Amid all the current woes of the American automobile industry, the past year has seen a few standout new products, and the Chrysler 300
is the brightest of them all. Introduced in 2004 as a 2005 model, the 300 has collected an impressive array of awards and become a true sales success. This is the classic large-sedan formula-wrapped in provocative sheetmetal and offered at an attractive price-that Americans have always loved.
DaimlerChrysler group has transferred key technologies from its German brand, Mercedes-Benz, to Chrysler, notably adapting E-Class platform elements, and packaged them with bold American styling and powertrains. The resulting car spans in price from the mid-$20Ks to low $40Ks, providing competition to midsize family sedans, entry-level compact luxury sedans, and even super-high-performance sedans such as the Cadillac CTS-V. Models include a base V-6-engined 300, V-6 Touring and Limited models, a V-8 300C, and the very powerful SRT8. Rear-drive is standard, and all but the base 300 and the SRT8 are available with all-wheel drive.
Love it or hate it, the 300's styling gives it a real presence on the road. By opting for a front-engine, rear-drive layout, Chrysler gave the 300 classic sedan proportions, marking a significant departure from the cab-forward design that typified Chrysler cars until recently. The high beltline, shallow glass area, and large wheel openings give the 300 a pleasingly aggressive stance. And the car looks even larger than it is because its ample length and width contrast dramatically with its chopped roof.
Externally, there are few ways to differentiate among the models. The V-8-powered 300Cs have dual exhausts and standard 18-inch wheels and tires. The Limited and Touring both have 17-inch aluminum wheels, but the Limited's are gorgeous, flat-dish, chrome affairs, while the Touring makes do with dull grey alloys. The base 300 has plain-Jane steel wheels with hubcaps. You won't mistake the SRT8, however, with its outrageous bodykit and 20-inch forged wheels (yes, you read that right: 20 inches).
The first thing you'll notice about the 300 interior is that it's huge, a real nod to those monstrous American sedans of the 1960s and 1970s. Upscale 300s, with leather, power seats, faux tortoise trim, and bright metal accents, look like cut-price luxury cars. While the materials aren't in the Lexus class, the overall ambience and feel of the 300 is one of a lot of car for the money. The 300 is classified as a large car in terms of interior space, and it also has a suitably large trunk, at 15.6 cubic feet. The short windows start high up, so some drivers may feel like they're sitting in a bathtub or looking out through gun slits, but that's the trade-off for the hot-rod exterior styling.
The base 300 has air conditioning, cloth seats, a power driver's seat, and power windows, locks, and mirrors. Moving up to the Touring gains leather seats. Limited models also have heated front seats, a power passenger seat, steering wheel audio controls, and a better audio system, and automatic climate control. The 300C gets everything: better leather, tortoise-shell accents on the steering wheel and shifter, a power tilt/telescoping wheel, and a 288-watt stereo.
The 300 comes standard with seatbelt pretensioners and front driver and passenger airbags. Front and rear side-curtain airbags are available on all models. The advanced front airbags are teamed with an occupant classification system that detects the size of the passenger and smartly reacts to each situation based on the person's perceived safety needs. Optional on base models and standard on others are anti-lock brakes, all-speed traction control, and Electronic Stability Program (ESP), an effective system used on Mercedes-Benz models.
You're not going to get anywhere in a hurry if you opt for the base 300, as it's powered by a sweet but under-endowed 2.7-liter V-6 engine that makes 190-horsepower and 190 lb-ft of torque. Move up to the Limited and the Touring, and the V-6 displacement increases to 3.5 liters, giving a willing 250 horses and 250 lb-ft of torque. In all three models, the engine is mated to a four-speed automatic transmission.
The 300C harks back to the past for its inspiration-a modern Hemi OHV V-8 engine that displaces 5.7 liters and makes a bodacious 340 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque. Mated to a five-speed automatic transmission, it gives the 300C a surprising turn of speed. The Hemi is fitted with Chrysler's Multi-Displacement System (MDS), enabling it to transition from eight- to four-cylinder operation to conserve fuel. Smartly programmed, the switching is transparent to the driver, giving 10- to 20-percent fuel savings with no apparent downside.
If you want even more power, the 300 is available in a high-performance SRT8 model that has a 6.1-liter V-8 producing 425 horsepower and 420 lb-ft. Allied with suspension and braking upgrades, the SRT8 is a brutally serious performance sedan, with a top speed of 165 mph and 0-60-mph times low in the five-second bracket.
Behind the Wheel
Anyone who likes American cars is going to love the 300. It also appeals to anyone who needs a family sedan with a ton of room and wants to waft down the highway serenely.The base 300 is a bit underpowered, but the mid-level 300s deliver the right amount of performance for most consumers at an attractive price point. The 300C, however, is the true standout, quickening an enthusiasts' pulse by incorporating all the things we love about American cars-style, presence, lots of horsepower, and a mean V-8 engine note-along with some of the sophistication we've come to expect of the best German cars. The 300C has balanced steering, fine brakes, a supple ride, and good handling, thanks to its rear-wheel-drive layout and all-around independent suspension that has a lot in common with the far pricier Mercedes Benz E-Class. The SRT8 is fast, mean, and a riot to drive-plus it's priced many thousands less than competitive models.
Ultimately, all 300s feel like cut-rate luxury cars rather than overpriced family sedans, buyers will congratulate themselves for making the right value decision, while remaining cognizant of certain refinement and technology compromises. The space, power, and road presence is more than enough to compensate for any showroom envy specification-watchers may have. Many luxury-car makers offer a better warranty than Chrysler's 3-year/36,000-mile deal, but at least all 300s come with the Chrysler Premium Care Warranty, which gives you a free loaner car for non-body shop maintenance and repairs. Most 300s can tow 2,000 pounds, but we suspect that the majority of their owners will prefer to leave the trailer behind, as the car's looks are greatly diminished with a Coleman camper in tow. The 2005 Chrysler 300 earned the IntelliChoice Best Overall Value of the Year award in the Large Car category, proving that its object value proposition is as appealing as its distinctive styling.
Chrysler once again has built the great American sedan, and it's a really great one.
Introduced for the 2005 model year, the 300 has proved such a roaring success that there are only minor changes for the 2006 model line.
Avoid the base 300 and move up to a Touring or Limited. All-wheel drive is good for drivers in the Snow Belt. If you crave performance, however, go straight for the 300C, or even splurge for the smokin' SRT8. If the base car is all that's in your budget, go for the optional ESP stability control.
Others to Consider
Ford Five HundredToyota AvalonNissan Maxima