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 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.