Uptown Muscle: Chrysler SRT-8
Like a Tempest with an oversized engine, the 300C SRT-8 is a fire-breathing, rear-wheel-drive sedan. Unlike that original GTO, however, it straightens hairpins like the best European performance sedans on the market.
This is too good to be a muscle car. Believe that if you believe that rough edges, loud exhaust and smoky burnouts are what makes a car muscle up. Because the Chrysler 300C SRT-8 is none of that. What it is, however, is one of the finest limited production vehicles available today, and a prime example of what a 21st century muscle car ought to be. This car does virtually everything well. Like muscle cars of yore, 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 four-door. Like any muscle car worthy of the designation, the SRT-8 goes 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. Or horses, take your pick, because the 6.1-liter V8 engine is so smooth and powerful that you feel as though you’re swimming. Yup, that 6.1-liter is a Hemi, of course, 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 Racing Technology (SRT) – 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-8 is that it doesn’t really feel like that much power, thanks to its smooth-shifting five-speed automatic transmission. Together, it makes for a powertrain that is among the best from the major automakers, 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 launching it, thanks to big Brembo brakes measuring 14.2 inches up front and 13.8 inches in back. As you’d expect, there’s no fade and nice modulation with the brake pedal.
Like a Tempest with an oversized engine, the SRT-8 is a fire-breathing, rear-wheel-drive sedan. Unlike that original GTO, however, it straightens hairpins like the best European performance sedans on the market, all while wearing a smiling, mocking Bentley knock-off 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 20-inch Goodyear fat boys for tires, the SRT-8 really does drive more like a European sedan than a muscle car of yore. Then again, it’s fair to say that the SRT-8 drives like a muscle car ought to drive in 2005. With that badge comes the electro-safety control systems found at some level in virtually all vehicles today, including traction control, stability control, electronic brake assistance, and side airbags.
That’s very un-muscle-like in the traditional sense. The price is also un-muscle-like, when one considers that a true muscle car is supposed to be more accessible by the common man, and though a window sticker of $39,920 makes it a steal in the luxury performance market, it’s a bit north of the muscle ideal. 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 commuter car with a bad attitude. It is, after all, a Chrysler 300C, with exterior changes limited to upgraded fascias, a small rear spoiler and color-matching mirrors, door handles and bumpers. Inside, it’s also very much like a 300C, except for sport seats and a leather treat to the shifter.
So where the Chevrolet SSR shouts muscle like a balding, pimply-faced weight lifter, the SRT-8 hides its strength. But make no mistake: This is one helluva muscle car.