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Expert Reviews 1 of 14
By Joe Wiesenfelder
February 8, 2005
The Chrysler 300, one of those rare models that history will prove to have saved its company from a free fall, is the latest Chrysler to receive the SRT treatment. SRT stands for Street and Racing Technology, the division that has souped up the Crossfire coupe and roadster and Dodge models as diverse as the Neon and the Ram pickup truck. Based on the 300C model, the 2005 300C SRT8 boasts an upsized, 6.1-liter version of the regular model's 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, significant chassis modifications and a special interior designed to complement sporty driving. Exterior & Styling Unlike the Dodge vehicles, whose bold styling is even more in-your-face in the SRT versions, the Chrysler SRT cars are sleepers -- proverbial wolves in sheep's clothing. In the 300C's case, the sheep is lowered 0.5 inch and has a chin spoiler under the front bumper and a subtle rear spoiler on the trunk lid. The front bumper has functional ducts that cool the front brakes. The rear bumper also extends lower than on the regular model, cut out to accommodate 3.5-inch chrome tailpipes. SRT replaces the chrome on the side mirrors and door handles with body paint. SRT also mutes the regular model's bumper brightwork with body-colored inserts. Going & Stopping If you thought the only step up from Chrysler's 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 engine was the 8.3-liter V-10 that powers Dodge's Viper and Ram SRT10, think again. The 300C SRT8 features a 6.1-liter version of the Hemi that generates 425 horsepower and 420 pounds-feet of torque. As shown in the table, this is a healthy increase of 85 hp and 30 pounds-feet of torque.
5.7-liter Hemi V-8
6.1-liter Hemi V-8
340 @ 5,000 rpm
425 @ 6,000 rpm
390 @ 4,000 rpm
420 @ 4,800 rpm
midgrade unleaded (89 octane)
premium unleaded (91 octane)
As reflected, the output above comes with premium gasoline. EPA fuel-economy estimates are not available as of this writing, but they will appear in the Std. Equipment & Specs section, accessible by clicking on the button above and to the left. Unlike the 5.7-liter Hemi, the 6.1-liter lacks the Multi Displacement System, Chrysler's cylinder-deactivation feature that reduces fuel consumption when the engine is under a light load. The 300C SRT8 is almost certain to incur a gas-guzzler tax of either $1,300 or $1,700, depending on the EPA's findings. What do you get for your trouble? A 0-to-60-mph acceleration time of roughly 5 seconds according to SRT.
The SRT8 uses the same five-speed-automatic transmission as the 300C, but tuned to exploit the more powerful engine. When the unit kicks down, it does so much faster than most five- and six-speed automatics I've experienced. In addition to the changes in the automatic mode, SRT has exacted what to me is the most significant upgrade in the entire car: There's now a true AutoStick clutchless-manual mode that keeps the transmission in whatever gear the driver chooses.
What's that? The regular 300 already has this feature? Wrong! That car, the Crossfire and every Mercedes-Benz I can think of has a plus/minus marking on the shift bezel and a lever that tilts left and right, but this is no more than a different way of choosing the old "4, 3, 2, 1" that always followed the "PRND" in conventional automatic gear selectors. Unlike AutoStick, it locks out the higher gears but still allows the trans to kick down -- often when you're trying to power out of a turn and least want it to happen. In the SRT8, the transmission stays in whatever gear you choose and, when called upon, executes a two-gear downshift about as quickly as any automatic I've used. Bravo.
If this change was as simple as implementing different software, I don't see why every brand that uses Mercedes transmissions doesn't do it. Combining the option to hold a gear and the uncommonly responsive by-wire throttle, the 300C SRT8 responds to subtle accelerator inputs -- a must for a performance vehicle and particularly important for a 2-ton rear-wheel-drive car like this one.
I only wish the brakes gave as fine control. The Brembo brakes feature larger, vented discs and four-piston calipers, front and rear, and the standard ABS with brake assist is recalibrated to work with this system. They absolutely stop this hefty car quickly -- 110 feet from 60 to zero mph -- but they don't afford the fine control of the accelerator. The pedal feel is decent, but feathering the brake effects only so-so response on application and even less on release. If there's one weak link in the whole car, this is it.
Standard issue are 20-inch, 10-spoke, polished forged-aluminum wheels fitted with Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires. The front pair are rated P245/45ZR20 and the rears are wider, P255/45ZR20 (see tire codes). These are so-called three-season tires; for buyers whose fourth season involves cold and snow, Goodyear RS-A all-season tires of the same size are a no-cost option.
