The Chrysler 300 is one of the last of the big, powerful, rear-wheel-drive American four-door sedans, a car for the open road and a long highway. It has great styling, impressive handling and, with the available Hemi V8 of 360 horsepower, pavement-eating performance. It's smooth, luxurious, quiet, comfortable, and everything a top-end American four-door sedan should be.
The Chrysler 300 nameplate includes a wide range of engines, trim levels and amenities, from one with a frugal V6 to the powerful SRT8. The base Touring model comes well-equipped for around $27,000. The Touring Signature model adds leather, amenities and a more powerful V6 for a little over $30,000. The 300C offers the powerful Hemi V8, with Chrysler's fuel-saving Multi-Displacement System, and it can be equipped with the kinds of technology and luxury features buyers in this segment demand.
The Chrysler 300 is rear-wheel drive, and we consider that a benefit. Rear-wheel drive adds to the pleasure and excitement of driving this big sedan, and that's partly why luxury sedans and sports cars continue to use it. The 300's traction and stability electronics are well sorted and effective, delivering good all-season performance, and all-wheel drive is an option for those who want enhanced traction for dealing with slippery conditions. With the big-torque Hemi V8, the 300 also offers enough towing capacity to pull a lightweight trailer.
The Chrysler 300 models are comfortable. They're also responsive for large cars. The 300C delivers thrilling acceleration, while the SRT8 offers true high performance in civilized fashion.
Then there's the styling. Inside and out, this car makes no apologies. It won't be mistaken for any other sedan the road. It can be trimmed with chrome, mono-chrome and various wheels to look stately and elegant or downright intimidating.
The Chrysler 300 delivers impressive value, but emphasizing the cost/benefit ratio may minimize its other strengths. The 300 is a highly appealing car, and it has set a benchmark for the industry.
Long-wheelbase models are also available. Aimed primarily at the chauffeur-driven executive class, the long-wheelbase version offers a cavernous back seat with impressive leg room. It's great for tall folks or anyone who likes space and convenience, and it can be equipped with custom features such as writing tables and foot rests.
The changes for 2010 include the availability of Keyless Entry/Keyless Go, which is standard on the 300C; ParkSense rear park assist, also standard on the 300C; the 300 Touring has standard chrome door handles and front and rear fascia accents, and heated chrome mirrors; and standard on all models are side-curtain airbags.
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 also redefined what a Detroit sedan can be.
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. It was called the C300 and its engine had hemispherical combustion chambers earning the Hemi nickname. It had two four-barrel carburetors, was rated at 300 horsepower (huge for the time), and it achieved fame as the most powerful engine of the day, winning the NASCAR championship in the C300's first year and setting top speed records on the beach at Daytona.
The current Chrysler 300 is just as bold. Its styling makes no apologies. It has a look that appeals to young and old alike.
The Chrysler 300 looks dramatic in profile because its rear-wheel-drive layout allows a distinctive shape. The wheelwell 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.
Outside mirrors with supplemental turn signals and courtesy puddle lamps are optional. 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 SRT8 may be the coolest-looking 300 of all. Its unique features include body-color front and rear bumper inserts, mirrors and door handles. The modifications are more than aesthetic: There are ducts to direct air flow to 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 SRT8 might be its 20-inch forged aluminum wheels and high-performance tires, which maximize that visual impression of power.
The Executive Series package, or long-wheelbase version, adds six inches to the standard wheelbase, all behind the front doors, and provides 46 inches of rear legroom inside. Outside, it gives the 300 a stately, limo-like look.
The stylish theme set by the Chrysler 300 body carries through inside, though the style in the cabin is even more clearly defined by purpose. There's a definite form-follows-function approach, with little superfluous decoration.
The Chrysler 300 was among the first to adapt an increasingly popular high seating position, with seats that are higher than those in a typical sedan. This blueprint was perhaps 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. However, the roofline stretches out fairly far in front of the driver's seat, making stoplights hard to see if you get too close. Visibility is also blocked to the right rear by a large rear pillar.
