It's hard not to think of Chrysler 300C SRT8, a big, boxy sedan, powered by a mammoth 6.1-liter V-8 engine, as a novelty…and a prime example of the type of vehicle whose days are numbered.
For years we've been hearing that there's no replacement for displacement, no substitute for big cubes, but times are changing. With the new 2010 Taurus SHO, Ford has shown that it's possible to engineer a large performance sedan with just six cylinders, thanks to its turbocharged 'EcoBoost' line of engines. But it's going to be a challenge to keep these honkin' big-displacement V-8s around in large numbers, considering the new fuel economy and emissions regulations recently detailed by the federal government.
Five years after its original introduction, the 2010 Chrysler 300 still looks classy and uniquely American, with a mix of boxy proportions, chunky cues, and softly curved sheetmetal. The 300C SRT8 performance model takes it up a notch, with enhanced body work all around, a slightly lower stance, and big 20-inch performance tires and spoked wheels that allow you to see the red brake calipers beneath.
Inside, this isn't a car for initial impressions. The first thing you're likely to focus in on—and the centerpiece of the dash—is the chintzy-looking faceplate that surrounds the nav system screen and all the center-stack controls, with some cheap-feeling climate-control knobs and instrument-panel materials that feel like what you'd expect in a $20,000 vehicle, not a $50k one.
But just as I was ready to poo-poo this big-cube performer as a dinosaur, a funny thing happened: I ended up loving it. The 300C SRT8 feels remarkably nimble (despite its more than 4,000-pound curb weight) and smaller than its large-midsize footprint on urban streets and tight corners; yet out on the open road it has the hefty high-speed feel of a big V-8 German luxocruiser. Isolation of irregularities and coarse surfaces is superb, with very little road or wind noise. All the while the big V-8 thrums along at low revs unless you're really getting into the throttle.
That constant burble of the exhaust hints at the potential that's kept well under wraps during normal driving and cruising. A smooth, linear throttle makes leisurely takeoffs no problem, and you don't need to worry about peeling out inadvertently in front of a police cruiser. But stomp your right foot down and a different personality is unleashed, with a raucous and raspy-sounding yet smooth release of higher-rev thrust.
The 425-horsepower Hemi in the 2010 SRT8 revs happily into its upper ranges, but it's equally exuberant just off idle (turn off the stability control and you'll be rewarded) or just at 3,000 rpm or so. Use the AutoStick manual control to lock in third gear (actually holding it, unlike some other systems) and the Hemi leaps forward with just as much inspiration as if you'd let it downshift to second in Drive. On and off the throttle, the nimble feel is accented by the powertrain's substantial engine braking—even in the upper gears. It won't coast for ages once you take your foot off the gas.
The only dynamic complaint in the driving experience is that while the Chrysler 300C SRT8 feels happy to be thrown around tight corners, the steering stays a bit too light, at times making us overadjust when we needed to round the slightest of corners or steer just off center.