For the curious gearheads out there, SRT increased the Hemi's displacement and compression ratio by upping the cylinder bores by 3.5 mm. The reinforced engine block is painted orange and the valve covers are black in the style of muscle-car-era Hemis. The intake manifold's runners are larger in diameter than the 5.7-liter's but shorter in length for optimal high-speed breathing. The valve ports also are larger and reshaped, and the valves are hollow-stemmed to reduce their mass. The camshaft profile is optimized for performance and a higher redline.
Powdered-metal connecting rods join floating-pin pistons to a forged-steel crankshaft. Individual oil squirters cool each piston. Stainless-steel headers route exhaust gases through dual exhaust pipes that are 1/4 inch larger in diameter than the regular 300C's. Ride & Handling Here again, SRT has not held back. The spring rates are firmer, with Bilstein gas shock absorbers to match. The bushings are upgraded and the stabilizer bars are larger. The first thing I noticed while driving the 300C SRT8 was how comfortable the ride is regardless of the suspension changes. This is not the type of performance upgrade that disqualifies a large segment of potential buyers. All the same, when thrown into a corner, the car's roadholding is excellent and the degree of body roll seems perfectly appropriate for this vehicle. The car's natural tendency is toward understeer, but thanks to the rear-wheel drive, one can use the responsive accelerator to balance the weight over all four wheels for maximum cornering traction.
Even on a modest autocross course, this land barge feels more like a Jet Ski. The lowered suspension and controlled body roll keep the car from throwing its weight around, and the tires lend impressive grip. Should they lose traction, the standard ESP keeps the car in line. It's calibrated to be less intrusive than the regular car's, allowing a bit more sliding. SRT cites a lateral acceleration of 0.88 g on the track. The engineers say the rear spoiler increases downforce on the rear wheels by 39 percent without increasing the car's coefficient of drag.
Where vehicles from SRT and some of its competitors' performance divisions differ from simple "sport" trim levels is that they're built as complete systems. Simply swapping out standard shocks for firmer ones seldom improves any aspect of the ride and handling without degrading another. (The same is true of some adaptive suspension systems with soft/firm settings.) Also, if you make a car capable of cornering faster, you're likely to drive faster. That means you need stronger brakes and might desire greater acceleration. This is where serious performance divisions earn their stripes. The Inside The gray-on-gray interior features heated leather sport bucket seats. A combination of suede cushion inserts and prominent side bolsters keep occupants in place during sporty driving. I always suspect that some larger folks might find side bolsters uncomfortable, but they're not a problem for people of at least average size. Though the low bolsters are exaggerated, there's no restriction for one's upper back and shoulders, which goes a long way in accommodating many different occupant sizes. Power-adjustable pedals and a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel make this big car unusually friendly to a wide range of driver sizes. Power seats and a driver's memory function make sharing a non-issue.
The leather on the steering wheel, gear selector and door pulls is textured for a sportier look and feel. One of the regular 300's weakest points, the too-common plastic-looking faux metal trim, is mitigated in the SRT8 by a textured bezel on the center control stack that has a more authentic metal look and feel. Safety With the exception of the performance upgrades, which one could argue are active-safety provisions, the 300C SRT8 has the same standard and optional safety features as the regular model. Not already mentioned are standard multistage front airbags with occupant classification for the passenger seat. Side-impact airbags for the front seats come in a package with side curtain-type airbags that cover the front and rear side windows. Cargo & Towing While the base 300 is rated to tow up to 1,000 pounds and the 4.7-liter V-6 and 5.7-liter Hemi raise the capacity to 2,000 pounds, Chrysler doesn't recommend towing with the 300C SRT8. Its generous cabin and trunk volumes are the same as the regular model's. Features Notable standard features not already mentioned include electrochromatic interior and driver's side review mirrors and all-speed traction control. Additional standard features that are optional on other trim levels include xenon high-intensity-discharge headlights with washers, sonar-based rear park assist, and a cigar lighter and ashtray that add a second 12-volt accessory outlet. The SRT8 is also the only 300 to come standard with a premium stereo featuring AM/FM/cassette, an MP3-capable six-CD changer, Boston Acoustics speakers and 276 peak watts.
The car's few options include more amplifier power and a subwoofer, Sirius Satellite Radio, a GPS-based navigation system, the UConnect Bluetooth-based hands-free cellular phone system and a power moonroof. Chrysler 300C SRT8 in the Market For just more than $6,000 on top of the 300C's sticker price, the SRT8 gives you an awful lot. I can't say enough about the SRT division's commitment to building complete performance cars -- and the well-rounded products that result. Surprise demand spurred Dodge to produce almost 10,000 SRT4 pocket rockets since its introduction. SRT officials say it's unlikely that the 300C SRT8 will be cranked out in similar numbers; production might be capped to ensure exclusivity. This car is definitely priced to sell, so if you're interested, act now.