• Apr 18, 2011
The Big American Sedan Is Alive And Well

2011 Chrysler 300 - Click above for high-res image gallery

Of the many hurtful similes one can hurl at a vehicle, few are more insidious than drawing design or driving parallels to the oft-maligned American sedan. Thanks to the dark days of the '70s and '80s, once proud nameplates like Imperial, Impala and Galaxie were either completely forgotten or bastardized into models with about as much personality as a tube sock. Whether you blame it on oil prices, safety standards or the popularity of disco and cocaine, there's no denying that the domestic four-door suffered a major fall from grace.

Now, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler are all fighting tooth and nail to establish their products as capable of besting metal from Japan, Germany and Korea. While that's largely translated into a fleet of mid-sized sedans with soap-bar aesthetics and front-wheel-drive architectures, the 2011 Chrysler 300 is hell-bent on continuing to buck that trend.

With its rear-wheel-drive configuration and stylish lines, the four-door strives to draw connections to the Pentastar's more successful past – to an era long before corporate take-overs and the K-car. Is it successful?

Continue reading Review: 2011 Chrysler 300...

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.

2011 Chrysler 300 side view2011 Chrysler 300 front view2011 Chrysler 300 rear view

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.

2011 Chrysler 300 interior2011 Chrysler 300 front seats2011 Chrysler 300 rear seats2011 Chrysler 300 trunk

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.

2011 Chrysler 300 engine

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.

2011 Chrysler 300 steering wheel2011 Chrysler 300 gauges

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.

2011 Chrysler 300 rear 3/4 view

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 version.

Photos copyright ©2011 Zach Bowman / AOL

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 3 Years Ago
      I don't think you tested a 300 Limited. The car pictured in the article is the base 300; the Limited has leather seats standard and different wheels etc as it should considering it cost $4k more than the base.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Sure the exterior design may be a bit much for some, certainly a different, even divisive approach...BUT that's what makes Chrysler (and Dodge) DIFFERENT than GM/Ford - GOOD FOR CHRYSLER! And w/out bias, there is NO debating how truly nice the interior is of this updated 300...it is as attractive as anything I've seen, well save for the big ugly analog clock lol
        • 3 Years Ago
        I actually completely disagree with the interior, so I could debate it with you all day long. I just don't see what everyone is raving about. I'm sorry, but I would have a real hard problem feeling good about driving this car daily. I prefer something a little bit more "space age" (that's the best term I could come up with) but I just find this interior plane and boring. I have with Chrysler for some time, and while I admit it's an upgrade, I still don't love it. Sorry....but it's not for everyone.
          • 3 Years Ago
          I agree. I think the car looks nice, but if I had one word to describe it, it would probably be "bland".
      Keith Rogers
      • 3 Years Ago
      I'm glad the nice luxurious styling cues are not just reserved for the "C" model like they were with the first gen 300.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Those cloth seats are to die for. Too bad about the light steering. I recently drove a rental 300 and it had pretty nice steering. So this must be a step backwards. Oh, and $28k is mad money as far as base price is concerned...
      Toby Ashworth
      • 3 Years Ago
      My dad's got a last-gen 300c touring...I really like the new one, think it's definitely grown up a bit, hope to see them super cheap on the used market soon ;)
        Erik Tomlinson
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Toby Ashworth
        Well, for Chrysler's sake, let's hope they retain a bit more value on the used market.
      • 3 Years Ago
      This isn't a 300 Limited. Limiteds start at $32,000 and include Leather interior and different wheels. This is the Base 300.
        • 3 Years Ago
        ..and foglamps. (Nice new comment system - just wish I could edit!)
      • 3 Years Ago
      Now lets wait for the retards to start putting 26 inch rims on these.
      Imaginary lines
      • 3 Years Ago
      One thing with LX cars are the wheel wells are so big anything less then a 20 looks really small...
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Imaginary lines
        yeah, the car looks dull with those wheels and looks cheap. I wonder if they will continue to add hubcaps to the cheaper model? Just awful.
      Peter B
      • 3 Years Ago
      Really looks like a great revision.... but why would you buy one over the new Charger??
      • 3 Years Ago
      I have a 2005 Chrysler 300 that I purchased new. I had planned to purchase a new one in 2012, but don't like the new body style at all. I guess I'll have to go for a Cadilac CTS instead. Too bad Chrysler, you "HAD" the nicest looking ride on the road.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Just had the first opportunity to see an 11 Chrysler 300 at a local dealership. A 6 cyl Pentastar limited model with the 20 inch wheels in the $995 triple coat Ivory paint scheme(~$35K total). Stunning to say the least & the styling theme is so much more fluidic than the prior gen; its not even close in fact. This vehicle will be an American classic & you've got to see it in the flesh before passing any kind of judgement. Lincoln, Lexus, MB & Cadillac are all valid targets; it is perhaps the best & most beautiful Chrysler vehicle since the 1960s. Drop your pride considering the prior version, which was a ground breaking vehicle in its own right; the newest version is an Absolute Knockout, Ethereal in fact. Also near 20mpg in town is par for the course folks since we are dealing with a full-size 4000lb plus vehicle. The upcoming 8-spd trans may get the 6 cyl mileage near 30mpg hiway this fall. Now if $5 fuel does'nt wreck the whole economy?
      • 3 Years Ago
      I saw a base 300 at a dealership not too long ago. Not bad, at the base wheels look a little better on a darker color. However, I thought I hate the new design, until I saw it in person. Much better in person than in pictures. I think Chrysler did a good job on this.
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