Chrysler 300C SRT-8
Fancy a big beefy 6.1-litre Hemi-powered saloon for not much? Tom Stewart reckons it's the biz
Chrysler 300C SRT-8
Chrysler's 300C may look like a gangsta street cruiser born from an LA custom shop, but underneath its big, bold and slightly threatening appearance it's actually a surprisingly sensible car.
There are affordable three-litre V6 diesel or 3.5-litre V6 petrol models, or for those who're out to impress and don't have to count every penny there's a 5.7-litre, Hemi-powered version, also available as either a saloon or Touring estate. This big V8 pumps out a fairly sinful 335bhp and delivers a Gatso-tickling 6.4 second 0-60 time and 155mph top speed.
But despite its under-bonnet brawn, even this Hemi model leans more toward executive barge than street racer. However, a saloon with a big engine is as good a place to start as any if your aim is to create a genuine sports saloon, and so, with the assistance of Chrysler's Street and Racing Technology division, the SRT-8 model has just joined the 300C line up.
Grunt up 25 per cent
For starters, the new SRT-8's Hemi motor generates 25 per cent more power than the 5.7-litre lump. This has been achieved by boosting displacement to 6.1 litres, raising compression from 9.6:1 to 10.3:1, re-profiling the cams and fitting new, bigger-valved (two per cylinder) heads with reshaped ports. There's a new, large-diameter intake manifold, while stainless steel-encased exhaust header pipes route to a larger-diameter exhaust system and big bore (90mm) chrome tail pipes. The SRT-8 motor also boasts a reinforced engine block with increased coolant flow, a forged steel crankshaft, high-strength con rods, improved pistons, a modified sump and hollow, sodium-filled intake and exhaust valve stems.
Power is channelled via a five-speed auto (with sequential manual mode) to a heavy-duty prop shaft and an upgraded diff and rear axle. The bottom line is 425bhp at 6,000rpm, with torque up from 387lb-ft to 420lb-ft at 4,800rpm.
True, certain German über-saloons like the AMG E63 Audi S6 and BMW M5 all produce at least 50bhp more, but this new Chrysler is priced at a mere £39,040. The Germans cost between £16k and £27.5k more, and that's before you start ticking any option boxes. Also, those Germans are all electronically limited (as standard) to a max speed of 155mph whereas a showroom spec 300C SRT-8 will soldier on to a claimed maximum of 168mph. Aside from a couple of TVRs, few cars in current production will nudge 170mph for under £40,000, and certainly none with as many doors and comfy seats.
The new 300C's acceleration figures are no less impressive; the 5.7 Hemi manages 0-60 in 6.4 seconds, but the SRT-8 manages the same in five seconds dead. Chrysler also claims a standing start quarter-mile time in the high 13-second bracket and 0-100-0mph in the mid 16s.
But, as any fule kno, decent all-round performance amounts to more than a simple list of numbers. To that end Chrysler has equipped its new SRT with tuned Bilstein dampers, specially tailored spring rates and suspension bushings, new front and rear suspension knuckles, larger-diameter anti-roll bars and a 13mm lower ride height. 245/45 Goodyears are fitted to 20-inch forged alloys while the braking system now has enlarged ventilated discs (360x32mm front, 350x28mm rear) gripped by big four-pot Brembo calipers.
With specs like that it wasn't too surprising that Chrysler had the confidence to launch this model at the race track, the event I attended being at Hampshire's Thruxton – the UK's fastest circuit. I chose to familiarise myself with the car on the public road first and soon found that although this model's ride may be firmer than that of lesser 300Cs, it's perfectly comfortable enough and recovers from bumps and dips with greater aplomb. It also sounds decently throaty and leaves no-one nearby in any doubt that there's anything less than a seriously beefy V8 under the bonnet.
My only slight grumble is that there's noticeable tyre noise on the SRT-8 and this takes the form of a sort of hollow, 'boinging' sound, for want of a better word. Although there's obviously no shortage of power, the SRT-8 weighs in at just under two tons and this, coupled with a slightly resistant throttle action, means that it doesn't sprint from a standstill too energetically unless you really mean it to. There's also no escaping the fact that the 300 is a big car and so, despite all those suspension mods, and quicker rack and pinion steering, the SRT-8's steering lacks the feel, swift response and speedy turn-in of certain other sports saloons.
That said, and acknowledging that few production sports saloons make for ideal trackday weapons, the SRT-8 is no duffer. On the track it can totally belie its five-plus metre length, three-plus metre wheelbase and 1,965 kilos. As you may know, Thruxton's Church corner is a very fast, slightly downhill right hander with an infamous bump half way through. You'd ordinarily expect the worst in a car of this size, but the SRT-8 sails through Church, lap after lap, without fuss or drama. There are more than a few so-called sports cars which would've genuinely threatened the cleanliness of my underwear here, and many more which would fail to match this big bruiser's effortless turn of speed. Thruxton is open and flowing and so isn't particularly hard on brakes (they're only used in earnest twice per lap) but the big Brembos proved strong and showed no sign of fade.
My only real on-track criticism concerns the suede-trimmed, eight-way power adjustable and heated front 'sports' seats which, though comfy on the road, lack the necessary lateral support for track driving. I didn't check its on-track fuel consumption on the day, but one suspects it would have been somewhat higher than the official 20.2mpg combined figure.
Of course, track driving may not be every SRT-8 owner's thing, so it also has an impressive list of standard equipment which includes: a 280 watt, MP3-compatible, six-speaker Boston Acoustic audio system with six-disc CD, full screen satnav, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, an electronic vehicle info centre, load levelling rear suspension, brake assist, traction control and ESP, tyre pressure monitoring, multistage front airbags, side curtain airbags, rain sensitive wipers, rear park assist and a sizeable, powered sunroof.
But perhaps what matters more is this car's very substantial physical presence, its blistering performance, its cosseting interior and, not least, its bargain basement price. With just 50 per year coming to the UK you may never see a 300C SRT-8 on the street, but if you do spot one, check out the contented grin on the driver's face.