The look on my passenger’s face says it all. I’ve just late-braked a fully-prepped BMW M3 on Hoosier race tires and we are about to straight-line the infamous “Climbing Esses” at VIR. At well over one hundred and twenty miles per hour. Listen to the photo. Put your ear up to it. You can hear my passenger, a student of mine who wanted to see “the fast way around”, gritting her teeth. You can hear the 6.1-liter HEMI catapulting us down the track at full throttle, a Sprint Cup racer stuffed beneath a Deep Sea Blue bonnet. And, if you listen very carefully, I think you can hear Sara Watkins, who is to me what Mike Rowe is to “The Booth Babe”, singing “Lord Won’t You Help Me.”
The boss man emeritus, one R. Farago, reviewed the 300C SRT-8 more than five years ago. Has the car changed? Not much. So why review it again? It’s simple. The fact that Robert’s article has a whopping three comments means you probably didn’t see it. And, of course, as the self-appointed bad guy in TTAC’s pro-wrestling pantheon, it seemed appropriate that I would use the big Chrysler to ruin the day of some club racers. Here’s how it went.
This was an unusual weekend for me in that I had an all-female student crew. The lady pictured above would be worth a story on her own. A retired servicewoman in her late forties, bought a Mini Cooper (non-S) a few years back and went on a few “Tail of the Dragon” drives. That didn’t satisfy her. Now she’s on-track, absolutely kicking ass in her little Cooper and regularly forcing young men in Vettes to give her the point-by. If she had an M3, she’d be the fastest Intermediate driver in nearly any club.
My other student was a former SCCA National Tour winner, a respected autocrosser who agreed to work with me on a couple of articles about the opportunities for women interested in motorsports. I expected her to take to VIR like a duck to water and was not disappointed. I also rather hoped she’d have some room for me in her suite at the VIR Lodge, and I was bitterly disappointed. I used all my traditional never-fail seduction stories on her — “My Fearless, Yet Stylish, Brushes With Death”, “I’m Lonely For My Distant Son And Just Don’t Want To Be Alone”, and “Give Me Your Opinion Of This Sportcoat Fabric” — but I still ended up sleeping in the car, as seen here:
No wonder, then, that when the second day of the event rolled around I was ready to wreak my vengeance on everybody unlucky enough to be in front of the Chrysler’s big black grille. In my test of the Challenger R/T I disabused TTAC’s readers of that stupid old Internet myth that “a Miata would totally dominate a fat-ass American musclecar on the track”. Compared to that R/T, the 300C SRT-8 has fifty more horsepower and much better brakes. Chrysler’s “Brembo package” is much better than Ford’s, and it holds up much better under the rigors of racetrack use. It’s still not “enough” brake — I personally think the Corvette ZR-1 has about “enough” brake — but it means you can run hard for ten laps at a time if you’re willing to manage pad temperature a bit.
We were scheduled to run the VIR Grand East course, which adds the twisty, elevation-change-filled “Patriot Course” to the “Full” course. I figured it meant that I’d spend the entire Patriot section holding-off smaller cars before blasting away from them down the “Roller Coaster” to the front straight. That wasn’t quite right. Hammering down the truncated back straight, I approached a group of Spec Miata racers practicing for the upcoming NASA event. This being the “instructor” group, no point-by was required, so I asked for none. Instead, I used the big HEMI to torque my way to the door of the last car and then stood on the ABS going into the corner. Hello, pass one. Reaching over to stab the ESP off, I used wheelspin on exit to catapult up to the next Miata. We went side-by-side over the next elevation change and then I waited him out on the brake. Oh no! A twisty section. Now I can’t shake the Miata behind and I can’t catch the one ahead. Oh, wait. I could shortcut that inside a bit. ESP back on and I put two wheels on the dirt, letting the traction control manage me past. Two more colorful Mazdas heading the group, taking the outside line to the Roller Coaster. ESP off. Full throttle. Buh. Freakin’. Bye. Never saw those cars again, although I think the organizers of the trackday heard from them in the “Complaints” section of the feedback form.
That’s the SRT-8’s “g-meter” for that session. It doesn’t go past .99, so rest assured that I was absolutely hammering this thing through the Patriot section. How does a car this big get grip like this from 20″ tires? Simple. The chassis is simply that good and that predictable. No, it can’t live with a BMW or Porsche for outright grip, but you are free to sit right at the limit of the tires and trust the Chrysler’s basic nose-first stability to save the day. The suspension can straight-line every curb and the steering gives some decent enough feedback. I hate to say it, but to some degree this car is more fun to drive fast than the Cadillac CTS-V is. I certainly prefer the HEMI’s character to that of the LS-whatever. More importantly, there’s clearly some room in the chassis for more power, which I would expect to see in the 2011 version.
I ended up driving this car over 2600 miles during my week with it, and I just about fell in love with the 300’s big-hearted spirit during that time. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some genuine complaints to be made. This car costs $49,195 and it has the interior of a $23,000 Hertz Charger. The stereo is monstrous but the iPod integration can’t touch SYNC. It’s not as roomy as it should be, particularly in back. You could buy a new E-class for this money, although the E-class you could buy wouldn’t touch this Chrysler on the road. You could also buy a Hyundai Genesis 4.6, if you want to make some kind of point. I’m not sure the Genesis really does much better in the interior-feel department, and it’s gutless compared to the Chrysler. Still, we are talking fifty grand here. Approach with fiscal caution.
There’s a looooong two-lane drive out of VIR for us headed towards Ohio. It’s maybe 100 miles of twisty roads and blind hills. And wouldn’t you know it, somebody pulled out in front of me right at the beginning…
…so I had to follow them all the way. Oh, who am I kidding? I was past that Bonnie before the end of the next turn. On the back roads, this 300C is even more of a monster than it is on the racetrack. In a world without speed limits or sensible driving standards, I could have averaged eighty-one miles per hour over the next sixty miles of that road. Since we don’t live in that world, I chose to listen to Miss Watkins on the excellent Kicker sound system.
This is now an old car, and it’s partially based on an even older one. If you’re a patient person, wait for the 2011 “LY” model. If you distrust the idea of a big V-8 and an old five-speed automatic, you can pay about the same real-world money for that nice new STi. If you just want the most kickass new sedan fifty grand can buy, call up Chrysler and ask if you can buy this one.