph in about 4.9 seconds. That’s only a few ticks less than the Challenger and the ridiculously fast 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8.

first drive review

The sound – oh my god the sound of that HEMI makes me drool. It’s not as savage as the Challenger 396 or Charger SRT8, but it’s not muffled either. From the outside it’s almost NASCAR. Flip the new paddle shifters to first gear and let that baby rev just shy of 6,400 rpm and watch the neighbors scatter. Oh, and in case the law is right around the corner, slam on the Brembo supplied brakes and feel your breast-plate try to escape your skin.

Interior upgrades should not be mentioned individually. It’s a package that has improved an already nice interior. Panels, components, trim and just about anything you can touch is higher quality. I would easily compare the 300 SRT8’s interior with the Cadillac CTS-V and I think Chrysler is better. The seats are Audi good and the refinement is class-leading. They went so far as to add hot and cold cup-holders up front. Nice touch.

The one weakness of the 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 is the road/tire noise. This was noticeable at (very) high speed highway jaunts. Still, with the optional, awesome Harman Kardon, 19 speaker premium sound system thumping away, who cares about road noise?

Rolling on 20s never looked so bad-ass. That’s right. The fat, sticky, Goodyear F1 Supercar rubber clings to 20 inch rims that look damn good. It’s subtle, unique and with the blacked-out chrome surrounding the 300 SRT8, the whole thing is downright sinister.

I’m not a big fan of the Audi-like LED lights, but they’re growing on me. When added to the package, it’s hard to fault any one item of the 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8.

Prices have not been announced. The most recent 2010 Chrysler 300 SRT8 was just under $45,000, so expect something close to that.

 

 

 

 

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