The Chrysler 300 is a very familiar vehicle in automotive culture. When it was released back in 2004, it took the American auto industry by storm with its bold design, over-the-top proportions, and impressive athleticism.
We can safely say that Chrysler, with the help of the talented Ralph Gilles, reignited the flame for big, brash American sedans.
But how do you keep the flame going after over 10 years? Do you reinvent the idea, or keep the same winning formula? It seems Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, thinks the 300 can still be competitive in this day and age. That’s why for 2016, his team of engineers have completely overhauled the car.
The 300 is now hitting its third generation. SRT trims are no longer offered for the moment, that’s left over to Dodge. Instead, the 300’s lineup was given a thorough refresh thanks to two unique trim packages: C and S.
Starting at $42 695, the 300C is the comfortable, or classic 300. It’s designed for those who enjoy the car’s Bentley-esque good looks and favor a luxury cruiser over a sport sedan. It’s also the model that tops the lineup in Platinum trim at $44 695.
The 300S, which costs $41 695, is of course the sport version, turning the rather massive 300 into a surprisingly competent machine.
Two engines are available for both trim levels: the 5.7 liter, 363 horsepower Hemi V8 remains, while entry level cars make do with the much praised and frankly impressive Pentastar 3.6 liter V6 good for 290 hp in C trim, and 300 hp and 264 lb-ft of torque in S trim. Rear-wheel drive is standard; all-wheel drive is optional.
My tester was a V6 AWD S model that had been given the gangster treatment thanks to the gloss black paint job, blacked-out 19 inch wheels, and black leather interior, which gave my 300 a properly sinister and rather attractive demeanor.
Speaking of refreshing the lineup, Chrysler went through a lot of effort to considerably renew the 300’s interior. And it shows. Cheap plastics have been replaced by quality soft touch materials, ergonomics have been thought through, and build quality is greatly improved, creating an attractive place to sit inside. Yes, it’s still a bit flimsy in there, but most materials feel good to the touch; I particularly enjoyed the spongy stuff surrounding the steering wheel.
There’s a nice LCD screen between the RPM and speedometer gauges, and a large, somewhat intuitive touch screen display in the center to control everything, from heated seats to the rear sunshade visor. Interior fit and finish are good, but not great, and the overall first impression is clean and functional.
In S trim, black is the shade of choice where, well, everything is essentially black, except for the grey stitching around the steering wheel and seats. Fake carbon fiber and piano black plastics replace the 300C’s wood trim. It looks good though; properly sporty, but I would have added a bit of chrome or red stitching here and there to contrast the black interior.
But kudos to Chrysler for making the 300’s interior an inviting place for its occupants. The leather seats are also superb; I love the S badge placed right in the middle, again, painted black. Those seats are comfortable, offer plenty of support, and yet remain properly bolstered for the occasional aggressive drive.
For 2016, the 300 gets a brand new 8-speed, TorqueFlite automatic transmission, which, at first glance, operates tremendously well. Two drive modes are available: D, which is conventional drive, and S, which is, you guessed it, sport mode. In S mode, you actually feel the transmission’s character changing, it holds on to revs longer, shifts faster, and will even downshift and compress like a manual transmission.
Paddle shifters are at your fingertips and operate smoothly and add driving excitement to the car despite the inconveniently-placed audio controls located right underneath them.
Yes, you read that right: driving excitement.
Because the 300 is actually fun to drive. In fact, it always has been, but was kind of rough around the edges. Now though, with this new S trim, and its available Sport button that stiffens up steering response and improves engine mapping, it suddenly feels more like a BMW 5-series than a Lincoln Town Car. Yes, at first glance, this is a big soft barge, in which you do feel the heft every time you enter a corner or stomp on the accelerator. It also flexes undesirably when hitting road imperfections.
All in all, the 300 remains a very smooth operator. Road and wind noises are nonexistent, and it’s tremendously soothing to drive.
And thanks to its rear-wheel drive biased chassis and well-planted road habits, the ingredients for fun remain intact even with AWD. The 300 is rather athletic, quick on its feet, with responsive steering feel and a capable chassis, allowing the driver to push it hard without it complaining too much. Remember, this car was never designed for the track, but if you happen to hit the drag strip over the weekend, it won’t let you down.
Even with the V6.
There is officially no shame anymore in driving an American muscle car with a V6 engine. In fact, in Chrysler’s case, the V6 is now a smarter option than the Hemi.
It may be down on power compared to its V8 counterpart, but that 3.6 liter Pentastar V6 is simply solid. It has received many awards, and powers everything in the FCA lineup from Wranglers to Caravans.
The first thing you notice is how smooth and quiet it is during casual driving. It’s also rather rev happy, spinning easily up to its 6500 rpm redline. It even sounds amazing while doing so, emitting a satisfying snarl as it hits 3500 rpm where it really gets up and moves. Honestly, never once did I find it lacked power. Granted, a car like this was built around a V8 engine, but rest assured, the V6 delivers more than satisfying numbers.
According to Chrysler, 0-100 for an AWD model takes 6.5 seconds.
The real charm of the 2016 Chrysler 300 is that it is far from a perfect car. About that V6: as sublime as it may be, it unfortunately doesn’t turn the 300 into a fuel-efficient car.
During my test run, the best consumption average I could muster was 9.5 liters / 100 km, and that was in D mode, feathering the throttle, and driving like my dad. The moment I’d drive the 300 normally, as in I’m 32 and I want to drive this car in S mode with all driving aids off all the time, I would average 12 L / 100 km. That’s not exactly thrifty for a V6.
Another important flaw about this car is the lack of actual rear headroom - ironically.
It’s spacious back there, but for some reason, your head touches the ceiling fairly easily due to the way the roof is shaped. For a car of such massive exterior dimensions, it just doesn't make sense.
But these flaws are minor compared to how satisfying the 300 is to drive. Add to that a compelling trim package that includes pretty much all the technology available on the market today, from adaptive cruise control to parking assist, and an impressive-sounding Beats by Dr. Dre sound system with a trunk-installed sub-woofer, and the 300S comes through as quite an attractive sport sedan for the money.
What I enjoyed the most about the 300 is that it truly felt American.
What the 300S lacks in refinement, it makes up in character and brawn. The 300 is all about attitude, something that’s become rare in this day and age. There is still no other car in this price range that has such a stunning presence on the road, even after over 10 years of being in production. And that, right there, is enough for me to want to buy one.
Photo credit: Myle Appearance
Special thanks: Lasalle Chrysler
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