Driving It Home

Racy new SRT models to boost Chrysler's image

Special to The Globe and Mail

Dodge Brand President and CEO Ralph Gilles unveiled the 2012 Charger SRT8 at the Chicago Auto Show. It features a 6.4-liter HEMI engine that delivers an estimated 465 horsepower and 465 lb.-ft. of torque, all-new paddle-shift technology and a two-mode adaptive damping suspension. (Chrysler)

Next week I plan to be on the race track at Willow Springs in California, driving three racy new 2012 SRT brand vehicles: Dodge Charger SRT8, Chrysler 300 SRT8 and Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8. The 2012 Dodge Challenger SRT8 392 will be there, too. All with the mother of all current Chrysler Group gas motors: a 6.4-litre HEMI V-8.

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Yes, it's a tough job, and I have to do it. I'll share the experience, though.

And part of that experience will be taking the measure of Ralph Gilles, newly named President and CEO of the SRT brand, as well as the former CEO of the Dodge brand (for two years) and current head of all design at Chrysler. Gilles never makes a secret of how gasoline surges through his veins. He's a good choice to run SRT. At least I think so. And he is smart and talkative and often outspoken.

The truth is, Chrysler needs to put some effort into reviving SRT as it approaches its 10th year of existence. The SRT idea always has been to "design, engineer and build benchmark American high-performance vehicles for Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge."

Now a little thing like bankruptcy got in the way of advancing the SRT cause. The revival of a lineup of SRT models suggests a growing confidence at the Chrysler Group - a willingness to chase movers and shakers and early adopters in the new vehicle market as a way to push sales and burnish Chrysler's overall image.

"We have the best chance we've ever had of conquesting some great customers here," Gilles recently told Automotive News, adding, "We know customers of the old SRTs were definitely the power seekers. They were looking for the horsepower. But the new cars offer more. The 2012s all have active suspensions. They will probably have the best sound systems we've ever put in any car."

Three questions for Gilles, a Canadian:

1. Which Chrysler models will get the SRT treatments going forward? Pickups, sedans, coupes, convertibles?

2. SRT stands for just "Street and Racing Technology which suggests powerful engines and tight suspensions. Is there anything else to the SRT brand?

3. What can we expect from the next Dodge Viper, once the flagship of the SRT brand? When will we see a new Viper?

Anything else?