Why The Chrysler 300 Should Remain Rear-Wheel Drive

Chrysler will unveil its face-lifted 300 sedan at the Los Angeles Auto Show this November (the current 2014 model is pictured), and it will be the last of its kind with rear-wheel drive. Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne gave obvious hints at his five-year plan extravaganza last May that the next full-size Chrysler, coming in 2018 probably as a 2019 model, will revert to front-wheel drive.

Perhaps Chrysler should rename it “Concord.”

The change coincides with Chrysler’s move downmarket, to become a brand aimed directly at Chevrolet, Ford, and Toyota. Chrysler will retain the Town & Country minivan, while Dodge loses its Grand Caravan next year. A Chrysler crossover will share its platform, and so too, I think, will the Chrysler 300 replacement.

While “mainstreaming” Chrysler for the sake of marketing its 200 midsize sedan (the FWD Dodge Avenger also has been canceled) makes some sense, the FWD 300 replacement is misguided strategy. Chrysler has positioned the 200 as a more elegant, well-equipped alternative to the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, even if many buyers go light on the options list that can push the sticker well into the $30Ks. Anchoring the top of the Chrysler lineup with nicely appointed 300s would give the 200 credibility as offering something more for Camry/Accord money.

Though it’s true that the latest-generation FWD Chevrolet Impala is a success, both in sales and in elevating the model’s status, had that car gone RWD, there would have been better separation from the Chevy Malibu. If the next Malibu can gain back some qualities of the previous, 2008 model, watch the full-size Impala’s sales suffer at the hands of the new midsize sedan as the two models again compete with each other on showroom floors. RWD in a full-size car delineates it better from its FWD midsize sibling and allows designers more proper proportions for a car that’s at least 195 inches in length.

Rumors from a couple of years ago had Chrysler engineers losing to Alfa Romeo engineers in developing a new, RWD platform that could underpin a range of Alfas planned for the next five years, plus replacements for the Dodge Charger and Challenger, and Chrysler 300. At his five-year plan presentation, Marchionne said the RWD Alfa platform is appropriate for future Dodges, but not future Chryslers.

A few years after Daimler AG sold off Chrysler Group, engineers in Auburn Hills, Michigan, insisted they had evolved the Mercedes-Benz-based Chrysler 300/Dodge Charger/Challenger platform into something its own. However, there’s still enough Mercedes left in the platform that Chrysler reportedly has to buy all-wheel-drive components from Mercedes, making the AWD 300 and Charger that are so important in snowbelt states a costly car for Fiat Chrysler. And when the Dodge Charger and Challenger, or whatever their replacements are named, migrate to the new Alfa RWD platform later in the decade, they will become smaller models—midsize rather than full-size, an indication that the platform is not designed to stretch to something so large.

Unfortunately, this leaves the Chrysler brand with little choice but to switch its full-size sedan to FWD. The alternative, though, would be to develop a new, full-size RWD/longitudinal-engine platform for the 2019 Chrysler 300, and perhaps even extend the brand with a longer-wheelbase new-age New Yorker that could appeal to both livery fleets and to the Chinese market. The wildly successful Jeep Grand Cherokee also has Mercedes bones -- in this case, derived from the M-Class, which is a crossover with architecture derived from the E-Class. Some time in the next decade, that Grand Cherokee will need to be replaced, so why not develop a large, RWD platform with enough flexibility to handle both off-roadable Jeeps and boulevardier sedans?

The Chrysler 300 is the big, elegant RWD sedan that has defined the brand these last nine or 10 years, when most of its other models have been substandard before the 2014 200 came along. If Hyundai and even Kia can anchor the tops of their lineups with big, stately RWD sedans, so should the brand that has been known for such models from the time of the Great Depression through the oil embargo years.

Tom Thews
I too would hate to see the Chrysler 300 revert to a FWD only vehicle.  There is a reason I chose a 300 C AWD over a 2014 Chevrolet Impala. Currently waiting to see what the new 2015 looks like.  Hoping they don't mess up a good thing. Also hoping having Fiat in the mix doesn't mess up the good quality control record the company has had with the current 300.  When you check Consumer Reports, the current Fiat 500 comes in as less than normal reliability.  That was my experience with Fiat several years ago when they left the American market then.  The Chrysler needs to be and offer more than a Chevy.  It needs to be more than just run of the mill public transportation.  It needs to be ore upscale than just being a large 22.  There needs to be something special about it with out the cost going into the Maserati price range (which also have problems with reliability and the fact there is hardly anyplace to get one fixed.)
Seawolf2
Just came back from Italy and black 300's cruised the Autostrada elegantly next to the much more expensive German iron. I can't say the same of any other American rig. Sergio, don't mess with a good thing.  
fr88
It is insane to toss away one of the standout distinguishing features of the Chrysler 300 and make it into a swollen 200.  Even the notion of taking Chrysler downmarket is wrong-headed and betrays a total lack of understanding of the American perception of the Chrysler automobile's position in the U.S. marketplace. I think I can see where Fiat Chrysler is going - they want to move Maserati down market enough to fill the slot once occupied by the Chrysler New Yorker and Imperial - to be the top models in Chrysler line-up, thus the only models blessed with a proper premium car RWD chassis..  And if Alfa Romeo ever gets its premium sedan on the road, it will hold the current 300C slot in the heirarchy once Chrysler is demoted to Chevrolet status.  Big question: will the Charger be neutered, too.  FWD doesn't seem to fit the supposed performance direction of that brand's line-up.
Sad, sad, sad,  I will cherish my new Dodge Charger for many years to come, since it is destined to be the best and the last if this strategy holds true for the future.  I hope not.  I mean, how can Dodge produce the most powerful sedan in the world in 2015 (Charger Hellcat), then turn around and put the car on a FWD chassis that couldn't even handle half that horsepower, making it into another mid-market Taurus wannabe.
svens
Watch Sergio Marchione continue to destroy brand after brand...
Lancia: dead! (the 300 is not a Lancia nor is the town and country) Alfa: how many year do we hear about the comeback?  delay after delay.... and in the latest plan: no more small cars for alfa, only big ones ?!?Fiat: now only makes  500's. Ugly  500L, 500X, 500XL: cars without flair or style. Silly retro design.Now Chrysler.

Best thing that can happen is if FCA shareholders sell out to Volkswagen
brendan_hummel
I am perplexed by this decision.. If they are trying to move Chrysler downmarket, then doesn't that sort of nullify Dodge? I thought that was kinda the whole thing, that Chrysler was supposed to be the upmarket Dodge. Sorta like Cadillac to Chevrolet (more realistically like Buick to Chevrolet), and Lincoln to Ford (although again, Mercury, would be more accurate, though obviously they are dead). Anyway, it sorta seems like moving Chrysler downmarket, just makes Dodge and Chrysler sort of both the downmarket version of the same brand.
Zachery Wiles
@brendan_hummel When Chrysler was formed, the founder (Walter Chrysler) said that his cars gave great amenities at a cost people could afford. Bringing Chrysler to the mainstream market returns the company to its original DNA, making great cars at an affordable price. The Dodge DNA used to be mainstream, but recently changed to becoming the performance division of FCA, so discontinuing the Grand Caravan would make sense

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