Charger SRT8 vs. Chevy SS: One V8 monster reigns supreme … but which gets the crown?

Choosing between the Charger SRT8 and the brand new Chevy SS isn’t easy. They are both big aggressive V8 sedans that seem like they would be more at home in 1964 than in 2014. It’s like comparing apples and really angry oranges. But, if you are someone with around fifty grand to burn and a yen for some old fashioned V8 muscle, you need to know which is best. So, I, dear reader, have taken on this thankless task … because someone has to do it.

Both of these cars are as American as the day is long. That being said, it is December and both the Charger and the SS have foreign origins. Though today’s Charger SRT8 has been heavily modified, the platform is left over from Chrysler’s ill-fated love affair with Daimler Benz. That’s right, your big, bad American muscle car is actually a ten-year-old Mercedes E-Class.

The Chevy SS has much more recent foreign roots. In fact the SS is made in Australia, by Holden, GM’s down-under division. If you strip the frontend and interior out, you are left with the Holden Commodore, which has been the basis for the Pontiac GTO and the Pontiac G8. The Commodore cum SS might be getting on a bit but don’t let that fool you, it can hang with the new boys.

Performance

Now, I can spend time talking about brakes, steering, and suspension. Let’s be honest, though, what really matters with cars like this are the engines. Obviously, both the SRT8 and the SS have V8s – and they’re both massively impressive.

Let’s start with the SS. Its heart and soul is the mighty 6.2-liter LS3 V8 from the last Corvette. This old-school small block motor pumps out 415 horsepower and 415 thunderous torques. That can bring this giant sedan to 60 mph from a dead stop in just 5.0 seconds. That’s better than just about anything that wasn’t made in Germany.

The Charger SRT8 gets its oomph from a massive 6.4-liter HEMI V8. A hemispherical head might only have been cutting edge around the time of the Kennedy assassination but that doesn’t mean the folks at SRT haven’t gotten power out of it. The souped-up Charger puts down 470 horsepower and 470 pound feet of torque. That’s more than you get in an Audi S4. Getting the SRT crate up to 60 is dealt with in under five seconds. Just how far under depends, some outlets claim 4.3 seconds, but SRT says more like 4.8. Chances are, though, you will be too mesmerized by the sheer power of this beast to notice.

That’s a valuable lesson to take away; performance isn’t just about numbers. And that’s where the Charger SRT8 really jumps to the front. It may be an old Merc underneath but it just delivers its performance much more electrically than the SS. Everything happens with a sense of occasion, whether you are going around a corner a bit more sideways than you should, or just passing on the freeway.

Don’t get me wrong; the SS is great; It goes from practical runabout to fire breathing monster in the four inches it takes to drop the hammer on the throttle. But for all its V8 power, this Australian born muscle car just doesn’t deliver the same excitement as the SRT.

I would feel this way even if the numbers didn’t agree, but I am happy to say that math science is on my side. Not only is the SRT faster in a straight line, its put up better track numbers too.

Advantage: SRT8

The boring bits

Unfortunately, these beasts can just be living incarnations of our immature love of speed, they are also cars and they have to be practical … at least a little bit. On the face of it, these bad boys both seem like they should score some points. They are both full-sized sedans with big backseats and trunks, after all.

Things fall down for the SRT8, though. Gas mileage, as you would expect, is terrible; you get just 19 mpg. The Charger’s real problem, though, is that its lightning-like performance might be thrilling when you want it to be, but is also just as aggressive when you don’t. The harsh ride, massive noise, and dramatic throttle response are going to make for some … interesting … trips to the store.

The SS does better. It settles down to feel like just a modernized Cadillac CTS-V. In fact, since the interior is so reminiscent of the CTS-V, you can convince yourself that’s precisely where you are. You can spend all day in the SS and not get tired or rattled. It really is an all-rounder.

Unfortunately, this is only going to make the surprise pumps worse. If you thought the mileage in the SRT8 was bad, the SS is worse at 14 mpg city and 21 highway. If you buy the SS, you are going to be shoveling cash into the tank at pretty regular intervals.

The equipment is pretty comparable. On both cars, you can get a full complement of navigation and electronic toys. Neither the Dodge Uconnect nor the Chevrolet MyLink is so good that it would make you want to write home, but they both do the job.  

The prices are quite similar. If you get the spec’d-up version the SRT8 will run you just over $51,000. The SS isn’t much cheaper, but still the top-end model does run around $2,000 less than the SRT.

Still, with its more livable ride and more comfortable interior, the SS is a car that comes much closer to being practical.

Advantage: Chevy SS

What the cars say about you

The short and sweet version is that these cars make you look like you are having a bit of a midlife crisis. But, because they only in the $50,000 range, it’s much cheaper than having your midlife crisis in a Porsche 911. And that’s good because you are going to need that money for gas and tires.

The SRT8, with its more aggressive styling, is going to make you look a bit sillier, but people will be looking at you. While I normally prefer something a bit subtler, I really like the current Charger. I think that it’s a great looking beast.

The especially nice thing about the Charger SRT8 is that, while it is considerably cheaper than its full-size German rivals, people aren’t going to think you are cheap for buying it. The big 6.4-liter HEMI and the theater give it a distinctive appeal that the staid German cars just don’t match.

That being said, if you are parked in the lot of a big law firm people, passersby are going to wonder whose suing you, not if you work there.

Unfortunately, this is where the SS really falls down. The front end looks like it belongs on a big V8 muscle car, but, from there back, it just looks like some car. The same story carries over to the inside. It’s not bad, it’s just not interesting or exciting.

That might be fine for someone who wants a bit more of a refined subtle experience, but if that’s what you want, why are you getting a shout-y muscle car?

Really, the SS would be much better if it were $10,000 cheaper and had 40 fewer horsepower. Then it could be a regular everyday car, with an awesome V8. But, if that were the case, it would be competing with its cousin the Impala.

Advantage: SRT8

Finish line

These are both good cars, and the decision on which one to buy may say more about you than the cars. That being said, if it were my money, I would be buying a Charger SRT8. The Charger just offers more visual and visceral thrills. But my editor, Nick Jaynes, would rather the SS … presumably because he’s had a lobotomy.

The Charger SRT8 might be two grand more, but, I know if I owned it, I would never have to worry that someone else in another car was having more fun. That being said, I might envy the full robust size of their spinal discs.

In the Chevy SS, I don’t think I can say the same. It’s a great car, but it doesn’t deliver the same excitement as the SRT8. Besides, I do think I would tire of having to explain why my car had the same name as a particularly argumentative group of Germans.

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