DRIVE Chrysler 300 big in size, looks
By Ann M. Job
For The Associated Press
Landing a role in a rap music video, Chrysler's 2005 300 sedan generated a buzz before it even went on the market.
The buzz -- and strong sales -- continue for Chrysler's new, showy, large, four-door car with a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $23,920.
"The Chrysler 300 is the most talked about car in America right now," Gary Dilts, Chrysler Group senior vice president of sales, said last month after the early-introduction 300 had posted three straight months of 12,000-plus sales.
The volume far surpasses recent sales of the 300's predecessors, the Chrysler LH cars, which sold under the Concorde, 300M and LH names.
The looks of the 300, which a car enthusiast magazine characterized as a "mobster in a pinstripe," are key to the 300's appeal.
During the AP's test drive, some consumers thought the 300 looks like a Bentley, thanks to the car's blockish front end and generous use of shiny silver-colored trim.
Many liked the way the 300 hunkers over its big, 17- or 18-inch wheels in an aggressive manner. This can appeal to car drivers who for years have felt like they're just an inconsequential speck on the roads now dominated by sport utility vehicles and pickups.
But the 300 offers more than eye-catching looks.
While the base model comes with a 190-horsepower, 2.7-liter V-6, the top-of-the-line 300C has Hemi power -- a deep-throated, 340 horses and 390 foot-pounds of torque generated by a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8.
The 300C's Hemi is a bit different from the one used in Dodge's big Ram pickups. At times, some of the eight cylinders in this car's V-8 are turned off to improve fuel economy by up to 20 percent from what it would have been otherwise.
The driver doesn't hear or see the deactivation. It's managed by engine controls.
There's also a third engine available for the 300 line.
The midlevel, 250-horsepower, 3.5-liter, single overhead cam V-6 that was in the test car provided smooth shifts, commendable power and a confident engine note in the 300 Touring model, which is priced some $5,700 less than the top, $33,495 Hemi-powered 300C.
Maximum torque generated by the 3.5-liter V-6 is 250 foot-pounds at 3,800 rpm.
Still, fuel economy in the 300 isn't the best. It ranges from 21 miles a gallon in city driving and 28 mpg on the highway with the smallest V-6 to 17/25 mpg for the Hemi-powered 300C.
All 300s have automatic transmissions, either four- or five-speeds, depending on the engine they're mated to.
Riders find a surprisingly roomy interior in the 300.
Indeed, no other Chrysler -- not even a Chrysler minivan -- has the lengthy, 10-foot-long wheelbase that the 300 has.It took a few days for me to get used to maneuvering the 300 into parking spaces.
As I steered it, the car felt wide. In addition, the browline of the dashboard sits high, so I had to adjust my seat height quite high, and the top of the dashboard and the hood area can seem massive.
Another noteworthy item: The 300 uses a new rear-drive platform.
Rear-drive handling characteristics are different than those of a front-drive car, but most casual drivers aren't likely to be bothered, except when they approach the limits of the car or experience some slippery road conditions, as I did with the test car.
Thank goodness electronic stability control, standard on the 300 Touring model, sensed the car was hydroplaning as I moved from an entrance ramp onto the freeway one rainy night.
The system promptly reacted to slow the car and get me headed in the right direction. Only as it kicked in did I sense that I had been headed for trouble.
Starting this fall, the 300 also is available with all-wheel drive.
The ride in the 300 is exemplary. There's no bounciness or roughness. I didn't even feel vibrations as the suspension in the test car soaked up road bumps nicely.
On occasion, I heard noise as the car passed over expansion cracks on the highway, but I didn't feel any impact. The long wheelbase helps smooth out this kind of thing.
The 300's independent front suspension uses an A arm and lateral and diagonal lower links with coil springs over shock absorbers. The back has a five-link, independent setup.
Tires have a substantial amount of sidewall, which appears to help in providing the compliant ride quality.
Steering in the 300 is rack-and-pinion, with good enough on-center feel that a driver doesn't need to adjust the steering all the time. But it's accompanied by a mainstream feel, rather than a crispness in its response.
While Chrysler advertises the 300 as a "great American car," it's built in a factory in Ontario, Canada, and some 20 percent of its parts reportedly are from Chrysler's parent company, Daimler Chrysler of Germany.
Despite its size, the 300 is not offered with a front bench seat, so maximum passenger count is five.
The middle person in the back seat of the 300 has to contend with a rather large hump in the floor, courtesy of the rear-drive setup.
The interior of the test car was quite quiet, save for wind noise that emanated from the front at highway speeds when I was traveling into the wind, and for an intermittent rattle in the dashboard.