James Riswick, New and Used Car Editor
Leather, wood and chrome do not make a luxury car. Neither does a surly musician from Michigan talking about luxury in a Super Bowl commercial. No, it's the way a car's suspension absorbs the blows from gnarled pavement and its engine's ability to push you into the back of your seat. It's the interior hush that lets you appreciate the premium sound system. It's the sheer presence that makes a car stand out in a crowded parking lot.
The 2011 Chrysler 300 is not a luxury car just because the marketing department says so; it rightly deserves the title. Even in its base trim with cloth seats and a V6 engine, the newly revised 300 sedan delivers the sort of premium driving experience that its predecessor never did and that other full-size sedans do not achieve. While the new car shares its platform and general look with the 300 that came before, the 2011 Chrysler 300 has been overhauled to such a degree that the term "new" is certainly warranted.
The structure has been stiffened and the suspension retuned to provide the sort of buttoned-down, compliant ride one could compare to a Mercedes-Benz. The old pair of inefficient and insufficient V6s has been replaced by a single 3.6-liter V6 that bests them both in power and fuel economy. Inside the cabin, an abundance of acoustic insulation and soft-touch materials dramatically improve the cabin's look and ambiance, while ice-blue lighting and silver-accented gauges add a dash of cool. Add in a generous features list and it's easy to forget that you're driving the cheapest 2011 Chrysler 300 available. Just imagine what it would be like with leather and extra chrome.
"Hey, that thing got a Hemi?" was the question posed by an old Chrysler marketing campaign. With the old Chrysler 300, buying a V6 model meant you'd have to sheepishly answer "No, a V6" and slowly walk away in shame. While we still wholeheartedly endorse the purchase of the 363-horsepower, Hemi V8-powered 300C, buying the 300 V6 is no longer something to hide from the neighbors.
This new 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 sends 292 hp and 260 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels through a five-speed automatic transmission. That's good enough for a run to 60 mph from a standstill in 7.1 seconds, more than sufficient for spirited highway passing. The 300 will even smoke the rear tires if you get creative, though you're more likely to note its EPA rating of 21 mpg combined. Even more important might be the smooth new V6's refinement, enhanced by the way the 300's ample sound insulation further quells engine noise to a distant thrum.
Regardless of which engine you choose, it's the new 300 sedan's handling and ride that truly impress. There is ample body roll through turns, but like a big Mercedes sedan, the 300 remains controlled and predictable. The steering is perfectly weighted for this type of car, perhaps because Chrysler has resisted the temptation to make the level of electrically controlled assist overly variable with speed, so the effort level doesn't unnaturally progress from loosey-goosey to firm as speeds rise. The new 300 steers like a real car rather than a video game.
The ride is similarly well sorted. The pavement on Wilshire Boulevard in L.A. looks like a bombing range, and yet the new 300 seems to bulldoze it smooth, gracefully delivering a sophisticated, perfectly damped ride with the aplomb of the best German luxury sedans. There is, however, quite a caveat here. Our base-model 2011 Chrysler 300 came equipped with the standard 17-inch wheels and the generous, pliable 65-series tire sidewalls that go with them. The 18-inch wheels and 60-series tires of the next trim level probably won't adversely affect the ride, but we can't say the same thing about the 19s, 20s or even larger dubs that will no doubt befall 300s everywhere. (DUB subscribers, you have been warned.)
With a car the size of the 300, it shouldn't come as a surprise that there's ample room in every dimension aboard for occupants big and small. The adjustability of the driver seat and tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel is particularly impressive. If there is a flaw, it's the tall center tunnel needed for the driveshaft required in this rear-wheel-drive car; if rear-seat space is a priority, a front-wheel-drive car might be a better choice.
Once you've sunk into the soft confines of the supportive seats, you're likely to notice the distinct sound of...absolutely nothing. According to our sound meters, the cabin of the 2011 Chrysler 300 is just as quiet as that of a Bentley Mulsanne, which is only slightly less hushed than the surface of the moon. The 300 is definitely one of those cars where keeping a close eye on the speedometer is important, since you don't have the usual telltale wind and road noise.
Every 2011 Chrysler 300 comes standard with a large, central touchscreen interface regardless of whether you spring for the Garmin-sourced integrated navigation system. Largely devoted to the control of the surprisingly strong standard audio system, the touchscreen's graphics look crisp and modern, clutter has been kept to a minimum and icon buttons are large enough to find at a glance. It's almost the exact opposite of the new MyFord Touch system.
Curiously, however, "Playlist" is not one of the menu items within the optional iPod interface. Chrysler says it will be added in the future, but this is irritating and puzzling given that previous Chrysler iPod interfaces had this common menu item. (UPDATE: Chrysler is now offering a software update for those whose 300 lacks this particular functionality.)
Another area of minor concern is the trunk. Its opening and rearmost portion is plenty wide to swallow golf clubs, but the wheelwells intrude as you move forward. The resulting 16.3 cubic feet is still pretty large, but pales in comparison to the enormous trunk of the Ford Taurus. Really, though, if these are our principal areas of concern, the 300 is in pretty good shape.
Design/Fit and Finish
The 2011 Chrysler 300 looks awfully similar to the car it replaces, but its designers have smoothed out its edges, added some panache to its light clusters and replaced the old egg-crate grille with bold, contoured chrome bars. It's a classy look that comes through even on the base car. More practically, the designers also added 3 inches of rake to the windshield, which not only streamlines the appearance but also seems to improve forward visibility as well. The new 300 has less of the feel of a gun emplacement to it when you're behind the wheel. Rear three-quarter visibility is still hampered by the large C-pillars, but this is increasingly common among large sedans and it's hard to sternly criticize the 300 for it.
The interior has undergone a more radical transformation. The old car's center stack looked like a desktop computer tower. And the cheesy gauges lit up like a Timex Indiglo wristwatch, the various switchgear felt brittle to the touch and the many interior surfaces were either hard or had a low-grade sheen. No matter your trim level, it didn't feel like a luxury car. In contrast, the new 300 looks good and is made well, too. Soft-touch surfaces nicely extend all the way to where the driver's leg contacts the center stack, while even the diamond-quilted cloth upholstery feels nice (we wonder if its light color will easily stain, however). We also appreciate Chrysler's decision to use brushed aluminum trim rather than chrome, which negates the nasty reflections you get in other luxury sedans.
Who should consider this vehicle
So the 2011 Chrysler 300 possesses all the ingredients of a proper luxury car regardless of price or trim level. It's no longer a car you buy just for the Hemi or because it looks fly with 22-inch wheels. Of course, luxury cars in this price range are typically compact sport sedans that obviously provide an entirely different sort of driving experience. In this way, we can draw parallels between the Chrysler 300 and the Hyundai Genesis, a similarly priced rear-drive large sedan with ample features, a high-class cabin and a pair of stout engines. They also have badges that people don't associate with luxury (Hyundai not yet; Chrysler not any more).
There are also sedans like the Buick LaCrosse, Ford Taurus and Nissan Maxima, while the 2011 Dodge Charger is closely related to the 300, but sportier. Yet for those looking for a classic American luxury sedan with ample power, a superb ride, a spacious cabin and strong value, the 2011 Chrysler 300 is almost the definitive choice.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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