I’ve always associated SRT with large displacement engines, tire smoke, and quarter mile times. And in many respects, that’s a pretty accurate assessment. Street & Racing Technology is so named because that’s what goes into these cars. I, however, was under the impression that, despite this, they were useless when it came to handling. I was wrong.
For 2012, SRT is now a unique brand within Chrysler. As we saw first hand at the New York International Auto Show, they’ve selected four models to get a 6.4L Hemi transplant. The Dodge Challenger and Charger, Chrysler 300, and the Jeep Grand Cherokee can all be ordered as 470 hp and 470 ft-lb torque SRT8s. The Jeep stands unique as the only SRT available in an all-wheel-drive platform. But you knew this already. What you don’t know is how these new cars behave on a track. The SRT Track Experience offers you the ability to experience all four vehicles in a safe, yet insanely fun, manner. We traveled down to Old Bridge Township Raceway Park to experience how Street & Racing Technology held up – when we were racing.
The SRT Track Experience isn’t a high-performance driving course. Nor do you actually partake in an actual race. However, the instructor-led hot laps and competitive autocross events make you forget all that. The course is free if you buy an SRT vehicle, but costs $500 individually. It’s the best value manufacturer track day we know of. The day starts out early with a catered breakfast and some basic driver information. The morning session begins with instructor-led hot laps. Essentially, there are three of each SRT model. The instructor drives the lead car and two participants play follow-the-leader. We quickly realized that mastering such a technical track wouldn’t be possible without the well-placed cones and the instructor’s racing line. The participants rotate through each model, getting an understanding for the unique characteristics of each. Before you know it, its time to move onto the timed autocross event. This may be the most maddening experience of the entire day. Each participant gets two runs in the Challenger SRT8 and one run in the Grand Cherokee SRT8. Its rather difficult to be smooth with 470 hp lurking under your right foot. Many cones were harmed in the interest of saving fractions of seconds. The fastest driver is awarded the coveted Autocross Cone. After a catered lunch, its back out to the autocross course again. This time, participants face off head-to-head in a combination drag race and autocross course. We couldn’t let this opportunity pass without pitting one editor against another, so we signed up to go head-to-head in the Chrysler 300 SRT8. What followed was an entirely friendly and non-competitive-in-any-way demonstration of driving skill.
Once a single driver wins the tournament face-off (both of us went 2-2), its time to head back to the track. This time, the instructors kick it up a notch. They go faster and brake later than before. This was really when each car began to differentiate itself. More on that later. Finally, the last event of the day is an instructor hot lap. You get paired up with a professional racing driver, buckled into the passenger seat, and taken on two laps of the track at speeds and angles that you couldn’t imagine. It also makes you appreciate all those extra grab-handles that manufactures put in the cabin…and the helmet they provided.
As mentioned before, each SRT model has a unique personality, which gives each its own purpose. The Challenger SRT8 is a monster on the drag strip. It even dances well on the autocross course. However, its weight tends to get the better of it under heavy braking and in tight corners. It doesn’t make the ideal track vehicle, unless that track is a drag strip. The Grand Cherokee SRT8 surprises you with its grip and balance. The real shocker is how fast it stops, aided by 6 piston Brembo front calipers. It performed admirably, but the body roll associated with its ride height left us feeling less confident than the other cars. The distinction between the Chrysler 300 SRT and the Dodge Charger SRT8 lies in where you plan on using it. The 300 SRT8 is a comfortable and luxurious place to be. It makes all the same noises and accelerates just as well as its Dodge counterpart. The SRT Track Experience utilizes the Charger SRT8 Super Bee, which is a lesser-optioned platform. It’s all you need on the track, but it lacks the extra creature comforts of the 300 SRT8. I’d take the Super Bee for the track day, but I’d want to ride home in the 300. Our unnamed professional racing driver (no, not THAT professional racing driver) agreed with my assessment.
I admit. I was wrong. The new SRT lineup still has plenty of power – the traditional cornerstone of the muscle car. However, they genuinely surprised me with their ability to handle, both on the track and on the autocross course. They aren’t the tail-happy fishtailing muscle cars of old, unless you want them to be. This brings me to my last point, the T in SRT. We were instructed to keep each car’s traction control system in “Auto” to prevent us from making fools of ourselves. Unlike most other systems we’ve experienced, this Automatic mode allows much more fun. Launching off the line brings a few seconds of wheel spin. Early throttle application in the corner will step the rear end out. These the the kinds of responses that an enthusiast wants from a car. However, the system is always watching. It keeps you on the track and, most of the time at least, out of the cones. SRT has nailed that balance.
All-in-all, we’d like to thank SRT for having us for the Track Experience. You leave feeling more confident in your car control abilities at speed. This might pose a problem on a long highway journey home. Don’t say we didn’t warn you. Besides, for $500 you may go even further next year, if/when the SRT Track Experience gets its own personal fleet of new SRT Vipers.