2005 Chrysler 300C Road Test

Past and Present Collide

The 2005 Chrysler 300 is like that song you heard on the radio, the one that made you wonder, "Is that old or new?" It's true that much of pop culture has always loved whatever was cool one or two generations ago — the obvious example is intentional remakes of old songs, movies and clothing styles. But in many cases it's hard to tell the new from the old — are those old Levis or new jeans made to look like old Levis? That's the exact feeling we get from the new Chrysler 300. It looks somewhat familiar, perhaps even retro, and yet it's that intangible characteristic that makes it seem so fresh and new.

Those who know their history will remember that even the name of this all-new car is, you guessed it, old. Back in the day, the number 300 in "Chrysler 300" was a reference to the car's horsepower. But it's not just the name that seems familiar. The look, feel and overall behavior of the car also evoke another era while at the same time delivering modern features and quality. Slide behind the leather-trimmed steering wheel and you'll instantly notice that the gauges have a distinctly vintage look. The large round dials feature metallic trim rings, white faces with black numerals and the very font of the numbers communicate an old and classy image. There's also plenty of luxury, but the 300 is what Chrysler calls a premium car. Simply put, that means the Chrysler 300C is a car that may lack the opulence of a similar-sized Audi or BMW models but offers more luxury than one might associate with other Chrysler products.

The 300, and especially the top-of-the-line 300C, easily outclasses anything else in the Chrysler lineup (drive a Sebring then jump into a 300 and the difference in quality alone will astonish you). The real question is what cars outside of the Chrysler lineup compete with the 300C. If you consider price alone, the car is in odd company at best — consider the V6-powered versions and it gets even more interesting. The traditional competition for a car like the 300C would be cars like the Buick Park Avenue Ultra, Lincoln LS, Pontiac Bonneville GXP and maybe even the Lincoln Town Car. But look closely and the 300C offers a 300-plus-horsepower V8, rear-wheel drive, tons of interior space, cutting-edge exterior styling and a fairly plush interior for about the same price as a loaded VW Passat or Toyota Camry.

Here's the bottom line: no matter how you stack it, the 300C outclasses every other car out there in terms of performance, value, style and the elusive "it" factor. In order to make a fair comparison to the impressive C, you have to consider cars like the BMW 545i, Cadillac STS and the Lexus LS 430 — cars costing as much as $20,000 more. As cheesy as it sounds to suggest the 300C has no equal, it is true in some ways. The previously mentioned vehicles like the Buick Park Avenue and Lincoln LS are quickly dismissed and the others command a price premium that could easily pay for your teenager's first car — and a pretty nice one at that.

So the 300C looks good on paper and as much as we love a great value, the real test is in the driving experience. And here's where that "is it old or new" thing comes in. While thoroughly modern, the 300C has a distinct old-school feel from behind the wheel — and we mean that in a good way. One such throwback is the long hood. It gives the car a real substantive feel. As in older American cars from the '50s, '60s and even the '70s, the driver feels well aware that this is a massive piece of hardware and parking lots should not be taken lightly. Our test car did not include the optional rear parking sensors, but we think they would be money well spent. If you're used to blasting into the parking lot at the local mall around 30 mph and then swinging into a "compact" space with little room to spare, you'll have to rethink your parking philosophy. In addition, the car's short overhangs can make it hard to judge how close you are to another vehicle or, say, a parking garage support post. But as you back out of that space, and swing the front end around, there is this haunting flashback feeling like you're piloting an old Cadillac, or perhaps a '61 Chrysler 300.

On the open road, the car retains the old-world charm, as it is always obvious that there is a lot of car around you. Acceleration is pleasingly of another era as well. Sure, many cars today offer impressive 0-to-60-mph times, but the manner in which you get there isn't always so pleasant. With the 300C, Chrysler has resurrected the quiet confidence of a smooth American V8 that doesn't need to shout, "Here I am." There's no turbo jolt or high-revving variable valve timing to wring out, just a subtle rumble and an urgent thrust. The modern Hemi engine found in this 300C (as well as the Dodge Magnum) uses a cylinder deactivation system to selectively "turn off" certain cylinders when the car is cruising in an effort to improve fuel economy. The operation was invisible to us and we'd be hard-pressed to tell you when or if the system kicked in.

That Hemi V8 is standard on the C. It displaces 5.7 liters and makes 340 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque. The Chrysler 300C isn't so quick as to elicit a jaw-dropping "wow," but an aggressive squeeze of the accelerator brought out one of those unintentional smiles from several of our editors. The five-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly and without drama. Every now and then, we'd swear a downshift should have come sooner but the transmission overall is very good and almost invisible. The shift-it-yourself feature is nice, but the car just doesn't lend itself to manual control the way an Audi or BMW might.

