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Auto Test Drives

Dodge Charger SRT8: Meanest of the Mean Street Machines
By Andrew Gardner; photos by the author & WLT
Jul 17, 2006, 22:00 PST
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Check out the beastly Charger SRT8 in action by viewing the video at the bottom of this page!



How much difference can 400 cubic centimeters make? If you were thirsty, and somebody gave you 400 cc's of water, would you be satisfied? NO.

Maybe that's not a fair statement relative to where we're going. Let's say you are really really thirsty. You have been out in a desert running, and now you need something to drink. Let's say you are really big, like around two tons. If you have had 5700 cc's of water and you are still pretty thirsty, is another 400cc's gonna do it for you? Probably not. You would expect it to somewhat satiate your thirst, but then you would most certainly want more. That's just another drop in the bucket on a relative scale, not even a 10 percent increase in volume.



Let's get a little closer to home. Let's say you are a performance enthusiast and you want to get a lot more out of your somewhat heavy car. This car is a great car, a fun to drive car, a strong accelerator. But it's not the serious performance machine you were looking for. Your buddy has an M5, and that hit the spot, but there's no way you can shell out the cash for a new or even low miles car. You are offered an increase of 400 cubic centimeters in engine displacement from your current car. Do you think that's going to satisfy you?



It will. You will love it, lots and bundles. The SRT-8 Charger takes the 350 horse, 390 lb-ft 5.7-liter HEMI V8 and bumps it up to a 420 horse, 420 lb-ft 6.1L beast. Let's accentuate that word. There are only 30 extra pound feet of torque. That's great, but it doesn't usually turn a running back into an offensive lineman. Higher horsepower means that the torque increase was especially effective at higher rpm. But goodness gracious great tires on fire this SRT-8 pulls so strongly off the line you won't stop grinning for weeks. That a 4000 pound sedan with an affordable price tag can behave in such a way is a marvelous thing.

The tip in of the throttle brings about a nasty, nasty snarl, and this hunkered down heavy chassis just explodes off the line too quickly for any image of a family sedan to stay clung to the sheet metal sides. The sound and the feel of such raw power is alien even to the impressive HEMI Charger R/T, just a ferociously refreshing automotive experience. Acceleration at any low speed up to well past highway speed is just beyond evn a normal affordable sports car. Anything in this price range that is not a Corvette or Shelby GT500 will be left with their front fascias dragging on the ground in awe.



Well, ok, the numbers don't necessarily support that, but a Honda S2000 sure doesn't feel nearly this fast. Some of the trick here is electronic throttle control. This wonderful device allows you a great non-linearity that you never really new with a purely mechanical throttle. Depending on how the calibration engineers want it, a light tap of the throttle could either mean a hiccup or an immediate jump into wide open throttle mode which leaves the rear tires wandering aimlessly through billowing smoke in search of grip. The Charger R/T had great throttle response, adding a slight magnification effect to the 5.7liter motor's impressive force output; we'd give the throttle tuning an easy 9-ish out of 10.



The SRT8 takes it to eleven. You can be smooth about your driving as your foot may command, but prod that throttle and it will jump. She just gets on up and goes like nobody's business.

Now, to step back out of this author's world for a moment and to enter in the perspective of one with the experience of original HEMI power, this is no 427 HEMI. The shear limit of cubic inches does make it harder to get instantaneous torque, so the in your face punchiness in this motor will remain legendary but may still be overshadowed by itrs forebearers. There is no replacement for displacement (except forced induction and, well, volume matters in those big air compressors so that really just adds to the theory, in a different way), btu Chrysler engineers have utilized every normally aspirated electroncially throttled skill they have to make this one very amazing machine.



The only thing they didn't do was to drop in a manual transmission. It was probably smart from a numbers standpoint, because there is definitely a market for people who just want to put it in drive and stomp on it, but you lose the enthusiast respect...that's why there's a Viper anyway.

The SRT8's automatic transmission is perfectly tuned to suit its master, as it can be somewhat smooth, about an 85 percent on a relative scale including cars $20k-30k more expensive - but it responds with wonderfully quick, sharp shifts. The lack of smoothness under medium acceleration couples with the exhaust note to amplify what you already feel from sheer torque and marvelous throttle response. The Shifts needn't be any quicker, and yet they are never seriously jarring; this is about as aggressive a transmission as we've driven, mroe favorable even than the Corvette's long-lived four speed automatic.

The ride package of this beast is also perfectly tuned for what this car needs. The ride is rough, even surprisingly so, but in a goo way. As 400cc's seems to have done way more than we expected, so the suspension has turned the driving experience of a fun Charger into a serious performer. At low speeds, the car is "unqiuet", it's "noisiness" being the happy communication of road surface features on roads where even the Charger would feel smooth; if the Charger R/T was a very sensitive finger running over a record's surface, the Charger is an easy third of the way to being a fully racebred sedan, which we might equivalate to a properly tuned record needle. At an accelerated rate, The SRT8 rocks, transmitting higher frequency sensations as it quickly negotiates moderate bumps. Traveling at approximately 80-plus mph, it was not difficult to find the occasional freeway bump that could lift my 150-pound body at the crest of the bump the necessary 2 or 3 inches to get my head somewhat firmly in contact with the ceiling - quite entertaining, and yes I had my seatbelt on as always.



When put to the test, the steering responds wonderfully, being nicely weighted, enough to turn off the faint-hearted driver if everything else hadn't already. The response is wonderful, sharp if not racy or darty, eager to bite into the change of direction. The transitional roll was moderate in amplitude and quickly handled, and the set was marvelously strong. Corners were handled with much aplomb, with quick transitions being an impressive clinic in how to move 4000 pounds quickly and gracefully. Long sweeping bends are a maervelous opportunity to explore good though not rock solid stability, quite fine sensitivity to throttle input, and great grip. The seat adjustability could allow for a bit lower positioning so you feel less on top of the car, but is nonetheless good for a sports sedan. The suspension could perhaps be a bit more supple without really losing aggressiveness, but the car is extremely well tuned as is. The SRT8 is a ferocious driving package, and we probably wouldn't change a blessed thing. Except of course to add more power, because as a great man once said something to the effect of if you can leave black streaks from the exit of one corner to the braking point of the next, then you have enough power.



And, which is more, you'll be a man, my son. Oh, wait, I'm mixing my race car drivers. Or poets. Or, whatever. The point is, The SRT8 rocks. It is not in a league of its own, except when you consider that it is expensive relative to the new M5 as a pair of legs and arms makes a human. With a base MSRP some $15,000 less than a Cadillac CTS-V and a powertrain that gets you there quicker, you might question why there's another car in the market that tries to compete. Well, a day at the track may not leave the bragging rights in Auburn Hills, but from a practical consumer point of view, well, the SRT8 rocks. Get it? Get one.



















Click the following links to view the video clips:


The Dodge Charger SRT8 manuevers through a broad chicane:


The Charger SRT8 negotiates a sweeping left-hander:


The Charger SRT8 does a minor demonstration of its impressive braking capability:


A test drive of this car wouldn't be complete without laying at list a little patch of scratch:


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