Thumbs Up: Everything a big American sedan should be.
Thumbs Down: Seats you sit on, not in.
Buy This Car If: You want an American sedan with a nod towards luxury.
The Chrysler 300 nameplate dates back to 1955 and the introduction of the Chrysler C-300. Back then, the car was a factory hot-rod, built primarily to meet homologation rules for NASCAR. It was a “parts bin special”, borrowing the front clip from Chrysler’s Imperial, a midsection from their New Yorker and rear quarter panels from the company’s Windsor. Great lengths were taken to remove trim and minimize things like side view mirrors; some say this was for styling, while others argue that it was done to improve the car’s aerodynamics for racing. Most importantly, it came equipped with a 300 horsepower, 5.4-liter Hemi V-8.
From such humble roots, the Chrysler 300 evolved into a luxury coupe with a focus on performance. Whatever the hottest engine in Chrysler’s lineup was, its engineers found a way to shoehorn it into the 300. The final 300 coupe, based on the mediocre Cordoba, was assembled in 1979. Chrysler still stuffed a V-8 under the hood, but emissions requirements strangled the 5.9-liter engine to an output of just 195 horsepower. The American economy had soured by the late 1970s, and buyers largely ignored the reborn Chrysler 300.
In 2003, Chrysler was looking to re-establish itself as a luxury automaker, with the help of then-partner Daimler. The Chrysler 300 sedan debuted as a concept at the 2003 New York Auto Show, and the public loved it. At launch in 2004, Chrysler offered both a regular version, with engines ranging from a 2.7-liter V-6 through a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, and a performance version from their SRT team. The SRT8 came with a 6.1-liter Hemi V-8, good for a pavement shredding 425 horsepower; it also came equipped with Brembo brakes and a suspension that ensured the car could go fast in more than just a straight line.
The reborn Chrysler 300 was a huge sales success for the company, but by 2010 the car was getting up in years. For the 2011 model year, Chrysler did a major refresh on the 300, but with an eye towards cost. The new and improved 300 still rides on the LX platform, and styling changes were evolutionary, not revolutionary. In both cases that’s a very good thing, since the LX platform is rock-solid and the look of the 300 is what attracts most buyers. Chrysler adhered to a time-tested guiding principle: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Outside, the biggest changes to the 2011 Chrysler 300’s sheetmetal are a rounded, more aerodynamic front and rear, coupled with a more steeply raked windshield. The changes give the new 300 a more modern look, without impacting the car’s stance or attitude. There’s no mistaking the Chrysler 300 for any other car on the road, and that’s a good thing for Chrysler. In fact, I’d go so far as to call the 300 a halo car for the automaker. Customers may end up buying Chrysler 200s, but it’s the 300 that draws them into showrooms.
If the changes to the exterior are subtle, you’d be correct in assuming that Chrysler spent bank on revising the interior. Gone is the bargain-bin dash and the closeout-special four-spoke steering wheel. Buyers now get a deeply textured, soft-touch vinyl dash, broken up by tasteful aluminum trim and dark-toned wood trim. The old four-spoke steering wheel is history, replaced with a much better updated four-spoke design. The rim is thick, which I like, and controls for the driver information display, Bluetooth phone and audio controls are well placed.
I’m not sure I liked the pale blue backlighting of the instrument panel, which reminded me too much of Buick’s design. That’s a personal thing, and Chrysler gets praise for the clear layout of their gauges and driver information display.
I’m generally not a fan of Chrysler’s infotainment systems, which I find too varied and confusing from vehicle to vehicle. The Garmin-derived navigation system used in the 300, however, is superb, and controls for everything ranging from climate though audio are clear and easy to navigate in all modes. Not only is the system the best I’ve ever encountered in a Chrysler product, it may well be the best I’ve ever encountered, period. Please, Chrysler, abandon all other systems used and incorporate this one across your entire product range.
