New Car Review: 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8

Front 3/4 view of white 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 in front of bridge
The 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8.

It's been almost three years since our last test of a Chrysler 300 SRT8. Normally, that wouldn't allow for much in the way of changes, but the 2012 SRT8 is soooo much more car than the '09.

6.1 liters worth of V8 Hemi muscle has become 6.4. 425 horsepower is now 470 (with 470 pounds per foot of torque to back it up). The "Wow!" that involuntarily escaped your lips last time around is now more like "Whooooooaaaaa!". 60 miles an hour comes up in under 5 seconds.

The effect is like that of a Dodge Viper sent to finishing school and dressed in a tux. And before you think that I'm exaggerating here, remember that stock Viper RT/10s packed only 450 horsepower...20 fewer than we have here...until 2004. Yes, the 300 SRT8 is quite a bit heavier...that's the finishing school and tux part. It won't bounce your fillings out of your teeth as you roll down the street...it won't sink its fangs into you by doing an involuntary 180 when you tromp on it going around a corner. You won't burn your calves on the exhaust pipes getting out of the car.

Rear 3/4 view of white 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 at night
The 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8.

But let's get back to comparing 300 SRT8s to 300 SRT8s. This year, they've not only ratcheted up the displacement and horsepower, but they've made some decent strides in fuel economy as well. The '12 SRT8 has what Chrysler calls "Fuel Saver Technology". And with the 5-speed automatic that came with our tester, the EPA averages have improved from 13 city/19 highway in the 2009 model to 14 city/23 highway...bringing with it a lower Gas Guzzler Tax ($1,000 instead of the $1,700 in 2009).

Once you settle down after that first rush of acceleration, you'll find the car's been calm all the time. It's easy to lose sight of that in the furious growl of the Hemi and the booster-rocket force pushing your back deep into the ventilated front seats. You need to get your breath back. But this is what the 300 SRT8 was built to do.

The 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 instrument panel.

$47,170 (a modest increase from $43,860 in the '09) buys you four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, 3-mode electronic stability control, all-speed traction control, ready alert braking, performance tuned steering, two-mode adaptive damping suspension, 20-inch wheels on 245/45ZR20 all-season performance tires, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, power tilt and telescoping steering column with memory, dual-zone autotemp climate control, a Uconnect AM/Fm/CD/DVD/MP3/SiriusXM audio system with navigation, an 8.4 gigabyte hard drive, auxilary and USB inputs, and real carbon fiber interior accents.

Ours came loaded...Customer Preferred Package 21 (Power folding multi-function mirrors, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, blind spot and cross-path detection, rear fog lamps, outside mirrors with supplemental signals and courtesy lamps) for $1,995...the Luxury Interior Trim Group (luxury front and rear floor mats and premium leather interior trim) for $2,500...the 19 Premium Speaker Group, which upgrades the audio system with 18 speakers...and a subwoofer...and a 900-watt amplifier for $1,995...a dual-pane panoramic sunroof for $1,295...245/45R20 3-season performance tires for $150 and the aforementioned Gas Guzzler Tax of $1,000.

Final tab: $56,930.

Which, yes, is a lot for a Chrysler. But the SRT8 proves itself to be more than just a $27,170 base Chrysler 300 with a bunch of go-fast parts stuck in it and on it. It is, as of this moment, the epitome of the American muscle car...the confident, rip-roaring U.S. sedan that not only can humiliate anything Ford or GM has in its size and weight class, but that can, with a straight face, make a case for being an alternative to a BMW M5 or a Mercedes-Benz E63, leaving you more than a few bucks in change.