Aside from the gearbox, though, the 300 offers much of what a luxury-sedan buyer might want, aside from a true prestige badge and the inflated price that comes with it. Every conceivable modern safety device is available, including active cruise, blind-spot monitoring, and collision warning. The cabin is elegant and well-proportioned, what Brandon Faurote, head of Chrysler design, calls "more sculptural, fluid, and refined, with less bright trim," than before. The front doors are so big, and open so wide, that it's a stretch to grab the nicely trimmed interior door handle and pull them shut.
From the driver's seat, you've got a handsome steering wheel and two ice-blue-lit instruments in the main cluster. There's a big expanse of dashboard and a high cowl, but the top of the windshield is raked back three inches more than before and the A-pillars are thinner, which helps outward visibility. A huge new 8.4-inch touch screen, beautifully integrated into the center stack, has graphics and colors that rival any of its competitors, but then you touch the navigation button and all that loveliness disappears, replaced by the garish colors and graphics of Garmin. Incredibly cheesy. When pressed, Bruce Velisek, the 300's chief marketer, admits that they might move toward two levels of navigation: the Garmin as the cheapie and a more refined interface for more money. Cannot. Come. Quickly. Enough.
We nitpick, but then again, luxury-sedan buyers nitpick. They also have become accustomed in recent years to the availability of all-wheel drive, but the new 300 is coming out of the Brampton, Ontario, assembly plant with AWD available only on the top-spec 300C. The old car offered AWD with the 3.5-liter V-6. Luckily, Chrysler will likely reintroduce AWD and a V-6 for the 300 this fall, probably in conjunction with the eight-speed automatic and just in time for the winter 2012 buying season. Cannot. Come. Quickly. Enough.
Chrysler at that time also hopes to introduce a line of 300 variants that it's currently referring to as the S models. Tim Kuniskis, head of Chrysler marketing, explains that they "are not sport models or trim packages. They are totally different from [the regular 300] yet the same. We're going to give them different wheels and interiors, take out the chrome and wood. They represent design with purpose and a whole lot of attitude." We gather that what they really represent is Chrysler's recognition that the aftermarket has sucked up a lot of modification dollars from Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger buyers, and the company understandably wants a slice of that.
We say, more power to them. The fact that Chrysler can even entertain the notion of such baubles in its lineup is an indication of how far it has come since 2008 and of its prospects for yet another phoenixlike resurrection from the near-dead. Which cannot come quickly enough.
2011 Chrysler 300
Price: $27,995/$31,995/$38,995 (base/Limited/300C)
On sale: Now
Engines: 3.7-liter V-6, 292 hp, 260 lb-ft; 5.7-liter V-8, 363 hp, 394 lb-ft
Drive: Rear- or 4-wheel