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2012 Chrysler 300 S Road Test and Review

Benjamin Hunting
by Benjamin Hunting
June 19, 2012
8 min. Reading Time

The 2012 Chrysler 300 S represents an attempt from the Detroit automaker to expand the appeal of its flagship full-size sedan through the introduction of a luxury model that doesn't require buyers to order a V-8 engine under the hood.  The Chrysler 300 S is a large car that offers big comfort, intriguing styling both inside and out, and the kind of road presence that just doesn't come across from its domestic classmates.  The S also makes an appeal to younger drivers who might not have previously considered a full-size automobile, thanks to the transition from wood and traditional chrome to a more modern, even edgy trim palette.


2012 Chrysler 300 S: Competition

The 2012 Chrysler 300 S is intended as a premium sedan, but given its affordable pricing it's clear that shoppers will also be comparing the automobile to other, more vanilla family cars like the Ford Taurus and the Chevrolet Impala.  On the import front, the 300 S would like to snag buyers who might have previously been tempted by more expensive fare like the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and the Acura RL - rivals that are roughly equal in size, but which feature a higher quotient of tech and comfort features for more money.  Dark horse luxury competitors for the 300 S also include the Lincoln MKS and the Buick LaCrosse.



2012 Chrysler 300 S: Pricing and Trim Levels

The 2012 Chrysler 300 S starts at an MSRP of $33,670.  This places the 300 S just $1,000 above the 300 Limited and roughly $5,000 more expensive than the base 300.  In addition to the entry-level S with the V-6 engine, its also possible to order the 300 S V8, which features Hemi power and checks in at an MSRP of $39,670.

The 2012 Chrysler 300 S model that we drove over the course of the past week featured the V-6 engine, and when factoring in the various options packages bundled with our loaded tester the MSRP came to just under $40,000.



2012 Chrysler 300 S: Exterior

The 2012 Chrysler 300 S is a car that commands attention as soon as it rolls down your block.  When the full-size sedan was given an extensive redesign last year, there were some who felt that moving away from chunky looks of the iconic first-generation model would soften the 300's impact.  In actual fact, the hawk-like canting of the Chrysler's new LED-ringed headlights and smoothers front fascia have sharpened the first impression made by the automobile, and the smoother sides mesh better with the tilted rear deck.  The 300 S features a sharp styling crease that descends from the top of the rear fender, continues down the taillight and curves across the entire length of the back bumper, a welcome details that stands in elegant counterpoint to the slab doors and flat trunk lid.

Our Chrysler 300 S tester came with huge, multi-spoke 20-inch rims that added further visual heft to the automobile.  Unlike other large sedan designs where big wheels seem out of place, these blended in perfectly with the bold image projected by the car.  The previously-mentioned LED running lights illuminated in greeting when the 'unlock' button on the 300's key fob was pushed, and the bi-xenon HID headlights put on a self-leveling show of their own when entering the automobile after the sun has gone down.  In short, the 300 S did an excellent job of making the driver feel like a VIP even during the simple act of approaching the vehicle. 

Another nicely implemented feature was the keyless entry system, which would unlock the car with the fob in pocket once a thumb had brush across a small, square sensor embedded in the door handle.  Entering the car would reveal the dash lit up and ready for the driver to push the engine start button and get underway, making the entire keyless experience a seamless one.



2012 Chrysler 300 S: Interior

The passenger compartment of our 2012 Chrysler 300 S was upholstered from top to bottom in optional red leather - perhaps the feature that triggered more comments from passengers and passersby than any other during our week with the vehicle.  Part of the Luxury Group package, which also gave us power adjustable pedals, heated seats front and rear (with memory functions up front), a heated steering wheel, and heated and cooled cup holders, the leather's red hue was certainly loud but not over the top, a good match for the personality of the sedan.  It also helped that the backseat accommodations were almost as comfortable and roomy as those in the front two positions, with acres of leg and shoulder room that were appreciated during several extended highway jaunts in the 300 S.

