Monday, September 9, 2013

2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8

To the average driver, the term "horsepower" has, for all intents and purposes, no meaning whatsoever. Not surprising, really, as there isn't any single established explanation, at least not a good one, as to how today's piston-powered engines became so intertwined with the output of a horse. Think, for a moment: Can you really quantify how much power 200 horses produce? Regardless, and though not all engines have been measured with the same methods of certification, enthusiasts of the four-wheeled kind have well over a century of automobiles and their attendant horsepower ratings with which to occupy themselves.

The Ford Model T, way back in 1908, offered up 20 horsepower. The original air-cooled Volkswagen Beetle was rated at 50 horses or less, depending on the year and displacement. Fast-forward to 1955, when Chevrolet's newly introduced small-block V8 made an impressive 162 hp, and then to the release in 1964 of the Pontiac GTO and its 348-horsepower Tri-Power engine. We'll shimmy right past the lamentable 1970s and '80s (in 1975, it was possible to buy a Chevrolet Corvette with as few as 165 horses) because, more recently, there's been a very welcome power resurgence.

Our Editor-in-Chief's beloved 1991 Ford Taurus SHO is fitted with a Yamaha 3.0-liter V6 that was factory rated at 220 horsepower, and a few short years later, the 1994 Chevrolet Impala SS offered up a 260-horsepower V8. We bring up the SHO and Impala because they are four-door sedans, meaning horsepower need not be dismissed by the average man who must pile in his spouse and 2.5 children.

And now we have the 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8. Lurking behind its blacked-out grille is a 6.4-liter Hemi V8 engine that ripples the pavement with 470 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque. To put that figure into perspective, its more ponies than such high-horse heavy hitters as the latest Chevrolet Camaro SS and Ford Mustang GT. In fact, it's 40 horsepower more than the 2012 Corvette. Giddyup.

Certainly, there's more to the 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 than its honker of a V8. But let's not kid ourselves – if the SRT8 is on your shopping list, it's 6.4-liter V8 is what put it there.

We're fans of Chrysler's redone LX sedans, which marry bold styling cues with large interior spaces, a refined chassis with a refined ride and satisfying rear-wheel-drive dynamics. As you're likely aware, Chrysler, now under the control of Italian parent company Fiat, has upped its game tremendously when it comes to interior quality and fit and finish. The latest 300 is a sterling example of the success of the model-line overhaul, as it is a vast improvement over its predecessor. The 300 SRT8 takes those good bones and raises the ante with a comprehensive list of updates to the engine, chassis, interior and exterior.

It wouldn't be a proper hi-po sedan without a more aggressive aesthetic, and we're pleased to report that the body kit fitted to the 300 SRT8 is quite handsome and understated. There are lowered sills, a small lip spoiler at the rear and a suitably aggressive fascia with a blacked-out grille. Inside, passengers are comforted with well-bolstered and grippy leather and Alcantara seats, while a slightly flat-bottomed steering wheel features sturdy metal paddle shifters. Metal pedals with rubber inserts look trick and match the steering wheel's paddles and spokes. Genuine carbon fiber trim and soft-touch plastics dress up the dash, which is punctuated in the center by a large 8.4-inch LCD touchscreen.

Chrysler's latest Uconnect touchscreen interface is easy to use and logically laid out. As we've come to expect these days, it offers up a plethora of audio options – AM/FM, Sirius, CD/DVD and inputs for auxiliary devices plus a USB and SD card slot – as well as Garmin-sourced navigation. Voice control is available, as is Bluetooth connectivity. The best part? All of it just works as you expect it to, without any of the frustration of competing systems.

We'd be remiss if we didn't also mention the display screen that details a digital readout of your best performance stats: 0-60, quarter-mile elapsed time and speed, braking distances and lateral Gs. It's great fun to play with... just be sure to keep your eyes on the road ahead and not the screen.

Chassis updates are abundant. The suspension is lowered half an inch and the wheel wells are filled out nicely with 20-inch forged alloy wheels and the buyer's choice of all-season Goodyear Eagle RS-A or three-season Goodyear F1 Supercar tires.

At 4,365 pounds, the 300 SRT8 is no lightweight, meaning the new Adaptive Damping Suspension system has its work cut out for it. Thankfully, ADS' ability to quickly adjust the suspenders to work with both the driver's inputs and the way the car reacts to the road surface is impressive. The big sedan doesn't often feel out of sorts, even when pressed with aggressive throttle and steering inputs. There is a driver-selectable Sport mode along with the standard Auto setting. We mostly left ADS in Auto for around-town driving, but we called up Sport enough times to recognize a slightly firmer invisible hand at play in that mode.

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