Thankfully, the yesteryear references melt away as soon as you pitch the C into a corner. There is a fair amount of body roll when cornering at speed, but it's controlled well enough that we would feel just fine labeling the C as sporty. Unlike American iron of decades past, you won't have to scrape asphalt off the door handles after aggressive cornering. When cruising down the turnpike, the ride is smooth and, as expected, refined. On harder surfaces or freeways with expansion joints, the ride can get a little busy, but we're sure it's that underlying stiffness that gives the car decent handling. It's no Corvette, but the big car does handle well with an almost European flavor — just don't expect BMW sharpness.

Could this be thanks to the German design of its underpinnings? Perhaps, but no matter the origin, we can't argue with the results. The car delivers decent handling, a supple ride and a quiet interior at speed. Brakes are firm and offer excellent feedback, and when the ABS is engaged, it makes little noise. If we have a complaint about the overall driving dynamics of the car, it's that we'd hope for a little more exhaust sound. At idle, there is a bit of V8 burble out back. But once you get into the car, the doors close with a solid "thunk" and very little engine noise (or any kind of noise) makes its way into the cabin. Sure, this is intentional on Chrysler's part so as to maintain the car's premium status, but a little more of a rumble would really reinforce the 300C's authoritative Hemi engine.

As we noted earlier, the interior is a wonderful blending of old and new with retro-looking instruments and completely modern digital displays for trip, climate and audio information. When simply looked upon as a modern car, the 300C offers all the comfort, style and features you'd expect from a near-luxury car. In fact, the 300 probably offers more features than you would expect for the price. The leather is soft, an area Chrysler has overlooked in the past, and the materials have both a high-quality look and feel. We'd love it if the center stack was trimmed with real aluminum or other metal, but we're the first to admit that the metallic-looking plastic is the most convincing substitute we've seen in any car.

The climate control knobs are simple and straightforward with a large round dial for fan speed and another for directing the air. Both temperature control knobs (for driver and passenger) are situated in the same area and are easy to use. The round knobs are trimmed with chrome rings — an upscale touch that contributes to the vintage flair of the car. The navigation system is integrated into the stereo and while it is easy to use, the screen could be bigger. Another slight complaint is that some of the stereo features are handled through the LCD screen used by the navigation system, and the controls can be unintuitive.

Editors also leveled a small complaint against the rear-seat accommodations. We found the front and rear seats to be very comfortable, with the rear seats especially garnering praise for the ample legroom. However, given the car's overall level of luxury, we found the rear seat to be lacking in any features that might extend the luxurious setting beyond the front seats. The Chrysler Pacifica was specifically designed to include the rear-seat passengers in the car's luxury trappings with a rear console, fan speed adjuster and rear-seat warmers controlled via rear mounted switches. By comparison, the rear seat of the 300C is very plain, offering no more than a fold-down armrest with a cupholder.

Admittedly, there is little to dislike about this car. Some may find the styling odd or tacky, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And we feel no hesitation in calling this car beautiful inside and out. The arched wheel wells combined with 18-inch chrome wheels give the car a low slung stance that looks both menacing and stylish. The boxy but rounded exterior with very short front and rear overhangs had some on staff recalling old Bentleys, or other British makes like Humber. The body has an almost custom look to it as it appears the top has been chopped and the bumpers removed. To enhance the car's custom look, we think the narrow window openings should get some dark tint, then we would add larger wheels and tires that would effectively tuck the wheels up closer to the car.

The 300C is a great-looking car with the performance and style to back up its looks. Really, the Chrysler 300C does what many product designers and marketers alike wish they could do with regularity — offer a product that effectively captures the nostalgia, heritage and hipness of the past while seamlessly integrating the convenience, value, coolness and safety the modern world has to offer. Whether it's fashion, TV commercials or music, even pioneers will be found rooting around in the past for inspiration. As the Chrysler 300C confirms, it's the addition of a little history that makes the new version that much better. This new Chrysler succeeds on so many levels that it is hard to pinpoint exactly where it all comes together, but it has something to do with the big sedan's capacity to blend past and present, performance and luxury and value and style into one enticing package. The result is a much needed reminder that America can still build some really great automobiles.

Stereo Evaluation

Components: The Chrysler 300 marks the first application of factory-installed Boston Acoustics audio components. They include six speakers and a subwoofer. The results are very pleasing -- the optional package can be ordered with or without an integrated navigation system. The head unit is a 380-watt system that includes MP3 capability and an in-dash six-disc CD changer.

