2018 Chrysler 300 First Drive Review


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In this, its lucky 13th year of production with only one major redesign, the Chrysler 300 might not spring instantly to buyers’ minds when contemplating large cars for purchase. This quieter, more luxurious, and stoic sibling of the wilder, crazier Dodge Charger and Dodge Challenger SRT Scat Packs, Hellcats, and wheelie-pulling Demons hasn’t drawn much attention to itself lately. Chrysler cancelled the 300’s high-powered SRT8 variant in 2015 just as Dodge began probing the outer limits of powertrain insanity. And although the results of a 23andMe cheek swab of the 300 will reveal DNA evidence of ancient ancestral migration from Stuttgart, Germany (thanks to some turn-of-the-century W210 E- and W220 S-Class bits), this car feels neither ancient nor the least bit Swabian.

Nope, this baby’s all ate up with Detroit swagger, thanks to its strong, muscular shoulders, prominent wheel arches amply filled by big wheels and tires, and narrow greenhouse openings that almost seem designed to afford protection from stray gunfire coming from Slim Shady’s hood south of 8 Mile Road. Although the design was refined a bit for 2011, it still struts with a confidence that has helped land it starring roles in numerous hip-hop music videos and at least one song lyric reference (“Always saw you for what you could’ve been / Ever since you met me / Like when Chrysler made that one car that looked just like the Bentley”—Drake, “Keep The Family Close,” 2016).

How much longer will Chrysler’s original gangsta sedan and only actual car remain in production? Scuttlebutt suggests when the LX platform gets replaced for 2021 on an Alfa-shared architecture, the 300 might be put out to pasture. That’s sad; together with the Charger, FCA’s LX sales currently dominate the full-size car segment, outselling GM (Chevy Impala and Buick LaCrosse) by 17 percent last year. Oh well.

To freshen up for its three-year dash to the finish line, the 2018 300 lineup gets a bunch of detail tweaks, starting with the model series lineup. It now progresses from Touring, through Touring L, 300S, and Limited, to the ultimate—300C. That new base Touring model gets cloth seats, 17-inch aluminum wheels, and a $3,345 price drop (to $30,090) from the previous base Limited model. All but the 300C come with standard V-6 power and optional AWD. The 300S gets a more powerful V-6 and an optional Hemi V-8 (rear-drive only). The range-topping 300C now gets the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 and rear-drive as standard, along with new Mocha-colored quilted Nappa leather seating and door-panel upholstery plus natural open-pore wood trim. Two new metallic paint colors join the rainbow: Green and Ocean Blue.

At the launch event, two Hemi-powered 300s were available to sample. I started off in the more luxurious 300C, which wore its quilted Mocha interior very richly. Priced at $42,090 to start, a fully decked out 300C, at $51,070, just kisses the bottom end of the midsize luxury sedan class (A5, 5 Series, XF, E-Class, et al.). Such a bedazzled 300C feels nearly competitive in terms fit, finish, and materials and offers the bonus of superior space and an intoxicating V-8 rush and roar that no entry 2.0-liter turbo in the luxe class can touch.

Next up was the 300S, which in Hemi trim dons a bunch of former SRT parts: front fascia and foglamps, side sills, and rear spoiler. The S suspension is tuned a bit firmer to start with (with increased spring rates, performance-tuned steering and bushings, and larger anti-roll bars), to which the test car added $275 worth of Mopar lowering springs that drop the car 1 inch, intensifying its badassery. I feared for my kidneys and fillings, but riding on the same all-season 245/45R20 Firestone Firehawk GT tires, the S tackled the same Belgian block stretch of test surface with no trim-loosening, sharp-edged body impacts. Yes, the ride is somewhat firmer, but it’s not punishing, and the difference relative to the 300C was remarkably minimal. The difference in body roll during cornering was similarly minimal, with both variants controlling lean about as well as one should expect for a large luxury sedan.

The test loop included several fairly tight corners; the Hemi could easily overwhelm the rear tire grip when exiting those corners if not for stability control intervention. And yet in the car’s Sport mode, said intervention was both late and delightfully subtle, permitting a judicious amount of slip and body rotation. This is how all manufacturers that care the least bit about making their cars’ driving experience enjoyable should program such systems. Similar praise is due the programmers of the ZF-licensed Torqueflite 8HP70 transmission’s shift logic. Here again, Sport mode held lower gears when lifting off the throttle and turning into a corner. It pre-emptively downshifted when braking hard into a corner and always seemed to be in the right gear for corner exit. Now that every Gen X or millennial engineer at a car company can be expected to have grown up mastering Xboxes or PlayStations and programming computers, it mystifies me why every transmission with a Sport mode can’t be programmed to shift exactly like this one.

So if you’re contemplating a big sedan, don’t forget this Chrysler. Look, Chevy’s awesome SS is gone. If you like steering with a V-8’s throttle, we’re down to the Dodge Charger or Chrysler 300 in this price range. Drake fans who share my a fondness for quilted leather will surely choose the “car that looked just like the Bentley.”

2018 Chrysler 300
DRIVETRAIN Front-engine, RWD/AWD, 4-pass, 5-door sedan
ENGINE 3.6L/292-300-hp/260-264-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6; 5.7L/363-hp/394-lb-ft OHV 16-valve V-8
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4,000-4,400 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 120.2 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 198.6 x 75.0 x 58.5-59.2 in
0-60 MPH 5.0-6.6 sec (MT est)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 16-19/25-30/19-23 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 177-211/112-135 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.85-1.02 lb/mile
ON SALE IN U.S. Currently

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