Chrysler’s Street and Racing Technology (SRT) brand is getting some attention this summer, unveiling four high-performance models for 2012: the Dodge Challenger SRT8 392, the Dodge Charger SRT8, the Chrysler 300C SRT8, and the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8. Each of them employs a 6.4-liter V8 SRT HEMI engine under the hood that puts out 470hp and 470 lb.ft of torque.
Not only are they fast, they’re made with super high-tech components and decked out inside with high-quality materials above and beyond what you’d find in Chrysler’s mainstream models.
Ralph Gilles, newly named as CEO of the SRT brand while keeping his post as senior VP of Product Design, says “enthusiastic engineers” are what set SRT apart.
“They eat, sleep, dream and think about ways to make cars faster, more fun and they don’t compromise,” he told me in July between laps at Willow Springs Raceway outside Los Angeles where I got to drive the SRT models.
He also said SRT engineers get excited by wanting and getting top-notch supplies for their products.
“The Brembo brakes on these cars are the same brakes you’d find on a Ferrari or a Lamborghini and you don’t get that in a normal passenger car. So that’s exciting for an engineer to be able to use these kinds of tools. And for me, too,” said Gilles, who is a racer himself, meaning that when the SRT team wants his input it’s not just as an executive, but as a driver who understands what a high-performance vehicle should do and how it should feel and look like.
I experienced some of what Gilles talked about when I drove each vehicle on and off-track. A few highlights:
The Charger SRT8 is my personal favorite because it’s all muscle like the Challenger but can function in the real world as a family car that can carry kids and groceries around. The Challenger, with its two doors, isn’t as good for that. Dodge has added a standard adaptive damping suspension (ADS) system in the 2012 model that is specifically tuned for the Charger SRT8.
The ADS system uses a wide range of on-road and driver inputs, such as vehicle speed, steering angle, steering speed, brake torque, throttle position and lateral acceleration, to automatically tune the suspension for speciﬁc conditions. It’s an outstanding ride.
What’s cool about SRT is it was birthed in order to bring the wickedly-fast Viper to life in 1991. The Viper, if you remember, was one of the first V10-powered cars in the world.
“If you go back in time, to make the Viper happen they had to hand-pick the most enthusiastic engineers in the company-the [people] they knew would put their heart and soul into these things,” says Gilles. “And it wasn’t official back then, but they used to call it SVE, Specialty Vehicle Engineering. That was the initial name of the group and that kind of club mentality stuck around. Now it’s changed names a few times and it finally settled on SRT in 2002, right before the last generation Viper was launched.”
While they haven’t announced pricing yet, preliminary numbers are floating around. Here are ballpark estimates: Challenger SRT8 392 - $45,000; Charger SRT8 - $47,000; Chrysler 300C SRT8 - $48,000 and Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 - $55,000.