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 are welcome in this car, because the steering wheel also telescopes. The seats themselves are on the firm side, but comfortable. They could use more side bolstering in the 300C, which has substantial cornering capability and could thus use seats that do a slightly better job of holding the driver in place when it's being driving enthusiastically.
The dash and instruments are both very clean, elegantly functional and with a minimum of decoration. 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 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 is 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 two-tone, and again, Mercedes-like. The SRT8 seats raise the richness meter a notch, and the side bolstering is more prominent, but again, it could be more so.
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 lots of space inside for people. 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. With 46 inches of rear legroom, the long-wheelbase 300 surpasses most everything else available. If you want a roomy back seat, the Chrysler 300 Executive Series has it. These cars are shipped from the factory for conversion by a company called Acubuilt, which offers a host of special features, including custom writing tables, lighting, extra power points and footrests.
Interior storage in the 300 is decent. The fast-food bin in front of the shifter is marginal, but the console is nice and deep, with coin holders and deep cup holders.
The trunk is adequately large. At 15.6 cubic feet, it has about three cubic feet less space than the largest you'll find in a sedan, but the 60/40 split folding rear seat (a rarity in this class) expands cargo capacity into the cabin. The trunk lid swings high, and the opening is large enough to easily slide a golf bag inside.
From the driver's seat, the Chrysler 300 is one of the better big American sedans we've tested. To be sure, that view is colored by a preference for rear-wheel drive. Yet more than that, the 300 created a new definition for the Detroit sedan. With its size, styling and design features, it retains characteristics that might be described as uniquely American. But it also has an international quality, measured by its responsiveness and efficiency.
We tested a 300C in typical Detroit winter slop, and found it worked well in most situations. Chrysler has done a fine job of tuning the traction and stability electronics. With all-season tires, the 300C got through typical snow and slush just fine, but an unplowed alley proved to be a problem. We'd recommend either an all-wheel drive model or a good set of snow tires for drivers that often encounter snow or other slippery conditions.
The Chrysler 300 Touring base model drives nice. The dual-overhead cam 2.7-liter V6 engine delivers 178 horsepower, enough to handle big-city rush-hour traffic. It's a frugal choice, both in terms of fuel cost and the purchase price. Some drivers may find themselves working this engine hard, however, and wishing for a little more power. Also, the four-speed automatic transmission lacks the responsiveness and flexibility of a five-speed automatic.
The 3.5-liter V6 in the 300 Touring Signature and 300 Limited will work better for most buyers. We found the power better than adequate, even after driving the powerful 300C. We also liked the smooth and quick-shifting five-speed automatic, which is based on a Mercedes design. But the 3.5-liter V6 is available with the five-speed only in the AWD models; in the rear-drive models the 3.5 V6 has the four-speed automatic.
On the road, the Chrysler 300 feels as solid as it looks, having inherited significant mechanicals from Chrysler's former parent company, Mercedes-Benz. From a handling standpoint, the 300 is heavily and positively influenced by a design borrowed from the Mercedes E-Class: Five-link rear suspension mounted to a subframe, and the short-arm/long-arm front suspension, modified for the 300's longer wheelbase, wider track and bigger wheels.
The ride is smooth, but solid enough to prevent wallowing. We wouldn't change much. This is a large car, to be sure. It has a long wheelbase (120 inches), yet its overall length is relative short, and it doesn't feel balky or cumbersome. In short, it doesn't drive big. It feels a bit heavy, but also very secure, confident and responsive. It rides well, even the sportier 300C.
The 300 is reasonably easy to park despite its size. However, only the upper models have rear obstacle detection, which beeps an audible tone, increasing the frequency as you back toward an object.
