As it emerges from its soft bankruptcy, life seems more uplifting as Chrysler Corp LLC experiences some genuine fun again.
The Chrysler Division certainly has room to grow and expand product as the namesake brand showcases only three nameplates in its 2012 showroom: the mid-size 200 sedan, full-size 300 four door and trend-setting Town & Country minivan. Here's where the fun starts. Chrysler's mid-size 200 is also available in a top-down, two-door convertible variant while the larger 300 offers an offshoot subscribing to the high-performance Street and Racing Technology (SRT) school of thought.
Born in 2002, the SRT group was started for and by geeky car folk stoked by a need for speed and performance. Take an already existing, street legal model and modify braking, handling and horsepower to the nth degree. While these power-induced rides may be more at home at closed-circuit venues as Elkhart Lake Wisconsin's Road America or Joliet's Autobahn Country Club, having them available for tooling around town has certain privileges. By the way, all SRT owners are eligible for one day of professional driving experience at such fantasy racing facilities to maximize driving skills. A great perk.
In the 2012 model year, Chrysler Corp. offers four different products with SRT underpinnings. Joining the newly re-introduced 2012 300 SRT-8 is the Dodge Challenger SRT-8, Dodge Charger SRT-8 and Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT-8. Chrysler first started selling cars in 1925.
Exterior 300 nuances continue carrying the original, stately influences of the talented Ralph Gilles, currently Senior Vice President of Product Design at Chrysler Corp. LLC who moved up the chain of command from his original artistic inspired beginnings designing interiors specs. When it debuted in 2005, as a replacement for the comparatively tepid Concord, 300's exterior was often compared to that of the status-setting Bentley sedan. The 300 sedan received a major makeover in the 2011 model year.
Unlike its unassuming Clark Kent understudy perfectly content with two powertrain offerings, the 300 SRT-8 takes flight with one available source. It's a superman-like 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 easily propelling the rather heavy 4,365-pounded vehicle from zero to 60 miles per hour in the high four second range. Output: a heart-thumping 470 horses. While the 2012 Mustang Shelby 500 GT produces a gut-checking 550 horses (starting less than the $48,000) Chrysler's 300 SRT-8 is miles ahead with driver and passenger interior comfort, especially in row two. It's also strictly rear-wheel drive where the mortal 300 is available in rear or all-wheel-drive versions. The sole transmission is a five-speed automatic. Sorry do-it-yourselfers; no manual shift is offered. A Firm suspension attacks road bumps rather than smoothing over them. Braking is firm and immediate thanks to large, vented rear rotors with four-piston Brembo calipers with improved cooling and fade performance. Another key difference between Clark Kent and Superman (other than the long cape and bright red tights) is the SRT-8 rests a half-an-inch lower.
The mere mortal 2012 300 is available with a standard 3.6-liter V-6 pumping out 292 horsepower while the luxury 300 trim adds a 5.7-liter V-8 cranking out 363 horses.
The 2012 SRT-8 engine is not only powerful, but 21 percent more fuel efficient on the highway than the 2011 effort. When coupled with its standard five-speed automatic, 300 SRT-8 delivers 14 miles per gallon city and 23 mpg highway. Chrysler accomplishes improved economy via shutting down half the cylinders at highway speeds, dubbed 'Active Valve Exhaust System.' Premium fuel is required to fill the 19.1-gallon tank. One cost-cutting nuance is a cap less fuel tank lead. No chance of losing the plastic twist-off cap since none exists as the fuel nozzle breaks through a resealing barrier during the filling procedure.
While the 300 SRT-8 comes nicely equipped, consumers must still ponder a handful of options and four available group packages. Notable stand-alone options include Black Nappa leather seats, bright red leather seats, upgraded 19-speaker Harmon Kardon stereo and an engine block heater.
All this power and prestige comes with a heighted bottom line, including an extra $1,000 hit for a gas guzzler tax, despite the 21 percent fuel economy increase. The 300 SRT-8 starts about $20,000 higher (the lowest-priced Chrysler 300 with 3.6-liter V-6 starts at $27,600) than a base 300 at $47,170. Options in the tester included a $1,995 preferred package (adaptive cruise control, power folding outside mirrors, blind spot and cross path detection), $1,995 stereo upgrade and $150 performance tire upgrade for a $53,135 bottom line with $825 destination charge.
Thanks to acoustically-treated front door glass and windshield, the interior remains surprisingly void of outside audibles (other than the gentle growl of the SRT V-8). Push button start comes standard. The fuel door push-button release is found on the driver's door, rather than the floor. The trunk power release circle adorns the left-side dash near the foot-operated parking brake. Front doors swing out very wide, sometimes requiring an extra lean motion to reach when closing. The thick, flat-bottomed, three-spoke steering wheel with bushed aluminum accents allows for a commanding grip. It's also heated when desired.
The striking instrument panel includes two circular gauges with smaller round inserts (including gas gauge) along the bottom which illuminate with cool blue lighting after dark. In between is a digital message window with toggle controls on the face of the steering wheel. Cruise control buttons are also located on the power tilt and telescoping steering wheel's right side. Side-by-side beverage holders between the front buckets come with heat and cool settings to keep beverages at peak temperatures. The nearby arm rest/storage bin is home to illuminated USB port and audio jack. While an available slot next to the transmission shifter can caddie a cell phone, the 300 SRT-8 could use a few more storage areas. The black, dark-hued, soft-touch dashboard is sprinkled with carbon fiber trim. The dash and supportive bucket seating (heated and ventilated in front, heated in back) includes white stitching. Special SRT badging is found on the steering wheel and front bucket seat backs.
The 300's generous dimensions allow three adults to camp in row two in comfort (try accomplishing that in a Mustang). If less than three travelers are present, an arm rest folds down. Backrests with a 60/40 split fold relatively flat onto cushions for access to the relatively large 16.3 cubic foot trunk region with interior goose-neck style hinges wrapped inside soft, box-like protectants. While no spare tire resides under the flat floor bottom, the car's battery does.
The huge by comparison, 8.4-inch in-dash navigation system screen (one of the segment's biggest) includes large-type lettering and easy-to-interpret graphics and tutorials. Above is an elegant, analog-type clock, always a welcome element.
Size wise, 300 and 300 SRT-8 measure longer than conventional mid-size sedans, falling into the 'large' category of a Toyota Avalon or Ford Taurus. Six exterior colors are available, including our tester's grey. A high deck lid, high side belt line, dual exhausts and narrow side windows join together with a huge, square, retro-style grill mouth with narrow band-like headlight housing. Aluminum hub caps include a unique SRT flair. A handsome-looking ride to say the least. 2012 Chrysler 300
Price as tested:
Wheelbase: 120.2 inches
Length: 200.33 inches
Width: 74.24 inches
Engine: 6.4-liter Hemi V-8
Curb weight: 4,365 pounds
Powertrain warranty: Five-year/100,000-mile
City/Highway economy: 14/23 mpg
Assembly: Brampton, Ontario; Canada