To the average driver, the term "horsepower" has, for all intents and purposes, no meaning whatsoever. Not surprising, really, as there isn't any single established explanation, at least not a good one, as to how today's piston-powered engines became so intertwined with the output of a horse. Think, for a moment: Can you really quantify how much power 200 horses produce? Regardless, and though not all engines have been measured with the same methods of certification, enthusiasts of the four-wheeled kind have well over a century of automobiles and their attendant horsepower ratings with which to occupy themselves.
The Ford Model T, way back in 1908, offered up 20 horsepower. The original air-cooled Volkswagen Beetle was rated at 50 horses or less, depending on the year and displacement. Fast-forward to 1955, when Chevrolet's newly introduced small-block V8 made an impressive 162 hp, and then to the release in 1964 of the Pontiac GTO and its 348-horsepower Tri-Power engine. We'll shimmy right past the lamentable 1970s and '80s (in 1975, it was possible to buy a Chevrolet Corvette with as few as 165 horses) because, more recently, there's been a very welcome power resurgence.
Our Editor-in-Chief's beloved 1991 Ford Taurus SHO is fitted with a Yamaha 3.0-liter V6 that was factory rated at 220 horsepower, and a few short years later, the 1994 Chevrolet Impala SS offered up a 260-horsepower V8. We bring up the SHO and Impala because they are four-door sedans, meaning horsepower need not be dismissed by the average man who must pile in his spouse and 2.5 children.
And now we have the 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8. Lurking behind its blacked-out grille is a 6.4-liter Hemi V8 engine that ripples the pavement with 470 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque. To put that figure into perspective, its more ponies than such high-horse heavy hitters as the latest Chevrolet Camaro SS and Ford Mustang GT. In fact, it's 40 horsepower more than the 2012 Corvette. Giddyup.
Certainly, there's more to the 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 than its honker of a V8. But let's not kid ourselves – if the SRT8 is on your shopping list, it's 6.4-liter V8 is what put it there.
We're fans of Chrysler's redone LX sedans, which marry bold styling cues with large interior spaces, a refined chassis with a refined ride and satisfying rear-wheel-drive dynamics. As you're likely aware, Chrysler, now under the control of Italian parent company Fiat, has upped its game tremendously when it comes to interior quality and fit and finish. The latest 300 is a sterling example of the success of the model-line overhaul, as it is a vast improvement over its predecessor. The 300 SRT8 takes those good bones and raises the ante with a comprehensive list of updates to the engine, chassis, interior and exterior.
It wouldn't be a proper hi-po sedan without a more aggressive aesthetic, and we're pleased to report that the body kit fitted to the 300 SRT8 is quite handsome and understated. There are lowered sills, a small lip spoiler at the rear and a suitably aggressive fascia with a blacked-out grille. Inside, passengers are comforted with well-bolstered and grippy leather and Alcantara seats, while a slightly flat-bottomed steering wheel features sturdy metal paddle shifters. Metal pedals with rubber inserts look trick and match the steering wheel's paddles and spokes. Genuine carbon fiber trim and soft-touch plastics dress up the dash, which is punctuated in the center by a large 8.4-inch LCD touchscreen.
Chrysler's latest Uconnect touchscreen interface is easy to use and logically laid out. As we've come to expect these days, it offers up a plethora of audio options – AM/FM, Sirius, CD/DVD and inputs for auxiliary devices plus a USB and SD card slot – as well as Garmin-sourced navigation. Voice control is available, as is Bluetooth connectivity. The best part? All of it just works as you expect it to, without any of the frustration of competing systems.
We'd be remiss if we didn't also mention the display screen that details a digital readout of your best performance stats: 0-60, quarter-mile elapsed time and speed, braking distances and lateral Gs. It's great fun to play with... just be sure to keep your eyes on the road ahead and not the screen.
