The new Chrysler 300 models are out, and for 2016, there’s been a minor facelift for both the models, with Bi-Xenon headlights, LED taillights, electronic power steering, lightweight cast-aluminium axles and axle housing, new wheels and a few other design changes.

Under the hood, the 300S V6 or 300 SRT V8 both now sport an 8-speed TorqueFlite transmission and a new “Sport” button enables sport-tuned steering, pedal, engine, and transmission calibration. The transmission is now controlled by a rotary knob a-la Jaguar, and becomes second nature in use. A normal automatic seems quite antiquated after using the 300 SRT’s knob.

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Interestingly, the 300 SRT is a New Zealand/Australia-only model.

First Impressions

Our test car was in grey (my most non-favourite car colour) but I’ve got to say, those forged aluminium 20” wheels shod with 245/45 tyres really make this car stand out. Even in grey, it looks good. Keep in mind it’s not quiet looking or quiet sounding, so be prepared to be stared at, and often.

According to the press release, “Confident looks, expressive materials” are words used for this car. I’m still searching for the ‘expressive materials’ – perhaps they mean the lashings of real carbon fibre in the cabin.

There’s an obvious change to the front of the car compared to the previous model, and Chrysler have moved a little more towards that deeper grille look, but thankfully they haven’t gone overboard with it and it’s now a much more modern and fresher look than before.

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But there is no doubt this is a Chrysler 300 – the changes on the outside are pretty subtle overall and they haven’t played with the look of the car too much. By the way, don’t go looking for a Chrysler badge – I couldn’t find one anywhere. Just a few ‘SRT’ badges, and that’s it. It does make for a clean look, and I got more than a few comments on the large wheel arches over those rims, and all were complementary.

Speaking of those wheels, the bright red Brembo 4-pot brakes sitting behind them almost shout at you, ‘sports car!!’, then you look closer and spy those humongous 14.2” slotted front discs, followed by 13.8” rear discs.

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If the brakes don’t yell sporty at you, the interior has a good shot at it. Those seats with their massive side bolsters give you a pretty good hint of their purpose. The centre of the seats are Alacantra suede that feels luxurious as well as giving great support when cornering.

The boot (sorry, ‘trunk’) is not as big as I thought it may be – but then looking at the design, it’s pretty stumpy in the rear. The boot is quite long though, but fairly shallow. Under the floor hides a tyre pump, the 12v car battery and a toolkit. There’s no spare tyre in here at all, but you do get a TIREFIT kit, which is a puncture repair system for holes up to 6mm. Don’t ask me what you do if you get a big gash in your tyre.

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Rear legroom is good – not great, but good. A few nice touches for the rear seat passengers, like seat heaters and two USB charging ports. It’s a little dark back there – the high waistline of the car doesn’t help with this, but then some people may prefer to be hidden away a little in the back, when the outside of the car is that extroverted.

The front seat passengers are very well looked after. American cars are known for piling on the luxury gadgets, and the SRT is no exception. Heated and cooled front seats, double-glazed front windows and front windscreen, heated steering wheel, heated or cooled cup holders, power adjust steering wheel (tilt and telescopic), and driver and passenger’s seat electric lumbar adjustment (both in and out and up and down – a nice touch).

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An 8.4” touchscreen using Chrysler’s UConnect system works well and includes SatNav, and is simple to use – a few minutes and it becomes totally intuitive. There’s also a 7” screen for the driver to select through a plethora (and I don’t mean that lightly) of displays, as well as for navigational instructions. The 11 different displays move from things like speed, right through to measuring track times including standing 400m, 0-100, braking distance, reaction times, current g-force ratings as well as highest g-forces measured, transmission temperature, air intake temp, oil temp, pressure and life, engine power or torque outputs, as well as other items. Comprehensive springs to mind. Of course if you are using SatNav you’ll get turn-by-turn instructions right between the speedo and rev counter.

Surprisingly there is no sunroof which I thought would be a given.

Safety equipment is included in spades on the SRT. This includes Bi-Xenon headlights with adaptive forward lighting (AFL) that follow the steering wheel (up to 15 degrees movement), full-speed Forward Collision Warning-Plus, Adaptive Cruise Control-Plus with Full Stop, cross-path detection, and Lane Departure Warning with Lane Keep Assist. Lane Keep Assist is one of those active systems that nudges you back into your lane if you start to veer out of it. It’s a bit spooky if you’ve never experienced it, but you soon get used to it. Or you can just turn it off.

Other safety features include automatic high-beams, Blind Spot Monitoring and 7 air bags.

