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The 2011 Dodge Charger has already escaped out of the barn door--and now it's the Chrysler 300's turn to roam loose under reimagined sheetmetal and a fluffed and primped interior, all rolling atop mild improvements to its chassis while a new V-6 drivetrain slots into some models.
It's been the most satisfying Chrysler vehicle you can buy for the past half-decade, and the rash of improvements and upgrades that come to this year's model give the 300 renewed license to hunt for its share of shoppers interested in sedans like the Buick LaCrosse, Ford Taurus, even the Hyundai Genesis.
A more muted, sophisticated design is draped over the 300's broad, familiar shoulders. The roof pillars are slimmer. The front prow wears a less toothy, less attention-starved grille that doesn't look as easily hot-swapped for a Bentley-lookalike piece. The cabin's a richer, wood-trimmed shroud for passengers, even with the bright distraction of a big LCD touchscreen front and center on the dash. Drape it in black, and you'll channel Sinatra-era hip in every ride.
Chrysler's Pentastar V-6 brings new, good game to the entry levels, with 283 horsepower and a five-speed automatic that's a better fit than the company's newer beta-version six-speed automatics. The HEMI V-8 muscles its way into the top 300C as it always has, but doesn't overpower the chassis' relaxed manners or the electric-assisted steering's nuanced touch.
Five passengers are still welcome inside, and so are iPods, iPhones and other small items--the bigger stuff will fit in the sizable trunk. All's well-protected by a raft of safety gear, with the latest electronic interventions bundled together in a package to help drivers detect vehicles in blind spots, crossing in traffic ahead and behind, and feel their way into and out of parking spots.
It wouldn't have taken much for the Chrysler 300 to lose the plot--and it hasn't taken much reinvention to remind us why it's one of the best domestic sedans available today. The ballsy, brusque swagger has come down to a friendlier level--and as a result, the Chrysler 300's grown more appealing in almost every respect.