The Chrysler 300 flagship sedan offers style on a grand scale and a roomy interior reminiscent of the big American sedans of yesteryear. But the V-8-powered SRT8 version of the 300 provides another, less nostalgic blast from the past: It guzzles gas.
The 470-horsepower, 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8, with the performance to rival pricier Mercedes-Benz and Lexus sedans, has a government fuel economy rating of only 14 miles a gallon in city driving and 23 mpg on the highway. That's worse than the V-8-powered 2012 Jaguar XJ and Lexus LS 460 and even the 2012 Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck with V-8.
But no one would confuse the expressive Chrysler 300 with a truck, a Jaguar or a Lexus.
2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8
- Base price: $28,170 for base 300; $32,170 for Limited; $33,170 for 300S; $38,170 for 300C; $47,170 for 300 SRT8
- Price as tested: $51,785
- Type: Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, five-passenger, large performance sedan
- Engine: 6.4-liter, overhead valve, 90-degree, Hemi V-8
- Mileage: 14 mpg (city), 23 mpg (highway)
- Top speed: 175 mph
- Length: 200.3 inches
- Wheelbase: 120.2 inches
- Curb weight: 4,365 pounds
- Built at: Brampton, Ontario, Canada
- Options: Premium speaker group $1,995; black chrome group (includes upgraded Black Vapor 20-inch wheels) $795
- Destination charge: $825
- Gas guzzler tax: $1,000
Revamped over the past two years but still using the same rear-wheel-drive platform, the Chrysler 300 seems like a new, full-size sedan.
What once looked like a Bentley now has a more modern headlight shape, light-emitting diode daytime running lamps and a black-colored grille that adds a sinister, yet attractive flair to the 300 SRT8.
Inside, the 2012 300 SRT8 has an upscale appearance, with standard seat covering that feels and looks like real leather, 12-way power adjustments on both front seats, real carbon fiber trim, richer-than-expected carpeting and a built-in Garmin-based navigation system with an 8.4-inch display.
Best of all, the 2012 300 SRT8, which weighs more than 2 tons and stretches a full 16.7 feet long, rides comfortably and handles well.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $28,995 for a base 2012 300 sedan with 292-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6.
The 2012 300 SRT8, with 6.4-liter, Hemi V-8 producing 45 more horsepower than the previous V-8, has a starting retail price of $48,995. This includes a $1,000 gas guzzler tax imposed by the federal government.
Competitors to the 300 SRT8 can include the 365-horsepower, 2012 Ford Taurus SHO sedan, which has a starting retail price of $38,950 with 3.5-liter, turbocharged six-cylinder engine. Meanwhile, the 380-horsepower, 2012 Lexus LS 460 with 4.6-liter V-8 has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $68,005, and the 2012 Mercedes S550 with 429-horsepower V-8 starts at $95,375.
Some of today's V-8 sedans, overworked with electronics and controls, don't quite convey the forceful power that a V-8 can provide. But the Hemi V-8 in the 300 SRT8 is a throwback pushrod engine with overhead valves, and the transmission is a five-speed automatic.
While technology plays a role — specifically operating a two-stage variable intake and exhaust-valve timing system ΓÇö the 300 SRT8's low-end "oomph" or torque comes on fast at both low and higher speeds.
I squealed the tires backing up into my garage and zoomed forward on highways with smooth force.
Torque peaks at 470 foot-pounds at 4,300 rpm, which is up 50 foot-pounds from last year's V-8. Now, the sedan goes from 0 to 60 in a sporty 4.4 seconds, which is better than the 5.4 seconds that the LS 460 and S550 sedans boast.
The average fuel economy over combined city and highway travel was just 14.8 mpg. This translated into a 282-mile travel range on a single, 19.1-gallon tank. Chrysler advises to use premium gasoline to get peak performance.
People on the streets, hearing the engine growl, would stop to see what was coming. The big sedan and its Black Vapor, dark spoke wheels and low-profile, 20-inch tires held their attention.
Some tire noise came through as I drove on rough pavement, but the 300 SRT8 tester also was unexpectedly quiet at stoplights and on new asphalt. There's considerable sound insulation, and the optional uplevel stereo system delivered crystal clear sounds.
Everyone but the middle rear passenger gets a generous amount of room on well-padded seats. In fact, sitting in the back seat with front seat up a bit on its 10.6-inch track, I stretched my legs and crossed them with ease. A full 41.8 inches of legroom are available in the front seats and just over 40 inches in the back seat. Not even a Cadillac Escalade offers this much rear-seat legroom.
By comparison, rear legroom in the Lexus LS 460 is 35.8 inches, and the Taurus has 38.1 inches. However, because of the drive tunnel hump in the middle of the 300's rear floor, the middle person back there has no convenient spot to put his or her legs.
The roominess extends across the car, where front seat passengers and outboard rear passengers have decent space between them. But headroom can feel a bit constrained if front seats are up all the way on their tracks. Total headroom is 38.6 inches in the front seats and 37.9 inches in the back seat, without a sunroof.
I was disappointed that the 300's trunk has just 16 cubic feet of storage space. The Taurus offers 18 cubic feet in the trunk.
My other nits: Carbon fiber accents on the 300 SRT8 dashboard and center console had a cheap look, and there were places, inside and out, where fit and finish was not the best. For example, the seams around the hood were not consistent in size, giving the impression the hood was crooked.