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.
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 version.
Photos copyright ©2011 Zach Bowman / AOL
A Lot Newer Than It Looks From The Outside
He was responding to repeated questions about the new sedan. Was it all-new, or just a heavy refresh like the 200 Sedan? You can't blame journalists for being confused. Chrysler's product onslaught is putting 16 all-new and significantly improved models on the road this year. But all-new is a very different thing from significantly improved.
Clauw supported his answer, "Every exterior panel is new. Every piece in the interior is new. With the underbody, just a few pieces of the front floor pan are carry over. The front and rear aluminum suspension pieces and geometry are different. So is the steering. The V6 is all new. While the internals of the Hemi are carryover, the intake, exhaust and accessories are not." Okay, we believe him now, but you'd need really big hands to hold the carried-over five-speed automatic transmission.
Photos copyright ©2011 Rex Roy / AOL
The previous generation Chrysler 300 (2005-2010) sported bold, in-your-face styling. At the 2011 Detroit Auto Show, Ralph Gilles (Senior Vice President of Product Design and CEO of the Dodge Brand) told the press that, "The new 300 needed a more grown-up look." As usual, Gilles nailed it. The look is more mature while remaining handsome in a masculine way. However, some of the edge is admittedly gone. And it will be missed.
The new look is still more Armani than Abercrombie. The bodylines are simultaneously more crisp but less angular, softened by careful contouring. The car is marginally longer, wider and taller, but everything sits on a nearly identical wheelbase of 120.2 inches versus 120.0 inches.
Clauw explained that they didn't want to change the 300's character, rationalizing these subtle adjustments as opposed to a wholesale re-design of the car akin to the old Ford Taurus (err... 500) to new Ford Taurus. The team worked nearly three years to thoroughly re-engineer what they had in order for the car to hit their performance targets. Many of the targets were developed by measuring performance and customer perceptions of the Lexus LS460, Hyundai Genesis Sedan, Mercedes-Benz E-Class and BMW 5-Series.
Regarding outward visibility, for example, the old car wasn't as easy to see out of as its competitors. To remedy the situation, engineers made the A- and B-pillars thinner. The beltline was also lowered and the windshield raked back three inches. Every change contributed to improved outward visibility. This was a wise and practical decision, even though it helped spell the end of the previous 300's chopped-roof aesthetic.
The most noticeable exterior change is to the front fascia. The entire nose is more contoured, a decision made to improve aerodynamics, another area engineers needed to improve. In the process, the grille became more trapezoidal and the slimmer headlamps gained fashionable LED daytime running lights and halogen projector-type high- and low-beams. Look closely at the new grille and the contouring of the horizontal bars creates the appearance of an inner grille floating within the outer grille. Cool stuff.
While the exteriors of the 2010 and 2011 might confuse a casual onlooker, no such mistake happens once you climb inside. The new interior moves the 300 way upscale. The examples we drove sported two-tone cabins. There are also bright, brushed metal accents that surround the vents and center stack, giving the interior a rich feel.
The instrument cluster is especially good-looking. Compared to the flat, two-dimensional gauge cluster on the current BMW 5 Series, the 300's gauges are deeply sculpted and dimensional. Gilles' 2009 Chrysler Imperial Concept foreshadowed the look of these gauges. The new four-spoke steering wheel design also looks more modern and less truck-like than the old tiller, and higher trim levels manage rake and telescoping functions electrically.
Adding to the modernity of the 300's interior is the big, bright and crisp 8.4-inch LED screen in the center of the cabin. It handles communication duties for the audio system, HVAC, Bluetooth phone and brought-in device integration (via UConnect), and optional built-in Garmin navigation system. The gauges and monitor were easy to read, even in bright sunlight. However, polarized sunglasses did substantially degrade the screen's visibility.
The seats, front and rear, were comfortable and offered the room one expects in a full-size sedan. These first impressions were taken during the course of just a half-day, recognizing that even a park bench is comfortable for short while. A more thorough evaluation will come with a full review.
On the road, the first impressions generated by the interior were amplified. Thanks to a myriad of new noise-abatement features, the new 300 drives quietly. The front side windows feature sound-deadening lamination, while the doors are triple-sealed. There are also two eight-foot belly pans under the chassis to help reduce road noise.
