Chrysler 300C SRT8 first drive review

The American idol is on the way back, with all the gangsta attitude that made it a hit more than two years ago. The Chrysler 300C SRT8 has had a major makeover that goes right down to the road and all the way up to a thumping new 6.4-litre V8 engine. The number run includes 351 kiloWatts and 637 Newton-metres of torque, as well as a 0-100km/h sprint time in 4.7 seconds.

The mean-streets look has been tamed a little, and there is a lot more to like in the cabin, but it's still an old-school muscle car that means the SRT8 tag - it stands for Street, Road, Track - has lost none of its impact. A two-day preview drive in Las Vegas is the ideal start to the new SRT8 experience, running down the glitter strip and out into the desert alongside the Grand Cherokee that's already had a tick from Carsguide ahead of its Australian return.

VALUE

The cheapest of the new 300Cs comes in from $45,000 and there will eventually be five models, topped by the SRT8 at close to $65,000. Chrysler Jeep Australia is keeping the exact number a secret until cars land in April, but the bottom line is fairly firm. There is plenty of justify the showroom sticker, from the belter engine to giant alloys and a loaded cabin with leather trim, a big touch-screen display and seriously good sound.

The price point is a clever choice, since it positions the SRT8 above the Commodore SS-V and Falcon XR6 Turbo, but below the seriously speedy machines wearing Holden Special Vehicles and Ford Performances Vehicles badges.

TECHNOLOGY

The basics are fairly basic in the chunky Chrysler, just like Australia's Falcon and Commodore, although the platform under the body is taken from the superseded Mercedes-Benz E Class sedan. The engine is in the nose, there is a five-speed auto gearbox, and drive goes through the area wheels.

There is some neat stuff, like a rear-view camera and a system - a lot like the Nissan GT-R - that displays all sorts of performance information and can even log acceleration runs and measure cornering grip. The upgrade comes at a price, as the SRT has put on around 150 kilos since the previous model, although the engine has grown from 6.1 to 6.4 litres.

DESIGN

The new 300C body is longer than the old one, which means more space in the back seat, and it's also been rounded-off compared with the chunky edges of the previous car. It's generally smoother and looks more, well, adult. There is a blacked-out grille and 20-inch alloys, subtle side skirts and a tiny blade spoiler on the boots. Oh, and blacked-out shotgun exhaust tips. The SRT work inside runs to well-bolstered front buckets and a flat-bottomed leather steering wheel, as well as embroided badges on the seats.

SAFETY

There is no official ANCAP rating yet but the 300C is a top safety pick for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in the USA. The airbag protection runs down to one for the driver's knees there are ESP and ABS as usual, with a huge lineup of extras including automatic wipers. Full details will not be available until the Australian cars land.

DRIVING

The SRT8 was a Carsguide favourite and stays on the list, thanks to old-school muscle and a cabin that - like the updated Grand Cherokee - finally justifies a premium price and place. The seats are comfy, though short on support in turns, the display screen and sound are great, and it has all the luxury you expect for $65,000. But turn the key and the V8 thunder makes a statement that is backed when you hit the accelerator. The ultimate C-car really kicks hard from a standstill and has huge go when the rev counter spins past 4000.

It's all V8 grunt and muscle but the engine has cylinder deactivation to boost economy, not that the gear-short auto really helps. Basic 300s have a new eight-speed automatic but the SRT's performance means its held back to five. The cornering grip is very good, with a predictable feel through the controls, although the steering is a bit woolly and the car wants to walk around on its big tyres in tight corners or anywhere with low-ish grip. When you're on a sandy desert road it can get quite lively.

It's not as responsive as the HSV cars, but more punchy than the FPV Falcons. It feels less involving, but that will suit some people and it does have a very distinctive look.

So the new 300C SRT8 is much more refined than it was, perhaps a little less playful, but still an old-school thumper that will work for a lot of muscle car fans down under. It's not as precise as the homegrown heroes but it's better than it was, although badly in need of a six-speed automatic.

VERDICT

An old favourite with more refinement and finesse looks like a winner for Australia.

CHRYSLER 300C SRT8

Price: estimate $65,000
Engine: 6.4-litre V8, 351kW/637Nm
Body: Four-door sedan
Transmission: 5-speed auto, rear-wheel drive

SPECIFICATIONS

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