“Is it the car or the road?”
“I think it’s the road.”
“Yeah, I figured. That Fiesta over there is jumping all over the place.”
Heading south on Washington’s I5 down to Bremerton and the U.S. Naval town of Kitsap, my Dad was pointing out how badly a Ford Fiesta was handling the ice-ravaged highway in the adjacent lane. While the driver was doing his best to not be skipped out of his lane by the hilariously pock-marked road imperfections, the 2013 Chrysler 300C we’re driving registered the constant “thumpety thumps” as minor longitudinal hops in the suspension. Sure we noticed them but we fared far better than the occupants in the tiny, bucking Ford. Neither was tracking dead straight an issue. The steering wheel never jumped out of my hand and the ride remained somewhat relaxed. Such is the big car luxury that the 2013 Chrysler 300C affords its occupants..
|Rear is more chiseled and sculpted|
First introduced in 2005, the 300C has been no less than a smash hit for Chrysler which, at the time, was married to Daimler-Benz in a tumultuous relationship. Riding on the large LX RWD platform (itself derived from the W211 Mercedes E-Class of 2003-2009), the 300C signaled a huge ‘about-face’ for a company that drove itself on large, FWD cars that were sleek and featured ‘cab forward’ design. In contrast, the 300 was large and blocky with a cabin that was not unlike driving a tank. Looking at one instantly evoked images of 1930s chopped-top mobster cars that gangsters such as Al Capone and Frank Costello might have driven. It was instantly a classic. Now in the hands of the Italy-based Fiat Group, Chrysler has sought to update its products and pull itself from bankruptcy after being divorced by Daimler and abused by Cerberus Capital Management Group, then saved by the U.S. Government. The new 300 was unveiled in 2011 and featuring crisper, more contoured lines while riding on a revised platform still bearing the LX codename. The cabin was subtly enlarged, sightlines were enhanced and quality was improved thanks to the high standards that Fiat’s CEO, Sergio Marchionne is known for. Where the old 300 could be described as ‘art-deco’, the new model sports a very upscale, Armani look.
|LED Daytime lamps offer upscale appearance|
|LED accents on the rear brake lamps|
My tester, finished in Billet Silver Metallic, was a 2013 300C model with just over 2000 miles on the odometer. Walking up the car, it definitely exudes a cool presence, sitting low on its long 120 inch wheelbase, long hood and short deck betraying its RWD chassis. The belt line sits lower than the previous model and the windshield has a sharper rake, a nod to complaints of the last 300’s poor outward visibility due to its chopped-roof appearance. This gives the 300 great exterior proportions, making look like its moving rather than sitting still. Perhaps the most changed part of the car is the schnoz. Gone are the quad element headlights and egg crate Rolls Royce-like grille, replaced by more angular HID lighting bezels, set off by C-shaped LED daytime running accent lights and a slightly smaller, trapezoidal shaped grille with lateral slats surrounded by a film of chrome sporting the winged Chrysler emblem on the top part. Three lower vents are set below the grille and headlights with fog lights placed at the corners of the outer vents. The entire front is contoured back in a nod to improve aerodynamics and improve fuel economy over the 300’s blunt nosed predecessor. Around back, the rump has a subtle spoiler built in to the rear edge of the trunk lid and the tail lights are more angular and stylized. All models, whether V6 or V8, have dual exhausts the expel through oval chrome finishers. Sitting on base 18″ wheels (19s and 20s are optional), the 300 sports a good upscale and purposeful stance (the DUB crowd will be pleased to know that, yes, you can still stuff 24s in those wells).
The upgrades extend inside with a much airier cabin, thanks to the lower belt line and larger glass area. The steering wheel of previous 300s (indeed most of Chrysler’s cars pre-2010) always appeared truck-like and out of place to me. The new four-spoke design is much more appealing with nice surfacing and a thicker rim. The driver’s binnacle boasts impressive lighting and a three dimensional look for the gauges with large speedometer and tachometer to the right and left respectively while in a row below are the fuel gauge, coolant temperature and oil pressure. Located between the speedometer and tach is a 4 inch TFT multifunction screen that, by using a small controller on the left steering wheel spoke, can call up various parameters about either the car’s vitals, entertainment, trip or fuel mileage. With navigation engaged, it also displays prominent warnings regarding upcoming directional changes. It one ups other systems by actually displaying an image of what the highway exits or merges look like, I found this quite helpful in getting around the Seattle area.
|Front seats are supple and comfortable|
|Good space in the rear|
|Gauges are bright and clearly legible|
|Phone pairing a no-brainer|
The rest of the interior was rich in its ambiance. Unlike the flat look of its predecessor, the 2013 300C has an artful look to its center console with quality dash trimming and subtle chrome accent surrounds (a dark charcoal wood finish adorned parts of the new one-piece dashboard). The console’s centerpiece has to be the fantastic looking 8.4 inch LED touch screen that handles virtually all communications, climate control, navigation and entertainment functions of the car. Response time sifting through the various menis is brilliant with the use of hard drive technology (as opposed to the old DVD-based interface) and the UConnect Bluetooth voice system is easily the best of the business when it comes to handling voice commands. Pairing my phone was never an issue and the system understands a variety of voice inputs, even my Jamaican patois never seemed to faze the system. USB and AUX capability are standard as well as SiriusXM satellite radio with Travel Link and the Garmin-based navigation system (which also has SiriusXM live Traffic Link service) , while kiddie-like compared to other German or American systems, was simple and easy to operate. Whether speaking an address or typing it on screen, the system is brilliant in its execution and operation. A ParkView rear back-up camera with distance marking is also standard (a good thing since visibility out the slim rear window is still not ideal). Front and rear seat warmers (and cooling on the front thrones) are also standard (and a Godsend in Seattle’s freezing climate this time of year) as well as a heated steering wheel and remote starting which quickly heats up the interior of the car. The standard 276 watt, Alpine six speaker audio system is powerful and clear (a Beats By Dre 552 watt system can be optioned as well as a 19 speaker Harman Kardon system). The seats are supremely comfortable, offering good long distance cruising comfort and good space, even in the rear for large passengers. Another cool feature are the cupholders which are illuminated and can keep beverages warm or cold.