Chassis updates are abundant. The suspension is lowered half an inch and the wheel wells are filled out nicely with 20-inch forged alloy wheels and the buyer's choice of all-season Goodyear Eagle RS-A or three-season Goodyear F1 Supercar tires.
At 4,365 pounds, the 300 SRT8 is no lightweight, meaning the new Adaptive Damping Suspension system has its work cut out for it. Thankfully, ADS' ability to quickly adjust the suspenders to work with both the driver's inputs and the way the car reacts to the road surface is impressive. The big sedan doesn't often feel out of sorts, even when pressed with aggressive throttle and steering inputs. There is a driver-selectable Sport mode along with the standard Auto setting. We mostly left ADS in Auto for around-town driving, but we called up Sport enough times to recognize a slightly firmer invisible hand at play in that mode.
Steering feel is excellent, no doubt in part because the front wheels need only point the way forward while the rear wheels provide the go. And, with so much power on tap, any driver who's capable of stomping with his or her right foot can easily invoke power-induced oversteer. When it comes time to rain on the fun parade, the 14.2-inch vented front and 13.8-inch rear rotors, ably clamped by four-piston Brembo calipers, haul the 300 SRT8 down from speed with plenty of brute force while showing no signs of fade.
Such powerful brakes are a must, on account of the nuclear reactor underhood.
There's simply no arguing with 470 naturally aspirated horsepower, as our tester's rapidly balding radials will surely attest. See our Short Cut below for the video evidence.
Smoking the tires is almost a non-event in the 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8. Throttle response is immediate and torque is abundant. With the traction control off, all you have to do is push your right foot to the floor in order to leave two black streaks in your wake, though a bit of brake torquing is necessary to execute a classic drag-race-style burnout. While the Goodyear tires are plenty grippy, the 245-series cross section isn't close to enough rubber on the road to cope with so many horses, and that's part of the fun.
The soundtrack of the 392 Hemi is a wonderful thing. We understand that daily commuters want to hear the morning radio show or their latest downloaded playlist, but drivers of any SRT8 product owe it to themselves to open the windows and listen to the mating cry of the big pushrod V8 from time to time. No sense in letting all those left in your wake hear the good vibes without you.
As we noted after our first stint behind the wheel of Chrysler's latest beastly sedan, it's really not a proper competitor for the $65,000 Cadillac CTS-V, regardless of what parent Chrysler says. But starting just about $48K, we wouldn't expect it to be. If you want to take the quickest route around the racetrack, hop in the Caddy – it's more nimble, accelerates with more ferocity and suctions itself to the asphalt like glue. But something tells us most buyers will stick to the street, and that's where the SRT8 shines brightest.
Fact is, the Chrysler 300 SRT8 works perfectly well as an everyday family sedan... albeit one that can just as easily be measured by its gallons per mile as its miles per gallon. For what it's worth, the EPA estimates you'll manage 14 mpg city, 23 highway and 17 combined. That's probably pretty accurate, though we scored just 14.8 mpg during our week with the car due to the 6.4-liter novelty up front. But with a car like this, miles per gallon hardly seem the point.
We'd love the 392 Hemi to post better fuel mileage figures – the fact that it can shut down half its cylinders under part-throttle conditions surely helps – and we certainly wish Chrysler's eight-speed automatic gearbox was capable of handling 470 pound-feet of torque. Even moreso, we wish the six-speed manual from the nascent Viper were available as an option. As it stands, the aging five-speed automatic is the weakest point in the SRT8 package, as it doesn't shift quick enough or respond to the paddles like the latest dual-clutch gearboxes. Plus, it's missing a few gears up top, which would certainly improve highway fuel economy. But even with its imperfections, it's darn near impossible not to fall in love with the 300 SRT8.
What we have in the 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 is a muscle car for those of us who have outgrown muscle cars. It's not exactly a luxury sedan, and it's not exactly a track-day weapon. What it is, though, is a pure, unadulterated, rollicking good time that also happens to be a (tire) smoking good deal.