Performance: A truly excellent-sounding stereo. The bass response is wonderful and warm and is not prone to distortion. Low bass tones are kept tight and unmuddled by a subwoofer that offers just the right amount of punch. Highs and midrange sounds are also reproduced very well, and highs, mids and lows are separated nicely. As we inserted CD after CD looking for a flaw, we found only one: At moderate to high volumes, the highs can occasionally "squeak." It is unlikely that anyone would listen to the stereo as loudly as we did for very long, but it is this weakness that earns the system a 9 rather than a perfect 10.

Because of the sharp, clear and warm sound reproduction, we feel this stereo is one of the few that can give the Lexus Mark Levinson system a little competition. When compared to that awesome Lexus system, the Chrysler stereo can tend to sound mechanical at times. Still, considering the much lower price of the optional Chrysler system and the stellar Boston Acoustics speakers, we think this is a truly wonderful car audio system.

Best Feature: Sound separation and clarity.

Worst Feature: Some highs can "squeak" at higher volumes.

Conclusion: An excellent stereo that will make you want to bust out old favorites as well as modern music selections just to hear how good they can sound. -- Brian Moody

Second Opinions

Road Test Editor John DiPietro says:

Here is a car that states loud and clear, "I'm American, and proud of it!" How so? Of course, there's that Hemi V8 under the hood, but there's also the style -- broad-shouldered with a high beltline and squat greenhouse that gives this brute the looks to match its might. No Euro-look here. There's also the heritage in that 300 name, that back in its heyday (the mid-'50s to mid-'60s) meant a stylish, powerful, fast and comfortable big Chrysler with a massive V8 and rear-wheel drive. With the 2005 300C, this is true once more. Granted, this 300 might lack the over-the-top flamboyance of say, a 1958 model, but that finned land yacht wouldn't be able to unravel a winding road like the new one.

When nostalgia is swept aside and cold analysis is applied, the 300C still gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling. Fit and finish is excellent, with the faux tortoise shell and aluminum trim faking me out with their realistic look and feel. Even the parking brake impressed me with its silent, fluid action whether being set or released. The big stuff is covered, too; it's hard to argue with the strong, smooth thrust of the Hemi or the well-balanced feel of the chassis. Sure, the steering could be more communicative and I'd like the engine and exhaust to be more vocal (it's almost too quiet!), but overall, there's little to criticize here.

Photo Editor Scott Jacobs says:
The 300C makes no bones that it's unabashedly all-American. It's big, loud and a touch gaudy. Along with making me think back to the heady days of the '70s' domestic luxo-boats, this Chrysler's massive size is big enough to accommodate the powerful Hemi engine and five Nebraskan linebackers. Said Hemi growls when pushed, but the transmission just doesn't seem to be tuned to the sporty edge. I wouldn't say that it tarnishes the Hemi's fun, you just don't get to feel the full brunt of those 340 horses from the stoplight.

The exterior's retro-Americana styling gets my top marks. Though the hot-rodlike high beltline combined with the low roofline gives the 300 a cool look, it does create some visibility issues as you feel like you're driving with a hood on. The interior also gets an "A" for its awesome use of tortoise shell on the steering wheel (a great nod to the 300's style origins), and its use of high-quality materials and overall style.

Chrysler has raised the bar a dozen notches for full-size domestic sedans. This is the kind of car America should have been producing years ago. Though I feel the 300 is a little late in coming, it shames the competition with its style, price and build quality.

Consumer Commentary

"The fit, finish, stance, are befitting cars twice its price. And it goes like the Hemis of old, and I have a few of them. I have a concourse 1957 Chrysler 300C and this is a worthy successor to one of the finest performance cars in history. What I truly love about the car is that it makes me proud to drive a Chrysler again." -- Dyno, July 8, 2004

"Build quality is tight and rattle-free. All panels are lined up perfectly and the doors close with a thunk befitting a Mercedes or BMW. The car is surprisingly quick and light on its feet. For a 4,000-pound car, it accelerates effortlessly and handles in a very quick and nimble manner. Dealer was helpful and easy to work with." -- daphod74, June 28, 2004

"After looking and buying the new 300 I would say this has to be one of the best Chryslers ever. The ride reminds me of an expensive import sedan." -- Chrysler Owner, April 17, 2004

"Overall I have to admit the quality and build are much better than I was expecting. However, I have noticed some small details (imperfections) you would not find in a foreign-built automobile (i.e. doors and hood slightly out of line). Just small visual details. There have been some electronic problems that have me more worried. Nav system stopped working and mysteriously came back on after 30 minutes, memory #2 doesn't want to hold its presets and the power-tilt/telescope steering wheel has been getting louder and louder each day getting in/out of the car." -- 2muchluv, April 28, 2004

"In the short time that I have had this car, I feel that it isn't as smooth of a ride as I had hoped. Also, I have a problem with air whistling from the left side of the car. Other than that, I love the car." -- Maryann McLemore, June 17, 2004

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