Versus the competiton:
Chrysler strikes it big with new sedan
The potent styling of Chrysler 300 garners loads of attention from the buying public. Its interior is an amalgam of classic and modern forms.
Chrysler hit the lottery with the 300, its first big rear-drive sedan in more than a decade.
Bling is the thing, and the 300’s potent style and imposing size has successfully tapped into the elusive hip-hop urban-culture market. Snoop Dogg wants one, so you know it must be cool.
This turn of events was as unexpected by Chrysler execs as Escalade’s meteoric rise was to Cadillac brass. But with strong sales helping create yet another turnaround in Chrysler’s fortunes, no one’s complaining.
Already, custom shops are throwing gigantic chrome wheels and other custom touches on the newly arrived 2005 Chrysler 300s. The flip side of the coin is the mainstream sedan buyers who are having their 300s adorned with ’70s-style padded-vinyl roofs, much to the consternation of the car’s designers.
Whatever, the sedan has hit the sweet spot on a number of levels, from the drivers who welcome the return of a powerful, American-style, rear-drive automobile to those who relish it as the latest trend in flash.
One of the big draws is the top-drawer 300C, mainly because it comes with another piece of Americana: a classic Hemi V-8 with 340 horsepower. But the bruiser engine also has a modern touch, cylinder deactivation, which cuts off fuel to four cylinders when the power’s not needed, such as highway cruising, which improves gas mileage and lowers emissions.
Seems a shame, but the 300 Touring tested here was not equipped with a Hemi. This model comes with a 250-horsepower V-6, which provided plenty of pull for a relaxed drive to San Diego. But it just wasn’t the same.
The good news is that a Dodge Magnum, a wagon version of the 300, will be coming my way soon complete with Hemi. Then we’ll see if this one upholds the heritage of the famed Chrysler Hemis of yore. What it is
Just like Chrysler’s booming success with the PT Cruiser, the major ingredient is affordability. The base 300 starts at under $24,000, which buys a lot of style and substance in a roomy rear-drive car. The well-equipped Touring model starts at less than $27,000; a gussied-up Limited model is $30,000; and the 300C starts at about $33,000.
Whatever the model, 300 is a lot of car for today’s inflated dollar. Performance
Rats, no Hemi. This big, beefy ride cries out for the powerful V-8, so-named because of the configuration of its cylinder heads. Without the right engine, I was getting only half the story, a muscle car without the muscle.
Not that the 300 Touring was subpar with the V-6. The 3.5-liter has plenty of strength for acceleration and climbing the steep mountain grades on the way to San Diego, loaded with four passengers and a trunk full of vacation gear.
The V-6 is a smooth runner, upholding the Touring’s luxury image. At highway speed, the large sedan felt sedate and relaxed.
Standard engine with the base model is a 190-horsepower, 2.7-liter V-6, which sounds scant for a 3,700-pound car. Especially one that looks so fast.
The V-6 models all get a four-speed automatic, while the 300C has a five-speed automatic. Drivability
On the highway, the 300 Touring feels as substantial as a high-priced European. With fully-independent suspension, rack-and-pinion steering, four-wheel disc brakes and 17-inch wheels, all the ingredients are there.
But in tight curves, the Touring feels heavy and cumbersome, lacking the poised response of those Europeans. Body sway is not bad, and the rear-drive layout improves balance.
Overall, the 300 has a big-car attitude, more of a cruiser than sport sedan. But it wouldn’t hurt for the handling to be sharper. Styling
“What is th t, a Bentley?”
Once again, Chrysler stylists hit the mark, turning what might have been another mundane four-door sedan into something bold, distinctive and evocative.
The broad-shouldered, chopped-roof look is reminiscent of ’50s street rods and looks ominous in dark colors.
The prominent grille and squared-off front and rear reminded some people of the latest from Roll-Royce or Bentley. Strong praise indeed for something that regular people can buy and drive.
This car has loads of presence, the indefinable ingredient that strikes such a chord among the young urban crowd. A consistent head-turner and conversation starter, the look should hold up well even when there’s a scad of them on the streets. Interior
The interior is attractive, roomy and comfortable, but somewhat cheesy in execution. Plastic inserts in the steering wheel and other parts felt cheap and seemed guaranteed to scratch.
There’s plenty of room for five, though back-seat passengers may feel claustrophobic due to the narrow rear windows.
The Touring is nicely fitted with power and convenience features, and the standard four-speaker audio system with CD sounds fine, if not stellar. Pricing
The Touring starts at $26,770, with options on the test car including a “protection group,” with side curtain air bags, cabin air-filtering system and self-sealing tires, for just $590; and shipping, $625.
No doubt, lots of car for $27,985. Bottom line
With the Chrysler 300, the focus shifts from oversized SUVs with gigantic chrome wheels to a boldly styled large sedan with gigantic chrome wheels. The 300’s not all about glitz. It’s nothing less than the start of a resurgence of large, rear-drive American sedans.