I was going too fast to be sure.
But I knew I was hungry. Really hungry. Having pushed two hundred miles on a donut and a gallon of coffee, it was past time for some hash brown heaven. But the problem was the car: a 2005 Chrysler 300C SRT-8 that would not stop. Briefly, I thought of it – of stopping. But then I gently goosed the throttle and, well, the cold reality is that this car captured me, my heart, my hands, my feet and just about every single sense that thrills at driving. The SRT-8 captures its drivers and locks them into the cabin, taking prisoners, enslaving free people to a powertrain as sweet as there is without a second on the house. And those gosh-darn-it-stick-to-the-ground-tires seal the deal, forcing a real driver to speed by the best steak and egg deal in the universe with little more than a fleeting wish for nourishment.
Nah. I can eat later.
This car, the Chrysler 300C SRT-8, will make you love it. It’s easy enough to do, easy enough to climb in and never want to leave. This is a grown-up’s dream come true, the supermodel waiting by the window with the light on, the winning lotto ticket, the prettiest horse, a cane for the common man to use on the skinny wrists of tuners with flashy cars and busted pipes.
Whap. Get yourself a real car, son.
Born from the fertile minds of Chrysler’s Street and Racing Technology team, or SRT, the Chrysler 300C SRT-8 is the perfect bookend to one of the most successful vehicle launches of modern times. In the span of little more than a year, Chrysler 300s are everywhere, with few indications that the popularity of the car is fading. On the heels of this reception, Chrysler debuts the limited production SRT-8 – a deadpan ringer for the mass-produced version, with subtle yet significant differences beyond performance. Of course, there’s a price for the changes, and though a window sticker of $39,920 makes it a steal in the luxury performance market, it’s a bit high for the common man. Still, for around $40,000 you get a truly marvelous performance machine that matches up to the likes of the BMW 5 Series, hidden under covers that make it look like a upstyle commuter car with a bad attitude. It is, after all, a Chrysler 300, with exterior modifications limited to upgraded fascias, a small rear spoiler and color matching to the mirrors, door handles and bumpers. Inside, it is also very much like a 300, except for sport seats and some leather trim.
But hey – you’re paying for the kick in the pants it delivers, not comfy seats. On that score, the Chrysler 300C SRT-8 delivers 425 swift kicks from a 6.1-liter Hemi born from the 5.7-liter V8 you can find in a normal 300C. Along with adding displacement, the SRT team also opened up the intake and exhaust, giving the engine more air to breathe. That results in 425 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 420 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,800 rpm. Mated to a five-speed automatic transmission, the SRT-8’s engine generates plenty of speed – and the car stops quickly, thanks to large Brembo brakes measuring 14.2 inches up front and 13.8 inches in back. The ability to go fast and stop in time is nice, of course, but it won’t win you many awards at a European Performance Festival. What gets the blue ribbon in that competition is a car that can move fast when the road turns and twists, and do so with the flexibility of Tod the Fox. To that end, changes made to the 300 by SRT include a lowered suspension with firmer and beefier hardware, including specially-tuned dampers and spring rates, and larger anti-sway bars. All this rides on 20-inch Goodyear performance tires mounted to beautiful multi-spoke brushed aluminum wheels. If that’s not enough to keep you on the road, the SRT-8 features a performance-tuned Electronic Stability Control (ESP) program that provides a wider envelope of driver control before kicking in to save your butt. The bottom line: If you go off the road in the SRT-8, it’s probably because you launched the thing.
The Chrysler 300C SRT-8 does virtually everything well. It’s a sleeper, one that is guaranteed to create many “aw shucks” moments for tuners who think they can whup up on an old man in a Chrysler. They’re invariably surprised when the SRT-8 behaves like an eight-year-old devil at an ice cream party, barreling along the highway with the smooth thrust of a hungry shark on its way to Amity Beach on the Fourth of July.
Make that 425 sharks.
Frankly, the 6.1-liter V8 engine is so smooth and powerful that you feel as though you’re swimming and not galloping. Yup, that 6.1-liter is a Hemi, a re-engineered version of the 5.7-liter engine inside the top trim of the Chrysler 300C. That’s what happens when you give something to the folks at Chrysler’s Street and Racing Technology team – they do special things to cars, and in this case the added displacement, along with a more open intake and exhaust setup, makes for 425 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and a neck-whipping 420 lb.-ft of torque at 4,800 rpm. The thing about the SRT is that it doesn’t really feel like that much power, thanks to its smooth-shifting five-speed automatic transmission. Together, they make for a powertrain that is among the best from a major automaker, and the numbers prove it out: 0-60 mph in less than six seconds. Stopping the SRT-8 is almost, but not quite, as much fun as going fast, thanks to big brakes – 14.2 inches up front, 13.8 inches in back – and Brembo calipers. As you’d expect, there’s no fade and nice modulation from the brake pedal.
