MSRP
$23,405 - $29,405

Expert Review:New Car Test Drive

Big, bold rear-wheel-drive sedan.Hemi available.

Introduction

For some time Chrysler has been threatening to re-invent the sedan back to the way it used to be. And now they've done it. The all-new 2005 Chrysler 300 is the first big rear-wheel-drive sedan to come out of Chrysler in many years. It replaces the front-wheel-drive LH line, which Chrysler has used for years. Back then, there were engineering cases for front-wheel drive, including reduced manufacturing costs and more compact packaging. But new technology has made rear-wheel drive preferable again. Traction control, electronic stability programs, anti-lock brakes, and electronic brake distribution all improve the driver's ability to control the car. And one thing hasn't changed: Rear-wheel drive is much better than front-wheel drive for managing horsepower. The 300C, which comes with a 340-horsepower Hemi V8, is too powerful for front-wheel drive. 

The 300 might be a case of back to the future, but there's little that's retro about it, except maybe the giant grille, with a shape like the 1958 300C. The Chrysler 300 was introduced in 1955 with an engine having hemispherical combustion chambers, called the Hemi; it also had two four-barrel carburetors, and it achieved early fame as the most powerful engine built by Detroit, winning the NASCAR championship in its first year and setting top speed records on the beach at Daytona. There have been some successful Chrysler 300s along the way, but nothing to match the impact of the '55. 

One of the advantages of front-wheel drive is traction in snow, but that too has been erased over the years. To prove the 300's traction and handling in snow, Chrysler invited automotive journalists to its testing facility on a frozen lake in Michigan's Upper Peninsula in early March, and the 300 received excellent reviews. All-wheel drive will be available for drivers who want more traction. 

The Chrysler 300's styling is distinctive, and its interior is roomy, efficient and stylish. The instrument panel and switchgear are easy to read and operate. Pieces of Mercedes-Benz are slipping into Chrysler cars nowadays, and the 300C features a Mercedes-like steering wheel, leather under an arc of wood at the top. 

While the 5.7-liter Hemi grabs the headlines, there are 2.7- and 3.5-liter V6 engines available. A standard Chrysler 300 with a 2.7-liter V6 can be had for the eye-popping low price of $23,595 including destination. You can't buy any new car that looks more expensive in your driveway for less. It's a large, modern, stylish, comfortable car for a small price. Better is the Touring model with leather, a powerful 3.5-liter V6 and all the latest active safety features. 

With the 300C, it's all about the growl, a sweet-sounding exhaust note coming from subtle pipes under the rear bumper. The 340-horsepower Hemi has to carry 4046 pounds, so it won't run with a Corvette, but it is plenty fast, with a 0-60 time of 6.3 seconds, according to Chrysler. At the same time, the ride is smooth, solid and comfortable and the cabin is very quiet. With a base price less than $33,000, that's a killer car. 

Lineup

There are three engines available: a 2.7-liter V6, a 3.5-liter V6, and the 5.7-liter V8 Hemi. The base Chrysler 300 ($22,970) comes with a 2.7-liter double-overhead-cam V6 engine making 190 horsepower and 190 feet-pounds of torque, and getting 21/28 EPA miles per gallon. It's mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. Cloth interior with an eight-way power driver's seat is standard, along with solar window glass. 

The 300 Touring ($26,770) uses a 3.5-liter single-overhead-cam V6 making 250 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque, 19/27 miles per gallon on recommended 89 octane (87 acceptable), with the same four-speed automatic transmission. The 300 Touring adds on the goodies: leather interior, aluminum 5-spoke wheels, fog lamps, and antilock brakes with emergency brake assist, electronic stability program and traction control. 

The 300 Limited ($29,265) takes it one step further with chrome wheels, heated front seats, power passenger seat, automatic headlamps, automatic temperature control and electronic vehicle information center. 

The 300C ($32,370) brings the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 mated to a five-speed automatic with AutoStick, 18-inch chrome wheels, dual exhaust, big brakes, projector low-beam headlamps, and a premium leather interior. It gets 17/25 mpg on 89 octane recommended (87 acceptable). It also has bigger and more powerful front brakes, because the engine is some 300 pounds heavier than the V6 and the car is considerably faster. The Hemi engine was brutally tested by Chrysler engineers, and is covered by Chrysler's 7-year/70,000-mile powertrain warranty. 

