Even though it shares the same name, this modern sedan bears no resemblance to the Chrysler 300 from the 1950s to the 1960s. When the Chrysler 300 debuted in April 2004 as a 2005 model, Chrysler was experiencing a “rejuvenation” or so we thought. While Chrysler’s lineup made improvements in quality albeit not very significantly, the 300 was the model that made Chrysler relevant in terms of design and image. Some people may not know this but Chrysler which includes Jeep and Dodge, merged with Daimler-Benz AG (which owns Mercedes-Benz) in 1998. As a result, the Chrysler 300 as well as its twin the Dodge Charger, were built off the same platform that underpinned the 2003-2009 Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan. This allowed for a rear drive platform that also gave the 300 handling that bettered its rivals such as the Toyota Avalon and Buick Lucerne as well as giving it that Mercedes-Benz solid feeling. My friend’s mom let me come to her office to review her coworkers’ cars. It was like being in a candy store, and I could pick out whatever candy I wanted. She knew I only wanted to do manual cars, so she directed me to the parking lot. However, one car caught my eye: this 2006 Chrysler 300 SRT8. SRT is Dodge/Chrysler/Jeep’s high performance tuning division. Yes, it’s an automatic, but hello! 425 horsepower SRT8! How could I not review this car?
When the 300 launched, it set a bold attempt on car design. The butch looks and chiseled body gave it an undisputed Mafia man presence. Not surprising that this car is popular in organized crime in Eastern Europe. Moving on, the grille is massive. Not massive for a car of this size but in general. The grille design along with the big blocky headlights contribute to an aggressive appearance. The body is blocky as well, only to be flanked by definitive fender flares, and a sloping roofline give it a somewhat fastback look. You would think that the rear looks ordinary, but you would be surprised at how menacing it looks from the rear as well. Sadly, the interior is typical Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep: dated and generic. I have nothing personally against their interiors from a decade ago, but back then they all looked the same. Also, this is the SRT8 version, so it would have been nice to see some SRT specific touches to the interior other than the SRT branded seats.
I’ll say this though, the Chrysler is definitely fun to drive in corners. However, when I say corners, I mean driving in corners the American way i.e smoking tires. It takes some pushing, but the Chrysler will wag its tail out, and when it does, all worries in the world fade away. This is a bona fide tire smoking champ. But when there is no tire shredding involved, the Chrysler does not encourage enthusiastic driving unless it is in a straight line. There is generous body lean, and the front is prone to plowing straight ahead when pushed. The steering feels fine in normal driving, but when the drive becomes hasty, it becomes too lifeless for me to feel confident turning fast. The Chrysler is a big car, and it doesn’t let you forget it. However, the Chrysler’s large wheelbase yields a comfy ride despite the SRT8 being lower to the ground and fitted with bigger wheels than lesser versions. You can definitely feel the Mercedes-Benz in its structure. This thing feels like a tank; nothing rattles this car, no matter how big the bumps are. The Chrysler just takes it in its stride. However, the brake pedal does feel a bit wooden as it took some effort to slow the car down.
The SRT8’s calling card is its powerplant, a 6.1 liters 425 horsepower V8. 6.1 liters! Despite the 300’s heavy weight, acceleration is blisteringly fast, and the official 0-60 mph time for this car was around 4.9 seconds. Mash the throttle, and the engine produces a shove so strong that you could induce whiplash. This engine is a marvel as there is so much torque at low revs that it makes cruising a breeze. It feels strong and burly at any revs, and the immense torque is great for drifting. The five speed automatic transmission which is carried over from the Mercedes-Benz E-Class is a bit abrupt in its shifts. It lags when downshifting as well, but even then the car’s acceleration does not feel blunted. However, there is a caveat to the 6.1 liter V8’s performance; it drinks. It gets around 17 mpg. My midsize SUV, a Honda Pilot, gets 19 mpg overall which shows you how fuel thirsty the Chrysler’s engine is. For those who want less power, a 190 horsepower 2.7 liter V6, a 250 horsepower 3.5 liter V6, and a 340 horsepower 5.7 liter V8 were available.
When brand new, the SRT8 was a $40k car, and it feels as quiet as its then brand new price tag suggests. On the highway, it remains hushed with a whisper quiet cabin. The big V8 grumbled noticeably, but it was not loud enough to detract from the impressive refinement. When you open it up, that’s a different story. Man does it bellow! The engine lets out an invigorating tone that just encourages you to keep flooring it over and over again just to hear it again.
Staying true to Chrysler’s tradition, the cabin is fitted with cheap and hard plastics, and some surfaces feel flimsy. There were also some panel gaps, and the center console felt insubstantial. The seats feature aggressive bolstering that keeps you in check during hard cornering, but the seats themselves felt too firm for my taste. I could feel my butt getting tired on a long drive in this. Visibility is a huge issue, and I have noticed this in its twin, the Dodge Charger. The windshield makes it hard to see the traffic lights, and rear visibility is obstructed by huge rear pillars. In the rear, headroom is merely adequate although it is roomy enough for three adults. This is probably just me, but I felt that space in the front was not as spacious as I expected it to be, but at least the trunk is huge. Access into the rear requires a bit of ducking to get in. The gauges are well laid out, and the controls are fairly intuitive thanks to big knobs and easy navigation interface. Cabin storage is generous as well.
No doubt about it, this is one of the coolest cars I have driven. I mean, it is a SRT8 with a 6.1 liter V8 engine! I realize that some people may not share my enthusiasm. My mother certainly didn’t. This is our conversation:
Me: “Mother, I got to review a 300 SRT8!”
Mom: “What’s that?”
Me: “It’s a Chrysler sedan that has 425 horsepower!”
Mom: “Chrysler sucks, and 425 horsepower doesn’t sound fuel efficient.”
Go figure. I still think this car is cool though. It is not my cup of tea though. I am more biased towards handling than power, and while the 425 horses are very nice, it is just not for me. It looks great, the engine is a peach, it is quiet and roomy, but it is missing that special something. To be honest, it just feels like a large American sedan with a big engine. While I would never criticize people for owning one of these, I gotta admit, it does not suit me. However, I got to drive an actual SRT8. My life has been made.