Four days, closed roads, torrential rain... How does the SRT8 go?
The Chrysler 300 SRT8 Core is a contender for best-value-for-money performance car in Australia. For $56,000 you get a rear-wheel-drive American muscle car with a 6.4-litre Hemi V8 that pumps out a staggering 347kW of power and 631Nm of torque. At least as a power-per-dollar barometer, that is unmatchable.
Chrysler has stripped out its flagship 300 SRT8 by removing some luxury items and advanced safety features, substituted the adaptive dampers with standard suspension and reduced the price by $10,000. The idea was born in Australia but it proved so good that even the Americans have adopted it for their home market.
Unlike most cars where the price in the USA is significantly less than that it is in Australia (which we'll cover in an upcoming feature article), the Chrysler 300 SRT8 Core retails for US$45,395 in California.
Factor in the current exchange rate and that comes out to about $51,000 AUD; add in some shipping costs and the price of modifying the car to pass our draconian legislation and seriously, it starts to make you wonder why something like a base model Porsche 911 Carerra starts from $84,300 USD in California and yet is priced from $206,500 locally. (You could use any high-end vehicle in Australia as an example, though, thanks to the iniquitous Luxury Car Tax.)
The value for money proposition aside, does the 300 SRT8 make a good performance car?
When it comes to reviewing performance cars we generally find a great stretch of road, one that suits the type of car, have an enthusiastic drive, and then assess it against similarly priced vehicles.
In the case of the 300 SRT8 Core, Chrysler suggested we try something different. Race it in Targa Adelaide. Doing a Targa in a large, near-2000kg rear-wheel-drive US muscle car would not exactly be something we’d do often and it would be a lie to say we weren’t a little bit worried about how the beast would go through tight corners and winding roads. Further concerning was the weather forecast, which showed constant rain for the first three days of the four-day rally.
Our black Chrysler 300 SRT8 Core was prepped with a Mopar front strut brace, exhaust system, cool air box and race-spec brake fluid. All parts (except the brake fluid) one can buy straight from a Chrysler dealer.
The 300 SRT8 Core gets the same HEMI V8 engine and five-speed Mercedes-derived transmission as the flagship model but misses out on the adaptive suspension. From the outset this would look like a negative, but it’s not the case for the Core.
The issue with the flagship model 300 SRT8 is that the ride is a little too soft in auto mode, which makes it float around, and a little too hard in sport mode, which makes it generally too firm. The Core gets a standard suspension setup which, while certainly on the firm side, is still very compliant and doesn’t crash over bumpy roads. It’s almost the perfect balance of both worlds.
From the outside, Chrysler hasn’t done much to take away from the SRT8 Core’s appeal. The Core still gets 20-inch alloy wheels with four-piston Brembo calipers with 14.2 and 13.8-inch (vented and slotted) rotors for the front and rear. It looks pretty darn similar to the flagship, except for a few things like adaptive forward lighting that can adjust the beam of the bi-xenon headlamps to the intended direction of the car.
The rear even gets a mean-looking “Core” badge that, if anything, adds more to the car’s appeal than the flagship model. Point being, the 300 SRT8 Core remains a tough-looking American muscle car regardless of the price drop. Our 'Targa' car looks even better, of course, with some CarAdvice decals!
Where the $10,000 price drop starts to show is the interior. There are no heated and ventilated front seats or heated rear seats. The number of speakers has dropped from 19 to six, while cloth rather than Nappa leather with perforated suede is used for the upholstery.
On the technology side, there’s no rear parking sensors, camera, or satelite navigation (but the 8.4-inch screen with all the SRT8 gauges remains; and sensors and sat-nav are optional), while it also misses out on adaptive cruise control (regular cruise control is still standard), blind spot monitor and rear cross-path detection system. These are not the ‘core’ of a performance car.
Through four days of actual rallying, there’s a lot we can say about the Chrysler 300 SRT8 Core’s performance credentials. Firstly, it’s undeniably a lot better than one would think. Images of large American muscle cars built just for straight lines is so far removed from reality that it’s actually laughable.
The sport seats, although not leather, are still very reassuring and we felt well supported pushing hard through corners. The interior itself is still of good quality, but is easily recognisable as an American car with big plastic dials and buttons.
We were so pleasantly surprised by just how well the Core turned in to and powered out of corners, even in torrential rain, that we started to question whether this was genuinely a stock car. We did our own inspection to make sure nothing funny had been done to the car’s setup, and after suspicions were set to rest, we remained confused as to how the Core was doing what it was doing.
In the rain the Goodyear performance tyres (245/45/R20) gripped on for dear life and although we pushed it past the grip limits only a few times, the general feel was towards oversteer rather than understeer. In fact, understeer was barely an issue even in the dry. The rear end would happily step out without much persuasion. and not in a manic sense but in that nice controllable manner which only encouraged you to do it again.
The party trick of the Chrysler 300 SRT8 Core is its ability to drive like a significantly smaller car than it really is.
Going around a corner which is sign-posted as a “caution 40” at 83km/h with the foot down, in the wet, is a marvellous feeling in any car, more so when you realise it’s a 300.
During our four days in Targa Adelaide we experienced the SRT8 at its limits, thanks in part to the closed road conditions but also the navigator notes that allowed us to push the car far past an ‘enthusiastic drive’.
Switchbacks and constant left and rights through sweeping blind bends would upset most cars but the 300 SRT8 Core is smooth and planted. The nanny controls, which can be switched off, tend to stay in the background and only kick in when absolutely necessary. Even during the rain-soaked stages, which saw the end of multiple contestant cars – including one into a river – the 300’s traction and stability controls remained cool and without much interference.
Steering feel is also a positive for this car, a difference to the flagship that has its adaptive suspension issues flow into the steering system. The Core, while not exactly pure in its precision, is still quietly confident and provides reasonable feedback when the front end starts to play up.
The hindrance the 300 SRT8 and SRT8 Core share is the transmission unit. The five-speed automatic gearbox is, for lack of a better word, rubbish.
Most modern transmissions are smooth with generally seamless gearchanges. This is also the case in the newly updated Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8, which uses a brilliant German built ZF eight-speed automatic, but the five-speed in the 300 SRT8 range is the complete opposite. Even in regular city commuting you can feel the 300 SRT8 change gears through the seat. Push it to redline and there’s a sudden ‘bang’ with each gear change.
The steering wheel-mounted paddles are primarily for show and, given the gearboxes issues, take a monumental amount of time before responding to input commands.
Too many times we came into a corner at speed, begging for the transmission to drop from third to second and being disappointed by the time it took for the change to occur. On occasions it would simply ignore our request to change down – or up – without giving any visual or audible warning.
Transmission aside, it’s hard to fault the Chrysler 300 SRT8 Core for what it is, an honest American muscle car without most of what we dislike about American cars – in that it can well and truly go around corners.
It’s exceptionally well priced, just under the $60,000 luxury car tax threshold, which means Rudd or Abbot won’t be stealing any of your cash, and given what else is on offer for the same coin, it’s hard not to recommend.
It beats its Australian rivals from HSV and FPV from a bang for your buck factor and having spent four days rallying it around some of the best roads Australia has to offer, it’s by no means an easy car to hand back.
Check back next week when bring you a "Targa Experience" story.