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Fire up any vehicle that breaks the 400 hp threshold — no matter who makes it — and you know you're in for a hoot. But it takes more than an engine tuned by ADD cases to create a car that's truly exciting — one that makes cartoon wolves turn and whistle as it lopes by; one that morphs the schlub behind the wheel into Steve McQueen. You guessed it. The Dodge Charger SRT-8 is most definitely that type of a car.

The SRT8 continues the Chrysler Street & Racing Technology group's charter of Hemifying — and in some cases, Hemifying plus some more umph — Dodge, Jeep and Chrysler work product. In the case of the Charger, the SRT8's 6.1-liter Hemi provides 85 hp over the already potent 5.7-liter version found in the R/T, giving it more power per liter than the 426 street Hemi of yore. We clocked a zero-to-60 time of 5.4 seconds, which was in range of the company's own low-end-of-five-seconds estimate.

This image was lost some time after publication, but you can still view it here.

But if the SRT8 were merely a Dodge sedan hooked to a liquid-fueled rocket booster, it'd be a burdensome and dangerous beast — considering its curb-weight of 4,160 pounds and 16' length. The SRT team addressed the various forces that act on large, pushed-to-the-limit hardware with a few choice upgrades: four-piston aluminum Brembos to counter the go with plenty of whoa (they pull the SRT8 to a stop from 60 mph in just 115 feet) and copious rubber to meet the road, in a set of Goodyear 255/45 R20s that wrap around 20" custom aluminum rims. There's also an intrusive nanny to take the wheel in cases of overzealousness, but unlike its 300C SRT8 cousin, the stability and traction-control can be switched completely off. (Can you say burnouts for days?) Nonetheless, the extra help comes in handy during spots of bad weather, when the rear-wheel-drive SRT8 insists on sliding from right to left and back on application of any gas despite merely attempting to track a straight line.

This image was lost some time after publication.

But as I mentioned, performance alone can only excite so much. Although the standard Chargers are menacing n' mean-looking, the SRT8's looks are on par with Hemi-powered Dodges of old. It's big, brawny, and with the additional hood scoop, front styling, rear spoiler and the oh-god-I-want-it engine roar, the test model looks — and sounds like — it deserves all of the extra power.


UPDATE: We've asked Gizmodo to post the gadget side of the review, so check that out here.]

[By Ray Wert]