By Carol Traeger, Fri, 21 Oct 2005 08:00:00 PDT
I admit, the first time I laid eyes on the Chrysler 300 (one year before its introduction), I mentally taped an "L" to its windshield, deeming it a surefire loser.
So much for my predictions.
The features I found most distasteful - the giant grille and outsized proportions - proved key to the 300's appeal.
Introduced in March, the 300 was an instant hit. From March through September, the 300 sold 77,013 units, twice as many as its predecessors, the Concorde and 300M, did in the same year-ago period. The 300 currently leads the luxury full-car segment, with a 23 percent share, and is out-selling competitors like the Audi A6, BMW 5-Series, Cadillac CTS, Acura RL and Lexus GS430.
The secret to the 300's success lies in its all-American qualities. Chrysler's first rear-wheel-drive sedan in years, the 300 recalls an age when American sedans had distinctive looks, rear-wheel drive, V8 engines, and offered more for less.
Aside from its stately looks, much of the 300's appeal stems from its powerful and super-trendy Hemi engine, one of three available powerplants.
The base 300 comes with a 2.7-liter V6, while the Touring and Limited versions get a 3.5-liter V6, both matched to a four-speed automatic. Enthusiasts will go straight to the 300C, which boasts a 5.7-liter Hemi V8 mated to a five-speed automatic. The Hemi pumps out 340 horsepower and an ample 390 pound-feet of torque. What's more, while cruising it can deactivate four cylinders to deliver better fuel economy - 17 mpg city / 25 mpg highway. The engine segues so seamlessly from eight to four cylinders, you can't even tell it's happening.
In addition to the Hemi, the 300C sports 18-inch wheels, dual exhausts, retuned dampers, a rear anti-roll bar, a bigger front anti-roll bar, leather, heated front seats and dual-zone climate control.
The interior marks a quantum improvement in style and ergonomics from Chryslers of old. My 300C test car felt more like a Lexus than a Chrysler. The cockpit is clean and elegant, with attractive white-faced gauges, chrome accents, a center-mounted analog clock, and slick tortoiseshell trim on the steering wheel, shifter and door handles. All the touchable bits are soft as opposed to hard plastic.Like the exterior, the interior is vast, offering the kind of head, shoulder and leg room usually found in full-size luxury cars costing tens of thousands more.Speaking of cost, prices range from $24,000 for the base 300 to $33,000 for the 300C. Drivers can opt for the added security of all-wheel drive, available on every model but the base.
For such a behemoth of a car, the steering is surprisingly light and accurate, and the throttle response is quick. Pouncing on the gas pedal can send you from zero to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds (so Chrysler says). The suspension is supple enough to absorb road undulations and firm enough to prevent boat-like wallowing in corners. Antilock brakes, traction control and stability control are standard.With its oversized grille and granite-slab profile, the 300 isn't a car of nuance. It's a car of big, bold gestures, and it creates a stir wherever it goes ---gathering comments from everyone from Moose Lodgers and stroller-pushing moms to muscle-car enthusiasts and hip-hoppers. The rapper 50 Cent even featured a 300C in a video.
I admit, the Chrysler 300 is anything but a loser. It's a Winner with a capital "W," and a classic example of how to win car buyers back to American brands.I admit, too, I've grown to like the 300's singular look, big garish grille and all, without which it would resemble every other Camry clone on the road.
What I drove: 2005 Chrysler 300C, a four-door, five passenger sedanBase price: $32,370Price as tested: $34,825 (includes options and delivery charge)Options on test vehicle: Sound Group I (AM/FM stereo w/ 6-disc CD changer and MP3, Boston Accoustic speakers, subwoofer, 380-watt digital amplifier); genuine California walnut trim w/ wood and leather-wrapped steering wheel; power moonroof.