Silvio Calabi: Chrysler 300C AWD is America’s Bentley
Was it really 10 years ago that the re-issued Chrysler 300 swaggered into the room and knocked us all flat with its style and substance? And was that really before the Great Recession, and then all that gritty, up-from-the-ashes “imported from Detroit” brand-building? Yes, it was; the 300 is a survivor from the Bad Old Times. For starters, it was the only successful offspring of Chrysler’s painful nine-year marriage to Daimler-Benz, which at least let the American design team fit some cast-off parts from Mercedes E- and S-Class sedans under a big and bold new body shell. Then came two even worse years when a Greenwich hedge fund took over Chrysler just as the bottom fell out of the economy. And finally, when an unholy lash-up of the US and Canadian governments, the United Auto Workers and Fiat of Italy stepped in to bail out the company in ’09 . . . well, the remaining members of the Chrysler fan club met in a phone booth and began to mix the hemlock.
But as we all know, in a reversal on par with the U.S.-Russia upset in Olympic hockey in 1980, somehow it worked. And through it all the 300 motored on, not just as the company flagship but also as a signal that, given half a chance, Chrysler could fly. As much as anything else, the 300 may have saved the brand.
Symbolism can be powerful, but is that enough reason to buy a car? Especially now, when cars are so much better — safer, faster, cleaner-running, smarter and more efficient in all ways — than ever? Can a car born before the cleansing fire of Detroit’s near-death experience compete today?
Again, yes. Or at least mostly. Somehow the 300, especially the top-line C model with all-wheel drive, still offers a unique combination of size, style, comfort, features, price and all-weather performance. Chrysler has been smart about modernizing and upgrading the “old” 300, a process that is orders of magnitude cheaper than building a new car. For example, thanks to an eight-speed automatic transmission and a 3.6-liter V-6 engine that makes eight-cylinder power, our 300C AWD could manage 27 miles per gallon on the highway and 24 MPG overall. And Chrysler claims the RWD-only version of the same car will beat 30 MPG. That’s impressive for something with nearly the heft and presence of a Bentley Flying Spur. (A 363HP Hemi V-8 with paddle shifters is also available; fuel efficiency drops to 16/25 mpg, city/highway.)
As part of the continual upgrade process, for 2015 Chrysler has padded the 300’s ever-swelling portfolio with more optional equipment, including onboard WiFi, a remote-control smartphone app and two Safety Tec packages: Level 1 adds turn indicators and courtesy lamps to the wing mirrors, plus blind-spot and cross-path monitors and alerts, and front and rear parking sensors, for $1,695. Level 2, also $1,695, adds Forward Collision Warning-Plus, which provides automatic braking to the point of stopping the car when a frontal collision appears imminent; adaptive cruise control that also can stop the car; lane-departure warning (felt through the steering wheel) and lane-keeping assistance; and automatic high beams. Our car also had the Light Group, an $895 option with adaptive and self-leveling high-intensity bi-xenon headlamps. All in, the sticker came to $45,675.
The $41,000 300C AWD’s toy chest is well stocked anyway, with a handsome leather interior, keyless ignition and door locking/unlocking, remote start and trunk release, a power rear sunshade, rearview camera, heated and ventilated power front seats, heated rear seats, a memory function that remembers two sets of driver’s seat, mirror and radio settings, HD Radio and a digital dashboard—a customizable, electronic Driver Information Display instrument cluster with Uconnect Systems (Bluetooth streaming audio and voice command) and navigation with full-color 3-D graphics. Voilà, a thoroughly modern, pre-Recession car from a reinvigorated car company.
Chrysler had to spend the big money on reinventing its mid-size 200, but that was a desperate case. With the 300 the company had, and still has, a platform that has proven itself highly upgradable — so far, anyway. With the help of the 300, Chrysler did indeed “see it through,” as their TV commercials put it.
- “Godfather” presence
- Smooth ride & capable suspension
- Aging quite well, thank you
- Sometimes-ragged shifting
- Bigger outside than in
- Old-fashioned parking brake
Silvio Calabi reviews the latest from Detroit, Munich, Yokohama, Gothenburg, Crewe, Seoul and wherever else interesting cars are born. Silvio is a member of the International Motor Press Association whose automotive reviews date back to the Reagan administration. He is the former publisher of Speedway Illustrated magazine and an author. Contact him at email@example.com.