It was December 2008, mere weeks after former chairman Robert Nardelli pleaded with the U.S. Congress for bailout funding for Chrysler Corporation. The company was up against the ropes, sales were tanking along with the economy, and the product lineup was heavy on misses, light on hits. An increasingly desperate Chrysler invited the usual scrum of automotive journalists, pundits, and analysts to the company's design dome in Auburn Hills for a sneak peek of the next-generation Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger sedans, among other future models, in an attempt to prove that this was a car company and a roster of products that were worth saving. There on the dome floor sat two draped vehicles; there was no time or inclination for such niceties as elevated turntables. The drapes were unceremoniously peeled away, revealing two crisply executed sedans that were distinctly American and clearly related to the existing cars, yet substantially different. It was immediately evident that these were not just pinpoints of light in Chrysler's gathering darkness, they were kliegs, and they were vivid proof of the talent that resided in the vast Chrysler headquarters complex even through the years of Daimler mismanagement. To quote Madonna, they had style, they had grace. In those grim days, though, we weren't sure if they had a chance in hell of ever seeing the showroom floor.
We all know what happened in the intervening two years, and you probably already know that these two sedans did make it out of the design studios and into the public spotlight. We drove the handsome new Dodge Charger two months ago, and now we've been behind the wheel of the Chrysler 300, which is trailing the Charger to showrooms. How much is riding on the 300's shoulders? We'd say nothing less than the entire Chrysler brand, as the division cannot survive on Town & Country minivan sales alone.
Happily, the new 300 not only looks great, it's still a great driver. The previous car's rough edges have been sanded away, as evidenced mainly by the high-caliber cabin and the standard 292-hp, 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 with variable valve timing. The previous base engine, an anemic 2.7-liter V-6, wasn't worthy of the car, and the previous optional 3.5-liter V-6 was no class leader, either, leaving only the mighty Hemi V-8 to really get an enthusiast excited. That engine returns in the 300C, but the Pentastar V-6 is powerful enough, and good enough, that we think far fewer buyers will be pining for the Hemi this time around.