This is particularly aggravating because pre-facelift SRT8s, back when they had the 6.1-liter 425hp unit, looked just fine at the front – as does every other current model Charger. The current R/T (ABOVE), for example, looks like a mean, nimble middle-weight boxer compared to the glammed up, muscle-bound WWE wrestler styling of the SRT8.
And to be honest, this less-powerful brother is the SRT8's biggest problem. While the 6.4-liter/392 cu.in. SRT8 has 470hp and 470lb-ft of torque (just like the 300 SRT8), the 5.7-liter Hemi of the R/T model produces a more than adequate 370hp at 5250rpm (a useful 750rpm lower than the 392cu.in unit) , it's more economical (although all Hemi-powered cars have fuel-saver technology which cuts four cylinders while cruising), and it's a more benign companion.
For example, on a long incline, the throttle pedal travel is long enough that it gives you a choice of whether to kick down and drop a cog, or use the engine's 395lb-ft to tow you up, whereas an SRT8 is all too ready to drop to fourth. This, too, doubtless contributes to the fact that the R/T is more economical than its official 16/25 city/highway figure suggests, whereas the government gas-mileage estimates for the SRT8 Charger and 300 – 14/23 – seem about right.
All of them are let down by the clunky 5-speed automatic transmission. If, as rumored, Chrysler/Dodge are due to drop their 8-speed into the Hemi-powered cars next year, it can't come soon enough. The SRT8 engined cars currently suffer most. Under flat-out acceleration – fully auto or using the paddle shifters – the gearchanges are short-ish but jerky – inevitable when the power is supplied at 6000rpm and there's such a gap between ratios compared with the relative seamlessness of modern 8-speed autos. Changing down using the paddle shifters – using engine braking – is also far from smooth. This is unfortunate because the Chrysler's braking distance is startlingly short given its size. Again, though, the R/T is smoother than both.
Between the Chargers, then, there is no contest. Our test cars were $10k apart, (they're $15k apart on base price) but unless you need the SRT8's 100 extra horsepower, the ability to go from 0-60 in 4.5 rather than 5.5 seconds, and the “look at me” styling, save your money. A Charger R/T is one of the great bargains on sale in the U.S. today – swift in a straight line, faithful handling, good accommodation for four tall adults, good trunk space, and an ability to switch between cruiser and bruiser according to the driver's mood. With new transmission, it would make a compelling case even against most GTs of similar price. The R/T's base price is $29,995, but even adding the “29R” package – check out the Dodge website for the full list of goodies – and Super Track Pack should keep it under $35k, still around $12k less than the SRT8.
The Chrysler 300 SRT8 has a greater breadth of ability than the Charger with the same engine – it's less frenetic and more opulent. Yes, its handling is more ponderous, too, but it communicates to you more convincingly, gives you a chance to be involved, warns you in advance where its limit is, and therefore allows you to play a little. Pressing on in the Charger SRT8 with traction control off, it felt like I was getting ready to catch it; with the 300's slightly better steering and more instinctual throttle behavior, I was happy to provoke it. I'd also be willing to bet that a driver of average ability like myself could lap a wet track faster in a 300 SRT8 than a Charger SRT8. Considering their identical mechanicals and their near-identical prices ($45-47k), it's therefore an easy win for the also far more handsome Chrysler. It's a fun beast that can take your GoPro down the dragstrip or take your grandmother to church.
But it's the Charger R/T, I'm sure, that will be on my shortlist when it's time to change my own car.