Extensive use of high-strength steel and aluminum helped keep the weight between 2010 and 2011 models close even though the new car is slightly larger and carries more equipment. Comparing V8 300Cs between years shows a weight gain of about 230 pounds. We did not drive 2010 and 2011 models back to back, so we are unable to ID any negative impact due to the porking affect. What we can relay is that Chrysler's new Pentastar 3.6-liter V6 is a fine engine.
The 292-horsepower V6 and "proven" five-speed automatic motivate the base 300 ($27,995) and 300 Limited ($31,995). (You know a component is getting really, really old when PR literature refers to it as "proven.") Having nearly 300 horsepower is plenty. The big sedan never felt slow and the powertrain never felt taxed. Driven hard, the V6 remained composed and refined even when revved to redline.
At times, the throttle felt lazy, requiring lots of pedal travel to summon the desired level of thrust. We believe that engineers purposely mapped the throttle in this manner to elicit the best fuel economy possible. As equipped with the V6 and rear-wheel drive, the new 300 earns EPA ratings of 18 miles per gallon city and 27 mpg highway, which trails the BMW 535i at 19/28 and 528i at 22/32.
More gears will help the 300 go farther on a gallon of gas and could improve acceleration. Mercifully for Chrysler, a new eight-speed rear-wheel-drive automatic transmission from ZF arrives later during calendar year 2011. This will make Clauw's comment about "a handful of parts" carried over even truer.
Currently, the 300C ($38,995) is the only model available with a HEMI V8. An SRT8 300 is likely in the car's future, but for now, the horsepower top dog is the 363-hp 5.7-liter V8. As with other cars we've recently driven with powerful V6s, you don't know you're missing any power until you drive the V8.
Yes, you feel the 71-hp increase over the V6. But what you feel more is the additional torque (394 lb.ft. compared to 260). Cubic inches matter, and the power differential between a naturally-aspirated 200 cid V6 and 345 cid V8 is real. Fuel economy for the Hemi is 16/25 for the rear-wheel-drive version, and 15/23 for the all-wheel-drive model. The Hemi also features fuel saving cylinder deactivation. Unlike in Ram trucks where engineers made the transition more noticeable, it was completely transparent in the 300.
We drove a 300 Limited and 300C (rear-wheel drive) over the course of an afternoon. On both sedans, the fully-independent suspension handled Southern California's highways and back roads with ease. Over notoriously rough freeway pavement, the big 300 rode serenely. Road, wind and tire noise seemed distant while body motions were well controlled and never floaty. When the asphalt narrowed and got twisty, the 300 hustled with verve, feeling smaller than its physical size. You'd never mistake it for a Lotus, but it sure didn't feel like a Lincoln Town Car.
Engineers also did a solid job on the 300's electrically assisted power steering (EPAS). Steering effort is spot on (not too heavy or light) but the wheel lacks the level of feel and feedback of our favorite vehicle with EPAS, the 2011 Shelby GT500.
The Chrysler LLC team in Auburn Hills has been very busy the last few years. Surviving Cerberus mismanagement, the bankruptcy and the takeover by Fiat has been no easy task. Thankfully, the all-new 2011 Chrysler 300 line is more proof that Chrysler is on the right track. To this we can say, "Welcome back."
Photos copyright ©2011 Rex Roy / AOL
New Car Test Drive
All new, with fresh styling and improved dynamics.
The Chrysler 300 has been redesigned for 2011, and the new model offers improved ride and handling, and it comes with a new V6 engine that's smooth and powerful. The result is an American luxury car with room, comfort, power and presence.
The 2011 Chrysler 300 succeeds a model that was enormously successful, a big sedan with rear-wheel drive that served as the brand's flagship. The outgoing Chrysler 300 was the most awarded, most recognized car in the history of the industry, and the most customized Chrysler model ever, the first Chrysler to adapt oversize wheels and tires, custom grilles, and other aftermarket custom touches. Replacing it during a period of grave uncertainty at Chrysler was a three-and-a-half-year program during which ownership changed three times, from Cerberus to the federal government, through bankruptcy and then to Fiat's control. Under those circumstances, it's something of a miracle that the replacement for the 300 came out as well as it did.