And oh there is more than that. Limited slip diff, dual-zone AC, keyless entry and start (with remote start from the keyfob), 2 memory positions for the driver’s seat (which includes the steering wheel adjustment, radio stations and mirrors), reversing camera, heated exterior mirrors, tyre pressure monitoring, park sensors, auto headlights and wipers, auto levelling headlights, auto-dimming interior mirror, auto-dipping exterior mirrors when reverse is selected, and paddle shifters.

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Funnily the Chrysler New Zealand website says both the V6 300S and V8 SRT have a powered rear sunshade, but I couldn’t find this in the manual or physically on the car. Weird.

You may think that being an American car, build quality would suffer compared to the Germans – and believe me, it was a German car or three I ended up comparing the SRT to as well as the HSV R8. But no, build quality was what I would hope for in a near-on $100k car.

What’s it like to live with?

I recently drove the HSV R8. That sound had me salivating on every press of the accelerator. But compared to the SRT, it’s a big softy. The SRT sounds freaking amazing. Never has snap-crackle-pop sounded so good. I am 100% certain this had a major bearing on my fuel economy (of which we may not speak of) as I found myself just wanting to accelerate to hear that engine on take-off, and then deaccelerate to hear it on the overrun. Smooth driving is totally possible in the SRT, but you simply won’t want to.

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I can’t stress enough here in words on just how incredible this engine sounds – or feels. Want an example? I parked in a parking building and when I started the SRT, a car alarm went off on a car parked three spaces away – just with the V8 rumble. I would buy this car just to listen to it.

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More than once while I had the SRT, I would hear people on the street say, “SRT” to one another as I drove slowly past. Car guys, naturally. How could I hear them with double-glazed windows? Because I drove with the window down more than I did with it up. The weird thing with the engine noise is that while you can tell it’s a Yankee V8 when it starts and rumbles, when you wind the revs up past 3,000 it sounds like a highly-tuned Euro V8. At times it felt like it was a race car. Freaking amazing sound.

Enough of that. What’s the rest of the car like? Back to the engine – yes it sounds perfect, but it also goes like stink. I thought there may be some gradual push in your back but oh no – it’s all on as soon as you press the Go pedal. A slightly (and I mean slightly) too hard press of the accelerator will spin the wheels, have no doubt. I expect the chunky 637Nm of torque helps quite a bit here, not to mention the 350Kw (470Hp) of power. All this from a 16-valve, pushrod V8!

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This is license-losing stuff – 50km/h comes up in the blink of an eye. How fast? 100km/h comes up in 5.0 seconds and on to a top speed of 280. That’s not too shabby for a 5-seater sedan. It’s just the way it delivers this performance which is such fun. It’s not all Euro-clean and precise – it’s full on noise, and lots of it.

Mid-range acceleration is superb, just be prepared for the noise if you jab the pedal too hard. It may frighten some passengers.

To make my point, here’s an example. I picked up fellow Drive Life journalist Ken Sailto for a drive. On accelerating to motorway speeds on an onramp, I had to give it some gas. Grinning, Ken looked at me and said, “I feel so childish!” I think that sums up the SRT’s performance nicely. It brings out your inner man-child (sorry Ken).

Combined with that engine is a new 8-speed auto. Perfectly behaved and a perfect match for the engine. I liked that as soon as you pulled with shift paddle, the car would go into manual mode until you held the + paddle for more than a few seconds. Most other cars will slip pretty much straight back into Drive mode after only a few seconds. This just enforces the sportiness of the SRT.

And there is no denying the sportiness of the SRT and nowhere is this more prevalent than the ride. Let’s just say it’s sporty-firm and leave it at that. It is no luxury car and doesn’t pretend to be. Stick the car in Track mode after pressing the SRT button and it will turn into an even firmer ride by changing the adaptive damping suspension system settings, as well as adjusting the transmission change speeds (down from 400 milliseconds to 250 milliseconds).

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You would think with those massive discs and 4-pot Brembos that braking would not be an issue, and you’d be right. Incredibly powerful, even with the slightest touch. You have to be very careful with them at slow speed, as they just need a small amount of pedal travel to stop you quickly with a jerk. I had to concentrate in this car to do decent coach stops – but it became second nature after a while. Mind you getting into another car after the SRT saw my almost hitting other cars, since I wasn’t using anywhere near enough brake travel.

I did find it tricky to get the seating position just right – even with the huge range of adjustment with the electric steering wheel adjust and power seat. It just felt a bit like I was either too close to the steering wheel or too far away from the pedals, no matter what I did. It didn’t matter too much though as I just grinned as soon as I started driving anyway, and forgot about it.

The UConnect system worked flawlessly, syncing my phone easily, navigating the controls without issue. The 8.4” screen in the centre of the car is not dominating at all, and seemed the perfect size.

