Chrysler 300

Mark Gillies
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The 300C is more our thing. The Hemi engine transforms the performance; Chrysler claims that it sprints from 0 to 60 mph about 2.5 seconds faster than the V-6. We managed it in 6.1 seconds and saw a speed-limited 126 mph on a very deserted section of desert highway. This power-train is beautifully matched. The Hemi makes a great growl when you're hard on the throttle and provides smooth power all the way to the redline, although it seems to perform with more vigor above 4000 rpm. The automatic works well whether you leave it in drive and let the electronics adapt to your driving style or use the Mercedes-like manual shift pattern, slapping the lever to the left to downshift and to the right to upshift.

Along some spectacular canyon roads, the 300C kept pace with the E500, which is high praise, because the E-class is one of the best-handling sedans out there. The brakes work well, the power is accessible, and the 300C sticks. However, the steering lacks the communicative feel that separates the good from the great, and it tends to float over undulations rather than crushing them as the Benz does. It never loses its composure, though, and actually rides decently considering it has eighteen-inch wheels and tires (albeit with relatively high sidewalls). Like the V-6, it understeers mildly at first, but this car's behavior is much more throttle-sensitive; you can use the abundant torque to revector the rear end, but the electronic nannies will step in at some point and turn off the fun. (Even when the ESP is switched off, the system is active, just at a higher threshold.) As in the Touring, highway performance is terrific, although it isn't as solid in crosswinds as the E500, probably because of its slab-sided styling.

The 300 is a really nice piece. It isn't the BMW 5-series crusher some Chrysler people seem to think it is, but it's a very comfortable, spacious, stylish, and imposing car. The 300C is also very fast and drives more like a premium European car than the soggy American sedans of our memories. Yet, by moving upmarket, Chrysler is also taking the brand to a price point that is higher than consumers are used to paying for its cars. Most Americans don't regard Chrysler as an upscale brand (even if it was from the 1930s to the '60s) and might blanch at a $28,000 Chrysler, let alone the 300C at nearly $33,000. That could be a problem, even though the car is definitely good enough to succeed and looks more expensive than it is. In the same way that the Escalade became cool and helped Cadillac's revival, perhaps the 300-a bargain Bentley that actually is cool-will do the same for Chrysler. Good product is always the key to changing perceptions.

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