2005 Chrysler 300C
SAN DIEGO - Most beauty-pageant winners have the grace to give up their crown once their year in the spotlight ends. Not so with Chrysler's 300 sedan.
Given the U.S. auto industry's two most influential awards for 2005 -- Motor Trend's car of the year and North American Car of Year from 50 auto writers, including me -- the head-turning 300 continues to make headlines half a year later.
That's because it's now available with a bigger Hemi engine. The 300C SRT8 features a 6.1-liter V-8 that makes 425 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque. Engineers added cubic inches as well as making a few tweaks (new cylinder heads, a larger exhaust system) to make it stronger and more powerful. Its power reminded me of an upscale German machine, but the roar through its dual exhausts was all American.
The car gets enough other special features to justify its $40,000 price, but it's really the 85 extra horses that make it distinctive and desirable.
That power is evident from a standing start, as well as at highway speeds and beyond.
This remains a comfortable, thoroughly enjoyable ride. It's hard to imagine a better car for two brothers making the long trip down I-5 from the Bay Area to San Diego's Mission Bay, catching up, reminiscing, all the while trying to beat late-afternoon Southern California traffic. (We didn't.)
And it proved a perfect choice for four adults -- another brother and my father -- as we drove around San Diego unable to decide where we were going to eat lunch.
The 300 starts with a large-car platform that's now shared with both Dodge's Magnum wagon and its Charger sedan. The result is a big car -- 196.8 inches long, or nearly eight inches longer than a Camry. It's four inches wider than that bestselling sedan, too.
That size -- it was a struggle to fit into my hotel's tiny parking-garage spaces -- was my only real complaint in nearly 1,300 miles of driving.
The base 300 comes with either a 2.7-liter or a 3.5-liter V-6. The 300C moves up to a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 that makes 340 horsepower. So far, about half of 300 buyers have opted for a Hemi.
A word about the SRT8 nomenclature: This is Chrysler-speak for its Street and Racing Technology high-performance models. The range now includes eight vehicles, ranging from the Neon-based SRT4 to the 10-cylinder SRT10 Viper and Ram models. Here, the SRT8's Hemi boosts performance 25 percent over the already strong 300C.
That puts 0-to-60-mph time for the SRT8 in the low five-second range, about a second faster than the 300C. A five-speed automatic is the only transmission choice, although AutoStick provides a measure of driver-induced shifting when needed.
Make no mistake, this is a big, heavy car, topping 4,000 pounds. Yet, with this engine, it feels if not lightweight, then certainly in the peak of fitness.
The driving experience benefits from some underpinnings from the Mercedes-Benz E-Class models, especially suspension parts. Both Chrysler and Mercedes are part of DaimlerChrysler. In the SRT8, the suspension is retuned with larger anti-sway bars, special spring rates and Bilstein dampers. The Brembo disc brakes smoothly rein in the power when needed.
Twenty-inch wheels and Goodyear F1 tires let those around you know that you're in a serious ride.
On the inside, the SRT8 adds sports seat with suede inserts, adjustable pedals, leather trim on the steering wheel and shifter and special gauges including a 180-mph speedometer among its four, white-face gauges.
Amenities include an AM/FM stereo with a six-disc CD player and seven Boston Acoustics speakers. Sirius satellite radio was part of an $1,965 option group on our test model. So was the easy-to-use navigation system. Other automakers push larger monitors into their dashboard, often ruining the flow of the car's interior design. Chrysler, rightly, I think, inserts a small screen that's large enough to be useful but not too large to feel super-sized.
The cabin is tastefully adorned in shades of gray, with enough bright bits to give it an upscale gloss. I like the heft of the four-spoke steering wheel.
The car's huge wheels, and massive grille, its body-colored mirrors and door handles, its neat headlight pod and integrated fog lights, create a presence that still gets appreciative nods after many months on the road.
Here, a subtle rear decklid spoiler and SRT8 badging on the front seats and the bottom of the trunk complete the look.
Fuel economy isn't great, just 14 mpg in the city and 19 mpg on the highway, and Chrysler's innovative multi-displacement system that turns off unneeded cylinders to boost gas mileage on other Hemi models isn't used here.
If the 300 was car of the year, I guess that makes the 300C SRT8 the car of the year squared. Scratch that. Just think of the 300C SRT8 as the nicest domestic sedan -- with the Cadillac STS as the only vehicle in its league.
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Talk to Matt Nauman about new cars online for a live question-and- answer session from noon to 1 p.m. today at www.mercurynews.com . You also can contact him at email@example.com or (408) 920-5701.
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