All the henchmen I know have Chrysler 300C SRT8s. Okay, I don’t really know any. But the imaginary ones in my head all ride around in the back of one of these, puffing cigars and swirling cognac. Just look at it. Slitty “I’m hiding something” window lines. Exaggerated wheel arches chiselled from solid hunks of hardened steel. Black Chrome everywhere. This is the car your mommy warned you about when you were a kid.
The previous 300C, launched in 2005, started this whole gangsta styling thing, taking street cred down to underworld levels. But, under its bad-guy facade it was disappointingly plastic. The annoying sound of 9mm Glocks rattling around in cheaply made centre consoles must have driven many a mob boss batty.
This new generation fixes a lot of that. Although still not at the level of more expensive performance luxury saloons, the new 300C’s interior gets rounder corners, softer touches and a generally higher class feel than its predecessor. And, at R689 990, this flagship model is way cheaper than similarly-sized, specced and powered European rivals.
I’ll give quality levels a B+, which is head-of-the-class for a late-model American car. A slightly wonky carbon-look ashtray door, squeaky sunglasses holder and not-so-straight seat stitching keep it from scoring higher, but at this price I’m willing to turn a blind eye to these foibles. An impressive standard features list also helps. Seats are heated and cooled, there’s a kickass 900-watt 19-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, and its 8.4” touchscreen infotainment display will wow the socks off the most tech-savvy teenager.
This touchscreen system, which glows with such intensity you’ll need to adjust its brightness even in broad daylight, plays a sort of command centre for front-seat occupants. Here’s where usual controls for Bluetooth audio and phone connectivity, Garmin-based navigation and climate control are found, but browse further and SRT-titled sub-menus pull up all sorts of Playstation-like goodies. Various background displays, similarly to Nissan’s GT-R, can be customised to read g-forces, steering angles and power graphs, but more useful are two gauge screens showing interesting details like air intake and gearbox oil temperature, for example. Vin Diesel would dig it.
This is also where Auto, Sport and Track modes are selected, but know that 20” alloys and thinly-profiled tyres are always going to send shivers through the chassis. This 300C’s ride is permanently firm, but a three-way adjustment between a little, almost none, and army tank levels of bodyroll comes in handy anyway. I’d still like to see a full soft mode option, though.
OLD-SCHOOL V8 LUMP
This 300C iteration retains the previous SRT8’s V8 Hemi, but it’s been bored out from 6.1 to 6.4-litres and power’s now up to 347kW and 631Nm. It’s a relatively low-tech lump with pushrods and a cast-iron block, but with huge cubic capacity and natural aspiration its response is immediate and immense. With lungs this size it doesn’t take much pedal movement to wake the beast, and at full throttle there’s a thunderous V8 soundtrack to accompany the heave-ho.
Where the entry-level 300C with a 3.6-litre V6 gets a higher-tech eight-speed transmission, the big-daddy SRT8 still gets an old school five-cogger - although this will likely change in future models.
Thankfully there’s plenty of power to pull the 2-ton sedan over its long gears and I didn’t really mind the lack of ratios. In a way I kind of prefer this more basic gearbox, with kickdowns resulting in punchier and more dramatic acceleration. This is what genuine muscle cars felt like and it gives this modern-day interpretation a more authentic feel.
It just so happened that our test period with the colossal Chrysler coincided with the dates for Kalahari Speedweek (okay, we planned it that way) so we loaded its huge boot full of camping gear and helmets like a high-speed packhorse and set out for the Northern Cape’s Hakskeenpan. In short, Speedweek is a dusty desert playground with a 5km-long straight strip of pan cleared for top speed runs. Vehicles of all shapes and sizes come to stretch legs here. This one galloped across the loose surface, plumes of dust billowing, at an official 252km/h although unofficially we know it’s capable of around 275 on tar.
At these speeds the SRT8 is as stable as a locomotive – an attribute I put down to its Mercedes-derived platform. Its front suspension comes from Merc’s previous S-Class and the multi-link rear layout is out of an old shape E-Class. Big Benzes are set up for sure-footed stability, and the 300C inherits the “on rails” trait.
A big, powerful and angry alternative to the usual super saloon suspects. It’s also a lot cheaper.
A perfect fit for any budget-conscious bad guy or bargain-hunting henchman.
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