Chrysler 300C SRT-8

Wild looks and a roaring V8 make the American a strong contender

  • Straight-line performance, road presence
  • Vague steering, 'wooden' pedals, uninspiring interior, gearshifts (auto)

Street and Racing Technology. That’s what SRT stands for – and it’s a title that harks back to the glory days of the drag strip. The Chrysler 300C’s styling seems to have its roots in the late Fifties, too. Although it’s not an exclusively retro design, the huge chrome grille, long bonnet and slabby sides mean it’s far from modern. Yet it’s difficult to think of a car that has more road presence.

Despite its 20-inch forged aluminium wheels and modified bumpers, the flagship 300C doesn’t come across as aggressive. It’s certainly not sporty, either. Instead, it’s mean. With narrow windows, deep flanks and huge dimensions, it has more attitude than anything else on the road – it’s the car Batman would drive at the weekend.

There would certainly be room for all his gadgets. The 300C Touring has a large 630-litre boot and a maximum load length of nearly two metres. Rear legroom is plentiful and three fit abreast more comfortably than in the VXR8.

We’re not sure about the two-tone grey and beige door trims, but otherwise the Chrysler’s cabin is more tasteful than you might expect. It’s surprisingly understated and has reasonable stowage, although it’s also cheaply assembled from poor-quality plastics. The trim creaks, the seats are very soft, and the steering lacks reach adjustment. Apart from that, driver comfort is reasonable, but when you’re sitting there, the SRT-8 doesn’t feel particularly sporting.

That changes the instant you fire the 6.1-litre HEMI. It’s not as loud and proud as the VXR8’s engine, but it burbles menacingly, hinting at vast power reserves. Producing 85bhp more than a standard 5.7-litre HEMI, it gives its best when used hard: roaring, bellowing and providing startling acceleration given the car’s two-tonne kerbweight (200kg more than either rival).

Against the clock, the SRT-8 posted blistering times. A hesitant gearbox meant it was slow off the line, but it swept from 30-70mph in only 4.1 seconds and to 100mph in less than 12 seconds.

In day-to-day driving it rarely feels that fast, though. For starters, the 255-width rear tyres struggle with the 570Nm of torque, and the result is wheelspin when simply trying to exit a junction. Nor does the sloppy throttle help. It seems to be connected to the engine by elastic, with a delay between pressing the pedal and any result.

But our biggest gripe is the five-speed auto. While upshifts are quick, when left in self-shifting mode it responds sluggishly. Manual changes (you nudge the lever sideways) are just as late and lazy.

The brakes also fail to shine. The big 360mm front discs are gripped by Brembo calipers, but feel connected to the pedal by another piece of elastic. It’s this lack of precision in the pedals and gearbox that blunts the SRT-8’s edge, making it seem slower than it actually is. The steering is no better, giving you little more than a rough guess at what the front wheels are up to.

Of course, when driven in isolation the 300C doesn’t feel so bad, and it is actually relatively composed through smooth, fast corners. It rides 13mm lower than standard models, plus has thicker anti-roll bars and tauter suspension, but throw in some rough surfaces and tighter bends and the heavy SRT-8 starts to wallow.

The 300C is well equipped and attractively priced, and it is fun, thanks to its dramatic looks and mighty motor. But out on the road, it comes across as loose and old-fashioned to drive.

Details

Price: £41,110Model tested: Chrysler 300C SRT-8Chart position: 3WHY: With lowered suspension and big brakes, the Chrysler looks likely to be an American car that’s not only fast, but drives well, too.

Economy

On paper, these three seem certain to give environmentalists sleepless nights, but their long gearing and low-rev torque means reasonable returns are possible. We averaged 18.6mpg in the heavy, unaerodynamic 300C.

Residuals

The diesel model nearly tops the magic 50 per cent mark for resale values, but all 300Cs fare comparatively well. Still, over 36 months, SRT-8 owners stand to lose £24,049 – which is nearly £10,000 more than the diesel.

Servicing

These days, service intervals of 7,500 miles are a disappointment, especially when many of the SRT-8’s rivals can travel nearly three times as far. However, we can’t fault the low costs – less than £200 per visit on average.

Tax

At 123.9 pence per mile, the 300C SRT-8 is likely to be the most expensive of our test car trio to maintain. Although servicing is cheap and depreciation tolerable, high fuel, insurance and tax costs do the damage.

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