Page 1: Intro
300. It’s a number that made a name for Chrysler in the mid Fifties. Back then, Mopar performance was alpha-numeric. The fleetest of the fleet – the big, 300 series coupes - were badged with sequential letters and backed by serious hardware. In 1956, a 300b “letter car” was the first to pack one horsepower per cubic inch – an early milestone, in the upcoming horsepower wars. And so it went, through 1965, when lettered versions of the 300 series disappeared. Chrysler dusted off the digits a few years back, introducing the 300M to the lineup. Based on the LH platform, it was a nice, front wheel drive sedan, but hot, it was not. Now, Chrysler has re-invented the 300 and revived the letters, and this time it’s packing heat.
The 2005 Chrysler 300 is offered in four versions. A 2.7 liter, 190 hp V-6 drives the base model, which stickers for $23,595. Next up, price and power-wise is the Touring model, which pairs a 250 hp, 3.5 liter V-6, with a $27,395 price tag. Also sharing the 3.5 six is the 300 Limited, at $29,890. At the top of the food chain is the $32,995 300C, which I’ve recently had a chance to evaluate in two extended stretches, spaced several months apart.
The 300C re-introduces the letter car tradition by offering bona fide muscle under the hood, in the form of a 5.7 liter Hemi head V8. While the Hemi made its celebrated return to the Mopar lineup packed in a truck, Chrysler has massaged the 300 (and Dodge Magnum) motors with a torque curve tuned for passenger car performance. New intake and exhaust manifolds have been fitted, and a high flow dual exhaust system added for better breathing and a muscular tone that’s more muted than the pickups. Laced into the 300C platform, the Hemi rocks. Power flows smoothly through the five gears of the Mercedes automatic transmission - the same unit found in the E-Class (V-6 cars get a four speed auto). It shifts seamlessly and offers an AutoStick mode if you’re in a manumatic mood. In 300C trim, the Hemi rates 340 hp (@5,000 rpm) and 390 lb. ft. of torque (@4,000 rpm). The HEMI offers fine throttle response at all engine speeds . Chrysler reports a 0-60 time of 6.3 seconds and some buff books claim that’s conservative (I’ve seen a published best of 5.6 seconds). Autobahn bummer: top speed is limited to 126 mph. Stop watch or seat of the pants, the 300C is plainly quick, and satisfying to drive. Acceleration off the line is crisp and there’s plenty under foot at passing speed. The 300C cruises easily at highway speeds, very easily, as it turns out, thanks to some new technology onboard. A Multi-Displacement System deactivates four cylinders in lighter load conditions (like highway cruising or city puttering) for better fuel economy.
Page 3: Solid feel
But, any time you squeeze the pedal with authority, the Hemi is literally and figuratively hitting on all cylinders. In practice, MDS is completely transparent to the driver. It takes far longer to explain than to experience. The engine switches back and forth from 4/8 cylinders in just 40 milliseconds. And, it works as advertised, saving an estimated 10-20% in gas mileage. Despite the 300’s brick-like form, the 300C is rated at an estimated 17 mpg’s city and 25 highway. Because of this division of labor, axle to axle, rear wheel drive has long been favored by builders of performance cars. On the road, the 300C is solid feeling, with a pleasing heft to the steering wheel feel. Cutting a nice balance between highway cruiser and sport sedan, it’s firmer than the former, softer than the latter. The C is balanced (52/48 f/r weight distribution) and a satisfying distance driver. However, there is a marketing challenge afoot. Generations of snow-belters have been told that front wheel drive is superior in snow, and it’s this population that Chrysler now has to win over with RWD. Their answer is two-fold: tires and technology. The combination of snow tires and onboard electronics (Traction Control, Electronic Stability Program and Anti-Lock Brakes) help level the playing field when fighting winter’s worst. And for those who will not be convinced, Chrysler has one more answer – be patient. An all wheel drive version of the 300 is scheduled to arrive in fall, 2004.
Page 4: Smash mouth
The late LH cars were known for their cab forward architecture, which allowed for a roomy cabin. Interestingly enough, the switch to a rear wheel drive platform has had much the same effect. The upright lines of the body allow for a passenger friendly interior, especially in terms of head room. There is six footer caliber space available front or back, and the 60/40 split/fold seatbacks provide a big pass-through to the 15.6 cubic foot trunk. All 300 levels have a clean, roomy design to their interiors. And if base versions are neutral looking, the “C” models add a little character to the mix with tortoise shell trim on steering wheel, door pulls and shifter. Front seats are light on lateral support, but long on comfort. Optional electronics include a center stack smorgasbord: GPS navigation screen, 6 disc CD changer, MP3 player, AM/FM tuner, 380 watt Boston Acoustics sound, Sirius satellite radio. Finally, there is the matter of the 300’s smash-mouth styling. Up front, the broad, egg-crate grille is a chrome plated nod to classic era 300’s. The high belt line and short glass give a chopped look to the side view, with slab sides interrupted only by fender flares over 18” rolling stock. In back, a tall, angular tail, with vertical, asymmetrical taillights above and a beefy bumper surround below.
The only obvious miscue is the misnaming. Any Chrysler buff will tell you that the 300C has already been built – in 1957! The letter car lineage stopped at “L” in ’65, and even if the recent “M” wasn’t one of Chrysler’s finer consonants, by rights, the next car should have been designated the 300N. More important than the logic of the lettering is what this car does for Chrysler. It is as visible as the previous LH series was invisible, giving the company marketing buzz, and a relevance in the big car conversation that it hasn’t enjoyed in years.
Page 5: FAQS
What's the 300 lineup?
Four models: base 300 for $23,595, Touring ($27,395), Limited ($ 29,890) and 300C ($32,995). All prices include destination.How about powertrains?
Three engines, two transmissions and (for now) one drive line. Base models have a 2.7 liter V-6, with four speed automatic transmission. Touring and Limited drive the 3.5 V-6/5-speed auto combo. Top-line 300C's get the 5.7 Hemi and five speed auto box. All are rear wheel drive, with AWD coming on line optionally in the late fall.
And the quick take on the 300C?
Dramatic design, road-worthy chassis, roomy cabin, left-lane loving Hemi.
Page 6: Notes
Test Vehicle: 2005 Chrysler 300
As tested: $35,025