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
New models, new 8-speed transmission.
The Chrysler 300 is a full-size four-door sedan that comes in a variety of models to suit a style, performance, or set of features. Whether V6 or V8 and regardless of model it's a roomy, comfortable, quiet cruiser. Apart from its relative the Dodge Charger, the Chrysler 300 is the only rear-wheel-drive sedan we can think of that you can get for less than $35,000.
Thoroughly revamped and restyled for 2011, the 2012 Chrysler 300 nonetheless gets some revisions. Some new models have joined the lineup for 2012: a stylish Chrysler 300S, the new Chrysler 300C Luxury Series, and a new Chrysler 300 SRT8 super-sedan.
The Chrysler 300S is a sportier 300, with 20-inch wheels and firmer suspension.
2012 Chrysler 300 V6 models offer a new 8-speed automatic transmission from ZF that makes the Hemi V8-powered car nearly irrelevant. With this new transmission, the V6 gets an EPA-estimated 31 mpg Highway.
A new, optional navigation system is the best we've ever seen, with a large, 8.4-inch screen that's easily understood at a glance and easy to operate. We highly recommend opting for it. Also new for 2012 are the usual assortment of color and wheel design upgrades, and not one but new sound system upgrades.
The Chrysler 300 has all the heritage traits of an American luxury sedan such as room, comfort, endless features and amenities, power and a degree of presence, yet is also has good road manners, stops and changes directions as well as it goes. It also has a distinctive look ever harder to find in this era of economy-driven aerodynamics, pedestrian impact standards and corporate styling.
All-wheel drive is available. The ride height on 2012 Chrysler 300 AWD models is slightly lower than on 2011 models.
The Chrysler 300 comes in nearly any combination of V6 or V8 engine, 5- or 8-speed automatic, and rear- or all-wheel drive.
The 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 model comes packed with a 470-hp 6.4-liter V8 (only a Corvette ZO6's is larger), Brembo brakes, forged alloy wheels, and Bilstein adaptive dampers similar to those Maserati uses. It's quick and good bang for the buck.
Consideration for the Chrysler 300 covers a wide spectrum including the Cadillac CTS, Lincoln MKS, Lexus GS, Infiniti M, Hyundai Genesis, Volvo S60, BMW 3 Series by price or 5 Series by size, and Mercedes C and E classes for the same criteria. A 300C AWD can compete with Ford's Taurus SHO. At about $47,000, the SRT8 is a cost-effective sports sedan alternative to Cadillac's CTS-V, BMW's M-cars and Mercedes-Benz's AMG E-Class. A Hyundai Genesis R-Spec is near identically priced but we don't find it a performance match.
The 2012 Chrysler 300 ($27,170) comes standard with a 292-hp 3.6-liter V6, 5-speed automatic, cloth upholstery, dual-zone climate control, multi-function tilt/telescoping steering wheel, driver information center, keyless entry, power windows/locks/heated mirrors, cruise control, AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA Sirius audio with SD card and USB inputs, 12-way power driver seat, LED cabin lighting, 60/40 split-fold rear seat, and 17-inch wheels.
Options include an 8-speed automatic transmission ($1,000) and Uconnect voice control with Bluetooth ($295). Available for any 300 are Ivory pearl paint ($500) and an engine-block heater ($40). (All prices are Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices, which do not include destination charge and may change at any time without notice.)
Chrysler 300 Limited ($32,170) upgrades to leather upholstery, 8-speed automatic, remote start, fog lamps, 18-inch wheels, 276-watt Alpine audio system, power passenger seat, and heated front seats. Chrysler 300 Limited AWD ($34,320) features all-wheel drive, bigger brakes and 19-inch wheels. The Luxury Group ($3,250) includes fancier leather, Olive wood trim, heated/cooled front seats and cupholders, heated rear seats, wood and leather wrapped heated power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, power adjustable pedals, driver memory system, power rear sunshade and auto-dimming exterior mirrors. A SafetyTec package ($2,420) adds adaptive cruise control with collision warning, adaptive bi-Xenon SmartBeam headlamps, blind-spot and cross-path detection, rain-sensing wipers, front and rear park sensors, and rear fog lamps.
Chrysler 300C ($38,170) and 300C AWD ($40,320) come with a 363-hp 5.7-liter V8, 5-speed automatic and bigger brakes. Standard equipment mirrors the 300 Limited with Luxury Group and navigation, but with Olive wood optional. Also available: premium audio systems, SafetyTec package, moonroof, 19 and 20-inch wheels.