Options include front and rear curtain airbags, Boston Acoustics premium sound system, air filtration, ultrasonic rear object detection, self-sealing tires, hands-free cellphone capability, adjustable pedals, premium sound system, GPS Navigation system, SIRIUS satellite radio, sunroof, walnut interior accents and Xenon high-intensity headlamps. 

Walkaround

The new Chrysler is clearly bold and, we would argue, cool. But mostly the styling is uncompromising and makes no apologies. Curiously, maybe magically, it might appeal to both young and old. 

The 300 looks dramatic in profile. Rear-wheel-drive architecture allowed this whole new shape. The wheelwell cutouts, wrapping around five-spoke 17-inch or 10-spoke 18-inch wheels, are striking. The wheelbase is very long but the overhangs are short, offering a visual sense of power. The sedan roofline, a sort of '30s gangster tease, beautifully complements the lines which are long, low and carved as if from a big horizontal block of metal. The roof rakes thickly down to a short deck, and the sides are like large slabs. The long hood glides forward and drops off a cliff whose face is the massive grille, so strong it dictates the car's lines. 

Interior

The interior of the Chrysler 300 is marked by spacious silence. Chrysler engineers have been reducing interior and wind noise with all their new vehicles, so it's not surprising that the flagship sedan should get the treatment. Chrysler has its own $36 million aero-acoustic wind tunnel, and they've been trying to get their money's worth out of it. 

It's a very clean cockpit. Our 300C had a satin silver center stack, which was elegantly functional, nothing decorative about it. We felt blessed not to have to play games with the controls and switchgear to get them to function. There are two horizontal rectangular climate vents on either side of an analog clock, above the sound system and climate system controlled by four simple knobs. The 300C steering wheel is a nice four-spoke design with tortoise shell wood trim making a gradual arc along the top, like a Mercedes wheel. The four gauges are round, clear and pleasing to the eye in a balanced layout, with black numbers and needles on a white background, almost Italian-looking. From the driver's perspective, it's all good. 

There is a gated shifter for the AutoStick, forward of which is a marginal fast food bin, but the console is nice and deep, with coin holders and deep cup holders. 

Our leather interior was a subtle two-tone, beige and gray, and the seats were on the firm side but comfortable (again, Mercedes-like), although they could use more side bolstering in the 300C which has the engine and tires to corner harder. They are elevated by 2.5 inches, as this is the thing to do nowadays because buyers like to sit high, but because the door sills are also high for safety, it's a good overall relative fit. Because the windshield rake is relatively modest, visibility forward is enhanced over that very long hood. Visibility out the rear is also excellent, without much intrusion from the roofline. 

The cabin is roomy, thanks largely to the efficient shape of the exterior: the chassis is pushed out to the wheels, and the wheelbase is long, leaving 106.6 cubic feet (SAE standard) inside. The 60/40 split rear folding seat, with a folding center armrest and integrated cupholders, offers a relaxing 40 inches of legroom, although because it's rear-wheel drive the driveshaft tunnel on the floor down the center of the car has returned. The door openings are extra large, making climbing in and out noticeably easier and more pleasant. 

The trunk of the 300 holds 15.6 cubic feet, and opens forward to the fold-down rear seat, so the ability to tow a boat and carry all you need is there. A safety innovation can be found in the trunk. The well in the cargo floor, holding the spare tire, is built at an angle, so if the 300 is crashed into from the rear, the tire will rotate upward allowing the frame structure to deform as designed. 

Driving Impression

The 300C feels as solid as it looks, having inherited significant mechanicals from its parent company, Mercedes-Benz. From a handling standpoint, the 300 is heavily and positively influenced by a design borrowed from the Mercedes E-Class: five-link rear suspension mounted to a subframe, and the short-arm/long-arm front suspension, modified for the 300's longer wheelbase, wider track and bigger wheels. 

