Fans of high-performance driving are no doubt well aware of the activities of the SRT group within the Chrysler Corporation. Responsible for such iconic creations as Viper and Prowler, the SRT group, until now, has been merely an organization within the overall Chrysler corporate structure.
Starting with the 2012 model year, SRT becomes a brand unto itself, complete with a chief executive officer in the person of Ralph Gilles (pronounced Jeels), who is also Chrysler’s director of design. After a brief stint as president of Dodge, Gilles has been handed the reigns of the newly minted Chrysler performance division.
To mark the introduction of the brand, Gilles is letting four white-hot models off the chain simultaneously to scald the streets and attract mad coin to Chrysler’s coffers. And while we’ve seen all four of these models before, for 2012, they’ve been reinvigorated with more performance—thanks to a new 6.4-liter HEMI V8 engine, methodically crafted suspension systems and a raft of purpose-specified comfort, convenience and infotainment systems.
Boasting 470 horsepower and 470 ft-lbs of torque, the Chrysler 300 SRT8 is one of the two hottest full-size American sedans available today. Delivering a unique blend of performance and luxury, the 300 SRT8 will ferry your family of four anywhere you need to go, while quietly harboring the ability to absolutely rip the asphalt off of your favorite canyon road.
Romping on it relentlessly, with the five-speed automatic shifting for itself, we saw sixty in just under five seconds, quarters in just over 12, and experienced an urgency of acceleration conclusively demonstrating the viability of Chrysler’s claim of a 175 top.
What is truly remarkable is the manner in which the 300 SRT8 contains opulence and havoc within the same vessel. If you’d like, you can literally sit in place while the 300’s rear wheels spin their treads away into big fat cumulus clods of white smoke. Throw it into a corner and the SRT8 300 grips the pavement so mightily the asphalt is very likely to give away before the tires do.
And while you’d expect it to ride as rough as a racing car crossing railroad tracks, quite the opposite is true; thanks to the adaptive damping suspension system Chrysler’s engineers have fitted to the car. Providing both a smooth ride and amazing grip, this suspension system deserves a spot in the automotive hall of fame.
Meanwhile, every luxury feature Chrysler offers for its flagship sedan is present and accounted for. From the sophistication of its ice-blue illumination for the instruments, to the touch-sensitive multifunction screen for its secondary functions, and rocking an audio system just as powerful as that 6.4-liter HEMI, the 300 SRT8 impresses at every instance.
Introduced last fall, as the first of the SRT models to benefit from the capabilities of the 6.4-liter Hemi, the Challenger SRT8 392 can be best characterized as a gentleman’s sport coupe. Larger and heavier than its competitors from Chevrolet (Camaro) and Ford (Mustang), the Challenger also offers a greater degree of comfort and comparable performance.
Like in the 300, Challenger’s 6.4 delivers 470 horsepower and 470 ft-lbs of torque, while also gracing its owner with the potential for 23 mpg on the highway (when driven conservatively). In our testing, the 392 hit sixty in just under four seconds, ran the quarter in just over 12 seconds, and we saw a top speed of 167 before we ran out of room. And yes, the Challenger was still pulling strong, giving us every reason to trust Chrysler’s claim of 175 with the five-speed automatic and 182 with the six-speed manual.
At speed, the Challenger feels nicely planted, with just a trace of float. Not so much you’re unwilling to let the coupe run to the far side of its speed, but enough so you definitely keep your attention solidly focused while doing so. There’s never any doubt you’re at the wheel of a fairly heavy car, but the agility and braking prowess it demonstrates will lead you to shrug off that concern right away.
The 392 squats a half-inch lower on its suspension than standard Challengers, plus it flaunts Chrysler’s adaptive damping suspension system, enabling the driver to dial in the amount of firmness desired for the mayhem anticipated. The 392’s sport button keeps the suspension firmed up to its most aggressive setting while also holding the automatic transmission in each gear longer to extract the maximum amount of performance from the HEMI.
Everything you’ve read here about the 300 and Challenger apply equally to the Charger, the other one of the two hottest full-size Americans. Posting all the same numbers as its 300 sibling, if you’re a fighter pilot in need of a family car, the Dodge boys have just the four-door to suit your needs.
All the praise we’ve heaped upon the 300 applies equally to the Charger, as both cars are very similar under the skin. In our performance testing (just as with the 300) we saw sixty in just under five seconds, quarters in just over 12, and seemingly unending acceleration—underscoring Chrysler’s claim of a 175 top.
So why go for the Charger over the 300?
Well, the 300 is a luxury car with performance built in, the Charger is a performance car with an outstanding set of comfort and convenience features. In other words, if you want to loudly and proudly leave no doubts about the capabilities of your ride, go for the Dodge. If you’re someone who needs to keep their anarchy on the down low, the 300 is the way for you to go.
Regardless of your choice, you’ll harness the ability to perform amazing feats of acceleration, road holding and braking, far superior that of any other full-size American car.
Perhaps the most surprising member of the SRT8 family is the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8. At speed on the racing track (yeah, we said on the racing track), the Jeep dove into corners like an Olympic contender going for the gold medal.
Additionally, the big Jeep demonstrated highly responsive steering and amazing braking ability as we hauled it down from triple digit speeds again and again to attack various corners on the course. When we got room to run, we saw 60 in right around five seconds, the quarter was devoured in just over 13 and Gilles says it’ll do 160 wide open.
We believe him.
Here too, the 6.4 spins out 470 horsepower—although torque is “limited” to 465. A five-speed automatic ports power to all four wheels. And, while the previous iteration of the SRT8 was strictly a street machine, this new one does off road stuff as well. We hasten to add not Rubicon-style off-road like its hard-core trail-rated brothers, but soft roads and mild trails don’t faze the SRT8 Jeep anymore.
Another advantage the 2012 SRT8 Jeep has over its predecessor is ride quality. The previous one was a terrific handler, always ready to clip an apex, but also liable to compress your spine on tacky tarmac. This new SRT8 Jeep Grand Cherokee actually demonstrates compliance over the rough stuff.
Plus, it’ll tow too!
With these four new SRT8 vehicles, Chrysler demonstrates it still has the ability to get its mojo hoppin’ when the music gets to poppin’. Gilles may well have inherited the easiest sales job in the entire automotive industry— these cars are that good. Asked about his SRT plans for the future, Gilles just smiles and says; “Keep in mind, eight isn’t the only number that ever followed the letters S-R-T. You might want to stay tuned”.