The 300C handles well for a car its size. We found it maintained a fairly even keel when driven hard through switchback turns. Body lean was well-checked. The weight of the car became apparent in transient maneuvers, as it could be felt transitioning from one side to the other. The cornering is good enough that the all-season tires don't really do it justice. We think the 300 would respond very well to a set of summer performance tires, with a set of winter tires on a second set of wheels.
Chrysler has gotten the rack-and-pinion steering right. It has just the right amount of weight, and it delivers a secure feeling. We like its accuracy.
The brakes are excellent. Driving a 300C hard over some twisty mountain roads, the big Bosch-built brakes really did the job, inspiring surprising confidence in a car that weighs over 4000 pounds. The front brakes on the 300C are bigger and better than those on the V6 models; antilock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake distribution, which balances brake force front and rear, are standard on all but the 300 Touring.
Its brakes and 389 pound-feet of torque from the Hemi V8 deliver surprising towing capacity for a sedan. The 300C will pull 2000 pounds of trailer straight off the dealer lot, and substantially more with fairly minor aftermarket modifications.
The 300C can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds, according to Chrysler, but it feels even quicker than that. In shorter bursts of acceleration, this car squirts like few larger sedans available today, and you'll love the deep growling Hemi exhaust note along the way. For fun and convenience, all that torque should not be underestimated.
And here's where the efficiency part of the equation comes into play. The 300C's 5.7-liter Hemi is a cam-in-block engine, just like the monster American muscle-car V8s of the '60s and early '70s. Yet it features a cylinder de-activation technology Chrysler calls the Multi-Displacement System (MDS), which shuts down four of the eight cylinders when the power isn't needed. MDS is much better (and simpler and better sorted) than those introduced after the first fuel crunch of the 1970s. The transfers from eight to four to eight cylinders occur in a fraction of a second, and we never noticed it happening.
As a result, this V8 delivers 360 horsepower and 389 pound-feet of torque yet fuel economy is an EPA-rated 16/25 mpg City/Highway, not bad given the size and weight of the car. Chrysler claims that in certain situations, like cruising at a steady 60 mph for extended periods, the 300C will deliver up to 30 mpg. In any case, if you want to cruise with a light foot, you're using only four cylinders and therefore less gas.
If you prefer a heavy foot, the SRT8 is the most impressive 300 of all. This model is not a hot rod in the traditional American sense, which might be described as rough or even crude. Rather, the SRT8 is more a complete performance upgrade, in the fashion of European models such as the Mercedes AMG models or the BMW M cars, with improvements to the brakes (from Brembo) and a suspension tuned to match the powerful engine without beating up the people inside.
The SRT8's Hemi is a big engine, with a 6.1-liter displacement, and it is tuned for free revving and immediate throttle response. The result is 425 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque, and in this sense the SRT8 is like the muscle cars of the '60s. Floor the accelerator, even for a second, and it shoves heads back into headrests. Keep it floored and you'll be talking to the local law enforcement before you realize it. If you love the rush of acceleration, the SRT8 is hard to beat. Unfortunately, it comes with a Gas Guzzler tax of $1,751.
Still, focusing on engine performance underestimates the SRT8. It's very well sorted and balanced, if balance is defined as a mix of grip, responsive handling and decent ride quality. From the driver's perspective, it's one of the more entertaining and satisfying sedans available today. Compared to more expensive European competitors, the SRT8 is a bargain, given its price and performance potential.
The Chrysler 300 delivers bold styling. It's smooth and quiet, with a great ride and tight handling. Getting in and out is easy, and it's roomy inside. Models are available for all tastes and budgets. Its traction and stability electronics work well, but buyers who want to be prepared for bad weather should opt for all-wheel drive. The base 300 is a lot of car for the money, with a proven V6 that has adequate power for many drivers. We prefer the Touring and Limited models, with their more powerful V6 and higher levels of features. The 300C comes with a Hemi V8 that can dust expensive luxury cars in performance and value. The SRT8 delivers outstanding performance in civilized style at a price that's hard to beat.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Kirk Bell reported from Detroit, with Tom Lankard in Northern California.