On the Road Review: Chrysler 300C AWD Sedan

Decades after full-size cars used to rule the marketplace, automakers continue to produce credible four-door sedans to meet consumer demand for roomy, comfortable cars for four or more passengers. The players list is short now; Chevy’s Impala leads in sales, far ahead of Toyota’s Avalon, Buick’s LaCrosse and Ford’s Taurus.

Yet FCA/Fiat-Chrysler, with two entrants, Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300, actually does quite well in a segment that has seen year-end sales totals slide to just over .5 million units.

When first introduced, the 300 had a bold, in-your-face stance akin to a gangster car. Square edges, a low, small greenhouse, plus a long hood gave the car sharp proportions out of character with the family-oriented segment. Using a platform based on the previous alliance with Daimler Benz, the 300 had a lot of Mercedes E-class in its bones. The car became a cult sensation.

Today, Chrysler’s designers have softened the 300’s lines and created a less dynamic looking car. Owing to the initiatives for fuel economy and crash safety, these changes were inevitable. The resulting look may be less distinctive, but is certainly not less attractive.

This carries over inside, where Chrysler has demonstrated of late that it understands what appeals to American drivers. Seats are large but supportive, controls are simple but modern — with big knobs, easy to flick stalks next to the steering wheel and sensible buttons for frequently used functions. An 8.4-inch colored U-Connect center-dash screen uses simple touch functionality to fine-tune climate, audio, navigation and vehicle settings that may not be managed by the aforementioned dials or redundant steering wheel switches. Add perfectly located audio buttons on the back of the steering wheel, which is heated, plus multi-stage seat heaters, push-button ignition with remote starting and a rotary shift knob located on the console and this Chrysler displays a modern, well-finished cabin that is user-friendly. Materials are a cut above the class and exude a premium feel throughout.

Powered by the new corporate 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, with 292-hp here, (a 5.7-liter Hemi with 363-hp is optional as is a 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 with 465-hp) the motor is mated to a swift eight-speed automatic transmission. In our tested ‘C’ model 300, AWD also is featured.

Created as a rear-drive sedan in a market full of front-drivers, the Chrysler uses AWD to improve foul weather traction and overall drivability. Poise and grace are two thoughts that come to mind as the Chrysler never misstepped, never seemed to be out of balance and always felt controlled — even during a 500-mile day driving in constant falling snow. When pushed, the 300C actually felt agile. Much lighter on its feet, but with better steering feel than the similar AWD Taurus, the Chrysler delivered a rear-drive-oriented handling bias supported by front-wheel grip and traction when necessary. Impala, LaCrosse and Avalon can’t do that.

By nature, an auto reviewer is a critic — someone seeking negative perspectives even when platitudes might be in order. Positives are assumed, or taken for granted, in an industry that must innovate and move forward, swiftly. Glaring faults, objectives clearly not met, or standards not followed are points of contention that merit comment.

At the end of our week together, there was not one negative comment in my logbook about the Chrysler’s ride or driving dynamics, or its overall behavior. Given the surly environment under which it was expected to operate, one could be forgiven for not gushing over the 300, planting two stars on its lapels and sending it home for the day.

That does not mean there were not some negative thoughts; however, they pertained to cars in general or other drivers in other cars as a rule.

As I spent that long 13-hour day in a snowstorm, it was great to enjoy the 300C’s splendid cabin, with the excellent heated wheel and entertaining Sirius stereo, brilliant LED headlamps and automatic wipers. Yet the realization that blowing snow was obliterating my taillights from others’ view and making me more or less invisible pointed out that some aspects of driving safely cannot be completely corrected by the latest electronic sensors and safety-net programs — of which the Chrysler was fairly well stocked. Constant reminders that the forward sensor for automatic braking/laser cruise/lane departure warning was inoperable due to snow highlighted that maybe the autonomous car will have many shortcomings beyond simple surface engineering.

And then, there are other drivers on the road. A full 15 percent of other traffic was operating without headlights under conditions that truly warranted improved visibility. It is not that you need your headlights to see people when the elements are bad; you turn them on so other drivers can SEE YOU.

As the day progressed and the conditions did not, I became ever more thankful for the Chrysler’s safety portfolio. Subtle little signals from the chassis (and the instrument panel), plus an occasional twist in the seat of your pants more than anything, signaled that a rear wheel might be spinning on the glazed surfaces. With other vehicles exiting the paved way with certain frequency, the Chrysler 300C plowed forward, the car’s Michelin MXM4 tires doing an admirable job. If one were to drive under these conditions on a regular basis, winter tires would only improve on the Chrysler’s assuredness.

At the end of the week, the 300’s mileage report had a wide range. Rural and urban driving in extremely cold conditions lowered my average for two tanks of fuel to 21.4 mpg. Introducing more sustained pace driving, the highway, boosted fuel economy to 25.4 during the snowstorm, and 26.4 mpg on dry pavement. EPA ratings are 18/27/21-mpg, so the Chrysler met those predictions during the worst conditions. Warm weather should be much kinder to your fuel economy.

Base 300 sedans start at just over $30,000. In ‘C’ trim with AWD, our 300 listed for just over $45,000.

While the market gravitates to SUVs and crossovers for family usage, it is clear that Chrysler still produces a sensible sedan, with AWD and even Hemi power, that can match the desired traction functionality of wagons while driving like a car. With a great portfolio of features, a handsome interior and better-than-average driving dynamics, the 300C merits consumer attention.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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