MONTEREY, CALIFORNIA - Chrysler's SRT (Street Racing and Technology) division is churning out new models as fast as you can moan "A Charger should have two doors" into your beer. Without entering that debate, we'll note that this is the Chrysler Group car that is perhaps most deserving of SRT treatment, since the Dodge Charger nameplate clearly still resonates with performance-minded drivers.
The recipe for the Charger SRT8 is familiar: Bore out Chrysler's modern-day Hemi V-8-already a formidable source of power, torque, and retro rumble for more than one million buyers in all its many applications-to expand displacement from the stock 5.7 liters to 6.1 liters. Raise the compression ratio, and fit higher-flow cylinder heads and a new intake manifold. Step back and revel in 425 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque, a 70.1-hp-per-liter rating that exceeds that of the original Hemi, with modern (i.e., realistic) SAE net power ratings to boot.
The Charger SRT8 drives very similarly to SRT8 versions of the Chrysler 300C and the Dodge Magnum. Chassis tuning among the three is virtually identical. Compared with stock Hemi models, all boast firmer dampers, higher spring rates, stiffer bushings, and bigger antiroll bars. The Charger SRT8 rides half an inch lower than a Charger R/T, and the car rolls on stunning twenty-inch, forged-aluminum wheels shod with Goodyear Supercar F1 performance rubber, 245/45 in the front, 255/45 in the rear. Other exterior changes from the regular Charger include new front and rear fascias, a hood scoop, and a reasonably tasteful rear spoiler.
After an afternoon of flogging the Charger SRT8 around Laguna Seca Raceway, we don't doubt SRT's claims of a 0-to-60-mph time of five seconds, a quarter-mile in thirteen seconds, and 60-to-0-mph braking of 110 feet. "We get it in terms of braking in a performance car," says SRT director Dan Knott. Yes, they do: four-piston Brembo calipers clamp down onto 14.2-inch-diameter front and 13.8-inch-diameter rear discs. The brakes proved immune to fading or distortion during hard track use, although we found pedal feel a bit mushy.
Acceleration and braking may be impressive, especially for such a big car, but there's no hiding the Charger's 4160-pound curb weight, whether you're power-oversteering at the track or just bombing down the road. The Dodge stays relatively flat through corners, yet you can't help wishing for more body control. The steering is quick enough, but its messages are muffled by vibrations from the steering column. And as for the cool-looking, stitched-leather seats? The seat bottoms are too short, and the seatbacks cut into your shoulder blades.
SRT's cars are similar to those of their cousins at Mercedes-Benz AMG: lots of engine, lots of power, lots of brake, lots of rubber, lots of attitude, but not much finesse. The two divisions would do well to put their heads together and figure out how to make their models speak to enthusiasts with the subtle brilliance of BMW's M cars.
That said, subtlety is clearly not this car's intention. Bargain-priced power is. And since the Charger matches the output of the SRT 300C and Magnum but sells for less, it is arguably the most compelling of all.
On sale: November
Engine: 6.1L OHV V-8, 425 hp, 420 lb-ft