Chrysler 300S comes with a choice of V6 8-speed automatic ($33,170) with AWD ($35,320); V8 5-speed automatic ($39,710) with AWD ($41,320). S denotes body-color trim with gloss-black grille and headlight trim, matte carbon and piano-black cabin trim, 300S logo on cloth (V6) or leather (V8) seats, and the Beats By Dr. Dre sound system. The S V8 also gets rear sunshade, rain-sensing wipers, and performance-tuned steering. 300S options include UConnect with 8.4-inch touch screen, Garmin navigation, Sirius Travel Link with Real Time Traffic and Sirius satellite radio ($795).
Chrysler 300 SRT8 ($47,170) comes with a 470-hp 6.4-liter V8, five-speed automatic, 20-inch forged aluminum wheels, Bilstein adaptive damping, and unique suspension and stability control calibration, brakes and tires. It also includes new nose and tail sections, sport seats with suede inserts, SRT-specific instrumentation and driver information, and a one-day driving experience on track with professional driver instruction. Most 300-line features are standard on the SRT8 though there are some options: three-season performance tires ($150), moonroof ($1,295), SafetyTec package, Harman/Kardon audio ($1,995), black chrome package and premium leather package. SRT8 carries a $1,000 federal Gas Guzzler Tax.
Safety equipment on the Chrysler 300 includes front, front side, driver knee, and side curtain air bags, electronic stability control with Brake Assist, and tire pressure monitoring system. The optional SafetyTec package groups several safety features together. Optional all-wheel drive improves stability in slippery conditions.
The front of the 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.
On the S and SRT versions a gloss-black grille and headlight housings framed against monochrome bodywork; it's hard to imagine understated and menacing applied to the same car but that's how it looks. Think of an S as what you needed a customizer for previously but can now get with factory fit, finish and warranty. Add in big dark wheels and the S and SRT versions deliver the aggressiveness of an AMG E-Class or Cadillac CTS-V with more elegant machinery like a Bentley GT. We have mixed feelings about the styling, especially that of the 300 SRT8. It looks like an upscale hot rod, but we're not sure it quite pulls it off. If you're going for the hot rod look, a Dodge Challenger seems more appropriate. The styling seems to work best on the standard models.
The profile of the Chrysler 300 shows pronounced wheel lips front and rear, and they are connected by a sharp 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 another sculpted line at the bottom of the doors, does wonders to slim down and muscle up the look of the 300.
At the rear, there's a 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 S and SRT have deeper panels and a lip spoiler for stability. If it were ours we'd peel off the SRT8 emblem and keep people guessing.
The Chrysler 300 instrument panel, seat trims, center stack, switches and controls, door panels and door pockets were all redesigned for 2011. The largest changes you'll notice for 2012 are the 8-speed shifter, two upper-echelon sound systems and the SRT8's more distinguished interior.
This is a big car, and the interior roominess and dimensions front and rear are suitably generous. One of the more pleasant surprises in the Chrysler 300 is the amount of light entering the car.
The interior environment is classy without being fussy, and the LED lighting and instrumentation are spot-on. Upholstery can be cloth, leather, or suede and leather on SRT8 and trim is faux wood, real wood, carbon-fiber or piano black lacquer style; interior adornment is generally matte-finish chrome so annoying reflections are minimal.
The instrument panel contains a bright gauge package, with crisp graphics and ice-blue accent lighting that is brilliantly legible day or night.
The center stack is dominated by a large (8.4-inch) touch-screen control system, with audio and climate functions. Optional is a brilliantly colorful, large-icon Garmin navigation system. 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 often readable from the back seat. We highly recommend it. Turn onto Beaver Brook Road and in big type at the top of the screen it says, 'Driving on Beaver Brook Road.' We love it.
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. On S and SRT models magnesium paddle shifters rise behind the horizontal spokes. They work well except several times we'd bump one of the paddles when making a tight turn, such as turning left at a stop sign; this manually selected first gear, which we wouldn't notice until when the car didn't automatically shift into second while accelerating away from the intersection. It's a minor annoyance but worth mentioning.
All the materials in the seats, door trim panels, headliner and instrument panel are appropriate, yielding either the classic warm luxury environment in the 300 Limited or a more youthful, efficient style in the S and SRT. Either way the cabin is a quiet, calming place where miles are put away with ease; and a fuel tank can last 500 miles on the open road.
Two new audio systems are available. The Beats By Dr. Dre package features 10 speakers, one trunk-mounted subwoofer and a 552-watt 12-channel amplifier. Lest that's not enough, the Harman-Kardon system uses 19 speakers with subwoofer and a 900-watt 12-channel amplifier for 7.1 surround sound.
SRT8 models get a unique steering wheel with flattened bottom, sport seats that fit even big guys, carbon-fiber look trim and dark accents, and the touch-screen adds choices like steering angle, additional instrumentation and sport-mode switching for suspension, engine and transmission.
The trunk capacity of the Chrysler 300 is 16.3 cubic feet. Plus, every Chrysler 300 has a split-fold 60/40 rear seat for longer items.
