Over the past 12 months Chrysler has revamped almost every model it offers with the majority of the changes being mid-cycle refreshes, albeit major ones.
1. It may look like a mid-cycle refresh, but the 300 is all new for 2011 with a new suspension, base V6 engine, chassis and a redesigned interior with a standard 8.4-inch touch screen.
2. The new 3.6L V6 makes 292-hp and delivers 18/27-mpg (city/hwy).
3. Chrysler makes adding extra style easy with rim sizes ranging from 17- to 20-inches.
4. Pricing starts at $27,995 for V6 models and jumps into a whole new price bracket for the V8 at $38,995.
The 2011 Chrysler 300 is, however, all-new. True, it may look like merely an updated version of the original, but along with that less in-your-face grille is an entirely reworked suspension, chassis, interior and a vastly improved V6 engine that will impress even V8 loyalists.
The lone shining light in the Chrysler lineup since its introduction in 2005, the task of building a new, second-gen 300 is fraught with peril. Engineers and designers risk alienating a loyal fanbase in the hopes of attracting new business. And as the 300 goes, so goes Chrysler, with nothing on offer in the compact car segment and the new 200 (formerly Sebring) still just mediocre, despite its makeover.
TONED-DOWN LOOK AIMED AT ATTRACTING MORE BUYERS
Designers took their biggest gamble with the look of the new model. A more timid grille reduces the impact of the car, and as a result it no longer conveys the same sense of size and luxury from a distance. Described as more ‘tactful’ than the original, Chrysler is hoping the look is similar enough to keep past buyers coming back, but at the same time attract shoppers from the import luxury brands. It’s likely to work, but watering down the image of the vehicle you’re best known for is risky to say the least.
Still, by comparison, even the more subtle 2011 model makes rivals like the Buick LaCrosse, Ford Taurus and Toyota Avalon look like they were penned by a designer who graduated from a shopping mall community college.
Adding to the less impactful front are more significant, yet less noticeable modifications, like moving the windscreen back 3-inches. Changes like this indicate that while design plays a part, the 300’s new look is perhaps driven more by fuel economy, with a focus on improving the car’s overall aerodynamics.
From most every other angle, the 300 has improved, assisted by features like LED lighting front and rear that bring added luxury to this yacht. Closing the wheel gap by 8mm also makes a difference, while standard 17-inch wheels can be optioned out to 18s, 19s or even 20s to gain back some of the original’s road presence.
Adjustments to the windshield, plus 15 percent thinner A-pillars, make for better outward visibility while retaining the trademark art deco mobster look of the original.
SILENT CABIN, SURPRISINGLY AGILE CHASSIS
Blasting along the long, sweeping rural highways on the California/Mexico border, ‘the fence’ clearly visible to our right, the 300 couldn’t be more at home. It’s smooth, soaking up nearly every road imperfection, and does an even better job at delivering a nearly silent cruise.
Chrysler arranged for us to directly compare the 300 against some of its rivals and it impressed. The Ford Taurus is unrefined by comparison, with more harshness from the road being transmitted to the driver. The Ford does feel lighter from behind the wheel, but when pushed it doesn’t have the handling to match. The 300’s ability to cancel out the outside world stacks up nearly identically with the $66,000 Lexus LS – although it’s hard to compete with the big Japanese saloon’s ability to deliver a supremely soft ride one moment and a surprisingly sporty drive the next.
To help achieve such a high-level of interior serenity, Chrysler has utilized acoustic glass on the windscreen and the front side windows, as well as composite underbody panels.
The new V6 engine (more on that soon) also helps, delivering a ride at 60-mph in 3rd gear that’s as silent and smooth as what passes for idle on some cars.
As good of a highway cruiser as they come, unlike many of its competitors, this big sedan isn’t afraid of the turns either. An all-new suspension serves as a starting point, combined with larger sway bars and some built-in camber to ensure that more tire actually touches the road when you toss it into a corner.
Big cars aren’t supposed to handle this well, and a new, more responsive electric power steering system helps give the confidence to exploit it. It’s not as happy in the curves as the Cadillac CTS or the Hyundai Genesis, (both of which Chrysler also had on hand to compare) but those cars aren’t direct competitors and don’t quite offer the same limo-like rear seat space.
And if you are driving it like a limo, the pedals are an excellent balance between being responsive and relaxed. Push hard on the brakes, however, and they will grab with impressive results for such a huge vehicle.
NEW V6 WILL MAKE YOU RETHINK GETTING A V8
Power isn’t in short supply, even with the V6. As a part of Chrysler’s new strategy, the automaker has developed one V6 to replace numerous other six-cylinder options. By cutting costs in this way, all the resources have been pooled into building one good engine rather than several mediocre-to-bad ones.
