Test Drive: Chrysler 300 gets bolder, more fun – USA TODAY
It’s easy to forget in this age of econo-box small cars that the big, American-style rear-drive car is immensely satisfying.
For one thing, there aren’t many, so you might go a long time without ever driving one.
We rediscovered that satisfaction of bigness last year in the latest Dodge Charger, and now we get the privilege of revisiting the configuration in the Chrysler 300, similar to Charger underneath but quite different outside.
The 300 has a stubby, feisty look that test Drive has admired from the first of the modern 300s, which went on sale in 2004 as a 2005 model. The front and rear portions of the body don’t hang past the wheels very far — the same short overhang that make many BMWs look good.
The 300 and Charger are based on a chassis similar to the Mercedes-Benz 300 of the time, when M-B parent Daimler owned Chrysler. For the 2011 300, Chrysler made a number of boring-sounding but significant changes in the suspension, engine mounting, body construction. But the simultaneous styling changes made it softer-looking. The automaker thinks, in hindsight, that didn’t prompt the second-take reaction from folks as the earlier one did.
So now, the 2015, with a grille nearly one-third bigger and a number of other bits of styling drama to recapture the “wow” factor of the 2005.
The short take is: Looks cool, rides good, handles with crisp agility (mostly) and doesn’t use much fuel for its size and weight. We like it. Very much. We did continue to feel cheated by the back seat, because the huge center hump robbed the middle rear seating slot of usable leg space. Think of it as effectively a four-seater, not a five-seater.
Hardly just a Chrysler problem. Found too frequently among big cars.
One impressive option, that you’ll see more and more in the connected world, is the mobile Internet connection. The car is a hot spot, as are many General Motors models.
Hoping this isn’t an invitation for the Home Office to intrude on our road-trip serenity, we have to acknowledge that we were able to handle some urgent business requiring our computer and a link to headquarters while in the car. The laptop linkup actually was faster than pairing a cellphone, which Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s U.S. models do quite efficiently and easily.
No fear. It was handled by the passenger while underway, and only involved the driver when parked.
The Internet connection was a tad slow, taking a little longer to execute tasks that you might be used to at your home or office. But barely an annoyance, and better than no hookup at all.
But it’s a car first, so that’s how it’ll be rated.
The only chassis hiccup was a tendency to bound a bit on undulations, as if the front suspension didn’t control the mass properly. We noted the same on the mechanically similar Charger last year.
It’s worse on the all-wheel-drive (AWD) models, which are the ones we’d probably have on a personal shopping list. Their weather-cheating abilities are the selling point.
In the 300, the AWD appears to add enough weight to blunt the otherwise lovely feel of a large, rear-drive car, remembered with massive fondness from days of yore, when front-drive was largely unknown in the U.S.
Of the two Chrysler 300 test cars, we preferred to drive the RWD Hemi V-8 model, and mainly for its chassis, not its nicely powerful engine. Thinking back to our favorites from the Charger drive, we’d expect to like the V-6 rear-drive 300 even better, but our V-6 test car had the AWD option (which isn’t available on the V-8).
FCA has decreed Chrysler a mainstream brand, after Chrysler’s spend generations pitching itself as a premium machine, somewhat like GM’s Buick brand.
These days, Chrysler-brand folks talk about the 300 as a “premium experience at a mainstream price.”
The experience is there, but not the price. Our test cars – very well featured, of course — ran as much as $50,000. We bet most shoppers don’t consider that manistream in these days of $33,000 average transaction prices.
If you’re sitting there fretting over the very existence of big cars and Hemi V-8s at a time of increasing demands for efficiency, consider: The Hemi V-8 was first to use the cylinder shut-off system that runs on four cylinders under light load. The four “off” cylinders burn no fuel.
That’s right, the big Chrysler Hemi V-8. The usual eco-suspects followed, but weren’t at the forefront.
And what did that feature due for mileage? Our tally was a bit more than 22 mpg on the highway, where the engine can loaf, but down in the mid-teens in the suburbs, where the shut-off mechanism comes into play less.
