2011 Chrysler 300: Review
Chrysler's redesigned full-size flagship sedan is a home run.
- Balanced and inspired handling
- Classy interior design and finish
- High equipment level
- Exterior design bravado lost
- Considerable weight
- Chrome overdose on some trim levels
Chrysler launched the brawny 300 sedan to great acclaim in 2004. It quickly became a significant landmark for the now-renascent automaker, akin to its 1984 minivans and 1994 Ram full-size pickup. With a bold grille, wide stance and low roof, the 300 represented a fully modern version of the traditional American full-size family car.
Its bank-vault build and the solid handling values of its rear-wheel-drive platform — soon augmented with all-wheel-drive versions — spawned gifted variants such as the Charger and the Challenger, which became some of the more exciting and impressive beasts in Chrysler's stable.
The Chrysler group has carefully and extensively redesigned its flagship sedan for 2011. The result is quality and excellence beyond our expectations. This newfangled Chrysler 300 does harbor softer looks and it is kindler and gentler. But it also packs a serious punch in all meaningful respects and is ready to tackle all comers in its class, and a few more beyond.
Using the architecture from the outgoing model as a starting point, the automaker changed everything on the 300, from its exterior styling to the smallest details. The previous model, developed during the DaimlerChrysler merger era, used several systems from earlier versions of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class platform, most significantly the front and rear suspension units.
With proper resources at their disposal once again, designers and engineers set high goals in terms of handling, ride, quietness and quality for Chrysler's flagship sedan. They have succeeded to a point where the origins of its various components are now irrelevant. During development, Chrysler did not use domestic rivals as a benchmark, gunning instead for top-tier references such as the BMW 5-Series, Lexus LS and Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedans. It shows.
Clay models and prototypes were used throughout the exterior redesign process, with the goal of making the new Chrysler 300's more refined overall shape less of a caricature of itself while still remaining distinctly American. The smoother grille, for instance, is less striking but more elegant than the previous model's egg-crate design. The high beltline was retained, but the top edge of the windshield was pushed back 3 inches to improve aerodynamics and visibility. High-strength steel, used extensively to make the body shell stiffer, also yielded thinner roof pillars that significantly improve outward vision.
Short front and rear overhangs preserve the 300's full-size, rear-drive-sedan proportions, highlighted with styling details that are both richer and more discreet. With its chiseled shoulder line, smoothly tapered surfaces and more finely shaped taillights, there is a touch of Bentley in the stance and presence of the new 300 from the rear. Classy company, indeed.
Four trims of the new sedan are offered: 300 and 300 Limited versions get Chrysler's new Pentastar V6 engine, while the 300C and 300C all-wheel-drive trims rely on the Hemi V8. The standard 300 is anything but a stripped base model. In addition to a full array of safety systems, comfort features and power accessories, it gets Chrysler's Uconnect interface, which includes an 8.4-inch touch-screen with USB, iPod, SD-card and audio inputs for a 6-speaker audio system with Sirius satellite radio.
A step up in the hierarchy is the 300 Limited, which looks and feels downright opulent. It adds leather seats — heated in front — Bluetooth connectivity with voice commands, a backup camera and a 276-watt Alpine audio system. The optional Luxury Group adds wood inside, Nappa leather for the seats — heated and cooled in front, heated in the rear — and memory buttons for the power-adjustable driver's seat, pedals and tilt-and-telescope leather-wrapped steering wheel. There are heated and cooled cupholders, too.
Luxury Group features are standard on V8-powered 300C models. In addition, the luxury trims include a Garmin navigation system with Sirius Travel Link info, HomeLink remote controls and chromed outside mirrors that power-fold, auto-dim and auto-tilt in reverse, linked with a memory function.
Also available on the 300 Limited and both 300C and 300C AWD models is the SafetyTec Package. It adds xenon headlights that pivot 15 degrees into turns, low beams that automatically keep level, automatic cruise control with forward-collision warning, blind-spot monitoring, front and rear parking sensors, LED rear fog lamps and redundant turn-signal lamps, plus HomeLink remote controls, rain-sensing wipers and automatic headlights for the Limited.
