2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 (© Rod Hatfield)

2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8

Nothing about the Chrysler 300's steel-slab design screams versatility. But at the 2011 New York International Auto Show, Chrysler unveiled three new versions of its flagship luxury sedan, designed to reel in a wide variety of potential buyers.

With its lux leather and wood interior and tight mesh front grille, the 300C Executive aims for a baby Bentley look, and a correspondingly older demographic. The 300S skews younger, with a 12-channel audio system tuned by Dr. Dre, and red leather seats stamped with a superheroic "S." Finally, the SRT8's high-performance engine and race-inspired handling and stylistic touches cut across age lines, appealing to speed addicts of all stripes.

What's surprising isn't that Chrysler is trying to capitalize on the 300's success by repackaging it, but that something as trivial as a change of seat color and front grille pattern goes so far to differentiate each new model. Whether this strategy draws new interest, or simply overexploits a cornerstone of the Detroit automaker's comeback, the point has been made: steel slabs make for great clean slates.

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2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8

Click to enlarge picture2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 (© Rod Hatfield)

2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8

Click to enlarge picture2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 (© Rod Hatfield)

2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8

Click to enlarge picture2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 (© Rod Hatfield)

2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8

What is it? A performance-oriented take on Chrysler's flagship luxury sedan.

What makes it hot? Chrysler's Street and Racing Technology (SRT) division continues its inexorable march through the automaker's brand family, installing the same 6.4-liter HEMI V8 and precision-handling features in a 300 sedan that were shown off just a few hours earlier in the new Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8. The engine musters 465 horsepower and 465 lb-ft of torque, and it can reach 60 mph in the "high 4s," according to Chrysler, with a top speed of 175 mph, and a 60 to zero mph brake distance of 120 feet. Even if their daily commute doesn't take them through the mountaintop twisties and leaf-strewn straightaways of the average car commercial, buyers can test out these specs for themselves with a complimentary day of training at the Richard Petty Driving Experience racing school, a standard perk across all SRT vehicles.

What concerns us? Most of the SRT8's design tweaks are pitch-perfect, from the black chrome on the wheel spokes to the brick-pattern front grille and lower overall stance and fascia. The only potential misstep is a stubby little spoiler. It's a detail that wouldn't stand out on many models, but clutters the 300's razor-sharp angles and monolithic rear end.

How much and when? Chrysler hasn't announced the price of the 300 SRT8, which will be available in the third quarter of this year.

Our verdict? Unlike the Grand Cherokee SRT8, which seems to target an odd subset of self-loathing SUV owners, the 300 SRT8's marriage of size, luxury and track-worthy performance is a natural fit. Chrysler may have gone overboard with some of the racer styling, but, along with generating headlines, we expect this new 300 to generate real sales.

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Based out of the Boston area, Erik Sofge is frequent contributor to Popular Mechanics and Slate.com. He specializes in everything scientific and technical.