Like a Pontiac Tempest with an oversized engine, the Chrysler 300C SRT-8 is a rear-wheel-drive sedan. Unlike that classic GTO, however, it straightens hairpins like the best European performance sedans on the market, all wearing the smiling, mocking 300 grille. This is, indeed, where the SRT-8 earns its modern macho badge. Lowered and equipped with a firmer and more robust suspension setup, and adorned with twenty-inch Goodyear fat boys, the SRT-8 really does drive more like a European sedan than a muscle car of yore.
But this is no puny little Euro dancer. That big engine is ever-present, and on the road the feeling of power can overwhelm. It is the combination of the ‘by golly’ engine, the lowered suspension and a sedan driving position, and it feels as though it’s munching asphalt as you head down the road. When you take a corner, those large 20-inch tires scarcely howl or groan, and the weight of the car dives nicely into the job. With this much rear-wheel-drive power at your fingertips, the assumption would be that tight, aggressive driving on corners may result in an abundance of oversteer. Not so. The SRT-8 holds together quite well, approaching performance levels normally found in European sedans. So it sticks, and responds, though it would be nice to get some more feedback from the steering wheel in such a dynamic performance car.
In making the 300C SRT-8, Chrysler engineers left well enough alone. The commendable interior of the 300 is largely carried over, save for sport seats. As with higher trims of the regular 300, there are bits of leather trim on the shifter, steering wheel, and doors. The power adjustable seats are quite comfortable and keep you planted whilst making hay with the powertrain, yet don’t feel as though you’ve been pinned into a rocket ship. Plus, they’ve got the nifty SRT-8 logo stitched up top. As with the regular 300C, the seats are also equipped with heat and memory. The standard stereo comes with a six-disc CD changer, seven speakers and steering wheel-mounted controls. As with the Chrysler 300C, satellite radio is also available. For 2005, the Chrysler 300C SRT-8 comes in two paint schemes – silver or black – with a Greystone interior color treatment. Most of the rest is the same, including the center information center and driving controls. In back, there updgraded materials and enough room to sit comfortably, though legroom was a little cramped. All the way around, sitting inside the 2005 Chrysler 300C SRT-8 is pretty much just like sitting in a regular 300 with sport seats – the narrow greenhouse and high beltline make you feel as though you’re peering out of the car, a sensation that does take a little getting used to. Perhaps it is amplified with the lowered height of the SRT-8, and the sport seats. Truth be told, we would prefer the sport seats over the stock choice, as they keep you firmly planted. That’s a good thing, no matter how fast you’re driving. As far as cargo room goes, it’s just as capable as a 300C – just quite a bit faster.
No. A limited production vehicle with this type of fanfare will certainly suffer from dealer markup. Even still, it competes handily as a performance luxury sedan with the likes of the BMW 5 Series and Infiniti M45.
Why make the 5.7-liter Hemi even bigger and more powerful?
Because they can, “they” being the folks at Chrysler’s Street and Racing Technology (SRT) group. If you can imagine another 85 horsepower from expanding displacement and opening up the air holes a bit, you can easily see why, for performance nuts, this is a Chrysler dream come true.
Which is better, the Dodge Charger SRT-8 or the Chrysler version?
It depends on what you want. For overall refinement, and style, however, our money is on the Chrysler 300C SRT-8.
Test Vehicle: 2005 Chrysler 300C SRT-8
Price Range: $39,370
Engine Size and Type: 6.1-liter V8
Engine Horsepower: 425 at 6,200 rpm
Engine Torque: 420 lb.-ft. at 4,800 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Curb Weight, lbs.: 4,160
EPA Fuel Economy: 14/19
Observed Fuel Economy: 15 (combined)
Length: 198.6 inches
Width: 74.1 inches
Wheelbase: 120.0 inches
Height: 57.9 inches
Legroom (front/rear): 41.8/40.2 inches
Headroom (front/rear): 38.7/38.0 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: 5
Max. Cargo Volume: 15.6 cu.-ft.