Other high end features that came with our Chrysler 300 S included a power rear sunshade, a dual-pane glass moonroof, and a 'Beats by Dre' stereo that was designed in conjunction with one of hip hop's most respected producers.  Although Dr. Dre's name might impart the 300S with a bit of street cred, we weren't particularly blown away by the sound quality of the system, which did a merely adequate job of reproducing music fed to it by a variety of digital devices as well as the vehicle's standard satellite radio receiver.

Our 300 S also came with a navigation system and Chrysler's Uconnect Touch 8.4-inch LCD touchscreen interface.  Uconnect Touch is responsible for integrating mobile phones and media players with the vehicle's entertainment and communications systems, and we were quite impressed with how easy the entire system was to use.  In fact, Uconnect stands out as one of the most intuitive Bluetooth management features in the industry, with easy-to-understand menus making it a cinch to pair phones and make and receive calls.  The voice command interface that came with Uconnect was also handy, although the sheer size of the LCD display found us more often than not simply thumbing our way to the desired screen.  The navigation functionality (powered by Garmin) was also straightforward, although the graphics were a little bit clunky in terms of positioning where the vehicle was located on the map display.

The Chrysler 300 S' dashboard provided a nice layout that was easy on the eyes while still providing all of the information that a driver would need while on the go.  Mounted between the tachometer and the speedometer was a small LCD display that offered up fuel economy, the trip odometer, cruise control settings, and distance to empty.  This feature could be navigated via buttons mounted on the steering wheel - a welcome departure from more awkward stalk-mounted knobs and clickers. 

The climate control interface was nicely grouped together just under the large touch interface, but we did have one complaint: activating the heated seats and steering wheel required accessing a menu via the LCD screen.  Would it really have been that difficult to include three extra buttons on the center stack, or perhaps even the console?  How many passengers will mistake the heated and cooled cup holder buttons for their seat controls and end up cooking their beverages instead of their behinds?



2012 Chrysler 300 S: Powertrain and Fuel Economy

The 2012 Chrysler 300 S is available with two engine options.  Our test vehicle came with the base 3.6-liter V-6 that generates 292 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, shifted via a new eight-speed automatic transmission that helps the sedan post fuel mileage figures of 19-mpg in city driving and 31-mpg on the highway. 

It's also possible to order the 300 S with a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 that grinds out 363 horses and 394 lb-ft of torque, managed by a five-speed autobox.  Fuel economy for the larger mill checks in at 16-mpg around town and 25-mpg during highway cruising.  Either motor can be paired with optional all-wheel drive.



2012 Chrysler 300 S: Driving Impressions

You might have noticed how many times in this review we have used words like 'big' and 'large.'  Well, these particular descriptors are going to pop up once again when detailing the 2012 Chrysler 300 S driving experience.  This is one heavy sedan, and while that helps to contribute to an exceptionally composed environment for eating up hundreds of highway miles in a single stretch, it also informs the dynamics of the automobile when it is asked to execute more abrupt steering and throttle inputs.

Hustling the 300 S through a corner highlights the fact that you asking over 4,000 lbs of mass to change direction perhaps a bit more quickly than it is comfortable with.  To be sure, the Chrysler never feels out of control when at the edge of its handling limits, but there is appreciable body roll and the definite sensation that this is a sedan that has been tuned with comfort, not all-out performance in mind.  Which is fine, given that the overwhelming majority of those who purchase the 300 S are of the same mind as the automobile's designers.

In the power department, the 292 horsepower offered by our tester's 3.6-liter V-6 was more than adequate, giving the 300 S solid acceleration off the line and a good amount of confidence when overtaking other drivers on the highway.  Pushing the sedan too far past the posted speed limit will see the vehicle begin to run out of steam in terms of sheer forward momentum, but getting to 70-mph is accomplished without any complaint on the part of the Pentastar motor.  We were also impressed with the vehicle's ability to match its EPA fuel economy rating on the highway, especially given its weight and - have we mentioned this yet? - its considerable size.

