SAN DIEGO – With a $27,995 base price, the new Chrysler 300 is not bad; it’s not bad at all.
I’m talking about a sedan that may not be considered as a premium vehicle by many in the car-buying public but under a new regime and with a refurbished 300, more believers will come into the fold.
The new design of the 2011 Chrysler 300 is evolutionary not revolutionary.
You’ll recognize the new car as a Chrysler 300 immediately. But if you are relatively familiar with Chrysler’s flagship you’ll also know that it has completely changed.
The 300’s distinctive grille is about the same proportion as the old one, but it is a new design.
Here are some of the other changes: the windshield has been raked back three inches, the winged badge design is new, there were new front finder forms and rear quarter forms, and a new deck-lid lip spoiler has been added as well as new “C” shaped LED running lights next to the head lamps.
The wheels are closer to the side of the wheel wells, so there is not so much open space. The car has been lowered a bit and the edges have been rounded. There were many more changes that I won’t get into here but in a phrase the new Chrysler 300 looked fresh.
In addition to the $27,995 Chrysler 300, there is the $31,995 300 Limited, the $35,245 300 Luxury and the $38,995 Chrysler 300C AWD (Hemi).
My driving partner and I started out sharing the wheel of the top of the line 300C AWD. The car was powered by a 5.7-liter 363 horsepower V8 that made 394 pound-feet of torque. The engine was mated to a five-speed automatic transmission, and therein was my only quibble with this car.
In an era where gears are the new cup holders, the more a vehicle has the better it is perceived to be, five forward gear speeds seem pedestrian. Let’s face it, six-speed gear boxes are pretty much the norm and luxury brands have seven and eight speed automatics.
Still, the 300C traversed the hills, tight turns and switch backs here with no problem. There was hardly a burp out of the transmission and the big V8 hummed with efficiency. I touched the accelerator pedal and the response of the Hemi was almost instant.
Chrysler used more super strength steel to manufacture the new 300. It’s stronger and lighter than regular steel and that translates into a stiffer chassis, which means a smoother ride.
The automaker used premium-composite underbody panels that provide more acoustic insulation, dual-pane acoustic windshield and front-door side glass, body-cavity silencing foam, under-flush rolled-framed doors with triple seals and acoustic wheel-well liners all help to absorb road noise.
As an example, there were four motorcycles cruising at more than 70 mph about 20 yards in front of us. We couldn’t hear their engines with the 300C’s windows up. This is the sort of stuff premium car buyers expect.
Chrysler has done a lot of work on the interior of its flagship. Surfaces were soft to the touch, Nappa leather was everywhere and the car featured real wood appliqués on the instrument panel, doors, center console and steering wheel.
Our test vehicle featured heated and cooled front seats as well as heated rear seats. There was a heated wood steering wheel, adjustable pedals and a rear window shade. What’s more, I was particularly impressed with the heated and cooled cup holders.
The engine featured technology that shut down four of its eight cylinders when cruising and the car shifted from all-wheel-drive to rear wheel drive when power to all four treads was not needed. Both are fuel savers and our test car had 15/23 estimated EPA city/hwy rating.
Again, Chrysler has done a fine job of improving another one of its models from the inside out. The 300 was already popular, even with consumers who didn’t own one. I expect more folks to park a new Chrysler 300 in their driveway as advertising, marketing and, more important, word of mouth take hold.
Frank S. Washington is managing partner/editor of AboutThatCar.com.