Every car brand should have a flagship; a model to carry the image and identity of the nameplate. A car that can attract showroom traffic, and one that everyone on the road will identify with that brand.
There are two Chryslers. One is the overall company, now controlled by Fiat. The other is the car line itself, flanked by Dodge, Jeep. and Fiat, and also by Ram (the truck division spun off by Dodge) and SRT (all the performance models, including the upcoming redesigned Viper).
Chrysler’s mission, as a brand, is to be the luxury player for Chrysler, the company. Sure, the models offered are versions of Dodges for the most part, but they typically have more standard equipment, a bit more luxury, plus a distinct look.
And “distinct” has always certainly described the full-size Chrysler 300, which got restyled last year along with the Dodge Charger. Like the previous generation that came before it some six years earlier, the 300 catches eyes for its rakish shape.
Many people (including my wife) refer to the 300 as looking a lot like a Bentley. That’s a good description, especially given the car’s bold front grill and chopped-looking roofline. The masculine shape to the wheel arches further drives that Bentley-esque styling point.
But of course mechanically, this isn’t like a Bentley at all. It actually owes it chassis roots to Mercedes-Benz, carrying former E-Class mechanicals in things like the independent rear suspension. And under the hood, it’s all Chrysler, with either the new Pentastar 3.6 liter V6 or the vaunted Hemi 5.7 liter V8, the latter with cylinder deactivation for better fuel economy while cruising.
For models with the V6 engine, a new 8-speed automatic transmission is standard, helping with fuel efficiency and drivability. It used to be that a 5-speed automatic was considered state-of-the-art, but with every bit of fuel economy being very important, the race is on to put more gear ratios between engines and drive wheels.
And Chrysler has added more sub-models within the 300 line, so that you can now choose very luxurious or very sporty, no matter which engine you’d like. For those who like to connect with their musical side, there’s a new option called “Beats by Dr. Dre” which seeks to bring the recording studio experience into the car. No, I’m not making that up.
As a luxury road car, the 300 delivers. The ride is supple but not floaty, and the interior is very quiet. Four adults can ride in absolute comfort anywhere you’d care to travel, and five can go somewhere in a pinch. (But as always, nobody really wants to ride in that middle rear seat, with their feet on the center hump, do they?)
With the redesign of the 300 from the previous generation (2005-2010), special attention was paid to the interior. The previous example always felt like two cars. Outside it was stylish, but inside it felt rather low-rent. With the updated car, the interior is now befitting the promise made by the exterior design.
That means that materials are soft to the touch whenever possible. Things like armrests, for example. Your elbows are going to likely be spending a lot of time resting on them. Would you rather have firm and plasticky, or soft and not-so-plasticky? True, it’s all still plastic, but it doesn’t have to feel like plastic in this day and age.
For what you get, the 300 is a bit of a bargain too. Base price for a V6 example starts at just under $28,000, though to get it really into luxury territory in terms of features you’d probably want to upgrade to the Limited trim at $32,470. The 300C gets you the V8 under the hood (with fewer miles per gallon) for $38,470, and there’s a new Luxury Series that starts at $41,970.
The 300 is definitely the Chrysler flagship, both in terms of the brand, as well as the company.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net, Twitter: @dave_kunz, Facebook: ABC7Dave