For 2011, Chrysler 300 looks much slicker. Aided by a new windshield design laid back three inches farther than the windshield on the original model, the 2011 Chrysler 300 achieves a drag coefficient of only 0.32. It looks bolder and classier than the previous version. Every body and underbody panel has been changed from the ground up to the roof, with a smoother, rounder front end, new headlamps, a new, rounder grille, a new hoodline and aluminum hood, new bumpers, larger windows with bright trim around them, more heavily sculpted fenders, a completely new treatment at the rear, with new Chrysler winged badges, and beautiful new LED lamps front and rear.
Underneath, nearly everything has been changed, stiffened, reinforced, or otherwise made stronger so that the four corner suspension systems can operate independently and accurately and provide a much better ride, quicker steering, and more responsive handling.
The Chrysler 300 competes with the Cadillac CTS, Lincoln MKS, Lexus GS, and Infiniti M. The Lexus LS 460, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, BMW 5 Series, and Hyundai Genesis were aspirational targets during development.
The Chrysler 300 and 300 Limited come with a V6 engine and 5-speed automatic.
The Chrysler 300C features a 5.7-liter Hemi V8 engine and 5-speed automatic.
The 2011 Chrysler 300C AWD model features a new, more effective and more efficient part-time, computer-controlled all-wheel-drive system with modified suspension pieces that allow the AWD version to ride much lower than earlier versions, at about the same ride height as rear-wheel-drive 300C models.
The 2011 Chrysler 300 ($27,170) comes standard with cloth upholstery, automatic air conditioning with rear outlets, humidity sensor and air filtration, multi-function steering wheel, driver information center, keyless entry, automatic halogen lamps, power windows, mirrors, and locks, cruise control, Uconnect dashboard display and control system for audio, Sirius satellite radio, USB port with iPod control, and a pair of 12-volt outlets.
Chrysler 300 Limited ($31,170) upgrades with leather upholstery, eight-way power driver seat, more exterior brightwork, halogen fog lamps, remote starting, 18-inch wheels and tires, heated front seats, rear seats with lighted cupholders, a premium Alpine AM/FM/CD satellite radio with eight channels, six speakers, and 276 watts of power, plus Uconnect voice command with Bluetooth. The Luxury Group ($3,250) includes luxury leather trimmed bucket seats, climate controlled front seats, heated rear seats, wood and leather wrapped heated steering wheel, power adjustable pedals, trunk mat, power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, power rear sunshade, 160-amp alternator, auto-dimming exterior mirrors, heated/cooled cupholder, driver memory for radio, seat, mirrors, pedals.
Chrysler 300C ($38,170) and Chrysler 300C AWD ($40,320) add Garmin navigation, Sirius Travel Link, power adjustable pedals, 12-way power front seats, heated front and rear seats, power tilt and telescope steering column, a performance brake package, and other features.
Options include the Safety Tec Package ($2,795) with adaptive HID headlights, forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-path detection, park assist, HomeLink, rear foglight. The Sound Group ($650) includes the Alpine stereo system with 506 watts of power, nine speakers, 12 channels, and 7.1 matrix surround sound.
Safety equipment on the Chrysler 300 includes front, side and roof curtain air bags, and ABS disc brakes with both EBD and Brake Assist, traction control, tire pressure monitoring system and stability control. All-wheel drive is available for more stable handling in slippery conditions. The Safety Tec Package adds several safety features.
The new, 2011 Chrysler 300 looks like a large sedan version of the Chrysler 200 midsize sedan and Town & Country minivan, with many of the same visual cues in the grille, headlamps, air intakes and front bumper. It's much sleeker and more rounded at the nose, but carries a much lower aerodynamic drag coefficient because of the rounded elements and the very laid-back windshield angle. Neither the windshield nor the rear window carries any bright moldings at all, unusual for a luxury car, but it works on the 300.
The profile view of the new Chrysler 300 shows much more pronounced wheel lips front and rear, and they are connected by a sharp new body line that starts at the trailing edge of the front wheel well and rises continuously to finish at the side of the tail lamps. That line, coupled with the larger side windows, narrower pillars, and a new sculpted line at the bottom of the doors, does wonders to slim down and muscle up the new look of the 300.
At the rear, there's a cross-car chrome bar running across the bottom edge of the decklid between the new vertical LED taillamps and a tall, flat rear bumper between the exhaust outlets that widens the look of the car at the rear. The execution of the LED daytime running lights at the front and the LED rear lamps is excellent.
The 2011 Chrysler 300 instrument panel, seat trims, door panels and door pockets have all been redesigned for more comfort and utility. The instrument panel, center stack, switches and controls have all been redone for the 2011 models.
