(first posted 9/5/2016) The V8 engine isn’t dead yet but the pool of offerings is evaporating. Ford, for example, is embracing the turbocharged V6 and even employing such engines in their latest Raptor and GT. The Aussie Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore and their popular V8 options are being read their last rites. But while automakers are reducing the number of V8 offerings, consumers seem more than happy to buy whatever is left. Case in point: the 2015 Chrysler 300C SRT. While it has been discontinued from North American showrooms, it lives on in Australia and the Middle East. Mark my words: this will be a genuine classic one day.
It’s a visceral thing, really. A turbocharged V6 can be absolutely thrilling and match a V8 in horsepower and torque while often bettering it in fuel economy, but nothing can replace that sonorous, throbbing, burbling, just-damned-wonderful growl of a V8. The SRT’s 6.4 (392 cu. in.) V8 pumps out a blistering 470 hp and 470 ft-lbs of torque. The venerable LX chassis remains a competitive rear-wheel-drive platform, if a touch on the heavy side. All of this is wrapped up in a bold, unabashedly American design. The only 8 that has disappeared here is in the name: the Chrysler brand’s performance flagship is now known simply as “SRT”.
Much like a great number of enthusiasts today idolize cars from the halcyon era of muscle cars, the 1960s, this SRT will be fondly recalled by those in a near future where electric cars and hybrids will have become increasingly common. Sure, the latest Tesla Model S P100D can get to 60 mph in 2.5 seconds in Ludicrous Mode, but enthusiasts of the near-future will likely argue that, although impressive, a Tesla lacks the kind of physical and aural drama and classic ingredients of the SRT.
Enthusiasts of tomorrow and today can thank Australia for the 300 SRT’s continued existence. See, Aussies love big, rear-wheel-drive, V8-powered, sporty sedans. That last part is where Aussie enthusiasts differ from Americans: sporty Aussie coupes like the Holden Monaro have always been the exception rather than the rule. And although the American Big 3 always allowed for V8 performance to be available cheaply in cars like the Chevrolet Camaro, the affection for sporty V8 sedans was less prevalent. If you wanted a V8 sedan in the 1980s or 1990s in North America, for the most part all the Big 3 would offer you was an ageing Panther or B-Body – no picture of athleticism – or something with (gasp!) front-wheel-drive, like a Cadillac Seville. A Mustang is iconic to Americans but here, the Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore were quite literally the two best-selling vehicles in Australia for many, many years. Most of those sales were of six-cylinder models to fleets and families, but V8 sales have always represented a sizeable portion of overall volume. We like big V8 sedans and we generally prefer them to be a bit sporty.
Chrysler is repositioning its titular brand as a more mainstream marque while further establishing Dodge as their performance division. The SRT didn’t fit in anymore and so it was retired from North America. Fortunately, the mechanically identical Charger SRT lives on. The 300 SRT-8 hadn’t exactly helped clarify Chrysler’s brand strategy, with the marque’s positioning zig-zagging for the past few decades. First, it was staunchly upper middle-class – near-luxury, before that term was common parlance – before reaching down with lower-trim full-size models in the 1960s and 1970s. Then, downsized Chryslers arrived although there was some appreciable differentiation between these and lesser Plymouths and Dodges. That differentiation further eroded until eventually the PT Cruiser arrived and, although immensely popular, obliterated any remaining pretence of prestige.
2011 300 (top) and 2015 300 (bottom)
The RWD 300 of 2005 featured premium design cues but little in the way of added luxury over its Charger cousin. The 2011 redesign, with its elegant details and Luxury Series models, attempted to take the 300 (and Chrysler) upmarket but the presence of rental-spec 200 four-cylinder sedans on the showroom floor handicapped those efforts. With the 2015 facelift, Chrysler is offering ever-plusher luxury trim levels like the Platinum but for all intents and purposes, the 300 is a Chevrolet Impala rival. That being said, the top-shelf models of cars like the Impala and Ford Taurus are pretty damn plush nowadays.
In a place like Australia, Chrysler is synonymous with brash and American. Those Mopars that fit that template sell well (300, PT Cruiser) and those that don’t, don’t (Neon). Dodge sells only the Journey here so there’s no Charger to cannibalize sales; this situation resulted in Chrysler developing an $AUD 10,000 cheaper SRT-8 Core with fewer luxury features, curiously an idea that made the trip back to North America. When the Falcon and Commodore leave production shortly, perhaps Chrysler figures they can tempt those V8 buyers with an SRT. It’s a sound strategy.
The 2015 facelift was so minor you’d be forgiven for thinking little has changed. For the North American 300 models, that’s basically the case: front and rear ends are tweaked slightly and some new gadgets like adaptive cruise control are now available. For the SRT, the improvements are more significant. An eight-speed automatic replaces the old five-speed and features paddle shifters. The steering is now electrically instead of hydraulically assisted. Bilstein shock absorbers have been retuned and have three-stage adaptability in the up-spec SRT. Refinement has been improved, although the Core’s non-adjustable shocks result in a stiff ride. But although the interior is as functional as ever, with Chrysler’s excellent uConnect infotainment system, the design has changed little.
The rumor mill suggests the Charger will soon move to a new, smaller RWD platform while the 300 will become FWD, losing its V8 engines in the process – another V8 casualty. Fortunately, Chrysler has committed to V8 engine and rear-wheel-drive. American car enthusiasts ought to give Chrysler a round of applause for the 300 and its platform-mates. Even if their styling may not be to your taste, what is underneath is impressive. Taking a page from the Aussies, Chrysler developed a rear-wheel-drive, V8 sedan that was relatively affordable and has kept selling these distinctively, unashamedly American cars against all odds. From the surprisingly gutsy 3.6 V6 models right up to the SRTs, there’s a blend of competent handling, compliant ride, a spacious interior and American styling. The featured SRT was snapped at a car show. Get ready for plenty of 300s and Chargers at car shows in 20 years’ time.