When the images of the new Chrysler 300 were first released, I was instantly sold on its exterior design. But now that I’ve seen it in person, I’m not so sure. The overall shape is very similar to that of the previous generation car — albeit bolder, more muscular, and more elegant — but the tiny details that look nice from a distance look busy and slightly garish when you step closer. This is especially true when viewed from the rear where there are numerous small pieces of chrome in and around the taillights and on the bumper.
The interior is a huge improvement over the previous 300, with a more cohesive design that looks and feels really good. The gauges are especially nice, particularly at night when the cool blue backlighting really stands out. There are some hard plastics, but overall the interior is really well done; the highlights being the beautifully designed gauges and the infotainment interface. The latter is particularly good. It’s attractive, intuitive, and quick to respond to inputs. It’s also really easy to use while driving because the screen is so crisp and because the typeface very large.
Although it’s difficult to not pine for the power and sweet sounds of the Hemi V-8, Chrysler’s new V-6 is very impressive. It’s extremely quiet and refined, even while it’s struggling a bit to get this heavy car moving. Unfortunately, as long as it’s paired to this relatively archaic five-speed automatic, it offers only a 2-mpg bump in combined fuel economy when compared to the fabulously powerful and wonderfully vocal Hemi V-8.
Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor, Digital Platforms
I distinctly remember seeing the new Chrysler 300 the same day I saw the new Dodge Charger. I was blown away by the Charger and thought the 300 was a clean evolution of the existing car. Several years later I’ve had a chance to drive both vehicles and the 300 is disappointing when compared to the Charger. The Charger’s interior has gone from a hindrance to a boon for the car, but I want to see a much more special interior in the Chrysler, which is supposed to be the luxury version of the platform. Materials that look and feel appropriate in a Dodge suddenly seem cheap and tacky in a Chrysler product. If the exteriors of these two sedans can be so different, why do the interiors have a me-too feel? The only significant difference in the interiors that I detected is a much more sophisticated gauge cluster in the Chrysler 300, which is very nicely done. Spread the pizzazz from that design across the whole dashboard and I’d be happy. Yes, the interior is better than in the previous 300, but that’s not good enough for a brand with near-luxury aspirations. And not when the rest of the car is so well done.
My other suggestion for improving the 300 is giving the 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 a bit more torque. There’s an eight-speed automatic coming for 2012 that might compensate somewhat, but I’d still like to see at least a 10-percent boost in torque to help the 300 feel as dignified as it looks, especially when so many of these cars are equipped with heavy twenty-inch wheels. Of course there’s a V-8 available, but in 2011 shoppers deserve credible V-6 engine choices that don’t feel like sacrifices.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
What I like: The 300’s very smooth and supple ride quality on the freeway. The white-over-black scheme of our test car, and how great the headlights look in the dimming evening light when you unlock the car with the key fob. The brilliant touch-screen radio interface, one of the best in the business. The separate, old-fashioned tuning knob.
What I don’t like: If you open the driver’s door all the way, it opens so wide that it’s hard to reach outside the car and grab to close it. I think they need a stronger detent at the partial-open position.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
I have to echo Phil Floraday’s sentiments regarding the interior. The majority of the new 300 is so well done, there is no excuse for chintzy materials on the center stack. I loved the huge, crisp, fast-acting touch screen but was continually distracted by all the cheap, poorly grained plastic that surrounded it. It’s not the only low-rent trim in the cabin (take a closer look at the plastic around the window-switch pod), but those other bits are better grained and not as prominent.
It’s a shame, since so many other surfaces your fingers touch and your eyes see is of such high quality. And luxury features abound: the heated steering wheel, the heated and cooled seats, the ash-wood trim accented with thin strips of chrome. At night, the interior is bathed in calming, cool blue light, and the instrument panel radiates a blue-and-white glow that reminds me of the diffused light I’ve seen in undersea caverns in the Caribbean.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
When it debuted in 2004, the Chrysler 300 was an astonishing car, so good that we named it our Automobile of the Year. The 2011 300 is a heavily revised version of that excellent vehicle. It speaks volumes that some of the same components and fundamental architecture can carry over and not seem stale. Instead, this 2011 version feels nearly as groundbreaking as the first 300 — unfortunately, as several of my colleagues have already mentioned, some of its interior materials are somewhat disappointing. The new V-6 engine makes the base model significantly more desirable than before, to the point that Hemi sales will almost certainly be cannibalized.
