2007 300 New Car Test Drive
The Chrysler 300 has collected a host of design awards around the world, and we'd call them well-earned. A handful of detractors claim the 300's styling, particularly its Bentley-esque front end, is derivative, but we think that's a superficial view. Certainly the 300 respects tradition and draws inspiration from the past, as many beautiful designs do. But it has also redefined what a Detroit sedan can be, more clearly and thoroughly than any automobile in recent years.
With its rear-wheel-drive architecture, the Chrysler 300 might be a case of back to the future. Yet there's little about it that's retro, except maybe the giant grille, which clearly draws on 300s from the past. The first Chrysler 300 was introduced in 1955 with an engine having hemispherical combustion chambers, called the Hemi. It 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.
The current Chrysler 300 is just as bold, and cool, too. Its styling makes no apologies. Curiously, maybe magically, it appeals to young and old.
The Chrysler 300 looks dramatic in profile because its rear-wheel-drive layout allows a distinctive shape. The wheel-well cutouts, wrapping around rims up to 20 inches in diameter, are striking. The wheelbase is long but the overhangs are short, offering a visual sense of power. The roofline, a sort of '30s gangster tease, beautifully complements the long, low lines, which appear to be carved 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, framed by wing-like double-beam headlights.
New for 2007 are optional outside mirrors with supplemental turn signals and courtesy puddle lamps. These cast a useful halo of light on the ground beneath the doors when the 300 is unlocked with the remote key fob. This feature adds some security in dark garages and is very useful if you happen to drop something as you're getting into the car.
The high-performance SRT-8 may be the coolest-looking 300 of all. Its unique features include body-color front and rear bumper inserts, mirrors and door handles, and the modifications are more than aesthetic. The front and rear ends direct air flow through unique ducts that cool the brakes, while a specially designed rear spoiler increases rear downforce by 39 percent, helping keep the rear tires firmly planted at high speed without increasing drag. Yet the coolest thing about the SRT-8 might be its 20-inch, forged aluminum wheels and asymmetrical high-performance tires. These maximize that visual power, and they're staggered in the classic track-performance tradition, with the rear tires slightly wider than the fronts.
The Executive Series package, or long-wheelbase version, is new for 2007. It adds six inches to the standard wheelbase and provides more than 46 inches of rear legroom inside. Outside, it gives the 300 a stately, limo look.
The stylish theme set by the 2007 Chrysler 300 body carries through inside, although the style in the cabin is even more clearly defined by purpose. There's a definite form-follows-function approach, with little superfluous decoration. In this interior, you'll also find the roots of a trend among sedans.
The Chrysler 300 was among the first to adapt an increasingly popular high seating position, with seats that rise several inches above those in the typical sedan before it. This blueprint was no doubt a response to the booming popularity of sport-utility vehicles. It's probably the thing to do nowadays because buyers like to sit high, and because the high door sills add a feeling of security. The windshield rake is relatively modest, so visibility forward is enhanced over the 300's long hood. Visibility to the rear is excellent, without much intrusion from the roofline.
Still, those who prefer a lower, leaned-back seating position can find it inside the 300. The up-down travel of the driver's seat bottom is significant, and the driving position easily adjusts for all sizes and tastes. Our loaded 300C featured power-adjustable pedals, which move back and forth with a button on the dash. The adjustable pedals were welcome in this car, because the steering wheel also telescopes. The pedals add another tailoring tool to the mix, rather than simply replacing the telescoping wheel as they do in some vehicles so equipped. The seats themselves are on the firm side, but comfortable. They could use more side bolstering in the 300C, which has the engine and tires to corner harder than the seats might like.
The dash and instruments are both very clean. Our 300C had a satin silver center stack, elegantly functional with almost nothing decorative about it. It was a pleasant surprise not to have to play games with the controls and switchgear to get them to work. There are two horizontal rectangular climate vents on either side of an analog clock, above the sound system and a climate system controlled by four simple knobs. The four gauges are round, clear and pleasing to the eye, almost Italian-looking, in a balanced layout with black numbers and needles on a white background. From the driver's perspective, it's all good.
Overall finish and material quality don't quite live up to the standards set by the design, but they're not bad, either. There was nothing so cheap or crude inside the 300 that it would keep us from enjoying the car. 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. California walnut trim is an option. Our leather interior was a subtle gray-beige two-tone, and again, Mercedes-like. Suede inserts on the SRT-8 seats raise the richness meter a notch, and more prominent bolsters keep the driver centered in fast turns.
In general, the 300 interior is marked by spacious silence. Chrysler engineers have made noticeable progress toward reducing interior and wind noise in all their recent vehicles, and the flagship sedan leads the way.
The space comes courtesy of the efficient exterior shape. The wheels are pushed to the corners, and the long wheelbase leaves 106.6 cubic feet inside. The door openings are extra large, making climbing in and out easy.
The Chrysler 300 models offer a relaxing 40 inches of rear legroom and outboard passengers will find plenty to like, including a folding center armrest with integrated cup holders. Of course, rear-wheel drive means a prominent driveshaft tunnel down the center of the car, so anyone sitting rear-center must straddle the tunnel or sit with knees pushed up toward the chest.
The rear seat in long-wheelbase 300 models is cavernous. These cars are aimed at the chauffeur-driven executive class long dominated by European makes. It remains to be seen if they succeed from the marketing perspective, but they certainly succeed in the practical sense.