The 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8 is one transmission away from being everything I could want in a sedan. It's big, it's comfortable, and it's packed with convenience and technology features that make life behind the wheel worth living. It's roomy inside, it has a huge trunk, and since it's product of the company's high-performance SRT division, it's at least 50 percent more powerful than a car of its size deserves or needs to be. It's American not just in origin but in style; something this brash couldn't come from Germany or Japan. And at just under $60,000, it's even affordable, sorta.
But the transmission is pretty awful. Unlike its stablemate--the 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8--this Chrysler isn't available with a six-speed manual transmission. It comes only with a five-speed automatic, a leftover from when Chrysler was owned by Mercedes-Benz. A technological wonder when it debuted in the mid-'90s, today it's as dated as an AOL floppy disk, and about as useful. An eight-speed automatic is in the pipeline, and it can't arrive soon enough.
But everything else? The 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8 nails it.
Model and PriceYou'd think that a line-topping car like the 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8 would come loaded, but you'd be wrong. In addition to the base price of $48,815 (which includes the $995 destination charge), there were more than $10,000 in options. Topping the list was the leather interior, which added $2,500 worth of soft-touch surfaces on the dash and doors. Another $1,995 went to the Harmon Kardon audio system, and it was worth every penny. Its SafetyTec group of options, which includes active cruise and forward collision warning, costs $1,995. The cool black chrome accents on the grille and wheels added $795; the huge glass sunroof was an extra $1,495. Also on the "options" list was $1,000 worth of gas guzzler tax, which you're paying whether you like it or not. Throw in a few other sundries and you have an out-the-door price of $59,245.
Safety and Key FeaturesIn addition to excellent crash test scores from the NHTSA--five stars overall--and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, where it's a Top Safety Pick, our test car also had Chrysler's SafetyTec bundle of options. This bolsters the car's safety street cred with blind spot monitoring and cross-path detection. The latter alerts you when a vehicle is crossing your path as you back out of a parking spot, a pretty useful feature considering that this big sedan is no stranger to blind spots. It also has active cruise control, which will adjust the Chrysler's speed from wherever it's set down to 25 mph, at which point it returns control to the driver. There's also collision warning, which uses the same mechanism as the active cruise to warn you when you're approaching a vehicle too fast.
Family Friendliness and UtilityThe great thing about the 300 SRT8 is that it's exactly the same body as the bottom end of the 300 lineup. That means when it comes down to it, it's still a big, comfortable, and practical four-door sedan. The doors open wide, and the rear seat is softly padded, with plenty of leg and head room for adults or children. Have little ones in boosters? No problem; the LATCH points are easy to reach, and there's enough room between the front seatbacks and the boosters that you don't have to compromise your own legroom just to take Junior with you. There's plenty of storage space inside, big cupholders, and a good amount of other little nooks and crannies to hide stuff. The red leather in our test car was a little hard to get used to, but at least it cleans up easily. The active cruise control, blind spot monitoring, and huge screen with a sharp backup camera make driving down the freeway or maneuvering through parking lots simple, somewhat mitigating the narrow windows. The trunk is huge, and easily accessible through a large opening. From a practicality standpoint, there's little to dislike here, with the exception of the SRT8's 13-mpg observed fuel economy.
Comfort and QualityWe were surprised at how tightly screwed-together the 300 was. That may sound like a backhanded compliment, but the simple truth is that Chrysler's products were less than inspiring in that regard not too long ago. But the stitched dash, soft leather, bright clear gauges and quiet interior were elegant and classy, befitting a car with this price tag. Chrysler's Uconnect touch-screen infotainment system is one of the best available, offering up easy cell phone integration, big touch-screen "buttons" that make easy targets, and sharp navigation maps provided by Garmin. When you're not unleashing the full power of the 6.4-liter V-8 engine, the 300 SRT8 is just as quiet and refined as any 300. That's a good thing.
It's not all roses though. A few panels--especially on the seat bottoms--felt cheap and out of place. The button for the power-adjustable pedals is tacked onto the side of the driver's seat, and it took us a couple days to find it; luckily you don't need to use it often. There are also a few switches and knobs here and there that feel subpar for a car costing this much. But by and large, these are the exception.
How it DrivesWhat really separates the SRT8 from the rest of the 300 lineup is what's under the hood: A 470-horsepower, 6.4-liter V-8 that's the core of every SRT8 model, except the Viper. And boy, does it deliver. Mash the throttle to the floor and the big sedan lunges forward like it's capturing its next meal. The roar of the engine is straight out of an adolescent fantasy. Press the Sport button, and the suspension and steering firm up, and the exhaust changes its character to unleash even more noise. Despite weighing more than 4,000 pounds, the SRT8 is surprisingly nimble around corners, too. Dial it back from 11 though, and the SRT8 is a pussycat, albeit one with lousy fuel economy despite a cylinder shutoff mechanism that cuts fuel flow to half the cylinders when cruising at highway speeds.
But that transmission is just about a deal killer. Its rough shifts, hesitancy to downshift, and overall lack of smoothness and sophistication is like wearing ratty Converse sneakers paired with a tuxedo. That roaring V-8? You wait a heartbeat for the transmission to make up its mind to actually unleash it, and that heartbeat feels like an eternity when you want to move right now. The kick in the back from its harsh shifts aren't much better. The paddles on the steering wheel theoretically let you shift manually, but the lag time from clicking the paddle to an actual gear change is unacceptably long.
SummaryAs I said in the beginning, the 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8 is just about everything I could want in a sedan, but for me, the lousy five-speed automatic transmission kills the deal. The good news is that Chrysler is well aware of this, and is hard at work rectifying the situation. Our own Trevor Dorchies got a chance to play with the new eight-speed transmission on the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 not long ago, and came away impressed. If Chrysler can work the same magic, there will be nothing holding back this big bruiser of a sedan.
Spec BoxPrice-as-tested: $59,245
EPA City: 14
EPA Highway: 23
EPA Combined: 17
Cargo Space: 16 grocery bags
Child Seat Fitment, Second Row: Good
Estimated Combined Range: 325 miles
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: Below Average