By Kevin Miller
Although Chrysler calls this car the 300C, to me it brings to mind “B” words. Big. Brawny. Brash. Ballsy. Black. The car shouts its machismo, without even whispering “refinement”. The 300C SRT8 is unabashedly powerful and American, with the type of swagger and confidence the world associates with stereotypical American strongmen.
The SRT8 has been around for six years, and is in its final year of production; a refreshed version (spy shots of which are circulating on the Internet) is due for 2011, which is rumored to be more luxurious and feature much-improved interior. The new interior is desperately needs to be a credible contender above the entry-level class, and the new exterior will inject some freshness into the design which has been virtually unchanged since its 2005 model year introduction.
The 300C is bulky and square, inside and out, which lends a degree of both personality and anonymity. Its chunky, plastic-fantastic interior is monolithic and somber, but at the same time businesslike and efficient. Controls are logically placed (although the turn signal stalk is a bit low, and the wiper controls on that stalk are not intuitive). Given the size of the dashboard, the nav/infotainment screen looks a bit small, and the buttons along its right side are a reach from the driver’s seat.
Although the interior is largely unchanged from rental-spec 300 sedans, the SRT8 gets very nice seats. Up front, sport buckets are nicely bolstered with adjustable lumber. Out back, I loved the fact that the outboard positions are deeply bolstered- though my daughter’s booster seat didn’t sit properly on the seat bottom because of the narrowness of the bolsters. The rear seat bolstering also means that the middle position is on a raised hump and wouldn’t be a comfortable place to sit. Only the outboard positions have head rests, and those are integral with the seat-back rather than being adjustable. Both front and rear, the main seat-bottom and backrest portions are finished in Alcantara (or a reasonable facsimile thereof), with bolsters in real leather. Other seat parts are made from a black vinyl that is a very close match. Even with the nice leather seats, the scent when opening the door is of petrochemicals, not cow hides.
As alluded to above, interior plastics and trim are low grade, and not competitive with other vehicles in the 300’s class. While this makes entry-level 300 models very competitive on price, it decidedly cheapens the range-topping SRT8. The interior is sea of grained, hard black plastic (though the dash top is soft-touch with the same appearance), with hard plastics used on upper and lower door trims as well, with a too-short, padded vinyl elbow rest. The blackness on the center console and steering wheel is broken up by uninspired, silver plastic bezels/inserts. The large doors make entry and exit easy, though flaccid door-stays mean that doors are likely to slam closed if the car is parked with its nose pointing even slightly uphill.
The steering wheel, shared with other 300 sedan models, has a very large diameter. In my opinion, it is too large. Perhaps it was given such a large wheel in an attempt to make the widely-spaced gauges are through its rim. While it is electrically adjustable for rake and reach, the large diameter means that for it to be comfortable to use, I had to lower it quite a bit, at which point the upper rim obscured the speedometer markings between about 40 and 80 MPH, and that’s where I tend to do most of my driving. Fortunately, through the use of the unintuitive controls mounted on the steering wheel spokes, I was able to configure the multifunction display at the top of the instrument cluster to show vehicle speed.
While the 300’s infotainment system does feature Bluetooth telephone connectivity, the telephone connectivity portion doesn’t ever offer up a numeric keypad for dialing (you are forced to speak numbers and rely on voice recognition), and I found the Bluetooth connectivity to work poorly- during calls the Bluetooth connection would drop out (forcing me to use my cell phone handset to continue the conversation) and then would pick up again, and then drop out again. I finally gave up trying to use the Bluetooth for phone conversations. Another annoyance in the infotainment system is the fact that there are only 12 preset locations per band (AM/FM/SAT). However, I did like the ability to store my own music on the car’s hard drive.
The trunk is a decent size, with an underfloor bin for small objects (even a computer bag) next to the tire repair inflator. My car was equipped with the upgraded Kicker sound system, which places a subwoofer in a shiny plastic enclosure on the left side of the trunk. Unfortunately, the speaker enclosure covers up the left-side cargo net hooks, meaning that the standard cargo net is useless. With no means of securing cargo in the trunk, it will slide around when taking advantage of the SRT8’s performance capabilities. The back seat does fold forward in 40/60 split; I was able to fit a crib mattress in the car with the seats folded.
