Performance Car of the Year 2013: Muscle Cars – Classic MOTOR

"They do bloody good burnouts, don’t they?”

This Performance Car Of The Year article was first published in MOTOR Magazine January 2013.

Luffy shouts from the FPV GT RSpec’s driver’s seat, a pearly white smile spreading across his face. I’m in the Chrysler 300 SRT8, surrounded by a fluffy cloud of atomised Goodyear Eagle rubber, leaving two black lines on the surface of Sydney Dragway that even Victor Bray would be proud of.

2012-Chrysler-300-SRT8-rear.jpgIn typical Luff style, he’s cut straight to the chase. These bruisers are definitely performance cars, but over and above that, they’re muscle cars from the classic mould. It’s heavy-hitting Detroit iron, and rear-wheel drive, all the way with this imposing pair; V8 thumpers, derived from relatively humble sedan origins, to bring grunt to the masses.

The Chrysler, with its handy $66k base price, could be straight off the set of The Sopranos; its thick-set, art deco-inspired design combining an aggressive, wide-track stance with more than a hint of menace. While the FPV, at $76,490, goes the heritage route, with C-stripe graphics lifted straight from the Boss 302 Mustang of late ’60s (and current) vintage.

The success of this retro cut and paste is debatable, especially in the bold, black and red combination of ‘our’ PCC example. The colour-coded rims in particular, look like they’ve come from the cheap and cheerful section of a Bob Jane catalogue.

2012-Chrysler-300-SRT8-&-2012-FPV-GT-RSPEC nw.jpgBut the quarter mile is definitely a big part of their natural habitat and both are seriously quick at the strip. Our last taste of the GT RSpec (December 2012) was confusing, because despite upgrades to suspension hardware and tune, as well as fatter rear Dunlop SP Sports, it wasn’t as quick as expected.

Zero to 100km/h in 5.0sec isn’t hanging around, but the GT proved susceptible to engine heat soak, which compromised power delivery, and the rear axle jumped around like a crazed animal, despite the inclusion of launch control, to help manage the 5.0-litre supercharged ‘Miami’ V8’s prodigious output.

This time around, with power transmitted through a six-speed auto rather than a six-speed manual and with less pronounced axle tramp, the GT stormed to 0-100km/h in 4.7sec and on to a sub-13sec 400m time. Mid-field numbers in this exalted PCC company, but the fastest times MOTOR’s ever recorded for a showroom-spec Falcon.

2012-FPV-GT-RSPEC-gauges.jpgOn the flip side, the 300 SRT8 was slower than the last time we strapped on the Driftbox. There’s a significant difference in ambient temperature, which may help to explain 0-100km/h in 5.4sec and 0-400m in 13.5, around six-tenths slower than in its December issue FPV/HSV face-off.

Away from the drama of the drag strip, these two confirm their grand touring abilities, with effortless cruising thanks to massive performance reserves. They’re less sophisticated than the high-end German muscle in this year’s PCC, and no match for the nimble BRZ or Megane in twisty going, but either is absolutely the right tool for the job of eating up highway kilometres with ease.

The Chrysler is pure Americana, and that’s not a bad thing. High levels of noise isolation and comfort, particularly its heated and ventilated front seats (even the steering wheel is heated), make life on the open-road an enjoyable experience.

2012-Chrysler-300-SRT8-interior.jpgThe Hemi’s howl is notable by its absence under four thousand revs, but arrives with gusto once the tacho swings into its upper register. There’s no doubt the SRT8 would benefit from extra ratios in its gear set, and once torque ratings are upgraded, we’re assured an eight-speed auto (as used in the V6s) will be bolted to the back of the big V8.

Even with five cogs, it’s a smooth and confident machine. After the Chrysler’s cosy embrace, the FPV’s high seating position and low steering wheel combine to make you feel like you’ve been propped up on display in a shop front window.

The GT’s bonnet bulge screams old-school muscle, and Mad Max would be right at home with the high-pitched blower whine that lifts in intensity as revs rise. The lack of steering wheel shift paddles might please purists, but it’s worth noting in manual mode the gear lever changes the ‘right’ way – back for upshifts, forward for down.

2012-FPV-GT-RSPEC-engine.jpgBody control is improved, with the GT’s characteristic front-end floatiness now a thing of the past, although the nose still dives noticeably in heavy braking. But under pressure on the circuit, this duo’s similar combination of straight line thrust and cornering lurch deliver almost identical lap times.