Under the Hood
The 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 in 300 and 300 Limited trims is no mere base engine. Well-matched with the 300's proven 5-speed automatic gearbox, it provides smooth and decently vigorous acceleration, with a pleasant, muted howl. Its maximum output is 292 horsepower at 6350 rpm and peak torque is 260 lb-ft at 4800 rpm, 90 percent of it available at a diesellike 1800 rpm. EPA ratings are 18 mpg city/27 mpg highway, an 8 percent improvement, attained on regular 87 octane gasoline.
Up a solid notch is the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 engine in 300C models. With 363 horsepower at 5200 rpm and a peak torque output of 394 lb-ft at 4200 rpm, it is said to hustle the 2-ton-plus sedan to 60 mph in less than six seconds. The 300C all-wheel drive feels strong, with the expected growl when pushed hard. Shorter top-gear and final-drive ratios help offset its extra 243 pounds. The 300C and 300C AWD's respective EPA ratings are 16/25 and 15/23. Chrysler's Fuel Saver technology, which lets the big V8 run on half its cylinders at steady speeds, is claimed to reduce its consumption of recommended midgrade 89 octane fuel by 20 percent.
The main design motto at Chrysler these days must be, "No more gray interiors." The new 300's cabin is a brilliant example of that approach. Soft surfaces abound, and the quality of materials is outstanding. The lines and layout of the instrument panel and all controls are at once clear, modern and classic, squaring that elusive design circle in all significant regards. Fit and finish follows suit. The main gauges in the all-new instrument cluster are clear and legible, with unique sapphire-blue illumination and chrome rings. The 8.2-inch touch-screen that houses the navigation system on 300C models is impeccably crisp, and the various menus are logically arranged and easy to navigate.
The front seats are comfortable and supportive. Setting a good driving position is also a cinch, with side-mounted seat controls within easy reach and an indispensable flat footrest on the left. Simply put, the new 300's superbly finished cabin radiates quality and unpretentious luxury. That's the best kind.
On the Road
No need to go for the top model to get a full measure of the new 300's road prowess. The V6-powered Limited we drove is surprisingly smooth and quiet, with precise steering and stable handling. Its four disc brakes are powerful and easy to modulate. The only minor glitch we noticed was a slight hollow sound that appeared when the engine was under load at about 1500 rpm.
Our time in a 300C all-wheel-drive version confirmed the same dynamic virtues, in proportionately stronger dosage. Its exceptionally linear responses in transitions and while turning into corners are rare traits, especially in a big all-wheel-drive sedan. The AWD 300's more favorable 55/45 percent front/rear weight distribution is another plus.
No part of the new 300's suspension was left untouched, and it shows. In addition to the new suspension cradles, shock absorbers, springs, bushings and thicker anti-roll bars common to all models, the all-wheel-drive version has specific components that lower its ride height by 0.15 inch and help channel and manage up to 38 percent of the Hemi V8's torque at the front wheels.
The flip side to the 300C's smooth demeanor, along with the nearly total absence of wind noise, is that it blots out any impression of speed at the helm; you really need to pay attention to the car's actual speed. We also noticed and appreciated the car's relatively tight turning diameter, which made nonevents of close-quarter maneuvers.
Right for You?
Chrysler has done a fine job of leveraging the core traditional values and visceral appeal of its first modern 300 sedan, and has taken it to the next level with smartly focused refinement and development work. The 300 is a solid, comfortable and remarkably quiet full-size sedan with outstanding poise and balance. Pricing starts at $27,170, and equipment and content levels are properly sybaritic compared with direct rivals. In Chrysler's return to the fray, this new family of 300 sedans is a convincing and promising achievement.
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The 300M was a good car, the 300C a better car, but the new 300C is a grand slam home run.
And it's a beautiful, solid car to drive.
Well done Chrysler.