As a result, the new standard 3.6-liter ‘Pentastar’ powerplant delivers 63 percent more power than the old base V6, for a total of 292-hp. It’s mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission, which is by no means weak, but a 6-speed would be ideal. Fuel economy has been improved by 8 percent to 18/27-mpg, but why stop there?
An extra gear would also improve one of the few flaws in the driving experience. On occasion, depending on your speed and rpm, push the throttle to call up 3rd gear for the extra oomph, but the transmission will only deliver 4th. And with hitting increasingly strict fuel economy targets in mind, it’s unwilling to drop gears unless you really plant your foot.
You’ll never lack power with the HEMI V8. Updated with variable valve timing and a new fuel saver mode that allows it to operate on just 4-cylinders when possible, it helps make all that extra power a more attractive choice to live with. Fuel economy is officially rated at 16/25-mpg, while engine output is pegged at 363-hp and a more significant 394 lb ft of torque.
Off the line it’s an absolute rocket, hitting 60-mph in less than 6.0 seconds and easily smoking the tires should you so ask. At higher speeds the 300’s quiet ride and excellent chassis tuning minimize the feeling of speed – so watch out or you’ll be explaining to the local constabulary how 90 feels like 65.
Maybe it’s too much to ask for, but a little extra exhaust volume at WOT would be perfect. Then again, if attitude is what you’re looking for the Charger might be the better option.
NEW INTERIOR PUTS FOCUS ON LUXURY, TECHNOLOGY
No remodel would be complete without an interior overhaul and Chrysler has done just that. A new dash design and upgraded materials put the 300 in some high-end territory when optioned out. Base trims are just ok. The selection of wood finishes includes both some hits and misses. The seat cushions are now softer, while the sides are stiffer. Our single largest gripe has to be the wringles and worn-out looking leather on the seat bottoms – a trait still common among domestic automakers and easily the single easiest way to cheapen the overall look and feel of the cockpit.
The biggest changes are on the actual dash with a standard and simply massive 8.4-inch touch screen, plus some sapphire blue LED lit gauges that are both modern and retro with classical traits and a three dimensional look.
That big screen includes Chrysler’s Uconnect telematics system and is easy to use, allowing touch-screen operation of everything from the audio, to climate control, to navigation. It’s got the usual Bluetooth, iPod and USB connections and hook-ups, plus voice controls. As useful as it is, the lack of buttons on the dash seems strange on a big high-end sedan.
Then there’s that Nav system. Call us hypocrites, or maybe we’ll just admit to being wrong. Like a lot of automotive journalists we’ve constantly asked why several thousand dollar Nav systems provided by automakers still aren’t as good as a $300 Garmin, the suggestion being that just tossing a Garmin in the dash would be the perfect solution. But now that we see it, especially on a screen of this size, it looks cartoonish. Still, it’s the best in the business and incredibly intuitive to use.
There’s not much to touch on in the back seat of the car, but Chrysler has managed to add even more room to stretch out thanks to sculpted seatbacks that add nearly an inch of legroom.
Priced at $27,995 to start, the base 300 is solidly equipped – just as you’d expect in the segment. It even includes the massive touch screen. Still, buying a full sized sedan without leather seems a waste and the $31,995 asking price for the Limited model is a small price to pay. Option it out with either the Luxury Group package or the first-rate Nappa leather and some 20-inch wheels and that’s the car we’d recommend. With nearly 300-hp on tap, the V6 is sure to please the vast majority of customers. But if the V8 is what your heart desires, we can’t blame you. Just be prepared to cough up $38,995.
And let’s not forget the AWD model. Perfect for northern states, it’s available exclusively with the big V8 and 19-inch wheels, plus the body now sits closer to the ground for a look nearly identical to the rear-drive model with a lower center of gravity.
Nonexistent in the compact segment and irrelevant in the mid-size, the folks at Chrysler have excelled in the full-size category and have not disappointed with this latest model. True, the new look is a bit of a letdown, but with all the additions and upgrades, the second-gen 300 is an overwhelming success.
With Chrysler hoping to attract some traditional luxury import buyers we’d have to say the 300 is worth a look. We are, however, looking forward to the addition of a new 8-speed automatic transmission, which would eliminate several of our complaints about this new model.
As a whole, Chrysler reliability is suspect, however, the 300 does have a reputation for being well above the brand’s standards.
According to Chrysler, the large car segment is poised to grow by 15 percent in the next few years and the new 300 will ensure the automaker will capture a lot of that growth.