The Harman Kardon 19-speaker (yes, 19) 900-watt sound system complete with sub-woofer was a treat, even on high volumes – no distortion and even cranking up the bass didn’t affect it. It’s all about that bass sounded excellent. I wasn’t a fan of the track up/down and volume up/down buttons on the steering wheel – they are on the backside of the wheel. I could see casual drivers of the SRT hitting the buttons on the front of the wheel to change tracks or put the volume up or down, as I did. Took a while to get used to it, and they work fine but it doesn’t feel natural to use them. Also the mute button is in the middle of the track up/down button, with the source button in the middle of the volume up/down button. You would think the mute button would be with the volume buttons, but no.

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One of my favourite features of the SRT? The analogue clock! Always there and so much easier to read than a digital display somewhere. Long may it live.

Another feature which may get used too much is Launch Mode. Hit the button, hold the brake, and jam the accelerator on when you are ready (only on the track, naturally). Even though you are putting 470 horse-power down on the road, wheel spin is not too bad and acceleration excellent – along with that exhaust sound, and fantastic little whoosh noises between gear changes. I am now grinning all over again!

If you decide you’ve had enough of the sound of the engine and performance (yeah, right!) then ease off the gas and the engine will at some point go into 4-cylinder mode. You can tell this instantly as you can hear the engine note change, and if you have the display in Fuel Economy mode, you will see a ‘4-CYL’ shown.

One painful aspect of the SRT is the park brake. It’s a foot pedal, which is fine, but it’s above the driver’s foot rest and so is really high. Like REALLY high. I felt like a contortionist trying to lift my left leg high enough to push it on. In the end I just used ‘Park’ for the transmission, but I don’t really like doing that. This car is a perfect candidate for an electric park brake.

I have to go there; fuel economy. Sigh. My first tankful – and yes, I went through more than a tankful in one week – was at 22l/100km. Ouch. Then, on an open road run and a reset, it sat at 10.5 l/100km for that one run, which is excellent. Combined with that trip was some around town running, so my combined everyday average was 18l/100km. A full 70-litre tank will see you about 300km. Know what? So worth it.

So if the performance is excellent as well as the brakes, how is the handling? Much better than expected. This is still a heavy car, even if it’s not that large, at 1965kg. With all the electronics, handling is well above what you would hope, no doubt the big wheels, low profile tyres and low overall centre of gravity helping. The ride as I said is pretty firm, but not uncomfortable when you are pushing it. Steering feedback is better than I thought it would be too, and the huge brakes really come into their own when you start to go a bit harder. At times body roll surprised me, but a little bit more throttle soon brought the car back into line.

 

What it’s up against

You will see I’ve chucked a couple of Euro cars in here and with good reason. The SRT is no M5 or XFR beater, but at $60K less? Very tempting.

Make/ModelEnginePower, KwTorque, NMFuel Economy, combined, L/100KM0-100 km/h, secondsPrice, highest to lowest
BMW M54.4L DOHC VVT V83306508.84.6$169,500
Jaguar XFR5.0L DOHC VVT V837562511.34.9$160,000
HSV R86.2L OHV V8400671154.9$102,490
Chrysler 300 SRT6.4L OHV V8350631135.0$98,990
Ford Falcon XR85.0L DOHC VVT V833557013.75.5$69,990

 

The Good and the Bad

ProsCons
  • Addictive performance
  • “Holy-crap” acceleration
  • Analogue clock
  • Equipment levels
  • Engine sound
  • Transmission
  • U-Connect system
  • Crackle on overrun
  • Handling
  • Brake performance

 

  • Addictive performance
  • Ride, at times
  • Fuel economy
  • Park brake position
  • Sensitive brakes

 

What do we think of it?

When the dealer called me saying the car was due back, I thought there was a mistake as I was sure I had the SRT for one more night. But no, my mistake. I was severely disappointed to have to give the SRT back. I loved the R8, but this car? I think it’s better.

I mentioned I started to compare this car to some Euro V8s – and I still do. It is worth considering, even if you’ve felt before an American V8 would be a waste of time. BMW, Audi, Mercedes? They have good reason to be worried.

I am so close to giving the SRT a 5-chevron rating. So close! But it’s a 4.5, and an easy 4.5 at that.

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Read more about the 300 SRT on Chrysler New Zealand’s website.

Vehicle TypeFront Engined, RWD Luxury Sports Sedan
Starting Price$ 98,990 NZD
Tested Price$ 98,990 NZD
EnginePetrol 6.4-lite OHV V8
Transmission8-speed automatic
Kerb Weight1965 kg
Length x Width x Height5089 x 1902 x 1478 mm
Boot Capacity462L
Fuel Tank70 L
Fuel EfficiencyCombined – 13 L/100km
ANCAP Safety RatingsNot Yet Tested
Warranty3 years/100KM

 

 

 

Exterior photos: Kate Alvrez

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How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm also an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.

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