The SRT8’s appearance is largely unchanged from the basic, workaday 300 sedan, but the few “tailoring” details, such as the muscular “Alcoa Forged” 20” aluminum wheels, showing off red-painted Brembo brake calipers and shod with 245/45 ZR20 all-season performance tires are like a chiseled torso inside of a perfectly tailored suit: while subtle in appearance, the message of power is clear.
What’s less clear is why the SRT group engineers didn’t spend a little more time on aspects of the car’s performance other than “go” and “stop”. While the big tires help it stick to dry roads for going around corners, “road-holding” is not a phrase I would use to describe the suspension, which crashes over pavement imperfections, upsetting the chassis and causing the car to feel less-than-stable. There is very little steering feedback through the too-large steering wheel rim; the car responds predictably to inputs, but doesn’t give much steering feedback that’s letting you know that is the case.
The SRT8’s 425 HP 6.1 liter HEMI V8, its relatively front-heavy weight distribution, and its forgiving Electronic Stability Program make it easy to spin the rear tires when setting off from a stop, even on dry pavement. Power oversteer in corners is easy (and easy to balance) too, though the ESP will step in when it sees you’re having a bit too much fun. The powerful HEMI, though, moves the big 300C SRT8 forward with amazing force from pretty much any speed, with the intoxicating sound of the big V8 readily apparent.
The five-speed AutoStick transmission lacks shifters on the steering wheel or column, relying on a sideways motion of the console-mounted lever to manually command shifts: left for a downshift, right for an upshift. The gear selector is located a little too far rearward to be called “perfectly positioned”. The transmission and engine programming don’t perform throttle-blipping, rev-matched downshifts as in cars such as the Cadillac CTS. I was disappointed by the transmission’s inconsistent responses at low speeds; coming to a stop sign then accelerating away (or poking along in a parking lot) the transmission can be caught flat-footed, searching for a gear and then lurching forward when a gear is finally selected.
The EPA reports a 13/19 MPH city/highway (15 MPG average) fuel economy rating for the SRT8 (low enough numbers to qualify for a Gas Guzzler tax), with Chrysler specifying the use of premium unleaded fuel. Over the course of my week with the 300C SRT8, I covered 420 miles, with an indicated 14.4 MPG showing on the car’s trip computer, which is about what you might expect from a large 425 HP performance sedan.
The 2010 Chrysler 300C SRT8 has a base price of $44,865, which includes the 425 HP , 6.1 liter V8 SRT Hemi engine, Park Sense rear parking sonar, keyless entry/starting, rain sensing wipers, dual zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, media center radio with HDD and SIRIUS satellite radio with steering wheel-mounted redundant controls, Power tilt/telescoping steering wheel with memory, and 20” x 9” Aluminum SRT Design wheels with 245/45 ZR20 all season performance tires. The vehicle I tested also included the $900 SRT Option Group II (Media Center 730N Navigation Radio with uConnect phone/voice command and SIRIUS Traffic, iPod integration and auto-dimming rear view mirror), Rear Seat Video System ($1460), $865 Kicker SRT High Performance stereo (322 W Kicker SRT amplifier, 100 W SRT subwoofer, Kicker Surround Sound System), $1700 gas guzzler tax, and $750 destination charge, for a total price of $50,360.
That is remarkable performance for the price. Although the Chrysler 300C SRT8 is about $5000 more expensive (adjusted for features) than a comparably-equipped (and comparably sized) Ford Taurus SHO, the Chrysler is a 425 HP, RWD hooligan, whereas the Taurus is a 365 HP, AWD car (based on a FWD platform), so the Chrysler is arguably the better-balanced car for spirited driving, as well as being significantly quicker. At the other end of the spectrum, the 300C SRT8 appears to be a bargain when compared to the 400 HP BMW 540i sedan, with a $14,000 price advantage against the German sedan (feature-adjusted, from www.truedelta.com). Remember, though, that the BMW packs a lot of technology and features as standard equipment that aren’t even available on the Chrysler. Perhaps the lamented 415 HP Pontiac G8 GXP was the closest competition, though sadly the Pontiac is no longer in the race.
Attempting to draw comparisons only points out that the 300C SRT8 is in a class by itself. In its final year of production, Chrysler’s flagship performance sedan proves it still has all of the ingredients that made it a hit when it was introduced. Hopefully the next-generation 300 sedan will build on the SRT8’s legendary performance while stepping up refinement, to create the ultimate statement of a large American performance car.