This is the car Eminem should have driven through Detroit during that incredible Super Bowl ad.
The 2011 Chrysler 300 is stunning to look at and fun to drive. It has undergone more of a transformation than a redesign — like a butterfly emerging from its sheet-metal cocoon. Before, it was dated and gloomy. The interior had more hard plastic edges than a Rubik's Cube. Its anemic 2.7-liter V-6 produced less horsepower than a Big Wheel.
But this one is special. It didn't get a makeover; it got a do-over.
The 300 was one of the cars on Chrysler Group LLC's original to-do list before Fiat SpA took over and revised the list to include everything.
I understand why Chrysler chose the depressing 200 for the commercial. It's assembled in Metro Detroit, and technically, the only other vehicles imported from Detroit are the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango. "Imported from Brampton, Canada" might not have struck that chord with viewers, and recasting Eminem with Justin Bieber would have left us with a high-pitched: "They are the Motor City. It's what they do, eh?"
It would have been a distraction and nothing should distract you from this 300. It deserves your full attention. Those daytime running LEDs in the headlamps demand it.
This car zooms past "has been" straight to "one of the best large sedans around." Well, kind of. There are still some glitches here and there — but still — the best way to win customers is to make one fine ride. The new 300 is.
The 300's exterior includes that strong face. The headlamps have an Audi-esque cut of LEDs that immediately draw your eyes. The C-shaped LEDs are distinctive and memorable. When you examine the headlamps closely, you'll see the projector beam headlights.
The new seven-blade grille almost looks like turbine blades and reflects a precision this car has always needed. There's a little cut in the blades that gives the grille a three-dimensional look when the car is on the road. It's just nice.
The 300's body is more mature all the way around. It's as if the original 300 was off the rack, and this one went back to the seamstress to have a few corners taken in here and there. It's more stately, more dramatic. This is the car that proves Detroit knows what luxury cars should look like: refined.
The 300 also proves Detroit knows what luxury should feel like. That burbling 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 in the 300C remains a fantastic engine. This particular engine, which cranks out 363 horsepower and 394 pound-feet of torque, can push this car from 0-60 mph in six seconds. And nothing compares to that V-8 melody when you mash the pedal to the carpet-covered metal. It will push you back into the seat and make you laugh.
You may also get a little giddy over the fuel economy. This Hemi includes a cylinder shut-off system that will stop using four cylinders when power isn't needed, such as highway cruising. Chrysler says it can save up to 20 percent on fuel. That's one of the reasons the V-8 manages to hit 25 mpg on the highway. The 18 mpg in city driving is a respectable number. (Note: The all-wheel-drive version of the 300C manages only 15 mpg in the city and 23 mpg on the highway.) While I think big cars generally deserve big engines, the 300 with Chrysler's new Pentastar V-6 was actually a more pleasant car to drive. The power difference is only 71 horses, with the V-6 belting out 292 horsepower. The big difference is weight — with the V-6 rear-wheel drive model tipping the scales nearly 600 pounds less than 4,500-pound 300C with all-wheel drive.
Maybe this is what made the V-6 go into corners better and brake a little easier. Both cars, however, seemed to relish the open road. The new independent suspension and stiff body seemed to keep the car on just about any line.
Interior oozes luxury
The rack-and-pinion steering with hydraulic power assist was excellent on the highway — you can lean back and drive with one hand on the bottom of the wheel. This car likes cruising.
One of the things I really like about this Chrysler is its fat steering wheel. It just feels substantial in your hands. Thin steering wheels feel like they're going to break if I get caught up in an air drum solo or through some tight corner going a little too fast.
From the steering wheel to the comfortable leather-clad seats — all part of the luxury package -- Eminem would have liked the inside the 300.
Designers have nailed a great interior. Everything is new. The big seats are comfortable and firm. The front seats include a four-way lumbar system and Chrysler mixed up the types of foam used in the seat, making the cushion softer, the bolsters firmer and the back just right. Eminem would approve.
But he'd also take the optional leather seats; the cloth seats are simply awful. The fabric feels like how a bar pool table felt would feel after the Super Bowl. It's thin and cheap and a disservice to the rest of the interior.
Seats five comfortably
There's lots of space for five people — the front row has 40 inches of legroom and 57.7 inches of shoulder room.
The dash flows nicely with either a Black Olive Ash Burl or Dark Olive Ash Burl wood grain trim. Every material looks a grade above the previous generation.
Even the speedometer and tachometer look polished and precise, casting a soft blue light. The little pieces of trim around the gear shifter add to the car's look. Previous 300s lacked the little touches a sophisticated owner demands.
The next-generation UConnect system also gives me hope. Its 8.4-inch color touch screen is easy to use and provides a modern look. All of the controls are easy to reach and intuitive.
There are all the features luxury consumers want, ranging from a back-up camera and hands-free phone operation via Bluetooth to satellite radio and a 506-watt Alpine stereo with nine speakers.
Really, the only downside of this vehicle is how its price can climb past $40,000 if you get the 300C. But if you get the 300, with a V-6 and the luxury package, you're getting a great car for $35,000.
The 300 finds luxury that people will appreciate. Even though it may not technically hail from Detroit.
Just push start, cue the music and Lose Yourself. Luxury in Auburn Hills? It's what they do. Eh?
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Overall: *** 1/2
Exterior: Excellent. Modern, elegant and striking. Moves the 300 in the right direction.
Interior: Good. The dash and instruments are top notch. A few other details, such as the cloth seats, are not.
Performance: Excellent. For a big sedan, this car rides much smaller. Both engines provide plenty of power, and the finely tuned suspension allows aggressive drivers to push their limits.
Pros: Beautiful and sporty. This 300 can bring home the bacon and then let the driver fry up the road.
Cons: It may take a lot of bacon to buy this — the price can climb to well over $40,000.
**** Excellent *** Good ** Fair * Poor
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