Like a girl who’s striking-looking without being what Vogue magazine might describe as beautiful, the 2005 Chrysler 300 had a place in my heart long before I ever drove one. It was defiantly different from the competition and left behind the anonymous 300M/Concorde/LHS shapes that appeared to be unhappy bastardizations of the second-gen Dodge Intrepid (for which I also had a soft spot, incidentally).
The then-new 300, by contrast, looked like a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow for the 21st century, with its straight and high waistline, acres of unblemished metal, tall and imposing grille and stacked tail-lights. Add in the huge wheelarches ” which had aftermarket wheel-sellers excited as they accurately anticipated a ton of business from Pimp My Ride fanatics ” and you had a car that could never be described as bland.
And, praise the Lord, the 2011 restyle was a logical progression that lost none of the magic of the original. As a result, there’s still nothing else like the 300 on sale today. In a car market full of clones (Jaguar should cover its expenses by suing for every car model that is a pastiche of its XF), individuality such as the 300’s is welcome.
So there: I’ll admit that distinctive looks play a substantial role in a car’s appeal to me, but it would be wrong to allow subjectivity to completely dominate one’s thinking. The fact is, the 300’s shape isn’t merely a styling gimmick. Chrysler has fully exploited the car’s unique proportions, and despite being less than 200 inches long, it has ample room for heads, elbows, waists and legs. I’m 6ft3in and didn’t have to run the seat back as far as it could go and thus could easily fit similarly sized passengers in the back seat. There are large SUVs on sale today that are less commodious than a Chrysler 300.
This being RACER, it was appropriate to grab the fastest model of the bunch, the SRT, powered by the familiar 6.4-liter/392cu.in. V8 Hemi engine which produces 470hp and can pull this 4,000lb car to 175mph. The engine, as in all its applications ” SRT’s Challenger, Charger and Grand Cherokee ” not only feels strong and sounds superb, it’s also willing to rev and give those horses free rein. But while the delivery is familiar, the packaging is slightly different, in that the 300’s sound insulation feels denser than in any other SRT model and so the emphasis of this car is as much refinement as speed. Think Usain Bolt in an Armani suit.
The suit’s been tailor-fitted, too. If you want evidence that the Street and Racing Technology [SRT] brand of Chrysler Group is full of enthusiasts with good taste, look no further than the styling tweaks to the car. Although you’ll have grown used to seeing 300s (of all models and engine-size) dripping with aftermarket excess such as chrome trim, raised ride-heights, lowered ride-heights, a variety of paint jobs, grilles and wheel designs that range from awesome to awful, I’ve seen none that beat the look of a stock 300 SRT. Aside from its slightly excessive ?skirt? that extends the rear bumper line, it looks mean (lowered by half an inch), purposeful but reasonably subtle, attracting the attention of those in the know, rather than those you’d rather not know?.
Unique wheel design and 6.4L HEMI badging are two of the distinguishing features of the more basic Core model.
Maybe it’s a perception issue, but while the SRT Charger feels like what it is ” a sports version of a full-size sedan ” its similarly-sized/same-platform cousin, the 300 SRT, has a subtler and more substantive demeanor that reflects its bodywork. The differences continue inside: the Charger is comfortable and has a nicely laid out dashboard but feels very much aimed at those who love muscle cars yet have to also accommodate a growing family. The 300 is a genuine luxury vehicle that has plusher cabin materials, beautiful dials that wouldn’t look out of place in a Bentley and, as alluded to, its interior is wonderfully quiet on a high-speed cruise. In fact, in terms of quality on the inside, it’s hard to reconcile this with its MSRP of $48,900.
For even better value, at $4,000 less, SRT offers the Core model aimed at the back-to-basics performance driver, with standard cloth interior from the SRT Viper, a simpler sport suspension, and distinctive exterior accents.
The SRT’s value for money is rammed home as the driver does likewise with the throttle and hits 60mph from standstill in 4.5 seconds and the 470lb-ft of torque means the car strides over the gaps between its five gear ratios. But it’s surely only a matter of time before all SRT models with this Hemi get an 8-speed gearbox such as the excellent new 8HP70 transmission from the Grand Cherokee SRT. In current form, in road use, it’s best to let the car be fully automatic, and leave the semi-auto mode for track days, when refinement is unimportant, and thumping up or down a ratio is part of the fun.
While the 300 is a similar weight to the Charger, it behaves differently in corners, with more body movement that tends to induce understeer slightly sooner on the G-meter. This isn’t a problem, for what the steering lacks in feedback, it makes up for with weight and accuracy, so with traction control off, the driver can swiftly neutralize front-end push with a burst of power while maintaining easy control. This SRT version ” as with its V6 siblings ” also feels reassuringly settled on a chosen trajectory, and is not a car to be thrown off line by mid-corner bumps. Nonetheless, the adaptive damping of the regular SRT ” as opposed to the more basic setup found on the Core model ” is a useful ally in keeping things neater from corner entry to exit. (By contrast, the behavioral difference between the ?Core? version of the SRT Charger ” the Super Bee ” and the all-bells-and-whistles model is almost negligible.)
Anyone who’s seen SRT prez Ralph Gilles drive will know that he’s a red-blooded racer at heart, and it’s impressive to note that Track Experience days are part of SRT models’ purchase price. If you do get a chance to hustle a 300 SRT around a circuit, you can feel reassured by the brakes which are amazingly strong although you do have to recalibrate your brain in order not to stand the car on its nose, for the pedal is quite sensitive and its travel is short. The bucket seats hold you in place and then the paddle-shift box can be fully exploited, as can the grip of the 245/45ZR20 tires. And if you’re going to really fling it around, well, there’s another great reason for having all that elbow room when it’s time to catch it.
Of course, it may not be your first choice of road car for a track day, but the 300 has other arrows in its quiver, in particular its refinement and its ease of use for all purposes. If, for instance, you chose to drive across America in a car that costs less than $50k, it’s hard to think of an alternative that could cover all the bases like the 300 SRT. At a steady 75mph, we observed it return 25mpg ” it has Fuel Saver Technology to shut down four cylinders when cruising ” but when you need to make quick and safe passing maneuvers, you’ve got all the push you need.
In short, then, the 300 SRT lived up to my high expectations. Long live individuality, but with a touch of class and a whole lot of pace.
? SRT is an entire brand fueled by passion for street and racing technology. Five hallmarks set SRT apart: awe-inspiring powertrain; outstanding ride, handling and capability; benchmark braking; aggressive and functional exteriors; and race-inspired and high-performance interiors.
For the inside line on everything SRT, there’s only one place to go: driveSRT.com. It serves up fresh factory insider stories, gets the facts and figures on every SRT product, and goes inside the race team car haulers and talks directly to the drivers. Then it delivers it all to you fast and first.