Mopar doesn't screw around. Whether it's designing upgrades for Dodge's latest lineup of hot rods or custom-building one-off track machines, these guys know how to go fast. The most recent example of this overpowered nonsense is the SRT-4 Extreme Lightweight--the quickest and fastest front-wheel-drive car we've ever tested.
Settle down. It doesn't run a 10. Or even an 11-second quarter mile. It runs a 12.5-second e.t. at 119.2 mph. And, yes, that's very, very fast. Porsche Turbo territory. Corvette Z06 territory. And, yes, Viper territory. But it doesn't tell the whole story. The whole story is that the Lightweight has a power-to-weight ratio of 6.7 lb/hp, pulls over 1.0g on our skidpad, splits our slalom at an impressive 74.9 mph and stops from 60 mph in 109 feet. By the numbers, this is hands down the most impressive front-drive car we've ever tested. And it's American.
After our test the SRT-4 Lightweight went back to Michigan, where DaimlerChrysler engineer
In all fairness, we can't very well compare this car with 'Vettes and Vipers. It has no interior, it has no side glass in the front windows, and half of its body is made from carbon fiber. But it is a Neon. So pointing out it's as quick as the mighty V10 snake seems appropriate. For comparison, it ran 1.5 seconds quicker in the quarter mile than a stock SRT-4 we tested the same day. It also pulled .14g more on the skidpad and zipped through our 700-foot slalom 2.9 mph quicker. And from 80 mph it stopped 12 feet shorter than its stock brethren. Serious improvements.
Again, you won't catch us commuting in the Extreme Lightweight. With one Recaro racing seat, a harness and a roll cage as the only interior amenities, it's clear this car was built to impress in only one arena. And in that arena, it's staggeringly quick. On the Streets of Willow road course it had the exact same effect on our attitude about front-wheel drive as it did on its own front tires--devastation.
This much power has no place driving the front wheels of anything on a road course. Was it impressive? Absolutely. Was it fast? Unquestionably. Was it balanced and predictable? Well, not really. But it was one hell of a lot of fun. Turn the Lightweight into a corner and it responds instantly--just like you'd expect of a car with this much rubber and significant spring rates.
Trouble is, when you get into the gas at corner exit, the Lightweight cooks both its front tires so severely it refuses to change direction at the next corner. It's entertaining and terrifying all at once, really. The only hope is to balance the throttle against the brakes with your left foot at corner exit to quell the Lightweight's instant boost response and keep power delivery to the front wheels in check. Luckily, there's a set of gigantic Stoptech brakes up front to handle the task.
Keep this brake/throttle tug of war up in the 100-degree heat of the California desert for very long and the Lightweight turns itself into a hugely destructive mass of thermal and kinetic energy, But still, it's a hugely entertaining mass of energy.
Not so surprisingly, driving the Lightweight is a lot of work. Both feet are constantly busy with the pedals, your arms are fighting against 383 lb-ft of torque fed through the Quaife limited-slip differential and your neck is balancing your head against the loads created by sticky Michelins and massive power. The only saving grace is there's not much shifting required to keep the beast on boil, as the Lightweight produces a minimum of 360 lb-ft of torque between 3000 and 5000 rpm. Still, its lap time of 1:30:35 was more than 6 seconds quicker than the stock SRT could manage and was by far the quickest of the day.
When it comes to driving there's really no similarity to the stock SRT-4. The Lightweight is in its own freakishly overpowered world. The stock SRT-4 is soft, quick and relatively civilized. The brakes on the stock SRT-4 are the first component to suffer on the track. Within a few laps, the pedal softens and the rear wheels begin to hop under heavy braking. The Stoptechs on the front of the Lightweight work flawlessly, producing consistent pedal feel stop after stop.
The Lightweight has impressive ride quality for a car this hard-core, but that's where the civility ends. It's brutally fast, smells of race fuel and feels like a submarine inside. And we really mean brutally fast. It recorded among the quickest zero-to-100 times we've ever seen at 9.6 seconds--beaten only by all-wheel-drive cars.
It's this straight-line acceleration where the Lightweight really shines. Obviously, it has difficulty putting power down off the line, but once it's hooked up we can't think of anything that crushed us into the seat with such authority. It took BFGoodrich drag radials to produce the 12.5-second quarter-mile time we mentioned earlier. They were used in conjunction with the dial-a-boost set to the second setting, which is designed for use with drag radials and limits boost in first gear.
Amazingly, all that power comes from a stock SRT-4 engine and cooling system fitted with Mopar's Stage 3R upgrade and utilizing the Stage 2 turbo toys. The only other engine mod is the side-exit 2.5-inch exhaust. That's it. Get yourself a Stage 3R, some 100-octane fuel and make 369 hp to the wheels. Don't expect the rest of the Lightweight to be so easy to duplicate.
