The moment I saw the 300C SRT8 I knew I'd got it wrong.
I needed ropes of gold, rows of rings, long, red crocodile-skin boots. With high heels. In other words, I needed bling.
For surely this car is over the top, with its massive dished wheels, its low, mean stance and its in-your-face attitude.
The standard 300C has presence, but once it spent some time with the SRT team it finally got the brash performance persona that even the 5.7-litre V8 couldn't impart.
SRT? That's the Street and Racing Technology team, formed in 2002 and based in Detroit. It's worked its magic on a few cars over the years - most notably for New Zealanders the Crossfire, giving that car the meat in its muscle.
Chrysler NZ would like SRT to earn HSV levels of recognition. This car says it could.
For SRT doesn't just bore out the engine and bung on some bling wheels. The aim is for all-round performance enhancements, so SRT also works on ride and handling, braking, exterior and interior tweaks and, in this car, the sound system.
Thus the Bilstein suspension with a unique front offset to accommodate the deep dish wheels and their lower-profile tyres (which won't fit the standard car). The set-up gets tuned dampers, different spring rates and suspension bushings, and larger-diameter anti-sway bars. It also drops ride height by 38mm, and aims for a far more positive feel and better damping.There are Brembo brakes, with four-pot front callipers clamping 360mm vented discs, and four-pot rears on 350mm discs.
They're allied to functional front air dams that funnel more cool air to the brakes - Chrysler expects a 100 to zero braking distance of 34 metres, not bad at all if achieved by a 1888kg car.
There's an upgraded electronic range control for the five-speed auto that leaves you in full control in manual mode - it'll hold whatever gear you choose, even when the engine's hammering against the rev imiter.
There's the ESP that can be completely switched off - no lingering electronic leash here. If you want to spin the wheels you can spin them from here to kingdom come. There are dual sports exhausts, a bootlid spoiler, changes to instruments and trim - and a 13-speaker Kicker audio system with a 322-watt amplifier and a 100-watt subwoofer tucked into the boot wall.
And there's that engine. SRT bored the 5.7-litre unit out to 6.1 litres. The compression ratio's up from 9.6:1 to 10.3:1 and breathing's improved via a range of measures, including higher-flow cylinder heads and specially designed intake manifold and exhaust headers.
More performance-oriented camshaft profiles also enhance airflow - the list goes on.
The result is a boost in power, delivered higher up the scale - the 317kW peak is achieved at 6000rpm, the stonking 569Nm of torque at 4800rpm.
Strangely, despite the de-chromed exterior, despite the car's presence, hugging the road, the massive wheels catching the low, Nelson sun, it's not as obvious a car as you'd expect. There are none of the rather tacky HSV-style extrusions. It's the difference between an assassin - dangerous, but no need to advertise - and a hoodlum, plenty of show, but does she go?
Start her up and you know there's a V8 under there, but it's not until you point her at the open road and plant your boot that you really know the answer. And it's oh, man, does she go. Floor it and there's a mighty roar from up front, a curling tidal wave of sound, and suddenly you're at the helm of two tonnes of rip-snorting metal - an unstoppable charging rhino of a car.
At cruising speed it's quiet enough not to ruffle the fussiest mother-in-law, but boot it and you certainly know where the work has gone. At 100km/h in third there's only 3000rpm on the dial. At 100km/h in second you've hit the mother-lode, the needle nudging 5000 and an avalanche of torque pouring on to the road.
Then you come to a corner. I'd like to say the SRT8 carves incisively round, but it's not really like that. Yes, the SRT8 offers more body control than the standard car. It is stiffer, there is more feel and the damping is more controlled.
But this is still a big beast and yes, you are aware of it. Tackle one of NZ's tighter, gnarlier roads and you won't be switching that ESP off. You will scrabble round far faster than the standard car, but you will have a few moments.
Frankly I don't think buyers will mind. SRT isn't selling a sports car - it's not trying to tell you the thing's nimble. It's selling performance, and there's plenty of that on offer - though accessing it without attracting unwanted police attention might be another matter. You will develop a tendency to slow down, then boot it; slow down, then boot it just for the pleasure of the noise, the feel of sheer unstoppable momentum - a driving style not friendly to fuel consumption but one that'll let you keep you your licence. Fuel consumption? There's none of the cylinder-cutting tech of the standard eight-cylinder car. This is not a vehicle you buy to be careful.
Down sides? Not many. There's a tad more road noise from the tyres, but you're not making the comfort compromises of an HSV - the standard car was plush, this one's firm rather than hard.
Interior tweaks are subtle. It's still a handsome, reasonably well-appointed place to be, though as a shortie the lack of reach adjust to the steering wheel still jars - partly because the rest of the interior seems so well thought-out.
Buyers who want tyre-shredding, tarmac-melting torque allied to the sort of visual and aural presence that normally demands bigger dollars than this car's $82,900 asking price will have to be prepared to wait. Up to a year, at present - though the factory's ramping up, and Chrysler hopes to have that time down to two months by October this year.
Chrysler 300C SRT8 specifications.
Engine. 6059cc 90-degree liquid-cooled V8. Maxiumum power, 317kW at 6000rpm. Peak torque, 569Nm at 4800rpm.
Transmission. Rear-wheel drive. Five-speed adaptive automatic gearbox with performance-tuned manual control.
Wheels. 20-inch forged polished aluminium.
Tyres. Front, P245/45 R20 tyres. Rear,255/45 R20.
Fuel economy: 14 litres/100km (Chrysler figures).
Dimensions.Length, 5015mm. Width, 1880mm. Height, 1462mm. Wheelbase, 3030mm.