Much of the 2012 Chrysler 300 S's efficiency can be attributed to its eight-speed automatic transmission, a unit that has been specifically designed to balance performance and economy.  We are of mixed opinions regarding success of the gearbox in the former category.  Around town, the transmission was often slow to respond to downshift requests made by the driver's right foot, leading to frustrating hesitation that made it difficult to take advantages of openings in traffic.  The 300 features a Sport mode that tightens up steering and also introduces quicker shifting on the part of the auto transmission, eliminating much of the pause between throttle stabs and gear changes.  Unfortunately, Sport mode also asks the transmission to hold each gear for a more extended period of time, however, which compromises the 300 S' big car smoothness.  The vehicle essentially offered us the choice between butter-smooth highway performance in regular mode (that was frustrating once we hit the city), or more engaging light-to-light shifting that was noticeably more jerky when not pushing the car hard.

Another comment must be made about the eight-speed automatic transmission's gearshift selector.  A small, stubby handle sits in the middle of the 300 S' center console, but it does not offer a direct, mechanical connection to the sedan's tranny - rather, it must be clicked forward or backwards in order to engage the desired cog, which is displayed on the small info screen on the driver's gauge panel.  There is a definite learning curve between the first time you pilot the Chrysler 300 S and the point in which you are capable of guess how many détentes you must push or pull the lever to put the car in Drive or Park.  In particular, Reverse was a tough one to find, with several of our test drivers finding the vehicle set to Neutral or Park instead. 

The unconventional design did make it simple to slip in and out of Sport mode (simply yank back on the lever once the car was in Drive), and the vehicle's steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters did an excellent job of upshifting or downshifting with impressive speed.  In fact, choosing to 'manually' move through gears one through eight in the 300 S was accomplished more quickly than in several sports cars currently on the market that feature a similar torque converter transmission.

One final morsel of praise of the 300 S has to do with its adaptive cruise control system.  The feature, which makes use of radar in order to automatically accelerate or slow down the automobile when traffic is detected ahead, worked flawlessly during the time the sedan was in our possession.  In addition to making long highway slogs that much more bearable - particularly when dealing with Quebec's ubiquitous highway construction - it also asks drivers to change their cruise control habits.  If a driver is not paying attention, the auto-guided 300 S will happily sidle up behind a slower-moving vehicle and adjust its speed to match.  One eventually learns to look father ahead while driving in order to plan out passing maneuvers and change lanes before the system can lock onto automobiles that aren't moving as quickly as desired.



2012 Chrysler 300 S: Safety

The 2012 Chrysler 300 S features side impact airbags for front passengers, forward airbags, side curtain airbags on either side of the vehicle's passenger compartment, a knee airbag for the driver, and an active head restraint system in order to help prevent whiplash in the event of a severe impact.    In addition to adaptive cruise control with forward collision warning, our test vehicle was also outfitted with a package of safety gear that included a blind spot warning system, a cross-traffic detection feature (capable of warning drivers if a vehicle is approaching from the side while the sedan is reversing), and a rearview camera with a video overlay that predicts where the car will end up based on its steering wheel angle.  Electronic stability control and traction control - minus a button for turning them off completely - were also present and accounted for.



2012 Chrysler 300 S: Final Thoughts

The 2012 Chrysler 300 S is a very comfortable full-size sedan, and with its red leather interior and snazzy exterior styling and lighting options it's also the kind of four-door that will attract attention - and compliments - from a surprisingly wide demographic of observers.  No, the 300 S is not a sports sedan, but it doesn't have to be: that's what the SRT edition of the automobile is for.  When it comes to matching beautiful design with a high level of features and interior volume, it's hard to do much better than the Chrysler 300 S at its price point.  It is also refreshing to see a car company offering an upscale and different take on its flagship product without a concomitant price chasm between the model and the trim level that immediately precedes it.

What We Like About The 2012 Chrysler 300 S:

  • Gorgeous styling, significant road presence
  • Very comfy interior with tons of passenger room
  • Great balance of power and fuel efficiency from the Pentastar V-6 engine
  • Intuitive Uconnect system

We Aren't So Hot On:

  • Finicky automatic transmission shift lever
  • Lazy around-town gear changes
  • Body roll when cornering at higher speeds


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