Beautiful brute

When Chrysler rolled out its 300 back in 1955, it was dubbed the beautiful brute thanks to its powerful styling and its 300bhp V8, making it the muscle car of its era. Some 57 years later, and the latest 300C SRT8 carries on the tradition. Revealed more than a year ago at the New York motor show, the SRT8 version of the 300 is still a brute but a more rounded type of slugger this time, thanks to some added sophistication to go with the injection of even more muscle.

All muscle cars are defined by their engine and the big lump of iron under the SRT8bonnet has grown, but only in size, not in appetite. Well, officially anyway. Itclaimed to go easier on the juice thanks to cylinder de-activation which puts four of the Hemieight slugs to sleep when the full complement isnneeded. Though with a combined average of 13.0L/100km, itno planet saver. When the system is working, an Eco light illuminates on the dash, and a well-tuned ear will detect a change in the exhaust note. It works at both town speeds, and on the motorway, changing constantly, and unlike other systems wetried (read the GM V8) you can actually accelerate, very slowly, in four cylinder mode.

Chrysler rolledBut wespent enough time talking about fuel savings, when itthe added grunt you really care about. The previous model6.1-litre Hemi kicked out 317kW and 569Nm, enough to cast an output shadow on the Aussie bred competition of the day, but theycaught up since then. Lucky the new motor subscribes to the substitute for cubes’philosophy and the 6.4 litre eight is now putting up a 347kW and 631 Nm argument that neither FPV or HSV can rebut. With an active intake valve in the manifold and variable cam phasing for the high-lift camshaft, the Hemi delivers reasonable bottom end grunt, but with the peak torque figure registering at 4150rpm, itat this mark that the 300 really cuts loose, and will charge to its peak horsepower point at 6100rpm, before the cut point at nearly 6500rpm. The sound wecall sweet but subdued; itbegging for a freer induction set up at least to liberate some of the rumble into the cabin.

Against the clock, the SRT8 further strengthens its argument, dipping into the four-second bracket for 0-100km/h heroics where previously it was in the high fives and it makes short work of overtaking, ripping from 80-120km/h in 2.8sec, down from 3.1sec. It can smoke those rear tyres ail too easily though, so best tread carefully on the go pedal. The switchable ESP is set to give a liberal amount of slip and spin before calling time on action, making you less eager to switch the system off. Always a good thing.

Unfortunately the Merc-sourced five-speed auto remains, and a quintet of ratios just isnenough when the rivals have slick six speeders. And we know how good seven-and eight-speed units can be too. The 300ratios are honed for straight line acceleration times, and the shifts are snappy under load, but occasionally on the go it lacks for a ratio; youfind second gear to be too low, and third gear too tall. The frustrations are eased a tad by the new shift paddles, and a true manual mode where the gearbox wonoverride your fun. The five-speeder wouldnbe such an issue if other components hadnbeen upgraded to make the SRT8 a better all round driver. Apparently an eight-speed auto is in the pipeline, but when it will appear is another thing.

Upgraded are the Bilstein dampers, which adopt constantly variable damping properties. They deliver a better low speed ride for a start, and once you hit the Sport button, they firm on the go, working within sportier parameters. These are so much more effective at dealing to bumps than the old car, which was sent airborne way too easily, while therea better handle on unwanted pitching and rolling too. It still gets a lean on though, and the long wheelbase and near two tonne mass still rule out the SRT8 from being labelled nimble.

Chrysler rolledGas savings didnextend to ditching the proper hydraulically-assisted steering, which has been modified by way of revised gearing for a quicker, more direct response, particularly just off centre. Gone is the oversized yacht tiller, replaced by a flat-bottomed sports wheel that hints at the new found keenness for bends. The old car was slow to turn in, but the effects of the new rack can be felt the instant you turn the wheel. Gone is the slop, replaced with a willingness to break away from the straight ahead and tackle a few bends. The 300never lacked for grip with its XL foot print, and that surefootedness remains. The chassis limits are still not as vast as the more bend-friendly HSV and FPV products, but the responses to inputs and the feedback have been improved, which lets you explore those limits more easily. The braking package is sizeable, to suit a hefty car, and therea new underbody tray which now incorporates brake cooling ducts to stave off fade. The stoppers are largely up to the task too, though the brake pedal response can be inconsistent. Nothing wrong with the outright stopping power though, hauling the SRT8 up in just 31.4m from 100km/h. Ittrue to say the best feats of the SRT8 remain to be experienced in a straight line, but now the bends can be attacked rather than feared.

With its lowered ride height and 20-inch forged alloys sitting up under the pumped guards, itstill the club bouncer of the automotive world. But itwearing a more tailored suit this time around, with finer detailing which also extends to the interior.

Here youfind more substantial changes have occurred to add a new dimension to the SRT8, one of semi-luxury. Upgrades include new instruments and a new look centre stack arrangement, complete with an 8.4-inch touch screen infotainment system which features sat nav and a vastly more intuitive Bluetooth system. It also features HSV mimicking telemetry, with the Pages’interface recording bragging rights by tracking your acceleration times, braking distance, max g-forces and a range of other things. Itgimmicky, but it does keep the passengers enthralled.

The fit and finish will have Fiat Chrysler boss, Sergio Marchionne, happy but not overjoyed; the ambience is much improved, especially with the $2850 leather pack which covers the dashboard, instrument binnacle, door tops and sides of the centre console in leather, hiding any hard plastics, which are commendably absent from view. But there are still a few areas where the finishing needs improving.

There are more standard luxuries too, like heated and ventilated front seats, rear passengers also get bum warmers, therean electrically adjustable steering column, a reversing camera and parking sensors front and rear which help make parking the big bertha easier, but not much. Tight spots arenthe carforte. Therean SD card reader for the Harmon Kardon 19-speaker stereo, twelve-way power front seats, blind spot monitoring, forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control and active self dipping Xenon headlights, all for $87,990, only a small increase in price over the old model, yet thereso much more on offer. Options include a $2500 dual sunroof, but the money would be better spent on the Black Chrome pack ($1500) which takes the blingy shine off the bright work, replacing it with a shadow  finish for the grille and alloy wheels. Cost options of questionable worth include a black painted roof, $3,000 and red leather for $500.

Chrysler sold 290 of the previous SRT8 models in NZ, and it could do more this time around given ita much better car for the same money. Thatif it can get its hands on them. If youkeen on one, better act quickly as of the 25 coming this year, only 10 remain. After that youhave to wait until later in 2013.

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