Chrysler Group’s “original” 5.7L Hemi Magnum OHV V-8 launched for the’03 model year with 345 hp in the Ram pickup. For the ’04 model year, Ford Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. both launched all-new pickups, each crucial to the respective auto makers’ place in one of the U.S.’s most competitive segments.

Yet Ford and Nissan couldn’t drum up enough power with their best V-8s to even get close to the mighty Hemi – in a high-profile, high-profit segment whose buyers worship the horsepower number.

Now Chrysler’s at it again, this time flaunting its long-range planning acumen by designing the ground-breaking 300-Series sedan (and to a lesser extent, the husky Magnum station wagon on the same platform) to accept the Hemi.

Chrysler 5.7L Hemi V-8 improved for ’05 with MDS cylinder-deactivation system.

The combination is a smash hit, both playing on the other’s strengths: The 300C hit the market with immediate, hip-hop “street cred” and features the Hemi. The Hemi’s the one engine everybody wants, meanwhile, and you can get one in a 300C. Thanks in no small part to the Hemi, the 300C overshadowed virtually every other new vehicle launched in 2004. The 300C would have been cool without the Hemi. But with the Hemi, it’s a let’s-find-another-assembly-plant home run.

The 300C/Magnum application has helped stoke the Hemi fires in the face of escalating fuel prices and a growing “green” movement in the car business. In every model that offers the Hemi – an expanding list that also includes the all-new Jeep Grand Cherokee – Chrysler’s getting customers to pay extra for an unabashedly in-your-face V-8 that sucks the earth’s resources at a rate that’s egregious even by American V-8 standards. The company says the overall take rate is a giddy 46%.

Earning a spot on the Ward’s 10 Best Engines list for a third consecutive year, the Hemi is a juggernaut, seemingly better in each new application, particularly now that the 300C/Magnum and the Grand Cherokee have the cylinder-deactivating Multi-Displacement System to improve fuel economy by “up to 20%.”

The 300-Series cars would have been slapped with a gas-guzzler tax without MDS, incidentally, so spectacular is the Hemi’s thirst. So Hemi “father” and chief engineer Robert Lee – now Chrysler vice president-powertrain product team – seems particularly prescient, as his team designed the Hemi from the beginning to accommodate MDS. The system works beautifully and imperceptibly.

Ward’s 10 Best Engines judges had universal kudos for the Hemi’s 340-hp in the 300C, but more impressive is the 390 lb.-ft. (529-Nm) torque peak, a full 15 lb.-ft. (20 Nm) more even than in the Ram pickup. Rarely will you hear automotive journalists say any vehicle has enough power. The 300C has enough power.

This spring, though, the Hemi gets bigger and badder, with a 6.1L, 425-hp variant waiting for launch in the high-performance SRT8 version of the 300C. Do we need to tell you what to expect?

DaimlerChrysler
Hemi Magnum 5.7L OHV V-8
Engine type 5.7L OHV 90° V-8
Displacement (cc) 5,654
Block/head material iron/aluminum
Bore x stroke (mm) 99.5 x 90.9
Horsepower (SAE net) 340 @ 5,000 rpm
Torque 390 lb.-ft. (529 Nm) @ 4,000 rpm
Specific output 60 hp/L
Compression ratio 9.6:1
Application tested Chrysler 300C (RWD)
Fuel economy for tested vehicle (EPA city/highway mpg) 17/25

bvisnic@primediabusiness.com