Austin is weird. In fact, the city hangs its hat on that distinction. A small patch of donkey blue wedged in a sea of elephant red, the liberal city prides itself on its odd-man-out political status and singular strangeness. I visited the Texas city to drive the updated Chrysler 300, and the sedan is anything but strange.
Related: 2015 Chrysler 300: First Look
The 2015 Chrysler 300's attention-grabbing styling, elegant interior and composed road manners convey an overall classiness that rivals other large sedans.
Light exterior and interior styling updates, a standard eight-speed automatic transmission with rotary dial and additional safety features highlight the changes for 2015. The 300 has always made a splash visually, and the new model's exaggerated front-end proportions ensure it will continue to be a statement-maker for the brand. Its signature gaping grille is even larger this year — pumped up by 33 percent — and inside the mesh grille floats Chrysler's winged badge.
The 300 Limited, 300C, 300S and 300C Platinum trims are available for 2015; I tested a rear-wheel-drive Limited trim with the V-6; Chrysler expects around 40 percent of buyers to opt for this entry model.
How It Drives
The 300 is a potent, pleasant highway cruiser with a serene ride and a hushed, well-isolated cabin. The 292-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 burbles to life with ample low-end oomph, and the hilly country roads around Austin were an easy match for the responsive eight-speed automatic; it quickly snapped off shifts for smooth, linear power. It's the sole transmission for 2015, replacing the previously available five-speed automatic, and it is a good match — much more refined and precise than Chrysler's new, dodgy nine-speed automatic.
The rear-wheel-drive V-6 is EPA rated at 19/31/23 mpg city/highway/combined. With the available 363-hp, 5.7-liter V-8, fuel economy drops to 16/25/19 mpg, up a smidge from last year's 15/25/18 rating (the V-8 is only available with rear-wheel drive).
Austin's hills and valleys yielded plenty of sweeping, banked corners and rolling curves, which the 300 took in stride, moving with more agility than you'd expect from a long, heavy sedan. Float over bumps is well-checked, and although body lean around corners is pronounced, the 300 is never sloppy or unmanageable. Newly standard this year is electric power steering with a light, natural feel around town that transitions to a firmer, weightier persona at higher speeds.
The theme inside is modern yet classic. The latest suite of technology features are paired with a tastefully designed cabin trimmed in upscale materials with a clear emphasis on detail.
The big news inside is the loss of the console shifter. As with other new Chrysler products, a rotary dial in the center console replaces it; it's easy to use, gives the cabin a cleaner look and opens up a bit of storage space. Also new is a 7-inch color screen sandwiched between the gauges. It's configurable and can display a helpful array of information like navigation, audio and vehicle settings.
The large 8.4-inch Uconnect touch-screen again takes center stage on the dash, flanked by the classic analog clock up top and a redesigned cluster of large climate buttons and dials below. Again this year, every facet of the Uconnect multimedia system is refreshingly simple to use from its intuitive menu structure to its large, responsive touch-sensitive buttons. New for the system is Uconnect Access, which offers a suite of new functions like roadside assistance, theft-alarm notification, voice texting and the ability to turn the vehicle into a Wi-Fi hotspot and to start the car with a mobile phone.
Materials on the base Limited trim are appropriately upscale with soft-touch plastics, supple leather, glossy wood paneling and bright chrome trim. The topline Platinum model (pictured above) ups the lux factor considerably with Berber floormats, low-gloss wood trim (that actually looks like it came from a tree) and quilted leather seats.
The sedan's interior proportions carry over. The large, comfortable backseat and wide, cavernous trunk provide oodles of room for tall adults and plenty of luggage. New to the backseat is a pair of USB ports.
Several new active safety features join the options list for 2015, bringing the 300 in line with other luxury sedans. Lane Departure Warning with Lane Keep Assist is a camera- and radar-based system that nudges the steering wheel to get the car back into the correct lane if it senses wandering. Adaptive Cruise Control-Plus with Full Stop operates as it sounds: It's essentially cruise control that works in stop-and-go traffic. Lastly, Full-Speed Forward Collision Warning-Plus is also new; it alerts the driver of an impending crash with visual and audible cues and will automatically stop the car at speeds below 20 mph if an accident is imminent. At higher speeds, it acts as brake assist, automatically slowing the car to decrease the severity of impact.
These new systems join previous safety options like blind spot warning, rear cross-path detection, front and rear parking sensors, and a backup camera.
The 2015 Chrysler 300 goes on sale early next year and shoppers should be pleasantly surprised by some familiar numbers: The base Limited model's $32,390 starting price, including destination, carries over from last year and the model is well equipped with standards like heated leather seats, the Uconnect system and Bluetooth streaming audio. All-wheel drive adds $2,500 across the lineup but is only available on V-6 models. Upgrading to the V-8 adds $3,000 on all trims.
The only thing weird about the 300 is its place in a near-extinct class — the large, American rear-wheel-drive luxury sedan has become something of a rare creature, and Chrysler's 300 is the quintessential specimen, standing out for its blend of refinement, energy and affordability.