First Look: 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8

Sure, we like the all-new Chrysler 300 plenty. It’s the best car of the newly updated stable of Chrysler Group offerings, and it has improved markedly over its predecessor. But that’s not the version of the car that gets the blood boiling and the rubber burning. The new 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 is, and it’s coming soon to a Chrysler dealer near you after its debut at the 2011 New York auto show.

For starters, the exterior of the new 300 SRT8 has been sculpted to match its high-performance character. The front end retains Chrysler’s newly reshaed wing badge, but the SRT8 model gets a unique front valance and a blacked-out mesh grille.

The SRT8 sits a half-inch lower than the standard 300 on 20-inch alloy wheels, lending it a more imposing stance. Out back, there’s a new chrome-accented lower fascia and dual 4-inch-diameter exhaust pipes. The available Black Chrome package adds black chrome grille surrounds, rear valance, and exclusive black chrome wheels.

Chrysler’s SRT team didn’t skimp on power, endowing the SRT8 with 465 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque from its 6.4-liter Hemi V-8–an improvement of 40 horsepower and 45 pound-feet over the previous 300 SRT8’s 6.1-liter unit. With the help of an active intake manifold and high-lift camshaft, the new engine produces more torque at lower rpm, and cam phasing optimizes power at higher rpms. Chrysler estimates the 300 SRT8 can click off 0-60 mph in the high four-second range and will top out at 175 mph.

The Hemi’s Fuel Saver variable displacement system returns for 2012, delivering a claimed 25-percent increase in fuel economy when cruising along in four-cylinder mode. This gain is attributed to a new active valve exhaust system, which allows the engine to make use of a wider rpm range when running on half its cylinders. This system also lets exhaust gases bypass the middle and rear mufflers, giving the SRT8 a fuller tone at wide open throttle.

One thing we wished the SRT guys would have been able to update is the transmission. The one and only unit available is a five-speed automatic with Auto Stick manual control built into the center console gear selector as well as paddle shifters on the steering wheel. There are two pre-set transmission modes, Auto for around town loping, and Sport, which shifts at higher rpms when more spirited driving is on the agenda.

Chrysler says electronic adaptive shifting control makes the transmission more responsive while also reducing harshness. Although many were expecting Chrysler’s upcoming eight-speed automatic to make a debut for the 2012 model year 300, it’s looking like we’re still going to have to wait a little while longer.

Helping underpin the 300 SRT8 is Chrysler’s new Adaptive Damping Suspension (ADS) system, which helps the SRT8 adapt to various driving conditions, taking into account vehicle speed, steering angle and speed, braking force, and lateral and vertical forces. The system takes that data and automatically adjusts the suspension for the best performance and comfort. The aforementioned Sport also helps further firm up the suspension when the canyon roads come a-calling.

Bringing the SRT8’s considerable mass to a halt requires 14.2-inch discs in front and 13.8-inchers at the rear. The discs are vented and slotted at all four corners, and clamped down by four-piston Brembo calipers. To help keep the brakes cool, the SRT8’s underbody belly pan was designed with built-in brake ducts.

To remind drivers they’re in the Alpha Dog of the 300 lineup, the SRT logo adorns nearly every surface. On top of that, genuine carbon-fiber trim pieces can be found throughout the cabin. The SRT8-exclusive steering wheel is designed to allow easy access to the paddle shifters as well as the Electronic Vehicle Information Center (EVIC) controls located on the wheel’s spokes. The EVIC system’s centerpiece is an 8.4-inch touch-screen display, which can give the driver performance information like power output and steering angle and even measure the car’s zero-to-60 times or lateral g-forces.

An available 900-watt, 19-speaker Harman Kardon stereo system is new to the SRT8 for 2012, with a 276-watt, 6-speaker Alpine system as standard. Chrysler’s Unconnect Touch 8.4N infotainment system utilizes the same 8.4-inch touch screen as the EVIC system, providing GPS navigation by Garmin, real-time weather and traffic updates with Sirius Travel Link and Sirius Traffic ,and integrated Bluetooth connectivity. For Uconnect’s entertainment portion, the system includes a USB port with iPod support, MP3 and WMA playback capabilities, and Sirius satellite radio. Drivers can interface with the system either by using the touch screen or with voice commands.

As its performance-themed halo machine, the 300 SRT8 is an important car for Chrysler, which has aggressively revamped much of its lineup over the past year. So far, the direction the company has taken under its new management has produced some impressive results. We’ll see just how impressive soon enough when we get behind the wheel of the 2012 300 SRT8 and stomp on that right pedal.

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