Amid all the current woes of the American automobile industry, the past year has seen a few standout new products, and the Chrysler 300 is the brightest of them all. Introduced in 2004 as a 2005 model, the 300 has collected an impressive array of awards and become a true sales success. This is the classic large-sedan formula-wrapped in provocative sheetmetal and offered at an attractive price-that Americans have always loved.
DaimlerChrysler group has transferred key technologies from its German brand, Mercedes-Benz, to Chrysler, notably adapting E-Class platform elements, and packaged them with bold American styling and powertrains. The resulting car spans in price from the mid-$20Ks to low $40Ks, providing competition to midsize family sedans, entry-level compact luxury sedans, and even super-high-performance sedans such as the Cadillac CTS-V. Models include a base V-6-engined 300, V-6 Touring and Limited models, a V-8 300C, and the very powerful SRT8. Rear-drive is standard, and all but the base 300 and the SRT8 are available with all-wheel drive.
Love it or hate it, the 300's styling gives it a real presence on the road. By opting for a front-engine, rear-drive layout, Chrysler gave the 300 classic sedan proportions, marking a significant departure from the cab-forward design that typified Chrysler cars until recently. The high beltline, shallow glass area, and large wheel openings give the 300 a pleasingly aggressive stance. And the car looks even larger than it is because its ample length and width contrast dramatically with its chopped roof.
Externally, there are few ways to differentiate among the models. The V-8-powered 300Cs have dual exhausts and standard 18-inch wheels and tires. The Limited and Touring both have 17-inch aluminum wheels, but the Limited's are gorgeous, flat-dish, chrome affairs, while the Touring makes do with dull grey alloys. The base 300 has plain-Jane steel wheels with hubcaps. You won't mistake the SRT8, however, with its outrageous bodykit and 20-inch forged wheels (yes, you read that right: 20 inches).
The first thing you'll notice about the 300 interior is that it's huge, a real nod to those monstrous American sedans of the 1960s and 1970s. Upscale 300s, with leather, power seats, faux tortoise trim, and bright metal accents, look like cut-price luxury cars. While the materials aren't in the Lexus class, the overall ambience and feel of the 300 is one of a lot of car for the money. The 300 is classified as a large car in terms of interior space, and it also has a suitably large trunk, at 15.6 cubic feet. The short windows start high up, so some drivers may feel like they're sitting in a bathtub or looking out through gun slits, but that's the trade-off for the hot-rod exterior styling.
The base 300 has air conditioning, cloth seats, a power driver's seat, and power windows, locks, and mirrors. Moving up to the Touring gains leather seats. Limited models also have heated front seats, a power passenger seat, steering wheel audio controls, and a better audio system, and automatic climate control. The 300C gets everything: better leather, tortoise-shell accents on the steering wheel and shifter, a power tilt/telescoping wheel, and a 288-watt stereo.