When I write a review, it’s usually easy for me to come up with something I didn’t like about the car. More often than not, it’s a matter of narrowing down a list to come up with my biggest complaint. I struggled to come up with something that I found objectionable on the Chrysler 300, and to be honest, my sole complaint is a bit of a reach. The front seats in the Chrysler 300 are designed more for comfort and egress than for spirited driving. As I mentioned above, you sit on them, not in them. Is this an issue, at all, for Chrysler 300 buyers? I’ll go out on a limb and say “no,” and any 300 shoppers that want more supportive seating will find it in the 300 SRT8. Minor gripe aside, the front seats were comfortable, and come with both cooling and heating on 300C models.
Rear seats are cross-country comfortable, even for tall passengers. There’s ample leg room and ample head room, and rear-seaters even get their own HVAC vents. Adding to passenger comfort is a rear window sunshade, and the rear seats are heated for year-round comfort.
Some of the biggest changes for the 2011 model year come under the hood. Chrysler has binned both the 2.7-liter V-6 and the 3.5-liter V-6, opting for their much-improved 3.6 -liter Pentastar V-6 instead. All 300C models, like my tester, come equipped with Chrysler’s outstanding 5.7-liter Hemi V-8. It produces 358 horsepower and 389 ft-lb of torque, which is good enough to get the big sedan from 0 to 60 in about 5.5 seconds. That’s impressive, but the fuel economy is astonishing; thanks to Chrysler’s cylinder deactivation system, I saw fuel economy of 19.9 mpg in city driving. The EPA rates the Chrysler 300C at 16 mpg city and 25 mpg highway, and achieving those numbers doesn’t take much effort. If there’s a disappointment with the powertrain, it’s the five-speed automatic transmission. There’s nothing wrong with it, but a seven-speed automatic is coming and will yield both better performance and better fuel economy. Unfortunately, the seven speed automatic wasn’t ready for the market launch of the new Chrysler 300, but you can expect to see it for next year.
On the road, the 300C continues to impress. Ride comfort is very good, regardless of the pavement surface. Unlike the luxury sedans of old, the Chrysler 300 handles reasonably well for its bulk. Steering is nicely weighted and the front tires deliver more feedback than you’d expect them too. Sure, there’s body roll in corners, but it’s manageable even at speeds higher than most 300C drivers will ever push their cars. Chrysler has increased the amount of sound deadening used in the 300C, and the windshield now uses acoustically laminated glass. The net result is a cabin as quiet as any I’ve ever experienced, impressive given the 300C’s price point.
My 300C tester came loaded with safety options as well, including a forward collision warning system, a blind spot and cross-path detection system and adaptive cruise control. A rearview camera is standard on 300C models, and my tester even came with Chrysler’s ParkSense system to aid drivers with parallel parking. If you thought that such safety features only came on cars costing north of $50k, the Chrysler 300 would prove you wrong.
My 2011 Chrysler 300C tester had a base price of $38,995, including a destination charge of $825. Options on my tester included the $995 Ivory Tri-Coat Pearl paint, the $650 Sound Group I Package (9 speakers, subwoofer, 506 Watt amplifier), the $2,760 SafetyTec Package (manual folding mirrors, self-leveling HID headlamps, rear fog lights, forward collision warning system, ParkSense system, blind spot and cross-path detection, adaptive cruise control, supplemental mirror turn signals), the $1,295 Dual-Pane Sunroof and the $995 20-Inch Polished Wheel Package for a total price of $45,725. For comparison, a similarly equipped Buick Lucerne Super would sticker for $45,225, a comparable Cadillac DTS Premium would list at $57,435 and a similar Lincoln MKS would sticker at $57,590.
In fairness, the Lincoln includes AWD, which would add $2,150 to the price of the 300C. Still, it’s easy to see that the Chrysler 300C represents a solid bargain in the luxury segment, and this becomes even more apparent as you compare it to luxury sedans from Germany and Japan. If you’re shopping for a full-size Audi, Lexus, BMW or Mercedes, do yourself a favor and test-drive the Chrysler 300C. I’ll bet that you’ll come away more than a little impressed.