I love the giant panoramic sunroof. Rear-seat room is cavernous, as is trunk space. For such a big car, the 300 corners well and rides even better. At a time when some consumers are perplexed/annoyed with infotainment systems such as MyFord Touch, the Chrysler sports a new center-stack layout that’s very straightforward and a new touch-screen with big buttons and clear icons. The exterior styling is very striking, particularly the LEDs on the front end.
Besides the interior that’s more fitting of a highline Dodge–as Phil Floraday aptly pointed out — my only other complaint is that $43K is way more than I’d be willing to spend on a six-cylinder Chrysler 300. On chrysler.com, I just built a 300C V-8 with the premium sound system, the SafetyTec package, and the big sunroof for only $965 more than the price of this V-6 test car.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
I drove both this and a Mercedes-Benz CLS in the same week and my thoughts about them are similar. Both are well-executed, evolutionary designs that remind us how hard it is to bottle lighting. The 300, when it came out seven years ago (really, seven years already?) was an absolute sensation. I still remember the first time seeing a picture of one. I couldn’t turn the page. I couldn’t believe it was a production car. This iteration, with its evolutionary styling, has the same feel as a typical pop singer’s second album — familiar, still pleasant, but a bit cloying and forgettable.
That said, the new car does not have to rely on styling alone. It has, at last, a competently assembled interior and an excellent V-6. I look at the other cars in this segment — Nissan Maxima, Ford Taurus, and the Hyundai Genesis — and sense this is the winner based on its chassis tuning and charisma, even if that charisma is nowhere close to that of first iteration.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
2011 Chrysler 300 Limited V-6
Base price (with destination): $31,195
Price as tested: $42,770
● 3.6L 24-valve V-6
● 5-sp automatic
● Electronic stability control and traction control
● Hill start assist
● Tire pressure monitoring system
● Keyless Enter-N-Go
● Remote start system
● Capless fuel filler
● Acoustic windshield and front door glass
● Leather trimmed seats
● 8-way power driver seat/4-way power passenger seat
● Heated front seats
● Leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls
● Tilt/telescope steering column
● Flex fuel capability
Options on this vehicle:
● Ivory tri-coat pearl exterior paint — $995
● Sound group I — $650
o 9 amplified speakers with subwoofer
o 506-watt amplifiers
● SafetyTec — $2795
o Power multifunction mirrors w/ manual fold
o Automatic headlamp leveling system
o Bi-xenon adaptive HID headlamps
o Rear fog lamps
o Forward collision warning
o Front/rear parking sensors
o Blind spot & cross path detection
o Universal garage door opener
o Adaptive cruise control
o Rain-sensitive windshield wipers
o SmartBeam headlamps
● Luxury group — $3250
o Luxury perforated leather bucket seats
o 180-amp alternator
o Ventilated front seats
o Trunk mat
o Door sill scuff plates
o Driver’s auto-dimming exterior mirror
o Power folding mirrors with reverse auto-adjustment
o Rear power sunshade
o LED interior lighting
o Memory for: mirrors/radio/driver’s seat/steering column/pedals
o Power adjustable pedals
o Headed/cooled front cup holder
o Heated second-row seats
o Wood/leather-wrapped steering wheel
● Dual-pane panoramic sunroof — $1295
● Uconnect Touch w/ Nav 8p4N CD/DVD/MP3/NAV — $795
o Garmin navigation system
● 20-inch x 8.0-inch Polished Aluminum Wheels — $995
o All-season performance tires
o 4-wheel independent suspension touring
Key options not on vehicle:
18 / 27 / 21 mpg
Horsepower: 292 hp @ 6350 rpm
Torque: 260 lb-ft @ 4800 rpm
Curb weight: 4006 lb
Wheels/tires: 20-inch polished alloy wheels
245/45VR20 BSW all-season performance tires