Driving Northwest: The 2011 Chrysler 300 C

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by KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on February 17, 2011 at 10:48 AM

Updated Thursday, Feb 17 at 4:07 PM

Evolution or revolution.  It’s the gnawing decision automakers face when redesigning a popular vehicle.  Chrysler has been down this thorny path before when it reinvented the 300 back in 2005.  Before that it was a large but sleek front-wheel drive sedan with simple clean lines that looked more Audi than Chrysler.  Remember it?  Probably not.
 
But hoo-boy, the 2005 car was a blast of Old Spice charged up in the microwave.  Bold, brash and gangsta, 300 arrived with rear-drive and a swagger that stated, “If you don’t like me, you are not worthy."  Many people did though; Chrysler touts that it’s the “most award-winning car ever."
 
Now it’s 2011 and Chrysler is launching the new 300.  It will begin arriving in early March.  This time it's evolution; don’t expect the general population to stop and stare.  At a distance it’s clear this is a 300, but look closer and a more expensive looking suit of clothes reveals itself.  The chrome-trimmed rear is more sculpted, taillights get clear lenses and LED lightpipes. 
 
Move to the side and the glass looks larger and sheetmetal creases are softened.  Up front the grille frame is softened and filled with Chrysler’s new blade design.  Trendy LED running lights live inside the headlamp bezels with a C-shape instead of directly ripping off Audi’s single row. 
 
The cabin? Thankfully that’s more than just evolutionary but I’ll get into that later.  You probably just want to know if the car is any good.  Yes, it is, very good.  300 is mature and confident, genuinely luxurious in a uniquely American way.  The outgoing car was good but for some the styling was just too much.  This new 300 is less Al Capone, more George Clooney.
 
Prices start at $27,995, the Limited begins at $31,995 and the HEMI-equipped 300 C I’m writing about has a base price of $38,995.
 
 
What’s New
 
Practically everything.  Only the name and 5-speed automatic transmission remain from the outgoing car (an eight-speed is on its way, apparently this fall).  Everything else is new or heavily modified.  From the very beginning, the 300 team targeted 3,300 functional objectives for the car, put every one on a map and then checked them off one by one when they were met.  That must have been some big white board.
 
They held clinics with owners of the cars they felt were the best in the world- Lexus LS , Mercedes E-Class, BMW 5 Series and Hyundai Genesis.  They asked them what they liked and more importantly what they didn’t.  An example?  Some complained the heated steering wheel on their luxury car only had warmth in a few places so 300s toasty tiller is warm all the way around and uniform from its wood to its leather wrap. 
 
Two Sources of Motivation
 
Since this is a Chrysler product, it’s a sure bet the 3.6-liter Pentastar is going to show up under the hood.  In 300 service it makes 292 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 RPM.  Again, since this is a Chrysler product it’s a sure bet there’s a  HEMI.  The 5.7-liter V8 pumps out 363 HP and 394 lb-ft of torque at 4,200 RPMs.  Both engines do this car justice but test drive the V8 first and you’ll miss its deep well of power off the line.
 
300 is still rear-wheel drive.  All-wheel drive is available, the 2010 model road noticeable higher with that drivetrain, Chrysler has brought it back down to earth.
 
On the Road
 
Nail the throttle on the HEMI and a deep velvet growl emerges from the engine bay with shifts that are decisive.  0-60 rushes up in just under 6 seconds (according to Chrysler) but it’s the way it all transpires that is most impressive.  Chrysler felt the Lexus LS was most impressive in its ride dynamics and the 300 C is certainly hushed at lofty speeding ticket velocities.  I forgot my decibel meter at home so no direct comparison will be done today.  Compared to the LS, 300 feels more involved and engaging in the corners.
 
Handling can only be described as confident.  300 has a gravitas about it that others in its price range don’t match.  It’s silky but not numb, the suspension isolates sharp bumps and keeps ride quality supple.  This big car does not wallow in the corners.  The structure is vault solid, right up there with the pricey imports.  Drive it and you will believe.  
 
EPA rated fuel economy with the V8 is 16 city, 25 highway.  There’s cylinder deactivation at highway speeds to save fuel, its operation is completely transparent.  The Pentastar V6 pulls 0-60 times in the 7.5 second range (estimated by the seat of my pants) and fuel economy is rated at 18/27.  The new eight-speed automatic should boost those numbers all the way around.
 
A Weakness Becomes a Strength
 
Historically, Chrysler’s Achilles heel has been their interiors.  That all changes now.  Materials are all soft touch with a good amount of stitching showing up in the right places.  Jewel-like gauges with ice-blue lighting have unique depth and the wood in the C is NOT plastic.  Keyless ignition is standard.  The pillars have been slimmed down so visibility is noticeably better in the new model.  An optional glass panoramic roof makes the cabin a much brighter space.
 
The analog clock frame mimics the shape of the grille, cupholders are heated and cooled, and the steering wheel reach and rake is power operated.  Heated and ventilated chairs are built with specially designed springs and I’ll vouch for their support since my drive partner and I got very turned around while photographing the car and drove an hour longer than most journalists.   In both comfort and design, 300’s interior is a nice place to see the world from.
 
Electronics are important in a luxury car, 300 does not have anything as deep as Ford SYNC or GM OnStar.  Radar adaptive cruise control is available, and basics like Garmin navigation and U-Connect for phone and iPod integration is here.  The sound system rocks too. It’s all simple to use, something other luxury brands could learn from.
 
Friends Will Like It Too
 
The back seat is very spacious with a good amount of room for three adults.  Again, the seats are very comfortable and in my tester’s case they’re heated.  There’s a good amount of knee and foot room, put the smaller passenger in the middle, there is a center drive shaft tunnel to deal with and the raised cushion reduces headroom. 
 
Rear passengers get a switch to control the back sunshade - nice touch.  There’s also a 12-volt power port to charge electronics and storage in the seat backs and door panels.  A folding armrests and seatbacks also split and fold to expand the trunk complete the features.
 
I’m at a press event and since, strangely, no one else measures car trunks with bundles of bath tissue, I cannot do the normal TP trunk test.  The back end is quite spacious though at 16.3 cubic feet (I would estimate it at an eight packer).  Gooseneck hinge arms might eat into storage, but if you need a larger luggage compartment, start looking at sport-utes and pickups.
 
Large Sedan in a Smaller Market
 
The full-sized sedan market makes up only 4 percent of all auto sales so it seems crazy that Chrysler would make such a significant investment with the 300.  Crazy like a fox maybe.  American rear-wheel drive cars like Crown Victoria, Grand Marquis and Town Car are gone leaving a void. 
 
Chrysler targeted much more expensive cars than those and dynamically 300 rubs elbows with the spendy imported competition while keeping the price down. No revolution needed here.  Shoppers that take the time to drive this car and (and this is a big and) feel secure enough to consider an automobile without a premium label will recognize 300 has evolved to offer great value, refined style, and sophisticated performance.  Come to think of it, those were the attributes that drew us to imports in the first place. 
 

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