First Drive: 2015 Chrysler 300

Somehow, some way, the Chrysler 300 full-size sedan manages to soldier forward with its classic silhouette and three-box styling. This is the car’s third generation (well, the new 300’s third generation, as the 300 nameplate itself goes all the way back to the 1950s and ‘60s), yet you’d be hard-pressed to really see what’s different from years previous.

It’s an interesting trend, because we thought the second generation of the car looked little different from the 1st, and this latest is even closer to the previous model.

Indeed, you have to look very closely to spot the slightly rounder rear taillamps, blacked-out grille first seen on the 200 mid-sizer, new wheels and standard dual exhaust. Even during the launch program in Austin, Texas, we’d see other 300s on the road and really have to look closely to determine if they were 2015 examples being driven by our media colleagues, or older models just trying to make their way home.

The 300 doesn’t need to look that different, because the silhouette is so classic that Chrysler would be loathe to change it too much.

All of this, however, is no bad thing. That’s because the 300 doesn’t need to look that different, because the silhouette is so classic that Chrysler would be loathe to change it too much; after all, it did outsell its domestic rivals from Ford (the Taurus) and Chevrolet (the Impala) in Canada last year, so people are still digging it.

The biggest exterior difference has to be the almost-SRT treatment that’s been given to the mid-level (and likely most popular) 300S; the smoked LED headlamps, 20-inch “Hyper Black” wheels, ducktail spoiler (if you select a V8 model ­– the 300S can be had with either a V6 with AWD or RWD or a V8, which is RWD-only) and lower ride height mean that 2015 marks the year of the most badass, non-SRT 300 yet.

Inside, the differences are a little more marked, especially if you select a Platinum trim that gets you fine leather with a quilted stitching befitting an Audi A8’s cockpit. There’s also open-pore wood and a fine leather dash upper at this level, which are welcome additions considering this is as close to a luxury line as you’ll see from Chrysler. Chrysler even goes so far as to list the Cadillac CTS as the 300C Platinum’s main competition.

Also new is a set of predetermined interior colour combinations with names inspired by American cities; pictured here is the “Detroit” Black/Ambassador (yes, like the bridge) blue combo, as well as the “Manhattan” black interior, the latter being available on all 300 models, the former on S models only. It seems Chrysler really wants to remind folks that the 300 is an American car, even though North American models are built in Brampton, Ontario…

Having said that, the Ambassador blue seats – first seen on the Jeep Grand Cherokee – are actually quite a sight to behold. They’re a nice, slightly risqué addition that even the Chrysler folks on hand at launch admitted made them a little nervous when the proposal to add the colour was tabled. Base Touring models, meanwhile, come with cloth seats as standard.

Other standard features for your $37,395 base MSRP include satellite radio, 12-way power driver’s seat, tilt/telescoping wheel (that becomes powered on 300C models, which start at $41,095) and dual-zone climate control. Upgrading to an S model gets you a back-up camera, Beats Audio 10-speaker sound, leather seating, heated front seats, power passenger seat and illuminated front cupholders. Top-spec Premium models ($43,095) get you heated rear seats, dual-pane sunroof and luxury two-tone steering wheel. AWD, meanwhile, costs an additional $2,200 no matter which trim you select, but as mentioned is only available on V6 models.

New features that apply to all 300 models include a new gauge cluster with 7-inch customizable display (joining the standard 8.4-inch Uconnect console display, which remains one of the best interfaces in the biz), available two-tone steering wheel and gear selector dial first seen on the Ram pickups. What doesn’t change is how spacious it remains inside; that’s 3,010 litres of interior volume, enough to fit four adults comfortably. This truly is a massive car; you also get 462 L of trunk space – it does all weigh almost 2,000 kilos, though.

While the Platinum-ized interiors definitely look the part (and look like they belong in a car that costs $43,905), an overuse of shiny plastics in lower-end models do rob the Touring, S and C models of some of their luxury vibes.

On offer to hustle all that mass around are two engines, each making their return for ’15: the 3.6L Pentastar V6, which actually gets two power ratings; base Touring models get 292 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, while S models get 300 hp and 264 lb-ft The 5.7L Hemi V8 also makes its return, making 363 hp and 394 lb-ft. The engines may be the same, but 2015 does see the arrival of the TorqueFlite eight-speed transmission for V8 models, although they’re still only available with RWD.

