Reborn Luxury Bruiser Aspires To Great Heights We couldn't help but ask Chrysler officials point-blank about what cars their 2012 300 SRT8, the brand's self-proclaimed "Ultimate combination of world-class luxury and performance," will compete against. Their answer, delivered with zero hesitation and a perfect poker face? The Cadillac CTS-V. That utterance shut us up so quickly that we had to sit back in our chair to ponder the bold response. The new 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8, the highest-performing model ever in Chrysler's lineup, boasts a powerful 6.4-liter Hemi V8 punch, massive Brembo brakes, lightweight forged wheels, countless hours of suspension tuning and a slew of cosmetic goodies. It is, without question, a very impressive sport sedan. But choosing a target like the CTS-V, Cadillac's highly regarded flagship performance vehicle, may reveal a bit too much confidence. After all, the CTS-V isn't just more powerful – its chassis is a bit lighter, it's shorter in stature and it wears stickier shoes. Of course, it's also much more expensive. We didn't question Chrysler's comment, or even raise an eyebrow to their claim. We were, after all, sitting at a racetrack with a 300 SRT8 idling in the hot pits just a dozen yards away. Instead, we walked out of the building, donned a helmet and climbed into the driver's seat to find out for ourselves. Introduced as a concept at the 2003 New York Auto Show, the first production Chrysler 300 rolled into showrooms shortly thereafter as 2005 models. Designed during the peak of the DaimlerChrysler relationship, the 300 was a big change from its front-wheel-drive 300M (and Concorde) predecessors. The new car had bold styling and was built on a sophisticated rear-wheel-drive platform with a suspension borrowed from the W210 Mercedes-Benz E-Class (1996-2002) and W220 S-Class (1999-2006). Standard models were fitted with a 2.7-liter V6 rated at 190 horsepower, but a range-topping SRT8 model debuted at the 2004 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance boasting a 6.1-liter V8 rated at 425 horsepower. It was a much-needed shot in the arm for both the car and brand. Nearly seven years later, we're at the famed Willow Springs Raceway in the high desert of Southern California. The ambient temperature is in the mid-80s, which is cool for July, but the car we are piloting around the big track is the hot new second-generation SRT8 that's been boosted for 2012 with an even larger 6.4-liter V8 under its aluminum hood. From the outside, the SRT8 is distinguished by its half-inch lower ride height, body color side sill cladding and standard 20-inch wheels. The front fascia features upper and lower grille surrounds in black chrome and LED daytime running lights. Out back, the bumper cap sports twin four-inch exhaust pipes and there is a functional decklid spoiler garnishing the trunk. The interior starts with a leather-wrapped, heated SRT steering wheel with metal paddle shifters on each side. Integrated into the dashboard is genuine carbon fiber trim, gloss black surrounds and chrome accents. The standard sport seats, upholstered …
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