Chrysler has sporadically marketed automobiles under the "300" designation for half a century. In its 1999 to 2004 iteration, the Chrysler 300M was a front-wheel-drive sedan with V-6 power.
A completely different 300 sedan that takes the place of both the 300M and Concorde has joined Chrysler's lineup for the 2005 model year. Instead of front-wheel drive, with which all Chrysler passenger cars since 1990 have been equipped, the new 300 has rear-wheel drive.
To counteract concerns that the rear-drive 300 won't handle properly on snow and ice, Chrysler installs an Electronic Stability Program in upper-end models. It's an option for the base sedan.
Dodge introduced a closely related Magnum series with the same three engine choices, but the Magnum is a wagon rather than a four-door sedan. All-wheel-drive versions of the 300 and Magnum will be available.
Flaunting a completely new shape, the 300 looks bold and imposing. Senior design manager Mark Hall says the 300 has classic proportions and a noble and upscale appearance that is led by a prominent, low-positioned crosshatch grille. "This vehicle has presence, [with belt moldings that are] nestled down into the sheet metal," Hall said.
Aluminum is used for the hood and deck lid. Built on a 120-inch wheelbase, the 300 is nearly 2 inches taller than the 300M it replaces. Sizable wheel openings encircle 17-inch tires on the base sedan and 18-inchers on the other trim levels.
Though the 300 is shorter overall than the 300M, the new five-passenger sedan is larger inside. The new seating position is 2.5 inches higher than that of the 300M sedan, and a four-gauge instrument cluster with light silver faces and chrome trim rings has watch-face styling. Trunk volume totals 15.6 cubic feet.
Under the Hood
A 2.7-liter V-6 produces 190 horsepower in the base sedan. Other models get a 250-hp, 3.5-liter V-6. Both engines team with a four-speed-automatic transmission in rear-wheel-drive 300s, but the all-wheel-drive 300's 3.5-liter V-6 works with a five-speed automatic.
Antilock brakes, traction control and an Electronic Stability Program are optional on the base sedan and standard on other models. Side curtain-type airbags are optional.
From the first moments behind the wheel, the 300 feels especially solid and substantial. The 3.5-liter V-6 delivers adequate power for mountain climbs but no true surplus. Except for a slight snarl when pushing hard while climbing, the V-6 is very quiet. Performance is almost as appealing with the 2.7-liter V-6, which is a little noisier.
The 300 steers easily and demands just enough effort to impart a semi-sporty sensation. You can expect a confident feel through winding roads — and that's a cut above customary family-sedan levels.
Performance in snow and ice is amazing because of the Electronic Stability Program. Even if you tromp the gas on a snow-packed curve, the system kicks in immediately to keep the car on course. But it might feel like the system has taken over too assertively.
The seats are reasonably supportive and comfortable, but a bit hard. Abundant glass area and large mirrors help visibility. The gauges look interesting, and the high trip odometer is very easy to read. Backseat space is abundant and promises plenty of legroom and an acceptable amount of headroom.