We expected the teens in the suburbs. But were pleasantly surprised by the highway showing.
And before you get too hung up on the “big” thing, here are two “data points,” and the modern gobbledy-gook guys like to say.
One, the modern 300 is notably smaller than the 300 namesake of the 1970s, which were among the last gasp for truly big cars before oil shortages and dawning clean-air regulations led to panic downsizing of cars and engines, to very poor effect, generally.
Just as a for-instance, the Ford Pinto-based Mustang II. It was launched in 1973 months before the first of the oil crises, in which the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Coutries, mainly the Arabian nations, cut back supplies and caused a barrel of oil to zoom — ready? — from around $3 to an astonishing $12 a barrel. Lately it’s trading at what’s considered a dirt-cheap $50 a barrel or so.
At the time, it seemed the end of the world as we knew it — and in fact, automotively speaking, it was, kicking off a shift to smaller, four-cylinder cars made outside the U.S.
Two, Chrysler 300 really isn’t big even by today’s standards. it’s about a match for the Buick LaCrosse or Ford Taurus, the biggest sedans by those brands. None has the 110 cubic-feet of passenger space that used to define a full-size car. They are little big ones, or big midsize sedans.
The 300 also suffers from an undersized trunk. The space inside isn’t tall and the fender wells intrude a little, so if you tote a lot frequently it might not be the most suitable.
Still, given the ride, handling and technology improvements, we’ll quickly applaud what passes for big nowdays, happy to regard it as sensibly and artfully rendered.
2015 Chrysler 300 highlights
•Size: Artfully large.
•Power: Plenty, even with base V-6.
•Features: Optional Internet connection is especially impressive.
2015 Chrysler 300 Details
•What? Update of full-size rear-drive (RWD), four-door traditional American sedan, also available with all-wheel drive (AWD) on V-6 models.
•When? On sale since December.
•Where? Made at Brampton, Ontario, Canada (so it’s a traditional North American sedan, strictly speaking). .
•Why? Chrysler thought the previous update, for the 2011 model year, was too mild, not bold or shocking enough, as the first modern 300 was in 2005.
•How much? $32,390 including $995 shipping for least-expensive V-6 RWD. V-6 AWD starts at $36,585. Hemi V-8 starts at $38,635.
V-6 AWD 300C Platinum test car (top model): $50,175.
V-8 RWD 300S test car: $42,685.
•What makes it go? 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 rated 292 horsepower at 6,350 (300 hp on 300 S), 260 pounds-feet of torque at 4,800 rpm (264 lbs.-ft. on S). Available with RWD or AWD.
Optional: 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 rated 363 hp at 5,200 rpm, 394 lbs.-ft. at 4,200 rpm. Available with RWD only.
Both engines use eight-speed automatic transmission.
•How big? Among the biggest sedans that aren’t the long-wheelbase, limousine-like special models. Similar to Buick LaCrosse and Ford Taurus, other full-size American-brand sedans that offer both two-wheel and four-wheel drive.
Passenger compartment, 106.3 cubic feet, slightly less than the 110 cu. ft. or more that’s used to be the lower threshold for true full-size cars.
Trunk: 16.3 cu. ft.
Tows 1,000 lbs.
•How thirsty? Rated 19 mpg in the city, 31 highway, 23 combined (V-6 RWD), 18/27/21 (V-6 AWD), 16/25/19 (V-8 RWD).
RWD Hemi V-8 test car registered 22.1 mpg (4.52 gallons per 100 miles) in mostly highway driving, 14.5 mpg (6.9 gal./100 mi.) in suburban short-hop driving.
AWD V-6 test car registered 15 mpg (6.67 gal./100 mi.) in suburban short-hop use.
Both engines burn regular. Mid-grad recommended but not requred for Hemi V-8. Tank holds 18.5 gal.
•Overall: So refreshing to drive big American iron, with the power, comfort and pure presence that implies.