The Chrysler 300C is probably the best American sedan ever built. Of course, it's not actually a true-blue American: its underpinnings come straight from Germany and the last-generation Mercedes-Benz E-class, its starred-and-striped Hemi engine is manufactured in Mexico, and the car itself is assembled in Canada. Nonetheless, as editor-in-chief Jean Jennings wrote when we selected the car as our 2005 Automobile of the Year, the 300C is "a traditional American car done just right." As such, it offers big horsepower, bold design, lots of space, and the ability to gobble freeways. It also excels on twisty back roads, a factor that clinched AOY honors and a spot in our Four Seasons fleet for the Chrysler.
The 300C stood tall among our import-heavy long-term lineup, getting the nod for lengthy trips to Florida, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Quebec, and Washington, D.C. "Of all the vehicles in our Four Seasons fleet, this is the car that always puts a smile on my face, even on the drive home in the evening," creative director Richard Eccleston wrote in the 300C's logbook. Most drivers commented on how relaxing and comfortable it was over long distances, but some highway trekkers criticized the car for undue wind noise and a soft ride. "It feels floaty and big like an old Rolls-Royce," offered Eccleston's wife, Liz Turner. Because of its girth, some staff members preferred piloting the car on the highway, but a few drivers argued that its precise rack-and-pinion steering and good handling helped make the 300C notably nimble around town. Wherever we drove it, however, the poor visibility made it tricky to conduct in heavy traffic-a corollary of the masses of metal, slotted windows, and thick pillars that give the car its cool, chopped-top appearance.
Although sightlines were compromised by the styling, the distinctive exterior received lots of positive ink in the 300C's notebook. "I've never gotten so many comments on a test car before-all positive, all responding to its looks," a staffer noted. Our reader/owners agreed that their cars' bold looks turn heads like Natalie Portman at a Star Wars convention, even though more than a quarter-million 300s-owned by everyone from rappers to retirees-are now on North American roads. (The 300's ubiquity is a big plus for Chrysler; without the strong sales of the 300 and its Dodge Charger and Magnum siblings, Chrysler might be in even deeper trouble than the other two-thirds of the Detroit automaking contingent.)
The 300C's interior was also often complimented for its simplicity and good ergonomics. The elegant and nearly translucent tortoiseshell accents decorating the steering wheel, shift knob, and door handles were especially attractive-at least when the vehicle was first delivered. Unfortunately, these pieces, along with other bits of plastic trim, bore scratches and scuffs well before our year concluded. From the beginning of the test, the fit and solidity of many of those plastics were not up to competitive price-range standards, let alone the more expensive cars to which the 300C invites comparison. The long hood didn't line up quite right against the fenders, either, as senior editor Joe DeMatio observed: "These are not Lexus-like body-panel tolerances."