A big part of the speed here is courtesy of the unobtainable Mopar diet. A small crew of fabricators and engineers were responsible for finishing this car for the SEMA show in 2003 and had plenty of DaimlerChrysler resources at their disposal. O.E. levels of refinement are obvious in the quality of the final product. The doors, for example, look exactly like the stock doors inside and out--until you try to shut one and it doesn't have enough momentum to compress the seal and engage the lock mechanism. Body panels of this weight and quality are rare in the aftermarket.
The hood, doors, rear fascia and diffuser were all made of hand-laid and vacuum-bagged carbon fiber in the DaimlerChrysler plastics shop. So were the front fascia and splitter, which include brake duct cutouts. The decklid was hand-laid and bagged, then cooked in the autoclave at Multimatic, Inc.
The rear glass is from 3/16-inch polycarbonate also from the DaimlerChrysler plastics shop. Literally everything is gone from the interior including the seats, carpet, trim, wiring, airbags and sound deadening. In total, the weight saving is 405 pounds, shaving the total weight down to 2,495 pounds, according to DaimlerChrysler.
The suspension is all Mopar and parts-bin Dodge. Mopar Stage 3 coil-overs with 260 lb/in. springs in the front and 170 lb/in. springs in the rear suspend the Lightweight. The front anti-roll bar is a 26mm solid bar from a PT Cruiser Convertible and the rear bar is a 19mm solid bar from an export-market Neon. Michelin Pilot Sport Cup R compound tires sized 225/45ZR-17 are mounted on 17x8-inch SSR Competition wheels, and the whole mess is brought to a stop by 12.9-inch Stoptech rotors and four-piston calipers.
So what's the coolest thing about the quickest front-drive car we've ever tested? It wasn't the crazy power. It wasn't the impressive numbers. And it wasn't even the the carbon body panels. Driving the Lightweight on the street made it impressive. We made the trip from our Orange County office over the Angeles Crest Highway about 100 miles to Willow Springs Raceway without one driveability glitch.
The fact that a car can be this focused and still be driven normally is amazing. In fact, there's no reason this car couldn't have all the comforts of a real car re-installed and be driven daily. It's that good.
|2004 DODGE SRT-4 EXTREME LIGHTWEIGHT|
|Type:||Inline four, iron block, aluminum head, turbocharged and intercooled|
|External Modifications:|| Mopar Stage 3R turbo (Mitsubishi TD05HR-15GK2-10cm2), 2.5-in. side-exit exhaust w/Borla resonator, straight mid-pipe|
|Engine Management Mods:||Mopar Stage 3R ECU, 682 cc/min. injectors, Mopar 180-lph fuel pump, returnless fuel pressure regulator, Mopar Turbo Toys intercooler sprayers, dial-a-boost and 100-octane switch|
|Layout:||Front engine, front-wheel drive|
|Drivetrain Modifications:||Mopar prototype high-capacity clutch, Quaife torque-biasing differential|
|Front:||Mopar Stage 3 coil-overs, PT Cruiser 26mm solid anti-roll bar|
|Rear:||Mopar Stage 3 coil-overs, 19mm solid anti-roll bar (export Neon)|
|Front:||Stoptech four-piston calipers, 12.9-in. two-piece rotors, stainless lines |
|Rear:||Stock rotors and calipers, line-lock solenoids |
|Wheels:||17 x8-in. 35mm offset SSR Integral|
|Tires:||Road course: 225/45-17 Michelin Pilot Sport Cup, Dragstrip: 225/45-17 BFGoodrich g-Force T/A Drag Radial |
|Weight-Saving Mods:|| Carbon-fiber hood, doors, decklid, rear fascia and diffuser. 3/16-in. polycarbonate rear window, stripped interior, removed A/C compressor and condensor |
|Stock:||2900 lbs. (wet)|
|SRT-4:||2495 lbs. (wet)|
|Quarter-Mile Time:||12.5 sec.||14.0 sec.|
|Quarter-Mile Speed:||119.2 mph||101.6 mph|
|0-30 mph:||2.2 sec.||2.7 sec|
|0-60 mph:||4.7 sec.||6.0 sec.|
|0-100 mph:||9.6 sec.||14.1 sec|
|Slalom Speed (700-ft. slalom):||1.01g ||.87g|
|Lateral Grip (200-ft. skidpad):||74.9 mph||71.7 mph|
|60-0 stopping distance:||109 ft.||116 ft.|
|70-0 stopping distance:||149 ft.||156 ft.|
|80-0 stopping distance:||192 ft.||204 ft.|