Photos copyright ©2011 Zach Bowman / AOL
When the 300 first bowed in 2005, it brought a new-found element of menacing appeal to the full-size segment thanks to its high shoulder line, chopped roof and vertical grille. The design may have borrowed more than a few cues from the Bentley
stable, but buyers were more than happy to embrace the high-dollar association. For 2011, Chrysler insists the 300 is all-new from tires to taillights, though much of that same look has held on for the new generation. The company's designers have given the big beast a more mature nose with LED-trimmed projection headlamps, touches of chrome and a more subdued grille.
From the profile view, it's difficult to discern the new-generation 300 from its predecessor, though careful examination will reveal more pronounced fender arches fore and aft, as well as new detailing behind the rear wheel. The tail of the sedan has received much more aggressive updating, with a new valance that integrates smoothly into the upper and lower portions of the 300's posterior, allowing for muscular-looking exhaust outlets – even on our V6 tester. The LED taillights are both bright and beautiful at night, and although we don't mind the chrome detailing on the lamps themselves, the shiny trim along the trunk sill is a bit much.
While the 2011 Chrysler 300 may still wear its older sibling's hand-me-down skirt outside, its cockpit has benefited fully from the Pentastar's interior renaissance. A single piece, soft-touch dash stretches between both A-pillars and integrates flawlessly with the front door panels. Compared to the clunky center stack and cheap plastics of the old machine, the new cabin has been improved by several orders of magnitude. The centerpiece of the dash is the same 8.4-inch LCD touchscreen interface found elsewhere in the Chrysler lineup. As massive as it is quick, the new piece of kit puts most other infotainment systems to shame, at least in the graphics department.
The interface is a little cumbersome when it comes to actually managing mobile media players, but climate, radio and navigation settings are intuitive and blisteringly quick. Check out the Short Cut below for a quick demonstration.
In addition, the driver is treated to attractive and easy-to-read gauges highlighted by bright blue accent lighting. These pieces do much to give the cabin a much classier look compared to the white-faced gauges found on the previous generation. A new, well-sculpted leather-wrapped steering wheel has has replaced the chunky tiller of old.
Our tester arrived with black cloth seats that must have been lifted straight from the Lay-Z-Boy factory. The front buckets are ludicrously huge and envelop passengers in a loving embrace of foam and high-quality cloth that's perfect for a vehicle of this size. The rear seats afford the kind of space that only a full-size sedan can deliver, too. For quick trips, there's ample room for three full-grown adults on the back bench.
The trunk offers up a cavernous 16.3 cubic feet of cargo room, which means that there's enough storage area for everyone's luggage should you decide to pack the family in for a trip cross-country.
We were fortunate enough to sample the 2011 Chrysler 300 with the base 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 behind its headlights. In this application, the engine delivers 292 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque and is mated to the same old five-speed automatic transmission found in the previous-generation model. According to the EPA
, the 300 should see 18 miles per gallon in the city and 27 mpg highway, which fits pretty closely with the 23 mpg we saw over five days of mixed driving.
Despite the fact that the new six-cylinder weighs in with 70 fewer ponies and 134 fewer pound-feet of torque than the optional 5.7-liter V8, the V6-equipped 300 never really seems out of breath. In fact, the V6 feels pretty quick on the way to 60 miles per hour, though its torque deficit is readily apparent. As we've found in other applications, this Pentastar engine is happy to rev, making the majority of its power at a high 6,350 rpm. For buyers used to the early-pull of the big V8, the V6 may take some getting used to. Even so, after a week with the vehicle, we'd have a hard time paying more for the bigger displacement mill.
Unfortunately, the 3.6-liter engine is handicapped by its aging five-speed automatic transmission. We've rarely taken issue with the gearbox when paired with the larger 5.7-liter V8, but in this application, the automatic seemed easily confused. That was especially true under hard-acceleration passes as it struggled to drop a gear or two to put the engine in its lofty power sweet spot. We can't wait for Chrysler to grace this engine with its upcoming new generation of eight-speed transmissions
Chrysler describes the redesigned suspension at work in the 300 as built for grand touring duty, which is surprisingly accurate for PR-speak. While clearly engineered to consume mile after mile of interstate asphalt, the springs and dampers do a stand-up job under more athletic driving circumstances. There is some body roll, to be sure, but it doesn't translate into traditional understeer as readily. Really get the V6 singing in its upper octaves and saw on the wheel, and you'll actually be rewarded with some rotation before the traction control quietly steps in to contain the chaos. This beast drives incredibly well for its size.
Unfortunately, the 2011 300 is cursed with comically light steering. That beautiful leather-wrapped wheel seems to be only casually associated with hardworking hardware out front, and as a result, piloting the vehicle takes some adjustment. Trying to command the big sedan through aggressive maneuvers is like attempting to pluck a stuffed animal from one of those infuriating claw games. Despite being able to see what needs to happen, you're constantly flummoxed by a layer of machinery seemingly designed to misinterpret your every input.
The good news is that the vehicle's brakes don't suffer from the same impotence. Despite the fact that the 300 weighs in at 3,961 pounds, its 12.6-inch vented rotors up front and 12.6-inch solid rotors out back do an outstanding job of bringing the beast down from speed.
Chrysler has really done its homework in the noise, vibration and harshness department, too. The 2011 300 is quiet at most sane speeds and there's very little engine vibration at idle. The single-piece piece dash has done away with any squeaks and rattles that could arise from plastic-on-plastic action, and the result is a cabin that could allow eight hours of driving in a day to be comfortably covered without making you want to guillotine yourself with the auto-up driver's window.
But there are still a few ghosts of Chrysler past bumping around the big sedan. While the interior fit and finish is top notch, it's apparent that the company could still use some work in the detail department outside. Our tester wore an excess of structural adhesive along the trunk rail (see it here
) that looks to have been haphazardly slathered on. To us, it's the kind of "good enough" thinking that got Chrysler into its most recent Chapter 11 mess.
At the end of the day, the 2011 Chrysler 300 is a vehicle you can't help but want to drive. It looks as good as it feels, offers decent fuel economy for a full-size and won't break the bank. Prices get going at $27,170, not including the $825 destination fee. That figure is fairly close to what our tester commanded, and includes niceties like the big LCD screen and Uconnect telematics system.
Unfortunately, nearly $28,000 is a lot of money to pay for a thirsty sedan these days. As vehicles like the Honda Accord
and Volkswagen Passat
grow to full-size territory, buyers may be less inclined to shop bigger. That's especially true as fuel prices continue to creep up. While the ballyhooed eight-speed automatic transmission that's coming to Chrysler will likely increase the Pentastar's fuel economy, the engine will never be able to effectively lock horns with the four-cylinder, diesel and hybrid options available in the mid-size segment.
Still, as with most of the vehicles crafted from the Chrysler renaissance, the 2011 300 is yet another big step in the right direction. It ought to be a giant leap when we can finally get our hands on the SRT8