Competitors: Acura RL, Audi A6 4.2, Audi S4, BMW 330i, BMW 5 Series, Cadillac CTS-V, Cadillac STS-V, Dodge Charger SRT-8, Infiniti M45, Jaguar S-Type 4.2, Lexus GS 430, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Volkswagen Passat 3.6L
2nd Opinion -- Blackett
Very few cars are exceedingly impressive in multiple areas – usually there’s a compromise between power and efficiency, utility and style, comfort and handling. Some vehicles come closer to success than others, but among the best is the 2005 Chrysler 300 SRT-8.
Under the hood is an amazing 6.1-liter Hemi engine, packing 425 horses and 420 lb.-ft. of twist for this application, all that and an EPA-estimated highway rating of 20 mpg. Sure, keeping off the throttle enough to attain that figure is like leaving a 13 year-old boy alone with an adult magazine and telling him not to look at it – c’mon, we all have our limits, for some challenges in life are just too hard to overcome. In the case of the SRT-8, cranking up that Hemi unleashes gobs of power that is capable of remaining remarkably controlled in regular city driving, but put the hammer down and the SRT-8 simply launches. Power is delivered to the rear wheels through an AutoStick five-speed automatic transmission that’s a blast to use in manual mode; without timely shifts from the driver, the Hemi will bounce off of the rev limiter rather than upshifting.
The Chrysler 300 SRT-8 is the epitome of the term “sleeper.” With only a few exterior tweaks denoting this monster as anything more than an attractive four-door, drivers can roll along inconspicuously with the masses. But for those moments when your right foot inexplicably has the desire to stomp on the gas pedal, there are stability and traction control systems to watch your back, though thankfully neither is the least bit intrusive until the driver is obviously in over his head, and with breathtaking acceleration that can be a common occurrence. On the flip side, performing a smoky burnout with the $40,000 SRT-8 is all but impossible, as grip on asphalt is virtually instantaneous with the 20-inch tires.
Futile attempts at roasting Goodyear rubber aside, drivers will appreciate the 300 SRT-8 for its sticky handling. This large sedan exhibits almost no body roll, even in tight corners taken at high speeds. The steering has a good heft to it with plenty of feedback, though it gets a bit jittery over bumps in the corners, no doubt due to the large tires and taut suspension. Braking is equally impressive, demonstrating little dive and squat on hard stops and starts, and the standard antilock system operates seamlessly except during exercises of full-on stopping at excessive speeds. Interestingly, the 2005 Chrysler 300 SRT-8 clearly outhandled a new Mustang during one of our comparison tests, despite a 700-lb. weight penalty.
With stellar power, handling, and style, one might expect to take a hit in the areas of comfort and utility. That’s not the case. Admittedly, the ride is a bit stiffer than the regular 300 sedan, but it’s not harsh and is admirably subdued for a vehicle with such outstanding performance. And, like all other 300 trim levels, there’s plenty of room to accommodate five passengers and their gear. Best of all, if idle conversation with your fellow passengers gives way to awkward silence, rest assured that a light prod of the 300 SRT-8’s Hemi will quickly cut down on travel time. -- Thom Blackett
2nd Opinion -- Wardlaw
Drive this car to discover why Chrysler’s sales are climbing while Ford and GM are getting junk-bond ratings from financial institutions around the globe. The 2005 300C SRT-8 is a brilliant machine. Stupid fast thanks to its 425-horsepower, 6.1-liter Hemi V8, the 300C SRT-8 is no one-trick pony. Rather, this amazing sedan blends the best of an American muscle car – big-displacement horsepower and torque – with the best of a German sport sedan. It stops and turns just as well as it goes. And boy, does it go, down any kind of road, straight or kinky.
Yeah, it’s expensive, and with its limited-production status, dealers won’t be letting them go without tacking on extra profit. But compared to the high-end machinery it’s up against, like the BMW 545i, Infiniti M45, Lexus GS 430, and Mercedes E500, it’s still a bargain. And don’t think the 300C SRT-8 is nothing more than a garden-variety 300C with big wheels and a lip spoiler on the trunk. The difference in driving dynamics is like night and day. The SRT-8’s steering offers real road feel, and responds quickly to input. The body rides taut on a suspension that Velcros the massive 20-inch rubber to the road. The brakes behave flawlessly, the manually-shifted AutoStick transmission responds instantly to commands. But the drawing card is the motor, gorged with horsepower and torque, producing dizzying speed at the drop of the throttle. – Christian J. Wardlaw
Photos courtesy of DaimlerChrylser, Christian Wardlaw