Large, fast and pretty
Page 1: Introduction
DETROIT, MI - Back in the 1950s and 1960s, Chrysler produced a series of luxury sport coupes called the 300. After the debut of the original, each successive model adopted a letter designation to indicate that it was the next in the series. These large, fast Chryslers were not always pretty, but they did represent the best of what Chrysler did back when it was a premium American brand competing with Cadillac and Lincoln for well-heeled consumers.
The Chrysler 300 returned after a 25-year hiatus in the late 1990s, based for the first time on a front-drive platform and equipped with a V6 engine. It sold well enough, but didn't live up to the legendary 300s of days gone by without a powerful V8 or bold styling detail. And it didn't compete on equal footing in terms of quality or prestige with the leaders in the modern luxury segment: Lexus, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
At the 2004 North American International Auto Show, Chrysler introduced a redesigned 300 model, based on a rear-wheel-drive platform and offering an available Hemi V8 engine. This car, first shown to critics and the public in concept format a year prior to introduction, is definitely bold. The 2005 Chrysler 300 has a long hood, a short deck, a squat greenhouse, massive slab sides, and an in-your-face eggcrate grille like the elegantly proportioned classics of yesterday. The striking design screams luxury and prestige, yet the base price of the car is just $23,595 including the destination charge.
Four models are offered, and when fully equipped a Chrysler 300 can close in on $40,000. The standard model receives no trim level designation. It is powered (and we use that term loosely) by a 2.7-liter, 190-horsepower V6 engine matched to a four-speed automatic transmission. Chrysler prefers to call this powertrain "fuel-efficient." Given the Chrysler 300's curb weight of 3,700 pounds, we'd say it's underpowered, producing a lackadaisical zero-to-60 acceleration run in 10.7 pathetic seconds. If you choose to buy this model, don't drag race any Honda Civic or Toyota Prius hybrids - they may embarrass you. Best left to those who want an Omaha Steaks fillet mignon but can only afford a Dollar Menu Double Cheeseburger, the standard Chrysler 300 strikes us as a step in the wrong direction for a brand wanting to regain its stature as a premium entry in the marketplace. Should be just the ticket for a ride to Celine Dion's Vegas hootenanny.The 2005 Chrysler 300C Touring is a better place to start. In addition to the standard model's 17-inch wheels, power driver's seat and tilt/telescoping steering wheel, the Chrysler 300 Touring adds a 3.5-liter, 250-horsepower V6 that produces acceleration to 60 mph in the mid-eight-second range. That's better. Touring trim includes alloy wheels, fog lights, four-wheel-disc ABS with Brake Assist, traction and stability control, leather upholstery and chrome accents inside and out for $27,395.
Pop another $2,500 on the hood to get the Chrysler 300 Limited, which shares the Touring's powertrain and boosts the luxury quotient with chrome wheels, an electrochromic self-dimming rearview mirror, automatic headlights, heated front seats, a power passenger seat, express-up and -down front windows and a dual-zone automatic climate control system. The price is $29,890 for the Limited.
Serving as the flagship is the 2005 Chrysler 300C, at $32,995. For this premium price tag the buyer receives a 5.7-liter Hemi V8 producing 340 horsepower. This massive power upgrade results in a 0-60 acceleration time of 6.3 seconds, thus substantiating its letter-series nomenclature. The Hemi V8 will offer cylinder deactivation, which shuts down half of the engine's cylinders when they aren't needed for improved fuel economy. In addition to a real engine, the Chrysler 300C includes a five-speed Mercedes-Benz automatic transmission, bigger brakes, dual exhaust tips, 18-inch wheels, special chrome exterior trim, tortoise-shell cabin accents, a power adjustable steering wheel, rain-sensing wipers and a 288-watt Boston Acoustics audio system.Notable options on the 2005 Chrysler 300 include side curtain airbags, a reverse sensing system, self-sealing tires, power adjustable pedals, and high intensity discharge headlights with washers. Also available is a navigation radio with in-dash CD changer, Sirius satellite radio, a 380-watt digital amplifier and a Uconnect hands-free communication system using Bluetooth technology. An all-wheel-drive system based upon the Mercedes-Benz 4Matic design will become available after the initial launch of the Chrysler 300.
Stately, elegant, classically proportioned and unmistakably American, the 2005 Chrysler 300 is an interesting ride. It's a mistake for Chrysler to reach into the low $20,000s to capture buyers when trying to reposition as a premium brand (let 'em buy the Sebring!), but otherwise this is a smart and highly visible effort to boost the prestige of Chrysler's winged badge.
-- Photos courtesy of DaimlerChrysler AG