New & Used Chrysler 300: In Depth
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The Chrysler 300 is a mid- to full-size sedan that sits at the top of the American automaker's range. A V-6 engine and rear-wheel drive are standard, but the 300 can also be configured with all-wheel drive as well as a powerful V-8 engine.
Because of the 300's drivetrain layout and engine options, as well as old-school big-car styling, the 300 has few remaining direct competitors. It's most commonly cross-shopped with big front-drivers like the Ford Taurus, Buick LaCrosse, Toyota Avalon, and Hyundai Azera, and possibly even the Cadillac XTS. The 300 is related to a pair of slightly more youthful Dodges, the Challenger muscle coupe and Charger sedan.
Launched way back in 2005, the Chrysler 300 marked the return of rear-wheel drive to Chrysler's sedan lineup, replacing the front-wheel-drive Chrysler Concorde and 300M. The automaker took advantage of its Daimler ownership at the time, borrowing some components from an older version of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Appearance-wise, the 300 and 300C (the more luxurious version, which came with the HEMI V-8) were a breath of fresh air to the Chrysler lineup, with a taller, boxier look overall and a high beltline that gave these models a macho yet classy look. It was a complete about-face compared to the "cab forward" designs that Chrysler had followed through the 1990s and up until then.
Over the years, the Chrysler 300 lineup changed little. Fleet-oriented base models included a 190-horsepower, 2.7-liter V-6 that was just barely adequate for the 300; a much better choice was the 250-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6, which could move the 300 with more enthusiasm while not getting any worse real-world mileage. The 300C HEMI versions included the 5.7-liter HEMI V-8, making 340 horsepower. Both of the V-6 models came with a four-speed automatic, while the V-8s got a five-speed automatic. Both the V-6 and V-8 models were offered with an available all-wheel-drive system.
Chrysler also offered the performance-oriented SRT-8 (written as SRT8 in later years), which sported a 425-horsepower, 6.1-liter version of the HEMI V-8 along with upgraded brakes and suspension. Overall, the SRT8—or the 300C—provided the performance of a muscle car, with a gruff, forceful responsiveness to the powertrain and reasonably good handling, without a lot of finesse in the steering.
Chrysler sells the 300 and 300C as premium large cars, which is where it has run into some trouble. A common criticism is that while the 300 is full-size, its backseat space is more cramped than that of many mid-size sedans. The 300's interior materials have been better than those used elsewhere in the Chrysler lineup, but until recently, they haven't quite been up to the standards expected of a model that could sell for well over $40,000 either. Additionally, the Chrysler 300 was plagued with recall and assembly-quality issues early on.
Today's Chrysler 300
In 2011, most of the first-generation car's deficiencies were remedied with the launch of a considerably redesigned version of the Chrysler 300. While the 300C's rip-roaring V-8 was carried over, the revised 300 gained a new look inside and out, plus Chrysler's excellent 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, making 283 horsepower, a much-upgraded interior—in both materials and refinement—and features like a standard USB port, an available navigation system with Sirius Travel Link services, and a uConnect Web WiFi hotspot option.
For 2012, Chrysler introduced a new eight-speed automatic transmission for V-6 models that further improved performance and boosted highway fuel economy to 31 mpg. The high-performance 300 SRT8 offered up the latest, 6.4-liter high-output version of the HEMI, making 470 hp, while also introducing an adaptive suspension and many other extras.
For the 2013 model year, a new 300 Glacier Edition was introduced, with all-wheel drive plus a special set of appearance extras. The 300S upped the V-6's output to 300 horsepower through a cold-air intake and sport-tuned exhaust, and there was a new black-painted roof option. There was also a new 2013 Chrysler 300 Motown Edition with chrome accents, 20-inch aluminum wheels, blacked-out Chrysler wing badges, and Motown badges on the front fenders. At the 2013 Chicago Auto Show, Chrysler introduced a new SRT8 Core model from its in-house high-performance brand, SRT, offering the big engine with cloth seats, fixed dampers, and fewer options, all for a smaller price tag than the standard SRT model.
Like the Charger, the 300 received a refresh for the 2015 model year. Freshened designs for the front and rear accompany an upgraded interior—the most obvious changes are up front, where the 300 wears updated headlights and a wider grille—the Chrysler winged badge has been moved down from the top edge of the opening into the field. V-8 models now come with the eight-speed automatic that the V-6 cars have offered for a while, which improves fuel-economy ratings for the HEMI. Chrysler also added a few safety features, including forward-collision warning, as well as a new Platinum model at the top of the range. The interior was given a once-over, with a freshened design and better materials.
The SRT model is not likely to return to the U.S. market, with or without the insane Hellcat engine available in the large Dodge cars. For now, it's at least off the table for 2015. Its discontinuation would be in line with SRT being rolled back in with Dodge, which is supposed to handle the exciting cars for the group from now on. Chrysler does still build an SRT version of the 300 for export.