One of the more pleasant surprises in the new Chrysler 300 is the amount of light entering the car through the larger windows and their thinner pillars. Chrysler says outward vision has been improved by 15 percent over the gun-slit side window design of the last 300, and that makes a huge difference in the enjoyment of just driving or riding in the car. This is a big car, and the interior roominess and dimensions front and rear are generous, to say the least. The interior environment is classy without being chromy, and the lighting and instrumentation are spot-on.
Although the seats and seat coverings have been redesigned for a more luxurious feel and appearance, the interior cube is the same as the outgoing 300, just over 122 cubic feet, making it a large car under EPA rules. As for storage, the rated trunk capacity of the Chrysler 300 is 16.3 cubic feet.
The instrument panel contains a bright new two-round-gauge package, and is much more pleasing to the eye after the redesign, with much-improved graphics and ice-blue accent lighting that is brilliantly legible day or night. The center portion of the instrument panel is dominated by the industry's largest touch-screen control system, an 8.4-inch screen that comes in base and Limited versions with audio and climate functions, but in 300C and 300C AWD versions comes with a brilliantly colorful, large-icon Garmin navigation system (optional on Limited versions, not available on 300). This system, because of its size, graphics, and capabilities, may be the best all-around nav system currently available, easy to read, easy to use, and readable from the back seat.
The 300's new four-spoke padded steering wheel has a nice, thick leather-wrapped rim and a thickly padded hub flanked by redundant switches for the voice-activated telephone, cruise control, sound system, and driver information center.
All the materials in the seats, door trim panels, headliner and instrument panel are softer, more luxurious and more pleasing to the eye, and the seats feel much more luxurious, supportive and long-drive comfortable than before.
The standard engine in the Chrysler 300 and Limited models is the new 292-horsepower, 260-foot-pound, 3.6-liter double-overhead-cam 24-valve Pentastar V6 engine with variable valve timing that gives it more flexibility in delivering low-rpm torque and high-rpm horsepower while delivering good fuel economy. The Chrysler 300 with the 3.6-liter V6 is rated 18/27 mpg City/Highway by the federal government on Regular gas.
The Chrysler 300C comes with the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 engine, generating 363 horsepower and 394 foot-pounds of torque, with a 5-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 16/25 mpg; Midgrade gasoline is specified.
We concentrated our driving efforts on a 300 Limited V6 model, but we also drove the cloth-upholstered base model briefly and both the rear-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive versions of the 300C, with the muted but brutally torquey Hemi V8 on board.
Most drivers will find the V6 more than adequate even in this heavy car. It's long on horsepower and high on torque for its size, very flexible and driveable in town and out on the highway with none of the roughness or graunchiness formerly associated with V6 engines. The V6 delivers 63 percent more power and 36 percent more torque than the old 2.7-liter V6, and 42 more horsepower and 10 foot-pounds more torque than the old 3.5-liter V6. Plus it sounds good at wide-open-throttle.
We exercised, pushed and stressed a Chrysler 300 Limited in the hills and valleys east of San Diego and found it to be a wonderful traveling companion. The new variable-ratio electro-hydraulic power steering system has a lovely, heavy feel to it, as though it's actually connected to and directing something down there on the road surface, and the car turns in with authority and without objectionable body roll.
The ride delivered by the new suspension system is smooth, comfortable and quiet, and the cabin itself has been quieted down considerably with the addition of an acoustic bellypan under the car, acoustic material in the wheel wells and pillars, and an acoustic wrap around the complete interior to block out noise from the mechanical systems, the wind and the tires.
The anti-lock brake package with electronic brake-force distribution has everything you could ask for in terms of power, pedal modulation, and emergency capabilities, and is the largest component of a very complete safety package that includes traction control, stability control, and front, side, roof and driver knee air bags.
We think the new Chrysler 300 is the finest sedan that Chrysler Corporation has ever built. There is a model here for every purse and purpose, from base car to 300C Hemi AWD, and the list of options and option packages is very generous. This is an American luxury car with room, comfort, power and presence that you might think seriously about adding to your shopping list.
Jim McCraw filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report from San Diego, California.
Chrysler 300 ($27,170), Limited ($31,170); 300C ($38,170), 300C AWD ($40,320).
Brampton, Ontario, Canada.
Options As Tested
Chrysler 300 Limited ($31,170).
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