2013 Chrysler 300C Expert Review:Autoblog
Who is John Varvatos? If you're like me, that's the question you were asking after seeing commercials that advertised a limited-edition model of the Chrysler 300 with this mystery man's name attached. If you're not like me and consider yourself a fashionista even in the slightest, then you probably already know that John Varvatos is a successful menswear designer who cut his teeth in the fashion houses of Ralph Lauren's Polo and Calvin Klein. He's also a native of Detroit, which makes the joining of his brand and that of Chrysler's more intelligible, what with the Auburn Hills-based automaker still eking efficacy from its nearly three-year-old "Imported from Detroit" tagline.
Whenever one of these co-branded vehicles crosses my path, I try to judge them according to some simple questions. The first is, does the co-branding make sense for the target audience? And the second is, do the changes improve or diminish the experience of the standard vehicle? With this partnership, both brands are clearly aiming at the same target, or perhaps Chrysler hopes its aim will improve by partnering with the JV set, bringing it closer to that bullseye of style-conscious trendsetters.
The second question, meanwhile, can be answered with your eyes alone, as no mechanical changes are included among the Varvatos upgrades. Despite that, the 300C John Varvatos Edition is priced above – well above – all other 300 sedans save the 300 SRT8, suggesting that cool is not sold by the barrel (was it ever?) and Mr. Varvatos is a dealer in the stuff. Yet while I couldn't actually tell you if John Varvatos was a designer or a ditch digger before Chrysler introduced us, I do like his style, and the man knows how to dress a car.
- There are actually two separate John Varvatos models of the 300C available. The murdered-out one you see here is priced from $44,345 and available only with rear-wheel drive, and there's a less expensive version called the John Varvatos Luxury Edition, available with either rear- or all-wheel drive, that loses the emo look in favor of shiny, happy platinum chrome trim and three other available (though still dark) colors. However, only the more expensive model gets a serialized badge on the center console. Chrysler offered just 2,000 examples for the 2013 model year (this one is No. 15), and while the automaker has confirmed that the Limited Edition will be back for the 2014 model year, it's unclear at this time exactly how many examples will be made.
- The visual changes focus on an entire blackout of the 300C's exterior, which includes the deeply rich and sparkly Phantom Black Tri-Coat Pearl paint and the 20-inch Titanium painted wheels. A black grille surrounded by a titanium-finish frame, and titanium-finish fog lamp rings, headlight bezels, mirror caps and exterior badging complete the Darth Varvatos look. It's actually quite fetching in person thanks to the contrast that's still present between the pure black paint and titanium-finish pieces.
- Kudos to Mr. V for not plastering his branding all over the exterior; the only indication it's a John Varvatos Limited Edition model, besides the color, is a small badge of the designer's logo on the rear.
- The branding is much less inconspicuous inside, with Varvatos logos debossed into the seatbacks and on both the speedometer and tachometer, the analog clock, the navigation system's start-up screen and the aforementioned serialized badge on the center console. Looking past that, the white contrasting stitching on the dash looks great, and the Diesel Gray double-stitch on the seats exhibits premium craftsmanship. Even the Charcoal Hydrographic woodgrain trim is monochromatic.
- I feel obliged to give at least a couple of notes on some non-Varvotos-related items in this 300C. The seats were not as comfortable as I expected and lacked any amount of bolstering that would be helpful in hot handling maneuvers. The Chrysler Uconnect infotainment system still stands up as the most user-friendly and responsive on the market. Lastly, the Beats by Dr. Dre audio system, a $995 option on top of the Varvatos package, offers overwhelming bass even at the default setting. I turned the bass all the way down and even that level felt like the default setting of some other stereos.
- This tester has Chrysler's 3.6-liter V6 engine rated at 292 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. While I'd normally prefer a V8, the V6 suits the Varvatos edition better. It's still plenty powerful, very smooth and returns an EPA-estimated 19 miles per gallon in the city and 31 on the highway. The latter is thanks to the V6 model's eight-speed automatic transmission, which has the engine hardly working on interstates. Shifts are almost imperceptible, which is good because they happen so often. Its one knock is its hesitating to leave the higher gears for passing maneuvers. Using the shift paddles can override the automatic, and there's a Sport mode to keep the engine on boil all the time, though fuel economy suffers. The eight-speed is only available with the V6, while V8 buyers have to settle for the old five-speed automatic.
- The 300C in general isn't a sport sedan, so as you'd expect, it shines more on the boulevard than the backroads. The ride is smooth, even with those 20-inch rollers, and spoiling four passengers is this car's purpose in life. This model, however, has the optional Dual-Pane Panoramic Sunroof (a $1,495 option), which steals away some precious headroom inches. The one dynamic quibble I had was with its steering, which felt overly heavy, even at low speeds.
- While I like the look of this 300C John Varvatos Limited Edition, I find myself considering it in the same way I shop for clothes. Browsing the John Varvatos website, I'd pick out his Linen V-Neck, Hampton Fit Pant and Chuck Taylor Double Zip High Tops to wear in a heartbeat. They'd make a great outfit, but I'm not going to pay $168 for a t-shirt, $1,595 for pants and $170 for a pair of Chucks. Likewise, the JV Limited Edition starts $14,000 above a base 300C at $30,345, and with the options on this tester and a $995 destination charge, crests $50,000. I'm not so square that I think fashion shouldn't command a premium, but for these markups, I'd like more than a different color palette.
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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