A full 10 seconds off the 911’s pace, and an exact match for the comparatively featherweight, 198kW Megane. The fact the Renault gives away between 12 and 20km/h in main straight v-max to the Chrysler and FPV, yet Luffy’s able to finesse 10 extra kays of corner speed out of the RS265 through Sydney Motorsport Park’s daunting Turn 1, tells a graphic story.

The Chrysler feels heavier and less nimble than the FPV and its steering isn’t as responsive; the GT turning in more sharply with snappy throttle response from the blown V8. The SRT8’s connection with the front wheels is comparatively woolly, and unfortunately the five-speed auto’s gearing is a less than perfect match for the SMSP layout.

2012-Chrysler-300-SRT8.jpgUsing the steering wheel paddles in manual mode, shifts are leisurely, and the Hemi’s throttle feels laid back after the more urgent FPV. Yet, the SRT8 holds a speed advantage over the GT through all our nominated apexes; the FPV making up ground on the straight bits.

Both tend towards mid-corner understeer, shifting to power oversteer on exit. With traction and stability aids off, how much oversteer you want is simply controlled by the right pedal. A patient, precise approach brings best lap times, because giving in to drift temptation quickly turns hot lapping into what feels like a slow-motion ice-skating session.

To compound matters, front seats that ooze comfort on the highway are found out on the track as you strain to maintain composure behind the wheel, thanks to only modest lateral support. The RSpec’s are marginally better than the Chrysler’s, but neither are within a bull’s roar of the vice-grip 911, race-ready RS5, or even the Focus ST’s chunky Recaros.

Hauling these heavyweights down from high speed is no easy task and the 100km/h to zero emergency test puts them firmly in the bottom half of the PCC pack. The 2.0-tonne SRT8 trails the field on stopping distance, giving away a full 5m to the 911. But it’s the FPV’s brake pedal that starts to feel spongy after a couple of laps in the heat of (track) battle.

2012-FPV-GT-RSPEC.jpgSo, opt for either of these two and what you see is what you get; tyre-frying torque from monstrous V8 lumps, loping highway performance, and muscle car attitude by the tonne. Despite the FPV GT’s Bathurst bloodlines, it struggles to keep its head above water (in this group) on the circuit.

For an effective track day weapon, go the Megane and save some coin. But for rocket sled acceleration, accompanied by a sledge-hammer soundtrack, start writing the cheque now. And if you want to drive across the country, and enjoy some backroads on the way, the GT RSpec could be a bit of you.

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The Chrysler SRT8 is an intimidating city cruiser, that can still go toe-to-toe with the FPV for highway eating ability. It’s fun, if a bit wild and wallowy on the track. And from the vivid blue illumination of its main instruments, to a high-shouldered gangsta design, it also offers a fresh hi-po sedan option that’s off the well-worn, FPV/HSV path.

Oh yeah, and did we mention they also do bloody good burnouts? 

FPV GT RSPEC

Overall Rank: 12
JUDGES NOTES
Andrew Maclean - 13th: “For all its supposed track focus, it’s an unwieldy beast”
Curt Dupriez - 14th: “Feels a generation too old. Not the Oz muscle car saviour I’d hoped for”
James Cleary - 12th: “Power down better, but still underdone on ergonomics and suspension tune”
Nathan Ponchard - 12th: “Better than expected, but deserves throttle-blips on downshifts”

WARREN LUFF SAYS
“It’s certainly a slight improvement over the regular GT, you can feel the improvements that they’ve made, but it’s still nose-heavy, it’s a car that if you drive it into a corner hard, you’ve just got to stay off everything and let the front gather back. The brakes are a bit disappointing, but it’s a big car – they lack feel”

CHRYSLER 300 SRT8

Overall Rank: 11
JUDGES NOTES
Andrew Maclean - 10th: “This is a muscle car par excellence, apart from its gearbox”
Curt Dupriez - 11th: “Awesome for what it is – a muscle car. But Performance Car King it isn’t”
James Cleary - 13th: “The Yanks know how to do muscle. Needs eight speeds and Jenny Craig”
Nathan Ponchard - 13th: “Nimble for such a big beast, but Jesus, please give it more gear ratios”

WARREN LUFF SAYS
“As one of the biggest cars here, the chassis on this is one of the best of the big cars, it’s so predictable, it’s so good on change of direction but the steering is just awful. It’s got no feel so it compromises the handling of the car. If you could take the steering out of the M5, and put it in this car it’d be a great thing”

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