|Navigation is bright and easy to use|
For 2013, the 300C can be equipped with either the new 292hp Pentastar 3.6L V6 hooked an equally brand new ZF 8-speed automatic transmission or the previously standard 363hp 5.7L HEMI V8, which soldiers on with a 5 speed automatic (the 8 speed arrives for the HEMI later in the model year). Now I should state that 2013 V6 300s also sport a different electronic shifter that is T-shaped like the throttle of a luxury yacht (have a look at the shifter in an Audi A8 to see what I mean) and having taken delivery of this particular 300C, the absence of this shifter led me to believe that this was a 2012 V6 model still sporting the now ancient 5 speed. Ambling around SeaTac Airport I was quite surprised at how unusually unstrained the supposed Pentastar V6 as it pulled the big 300 around (is this really 260lb-ft of torque at work?) and how it sounded, this being a rental, I had no other immediate cues to go by (plus it was wet and I had no intention of playing with the throttle, especially loaded with family). The characteristic V8 rumble was muted from the inside and it wasn’t until I took the 300C solo for an hour to take some photos that I popped the hood and was quite pleasantly greeted by the words ‘HEMI’ on the engine cover. Another tip to what’s underhood can be taken from the driver’s central display where, under light engine load conditions such as on level roads and descents, the word ‘ECO’ illuminates. This indicates that the V8 has deactivated four of its eight cylinders as a fuel saving measure in a system Chrysler has dubbs ‘Fuel-Saver Technology’. The V6 isn’t equipped with this technology and, in conjunction with the 8 speed auto, earns EPA mpg ratings of 19 city/31 highway. Pretty good for a 4000lb full sized luxury car. The HEMI also gets decent ratings of 15/23 but should improve once it chucks the 5 speed for the newer 8 cogger.
|5.7L HEMI V8 – 363hp/394lb-ft of torque|
|Complete with Fuel-Saver Technology|
|5 speed automatic|
Around town, it’s easy to be addicted to the 394lb-ft of torque that’s just a throttle press away. Prod the gas pedal enough and the tires can easily break free, even more so now on Seattle’s wet roads. Traction and stability control are there to save the unruly driver from any childish antics but it can be disabled just enough to allow the kid in him to play a bit. Out on the highway when merging and all eight cylinders are on full boil, the HEMI pulls like a diesel. Unrelenting in its build up of speed, it is only then, in the upper reaches of the rpm range that the full roar of the engine invades the relative quiet of the cabin. The 5 speed allows the driver to manually swap gears using Chrysler’s AutoStick feature. With the shifter in D, all the driver does is slap the stick left for upshifts, right for downshifts. I found it somewhat useful negotiating Washington’s mountainous roads but the response to my commands were slow and dimwitted so it 90% of its time was spent in full automatic mode. On a particularly curvy, two lane section of road just outside Gig Harbor, I was behind a late model Toyota Avalon that was moving at a pretty good clip. Despite the driver’s best efforts, he couldn’t get away from the big Chrysler, even where the 300’s burly power might have been an issue on the wet and slick surface. The fully independent suspension handled the 300’s size superbly and, as big as it is, it drives like a much smaller car in the twisty stuff. Body lean was muted and the German roots of the chassis are apparent in the 300’s no-brainer attitude when hustling along. The tuning of the electrically powered assist steering (EPAS) is also a positive note as the amount of heft and assist strike a good balance though, like most of these systems, feel and communication are notably absent. Large vented brakes at all four corners can haul the beast down with authority and were constantly exercised on a particularly grueling downhill section. Never once did the brake pedal go soft (and the car was pretty loaded). This may be a big car, almost Crown Victoria sized, but it’s no slouch when the highway ends and country roads beckon. A buffalo in dancing shoes…go figure.
Base price for a 2013 Chrysler 300 with the Pentastar V6 is around $30000 while the base 300C stickers for $35490. Those thirsting for more power can chuck the V6 for the HEMI for an additional $2200 (though as for right now, the 5 speed will have to do) like our tester. The few power junkies can skip the 300C altogether in favor of the 470hp 300 SRT-8 for $48995. Chrysler has done a very effective job with recreating the 300 and it shows in the level of attention to detail paid to virtually every surface of the car. Having shed the feel of a 1950’s chopped-top, mobster-ride look, the 300 now evokes a rich, upscale ambiance that perfectly fits Chrysler’s aspirations as an upscale brand. On a wider note, it also shows that America can build a car that is every bit as opulent and luxurious as the import brands. Having survived a tumultuous decade, Chrysler is finally on the right path to relevance and with notable products like the Jeep Grand Cherokee already winning awards for quality and this latest 300, the future can only get brighter.
Imported from Detroit has never sounder cooler.
Special thanks to the good folks at Enterprise at SeaTac Airport for helping to facilitate this review.