Mini Comparison: 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 And 2012 Dodge Charger SRT8

By Brandon Turkus

December 21, 2011

—Ypsilanti, Michigan
No, the image at top wasn’t photoshopped. Chrysler really gave us a Charger SRT8 and 300 SRT8, and yes, it was just as awesome as it looks. We spent a week with both cars to try and figure out just what Chrysler has done with two of its newest SRT products, and to suss out what make someone pick one over the other.
What we came away with was two driving experiences that are eerily similar, despite the cars having overall characters that truly do set them apart.
These Two Things Are Alike
The heart of any SRT product is the engine, in this case a 6.4-liter Hemi V-8, with 470 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque. This isn’t like the high-revving mills in the BMW M3 and Ford Mustang. Rather, this one is old-school, producing a deep, muted baritone note and lots of power in the low and middle parts of the rev range. With a 6400-rpm redline, this engine likes lower revs. High-end shove could be a bit better, though, as both cars feel a bit out of breath at the engine’s upper reaches.
Part of the fun of driving these big-engined vehicles is the feeling of power you get when you mash the throttle. Despite the colder weather, the tires (summers at that) hooked up without much trouble. In fact, during our time with both cars, grip was rarely an issue, even under wide-open throttle. What really struck us, besides the accelerative force on a WOT run, was just how usable the power in the SRTs was. Even with a 6000-rpm horsepower peak and a 4300-rpm torque peak, there’s so much juice in the lower part of the rev range, that both the Charger and 300 are very easy to drive around town.
Shifting in both cars was handled by a five-speed automatic that, while adequate, could stand to be upgraded (or better yet, give us a manual transmission). Shifts were fast enough, although hardly dual-clutch-like in their execution. (We enjoy the little blurps on upshifts when driving four-pot DSGs, and we can only imagine what it would sound like when piloting this beast.) The shift paddles were a much-needed addition, giving us a sense of control over the five-speed auto. The transmission felt noticeably better when we were handling all the shifting, as shifts felt better-timed and slightly faster.
Both cars make use of an adaptive damper system as part of their SRT-tuned suspensions. The ADS monitors road conditions to deliver optimum damping settings. Part of the ADS is a Sport mode (which is, annoyingly, buried in the touchscreen display), which kicks the ADS into overdrive. Without Sport mode, both cars displayed body roll, squat, and dive in greater quantities, while still coming on progressively. Switching to Sport limited body motions, which delivered more confidence in the corners. The downside was that we derived a lot of feedback from the way the body moved, and losing it to the Sport mode forced us to rely on the uncommunicative steering even more. Before too long, we just ended up leaving Sport mode off, and letting the ADS figure things out.
As we said, both SRT8s suffered from the same uncommunicative and light steering that we’ve observed in the V-6 Charger and Charger R/T. What little weight there is, builds progressively as we turned the wheel, but it could stand to be heavier across the range. On-center responsiveness was slightly better on the Dodge, which we suspect was tuned a bit more aggressively.
We loved the leather-wrapped, flat-bottomed steering wheel in both cabins. It looked simply excellent, felt good in the hand, and had the paddle shifters in just the right place. The SRT-spec seats (a long-time favorite in all SRT models) are just as good here. Heating and cooling features are standard as well. There is plenty of support and bolstering, making it easy to get situated for hard driving or just a day of cruising.
These Two Things Feel Different
Setting the nearly twinned driving characters aside fro a moment, we found that the Mopar non-twins deliver two very different interpretations of the cabin experience. Hop in the Dodge, and it quickly becomes clear that the styling is aimed more at the weekend-racer type, than the Q-ship seeking 300 driver. To start, the SRT seats that we love so much have been executed in a red leather so bright that to call it “bold” would be to severely undersell the case. There are hookers in hell that would blush at this color. Interestingly though, and perhaps speaking to the boldness of the cabin design from the get, the rest of the Charger interior is pretty standard stuff for the model. This combination leads to a very weekend-racer vibe, and is worlds less plush than the Chrysler.  
The 300 meanwhile, features some more extensive changes. Here the upholstery is done in a far tamer, subtler black suede, which seemed to match the white/black monochromatism of the exterior of our test car. We weren’t immediately enamored of the rather liberal sprinkling carbon-fiber trim—especially considering a few pieces were badly fitted—but it did serve to push forward the high-performance theme. With CF all down the center stack, along the dash line, and in the door the Chrysler truthfully feels more like a bespoke model. Whether it’s because of the slightly lusher interior or a bit more sound-deadening material, we aren’t sure, but the 300 did seem to be more of a silent killer than the Charger, too. Though neither car was loud, by a long sight.
That both cars we drove were painted white, Bright White Clear Coat to be exact, served to highlight the sort of radically different image your choosing when you pick Dodge or Chrysler, despite the cars being functionally very alike. While both Mopars can lay claim to exterior styling that we’d have no problem labeling something like “Bold American,” we’d posit that buyers who love one design, might not particularly care for the other. Chrysler, as befits its image, takes the more traditional route, with big chrome wheels and less fussy lines somewhat augmenting the non-standard choice of a blacked out grille for the 300’s familiar face. Dodge on the other hand has clearly been watching more NASCAR, with the SRT8 Charger looking far racier in its huge, smoked wheels and gulping front fascia.
Ask three members of the Winding Road staff which SRT8 looks better and why, and you’re liable to get three different answers. So, while we think both cars are fairly fetching, in a brutal, over-the-top way, we don’t expect there do be much consensus on which is the belle of the ball.
In the end, and if you need an SRT in your life, you’ll be faced with a tough decision. The Dodge starts about $1500 cheaper than the Chrysler, yet both cars can be optioned out in a very similar way, so price is hardly an issue. Attitude, the way you self-identify, and your own perception of the two brands (no doubt weirdly conceived because of personal history, like ours) will color your choice far more than a test drive should. Both of these things make a strong statement; both are fast as hell; and we expect that one is just your cup of muscle-sedan tea.  
2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8
Engine: V-8, 6.4 liters, 16v
Output: 470 hp/470 lb-ft
Weight: 4365 lb
Fuel Economy, City/Hwy: 14/23 mpg
Base Price: $47,170
As Tested: $55,635
2012 Dodge Charger SRT8
Engine: V-8, 6.4 liters, 16v
Output: 470 hp/470 lb-ft
Weight: 4365 lb
Fuel Economy, City/Hwy: 14/23 mpg
Base Price: $45,795
As Tested: $49,310