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2009 Chrysler 300 SRT8: World class performance at a cut-rate price

High performance sedan backs up its bold promise
by: L.E. BASKOW, The SRT8 package gives the Chrysler 300C the punch to back up its aggressive looks.

Is the Chrysler 300C SRT8 the real reason Daimler Benz dropped its one-time American partner?

Some automotive writers have speculated that German company officials were shocked that the hot rodded Chrysler sedan was so competitive with the AMG versions of their own cars. A popular YouTube video shows a 300 SRT8 blowing the doors off a Mercedes 63 AMG.

Even worse, the base price for a 2009 Chrysler 300C SRT8 is around $44,000 - far less than one-third the base price for the upgraded German sedan.

Daimler Benz obviously had other problems with Chrysler, the most financially trouble of the Big Three American carmakers. But that should not detract from what Chrysler's Street and Racing Technology unit accomplished. Not only can the 300C SRT8 go head to head with the Mercedes 63 AMG on the track, it can also give the expensive BMW M5 a run for its money.

Put simply, the 300 SRT8 is a world-class high performance sedan - fast, solid, stable and comfortable. And Chrysler engineers accomplished this without fancy and costly engineering solutions. Instead, they stuffed a big engine into a family sedan.

And the 6.1-liter HEMI V8 they chose is crude by today's standards, with only a single camshaft and two valves per cylinder. But mated to a study five-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode, the 435 horsepower engine is good for zero-to-60 times in the low five-second range.

Other changes to the stock 300 sedan include stiffer springs, wider tires, big four-wheel-disc brakes and giant dual exhaust pipes sticking out the back. But these are also basic hot rodding tricks dating back decades. The fact that they work so well should raise questions about the value of such high-end tricks as multiple camshafts and electronically controlled suspensions.

One thing Chrysler did not change was the basic look of the car - which is best described as a brick. When it was first released in 2005, the 300 went against the dominant aerodynamic design themes of the days. Instead of a sloped nose and swooping lines, it was blunt and boxy, with a low roofline. The interior is roomy, although outward visibility is a little restricted.

The look quickly won the 300 the nickname Mafia Staff Car. It was available in several trim levels, from LX, Touring, Executive, Limited and 'C,' officially called the 300C. Engine choices included a pair of V6s and two V8s, counting the 6.1-liter HEMI that is only available with the SRT8 package, which also features a larger air dam.

The interior of the 300C SRT8 is equally stock, which is to say, simple bordering on stark. This is one area where the German cars have it all over the Chrysler. The dash of the 300C is mostly plain and plastic, not plush and trimmed with fine wood or exotic metals. But the 300C has what counts - big analog gauges and easy-to-use controls that don't require drivers to take their eyes off the road.

The 300 has a long and gloried tradition at Chrysler. They have mostly been large sedans that featured powerful engines and more comfort features than the typical family cars of their days. First introduced in 1955, they were originally produced until 1972, when the gas crisis spelled their demise. A gussied-up 1979 Cordoba called a 300 is dismissed by collectors. Chrysler revived the concept and name in 1999 with the front-wheel-drive 300M featuring a 253-horsepower V6 and optional stiffer suspension. The current version goes back to the rear-wheel-drive configuration once again coming into vogue for performance cars.

Our test model came with beefy leather seats and a leather wrapped steering wheel that at no additional costs. Options including side air bags, multimedia navigation center and a back seat TV pushed the price beyond $50,000 - still far less than the $132,000-plus Mercedes 63 AMG.

Of course, there is one additional cost for the 300C SRT8 - gasoline. The EPA rates it at only 15 miles per gallon, which qualifies it for a $1,700 gas guzzler tax. But chances are, if you're willing to be seen in Tony Soprano's daily driver, you're not going to let a little thing like that bother you.

Facts and figures

• Test Model: 2009 300C SRT8.

• Manufacturer: Chrysler.

• Class: Full-size.

• Layout: Front engine, rear-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive.

• Style: Five-passenger, four-door sedan.

• Power train: 2.7-liter V6 (178 hp.); 3.5-liter V6 (250 hp); 5.7-liter V8 (370 hp.); 6.1-liter V8 (425 hp as tested).

• Transmissions: 4-speed automatic; 5-speed automatic (as tested).

• EPA estimated city/highway mileage: 17/25; 14/19 (as tested).

• Price: Beginning at approximately $25,000 (price as tested $50,295).