The ride in the 300C is very smooth and solid without any weakness that we could find in a half day of hard driving, and we wouldn't change a thing. The 120-inch wheelbase is longer even than that in the Chrysler 300s from the 1950s, but the overall length is not. Nor is it longer than the front-wheel-drive 04 Chrysler it replaces. Result: great ride, reasonable parking. 

And the cornering is good enough that higher-performance tires should be made available. The 300C comes with Continental all-season tires, P225/60R18, but they squeal early and don't do justice to the chassis. Chrysler engineers have gotten the rack-and-pinion steering right; it's just the right amount of weighty, and provides a secure feeling. The power assist is constant-rate and not speed-sensitive; it's been a while since we felt a constant-rate system, and we like its accuracy. It felt heavy but not big, and was responsive and confident. 

We tossed the big 300C from side-to-side through switchback turns, and it beautifully maintained an even keel, with an insignificant amount of body lean, especially considering that it's called a family sedan, not a high-performance sports sedan. 

Driving the 300C hard over some twisty mountain roads, the big Bosch-built brakes really did the job. In fact, we called them 'great' in our notes, inspiring surprising confidence in a car that weighs just over 4000 pounds. The front brakes on the 300C are bigger and better than those on the V6 models, with 13.6-inch vented rotors and dual-piston calipers compared to 12.6 inches and single-piston. The 300C rear rotors are 12.6 inches and vented (same size but unvented in the other models). Antilock brakes with electronic brake distribution, which balances front and rear, are standard on all but the plain 300. 

With brakes big enough for towing, the 300C is rated to tow up to 3800 pounds, using a trailer hitch available from the MoPar catalog. Part of the reason for the rebirth of the large rear-wheel-drive sedan (Ford and Cadillac are there too) is that buyers are beginning to ask what they need an SUV for. But mostly, with 390 pound-feet of torque, you sure won't be getting in anyone's way with your trailer. 

Chrysler claims a 0 to 60 time of 6.3 seconds for the 300C, but it feels quicker than that. It won't snap your neck, because it does have two tons to carry, but you'll love the deep growling Hemi exhaust note along the way. And that big torque can't be underestimated for its fun and convenience. 

This V8 introduces an important new technology: a system that shuts down four of its eight cylinders when the power isn't needed. The transfers from 8 to 4 to 8 cylinders happen in 0.04 seconds, and are undetectable by the driver. As a result, the Hemi is a 340-horsepower engine that can get up to 30 miles per gallon, for example cruising at 60 mph on the freeway. So if you want to cruise with a light foot, you're only using four cylinders and half as much gas. 

We also got some miles in a Chrysler Limited with the 3.5-liter V6 engine, which we found to have quite decent power even after we'd been driving the 300C. But we like the Mercedes five-speed automatic transmission (built in Kokomo, Indiana) with its sharp shifts, better than the Chrysler-made four-speed that comes with the V6. 

We haven't had a chance to drive the 2.7-liter V6, but it's got a proven record as used in other Chrysler vehicles, and for the 300 it's been modernized with a new intake manifold providing more torque, and electr. 

Summary

The all-new Chrysler 300 stands out with bold styling harkening back to its glory days in the '50s. The 300 is now rear-wheel drive, better for power and handling. With traction control, antilock brakes and stability control, it's effective on snowy and icy roads. The 300 is also available with all-wheel drive. 

The 300 is exceptionally quiet and offers a wonderfully smooth and solid ride with tight handling. It's very roomy inside with an intelligent instrument panel and controls, and is also easy to climb in and out of. 

The 300's lowball entry price should have buyers at dealers' doors to check it out. The base model is a whale of a lot of excellent car, with a proven V6 that has adequate power for many drivers. At the other end of the spectrum is the 300C with the hot new Hemi V8 engine, a car that blows more expensive full-size luxury cars out of the water in the value department. In between are the Touring and Limited models that will most appeal to buyers. 

Model Lineup

Chrysler 300 ($22,970); 300 Touring ($26,770); 300 Limited ($29,265); 300C ($32,370). 

Assembled In

Canada. 

Options As Tested

Model Tested

Chrysler 300C ($32,370). 

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