The huge V8 fills my ears. Branches whip close. I come over a rise and there it is again — that little white box of a BMW howling and squealing and clipping into the next turn. I'm in one of the biggest, beefiest cars on sale and I'm chasing one of the most nimble cars in recent memory. Makes sense, right?
The Chrysler 300 SRT is as big and as comfortable and as overpowered as you imagine. That much is obvious. The question I took a day of my weekend for is if can it hang on a twisty, narrow backroad with a caged BMW E30 M3.
I had the SRT on loan from Chrysler because I never got to do burnouts in high school and I wanted to do burnouts so I asked them for a car that could do burnouts and then I did burnouts.
Did I mention burnouts?
Alright, so it's not a surprise that the SRT does burnouts. It has 470 horsepower, 470 pound-feet of torque, rear-wheel drive, and very easily-disabled traction control (press and hold the button at a stoplight until you hear the beep).
The thing is, I called up my friend Jon Harper to take pictures of me doing burnouts and he showed up in the Classic Car Club of Manhattan's BMW E30 M3.
The BMW is done in the absolute track nut spec — stripped, caged, and complete with red five-point seatbelts. It's so loud you can hear it long before you see it, it shudders over broken pavement, and it takes five minutes to get inside and belted up. The thing is the very expression of a driver's car.
We kind of had to hit some backroads.
So this made for an impromptu test: in terms of artful precision driving refinement, the E30 M3 is a macchiato and the Chrysler SRT is an unopened can of Chef Boyardee thrown at your face. Sure the Chrysler could play the part of a muscle car, but could it hang with one of the modern era's best enthusiast cars on a cresting, winding, biting two-lane?
The thing is, the 300 is not a spry vehicle. It weighs in at not much under 4,400 pounds. Chrysler builds these things in Canada by melting together two Abrams tanks into a car-shaped mold.
And I was made very aware of this weight when pressed through a bend and over a crest. The four huge tires only just held the car from surging over and off the pavement. The mass of the car had very much wanted to keep going one way, while I had needed it to go the other.
The road bowed out into a short, recessed straight before climbing up again into another turn-over-brow.
I saw the E30 starting up the rise. The Chrysler took a beat to settle and I squeezed on the gas.
There are some cars that are too fast for roads like this. Cars like the Nissan GT-R don't accelerate when you get on the gas, they abruptly teleport you further down the road. It's fun for a few turns, but after a couple of runs you almost wish the car had less power. Cars like that are brutal, and visions of a speeding ticket with jail time stapled to the back takes a lot of the joy out of that experience. As do moments like this.
The SRT does not have that kind of violence. As the E30 blats up the hill, a wave of V8 roar breaks behind me, and the trees blur, and it almost feels like I'm caught in undertow. I'm hauling up so close to the E30's bumper I have to get on the brakes.
The 6.4 liter SRT goes right past the margin of too much power for a road this narrow. Even second gear (out of the Chrysler's five) has more speed than you want a cop seeing you doing, but that doesn't really describe the performance. Give it an empty parking lot and the SRT will whip donuts all day. Pull out of an intersection with too eager a dip on the gas pedal and it will want to throw you across two lanes, the back end turned to liquid. Put it on rough, rolling turns in the country, you have to watch yourself very carefully.
What starts out feeling like understeer can very easily turn into a tank slapper spin if you don't treat the car's weight and power with respect.
But the Chrysler never falls apart, even with its momentum and its power. The steering isn't light or nervous or communicative or agile, but it is direct, and there's no kind of slop you expect in something over sixteen and a half feet long.
Jon and I ran one road after another. He knew which blind turns tightened and which ones opened up and I had the grip to follow him through them. The big Chrysler just kept cutting through the asphalt, braking and roaring away.
The roads were virtually empty, but we eventually came upon a Camry dawdling at barely the speed limit. Jon backed off to build up a gap and some kind of spirit in the Chrysler took over me. I dropped down a gear or two and put my foot to the floor. The whole car settled down and slipped loose, gliding for a moment of tire smoke and opposite lock.
You see, I was surprised that the 300 turned out to be a capable car. I figured it would trip over itself, but it didn't and that was admirable.
What was even more surprising was just how enjoyable the car turned out to be — just composed enough to handle some of New York's best/worst roads and just overpowered enough to play past the limits of traction. It wasn't just fun to hustle on those old park byways in spite of how it handled; it was fun to hustle because of how it handled.
We reached the Taconic Parkway and where Jon turned north, I turned south back towards Manhattan. The Chrysler relaxed into a quiet, comfortable cruise towards the city. It spent the next day ferrying friends through traffic without any kind of trouble at all.
I get a little sad, knowing that this particular car will probably never even see a single back country road again. It's likely going to send the rest of its days cruising through suburbia and along the interstate, broken up with a drag race or two if it's lucky.
But I'll know that it can cut it out there, on the gnarliest backroads you can find, and feel fucking hilarious doing it.
Photo Credits: Jon Harper for all of the shots of me mid-burnout, Raphael Orlove for all other pictures