The standard engine in the Chrysler 300 and Limited models is the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 with double overhead cams, 24 valves, and variable valve timing that aids flexibility and good fuel economy. The V6 puts out 292 horsepower at 6350 rpm, 260 pound-feet of torque at 4800 rpm. Like many modern engine it makes power high up the rev band, so don't be afraid to rev it. It's plenty smooth and delivers strong propulsion. With the 300's standard 5-speed automatic it rates an EPA-estimated 18/27/21 City/Highway/Combined miles per gallon.
However, a new 8-speed automatic bumps that to 19/31 City/Highway mpg because it allows easier acceleration and lower engine speed on the highway. With gentle throttle it will get into top gear at 50 mph with the engine running just 1000 rpm, allowing level interstate cruising on minimal fuel. An all-wheel-drive V6 with the 8-speed automatic rates the same 18/27 mpg as a rear-drive 5-speed automatic.
The 8-speed also gets a new shifter. It has four positions (PRND) and a +/- gate to the side for manual operation. The stubby T-handle looks like an inverted putter head and is essentially an electronic switch. As a result the same motion is used for changing from Drive to Sport or Sport to Drive, and it's very easy to get Park when you want Reverse by pushing once too often. If it's your only car you'll grow accustomed; if you drive more than one automatic then acclimation will take longer.
The 300C and 300S V8 come with the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 engine, generating 363 horsepower and 394 foot-pounds of torque at lower rpm than the V6. Paired with a 5-speed automatic it rates 16/25/19 mpg (15/23 with all-wheel drive) and mid-grade gasoline is specified. While the extra 71 horses over the V6 and infectious sound get the headlines, it's the 134 lb-ft of added torque that shows up far more often. Not many $40,000 four-doors will launch as hard as an all-wheel-drive Hemi.
We've sampled everything from the base, cloth upholstered V6 to the hairy-chested (but buttoned up) SRT8, and for most drivers the V6 will be more than adequate. It has adequate power when you need it and uses minimal fuel when you don't, and never makes untoward noise or vibration. We'd opt for the 8-speed automatic both to maximize efficiency and because it improves feel, performance and response.
We exercised, pushed and stressed Chrysler 300s in the hills and valleys, sinewy mountain roads and a racetrack and found them to be wonderful traveling companions. The variable-ratio electro-hydraulic power steering system has a lovely, firm 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. On S models the steering is faster and effort is increased with the V8, dare we say perfectly matching that model's composure.
Ride quality is smooth, comfortable and quiet. The cabin has been quieted down considerably with the addition of an acoustic bellypan under the car, acoustic material in the wheel wells and pillars, laminated front glass, multiple door seals, and an acoustic wrap around the complete interior to block out noise from the mechanical systems, the wind and the tires. Chrysler claims it's quieter than a Lexus LS460, an admirable claim, but we can say only that it is clear enough to hear a trumpet soloist breathe while the car is gliding along at 100 mph.
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.
The SRT8 pushes the realm of super sedan. With a 470-hp big-bore V8, solid-shifting 5-speed automatic, adaptive dampers from Bilstein, four-piston Brembo brakes and lighter forged alloy wheels with fairly sticky 20-inch tires the SRT8 adds to every dynamic. It's muted enough to make a fast, comfortable touring machine and amped-up enough to make quick work of any road. The 5-speed auto does what it's told but isn't as advanced as much of the competition's 6-, 7-, and 8-speeds. Fuel economy is respectable only compared to other super-sedans, and it isn't as fast as things like the Cadillac CTS-V or Mercedes E63 AMG. However, using all those cars delivers usually requires a racetrack. Also, the SRT8 costs $15,000-$40,000 less, and a set of replacement tires is about two-thirds that of the other cars.
Stand on the gas and the SRT8 accelerates like a rocket, with truckloads of torque. It feels like a modern muscle car. When cruising, it comes up short in the refinement category. The big-horsepower versions of all of these big, luxury hot rods lack some of the refinement of the less-stressed versions, but this seems particularly true with the Chrysler 300 SRT8. There's a clunky factor here. If we're going to suffer the downsides of a hot rod, we prefer the looks and character of the Dodge Challenger or Charger to the 300 SRT8.
The Chrysler 300 is a big American car with room, comfort, power, presence. It comes in a wide range of models and offers a good value.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent G.R. Whale reported from Los Angeles; with Jim McCraw reporting from San Diego; and Mitch McCullough in New York.
Chrysler 300 ($27,170); Limited ($32,170), AWD ($34,320); 300S V6 ($33,170), AWD ($35,320); 300C ($38,170), AWD ($40,320); 300S V8 ($39,710), AWD ($41,320).
Brampton, Ontario, Canada.
Options As Tested
Chrysler 300 Limited ($32,170).
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