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Yesterday at Chrysler's annual media gathering to show off new products at the its proving grounds in Chelsea, MI, the struggling automaker wanted to demonstrate the performance capabilities of its SRT branded vehicles. SRT staff set up an autocross course on the vehicle dynamics pad and brought out examples of every SRT vehicle from the Caliber SRT-4 to the mighty Dodge Viper ACR. Before we were allowed to hop in the cars, we had listen to a short briefing that described the course and some safety rules. And before being allowed to climb into the big snake, we had to complete at least a couple of laps in one of the five Challenger SRT-8s to get familiarized with the course. For a big 4,140-lb coupe, the Challenger proved surprisingly nimble. We learned that with the electronic stability control enabled, it's almost impossible to get the back end to swing wide. The stability control has two alternative modes. The first is engaged by a momentary stab of ESP button and allows some extra slip before intervening, while pressing and holding the ESP button for five seconds completely disables the stability and traction control leaving only the ABS. Read what happens (and watch the tire-burning videos) after the jump.

Dodge Viper ACR goes through the cones at Chrysler Media Event

With the stability control neutered, the Challenger really comes alive and is much more of a handful to maneuver. The 425 lb-ft of torque easily gets the modern muscle car sideways in a hurry when the wheels are allowed to break traction. Aside from the absence of slip, the stability control's intervention is actually quite transparent and never really noticeable. If you go into a corner too hot at the limit, the Challenger will understeer resolutely while scrubbing off speed. In the lower part of the tachometer is a display that shows a friction circle, which displays the lateral and longitudinal acceleration from the stability control sensors.

After four laps in the Challenger, we hopped into the ACR Viper coupe. The sinister looking black snake had a pair of silver stripes running from nose to tail and a big high-mounted wing on the trailing edge of its rear deck. The 600-hp V10 has more than enough torque to make shifting almost unnecessary in any gear. Squeezing the throttle makes this monster leap ahead effortlessly. Maneuvering around the cones is trickier with the Viper than the Challenger because of its long nose and rearward seating position. Nonetheless, there is something viscerally exciting about piloting a Viper whether on the street or through an autocross. Hitting the gas a little too soon or too hard gets the rear axle to snap sideways even with the steamrollers that adorn this car. Check out the video for a better idea of what that looks like.

Dodge Challenger SRT8 runs the cones at Chrysler media event

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