Driving with dinosaurs
something out of American Graffiti with a boxy body dumped over the chassis to crowd the chunky, five-spoke alloys. Inside it’s all business and the superb leather trim extends atop the dashboard.
However, the carbon-fibre surrounds on the gear shifter, dash and centre console are peeling and lifting. A slap-face reminder that shortcuts have been taken building this car, it inspires little ownership and driver confidence.
The engine’s push-rod overhead-valve design predates me. However, pillow-talk by Mercedes-Benz— the pair had a brief alliance— paid off in Chrysler’s engineering department.
So the big-bore 6.4-litre V8 Hemi (347kW/631Nm) picks up variable-valve timing, fuel shutoff, the ability to deactivate four cylinders when coasting or idling, electronic throttle control, aluminium heads and two spark plugs per cylinder.
Chrysler claims 13.0L/100km but suburban pedalling gets about 20L. The SRT8 has 360mm ventilated brake discs with four-piston Brembo calipers, lower diff ratio with a heavier rear axle, hydraulicassist steering (instead of electric) and a ‘‘ severe duty’’ cooling system. The automatic is a five-speed, not the 300-spec eight-speed, and comes with paddle-shifters.
There’s no crash test rating but the European left-hand drive equivalent, the Lancia Thema (just how many people have been in Chrysler’s bed?) has a EuroNCAP rating of five stars.
The SRT8’s suite of standard safety gear includes forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, lane-change warning, rear cross-path detection, roll mitigation, tyrepressure monitoring, rear camera, front and rear park sensors, electronic stability and traction control, six airbags and bi-xenon headlights with automatic high-beam dipping. The spare is a space-saver.
I expected more noise and a more engaging hit off the mark but the SRT8 is unexpectedly docile. Just the car to take to the shops.
It does, however, have a mean streak; it just requires the driver to put more weight on the accelerator pedal.
There is a sport mode that sharpens the gearbox shift points— better felt when using the paddle-shifters— and flicks to a firmer suspension setting. There’s no more power, just a more energetic feeling from the drivetrain.
With the engine thumping up front, there’s a strangely discordant armchair feel to the cabin— it’s as if you’re just taking the lounge room for a fang down the street. That’s magnified by the big-diameter steering wheel that, while having plenty of road feel and being nicely weighted, feels a tad as though you’re piloting something ponderous.
It’s an unusual impression given that, once the throttle is wide open, the SRT8 runs like a scalded cat and hangs on confidently through the corners.
The seats are well bolstered, firm in the right places and generous in width and I can’t decide if the 1960s-style of the dashboard switches and dials is retro-fun or simply ancient.
It’s a very different machine to push along compared with, say, an HSV or FPV, which require more physical work to perform and are harder on the body. The SRT8 slips in between— it’s comfortable and easy to drive, rides well and is quiet. Indeed, I would like more noise.
I’d go the SRT8 Grand Cherokee before this 300-based hottie. I respect its safety features and fun-to-drive aspect but despair at its quality.