The first car we got our hands on was, appropriately, the bread-and-butter 300S V6 AWD version, sure to stoke the fires or at least meet the needs of most Canadian buyers.

The seating position is immediately familiar to anyone who’s spent any time in either the 300 or its Dodge Charger cousin. Upright, with a large, square dash ahead of you, there’s little to disguise the car’s girth (it’s 1,902 mm wide). It does, however, make you want a larger set of wing mirrors. These are too small, causing a twofold problem: they appear disproportionate when compared to the slab-like body panels, and they hamper rearward visibility.

Then you reach for the dinner-plate-sized steering wheel and those feelings of classic American bigness continue to flow forth.

The sound, once you fire it up, however, may not be quite so familiar, especially with the V6 model. The sound is actually a little closer to the classic nervous chatter of a BMW inline-six than it is an American V8, which I don’t have any problem with. At least the car doesn’t sound neutered.

While it may not feel quite so sprightly out of the gate, once the Pentastar finds its legs and the eight-speed gets to work, progress is smooth and responsive, happily bereft of the lag experienced in so many cars of the 300’s ilk, which are making the switch to turbocharged-six or even four-cylinder powerplants. It’s a refreshing linearity, and it does works in unison with the 300’s luxury-light attitude.

Also new for all 300 models in 2015 is the addition of electric power steering. That may seem like a given in most cars these days, but this is the first time we’ve seen it with the 300. Normally, I’d bemoan the addition of electric boost for the lack of steering feedback it provides, but that’s just not as important with a large cruiser like this. Indeed, I’d much rather be able to turn the wheel with an outstretched finger and if that means I may not be able to feel every rut or crack the tarmac throws my way, then so be it. Plus, the electronic system allows for modifiable steering. That happens by selecting Sport mode by either turning the gear selector dial or hitting a button on the centre stack.

Sport mode, standard on S and Platinum models (together with a pair of paddle shifters that will likely be hardly used), also changes the shift and throttle mapping; the steering weight is quite noticeable, the latter two features not so much. Yes, the revs to tend to hang a little more when in Sport, but throttle response times were almost unidentifiable, especially on V8 models which are plenty fast to begin with. Suspension damping doesn’t change, either; if we do see an SRT model, expect that to change.

Ahh, the Hemi… While the oomph of the base 5.7L powerplant may seem a little reduced now that stuff like the thumping 6.4L and manic 6.2L supercharged versions of the motor exist, there’s still plenty of forward progress to be had with the 5.7.

Power delivery leans just left of manic, and it’s all accompanied by that throaty growl we’ve all grown to love. While it’s nice that we now have the eight-speed auto paired with our V8, it is too bad that we don’t have an AWD option here. With the V6, you get a comfortable city and highway cruiser, with the V8, a muscle sedan with a sometimes homely bent, but there just isn’t enough volume in this segment to justify every conceivable variation.

That being said, the lack of AWD for V8 cars means that V6 models with AWD will have a distinct advantage in Canadian markets; add the fact that you get a handsome styling package and power boost to go with S models in particular, and you can see why Chrysler is looking for 300S AWD V6 models to be at the top of the sales heap. Even with the interior shortcomings, the V6 300S Platinum looks to be the steal of the bunch, with an MSRP of $45,295 with AWD and boasting such features as 20-inch wheels, that gorgeous leather interior, heated steering wheel and heated front and rear seating (you get that last feature, along with ventilated front seats, on the 300C, as well). That’s a lot of car for less than 50 grand, and does well to place the 300 as a worthy competitor for luxury sedans from the likes of Cadillac, Infiniti, Buick and Lincoln.

Pricing: 2015 Chrysler 300 RWD/AWD
Base price (300 Touring): $37,395/$39,595
Base price (300S): $40,095/$42,295
Base price (300C): $41,095/$43,295
Base price (300C Platinum): $43,095/$45,295
Hemi V8: $2,850 on 300S; $2,500 on 300C and Platinum

Warranty:
3 years/60,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 3 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 5 years/100,000 km 24-hour roadside assistance

Competitors:
BMW 5 Series
Buick Lacrosse
Cadillac XTS
Chevrolet Impala
Dodge Charger
Hyundai Genesis
Lincoln MKS
Nissan Maxima
Mercedes-Benz E Class
Toyota Avalon

Somehow, some way, the Chrysler 300 full-size sedan manages to soldier forward with its classic silhouette and three-box styling. 1/5/2015 11:30:00 AM