Chrysler's large, brassy 300 four-door sedan has been updated for 2015, but it's still fundamentally the same car underneath the skin. The changes that have been made (new grille, new lighting, new exhaust tips, retuned steering and suspension, and a rethought interior) though, are significant enough to keep the rear-drive 300 relevant and attractive in the segment as it enters its second decade as Chrysler's flagship.
What Is It?
The 2015 Chrysler 300 is a full-size four-door sedan with a wide range of features and options. On the low end it's a full-featured family sedan, while high-end versions are luxury-level vehicles. At 198.6 inches long over a 120.2-inch wheelbase, the 2015 version of the 300 is essentially the same size as last year's model. To put the size in historical perspective, it's about a half-foot longer than any of the large sedans the company was making in the '90s. In everyday use, the 300's size feels tidy but generous: big enough to have plenty of room inside, small enough to slide into parking slots easily.
Along with its close, mechanically almost identical cousin the Dodge Charger, it's the last American sedan to offer a V8 engine and rear-wheel drive that isn't explicitly marketed as strictly a performance car. Most 300s will continue to be sold with the easygoing 292-horsepower, 3.6-liter V6 under their hoods, but opting for the 363-hp, 5.7-liter "Hemi" V8 amplifies the car's personality.
What Body Styles and Trims Are Available?
There's only one four-door body style, and the sheet metal (except for that one panel where the taillights attach) carries over from the 2011 redesign of the 300. Chrysler wasn't about to screw up the fundamental character of the 300, and really, it doesn't have any reason to.
The base 300 Limited starts with a price of $32,390. Like all 300s it gets a new, larger front grille and updated LED headlights with clear elements at the far edge (the amber side reflectors have moved to the bumper cover). The grille looks great with the Chrysler winged logo floating in the black mesh. And even with the standard 17-inch wheels and tires, this is still a muscular-looking machine.
Limited models come with the standard 292-hp, 3.6-liter V6 backed up by an eight-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is a $1,500 option, which is a bargain, since all-wheel drive commands a $2,500 premium on the other trim levels.
The 300S is the exuberant and sportiest model with a base price of $35,890. Black chrome trim replaces the straight-up shiny bits on the Limited, and that gives the car a sinister countenance that it wears well. The S wheels are 20 inches in diameter, and painted "Hyper Black." The result is a 300 that looks ripped.
Despite the 300S's aggressive looks, the Pentastar V6 is still the standard power plant. Buyers can, for an additional $3,000, opt for the lusty 5.7-liter Hemi V8, which is more fun.
While the 300C ($38,990 base price) was at one time available only with the Hemi, this more luxurious machine can now be had with either the V6 or V8. And frankly, since the V6 is such a well-behaved and powerful engine, and the eight-speed so good, the Hemi isn't necessary to make the 300C compelling.
Externally, the most distinguishing feature of the C-model is its chromed side mirrors. But inside it gets things like standard LED ambient lighting that make for a spectacular night show.
Above the other 300s is the 300C Platinum ($43,390 at base), which gets everything from an instrument panel wrapped in premium leather with "French seamed accent stitching" to a 19-speaker Harman Kardon audio system and dozens of "satin chrome" accents throughout the cockpit. If you like diamond tufted leather, this is the diamond tuftiest of them all.
What Changes Have Been Made to the Interior?
All the 300 models have a revised interior built around a new chronograph-style instrument cluster that glows a cool blue. There's also a 7-inch LCD information screen between the tachometer and speedometer, and a second, chunky 8.4-inch touchscreen at the top of the dash center. Chrysler's UConnect software has been steadily improving and has now reached the point where it's preferable to plain knobs and dials.
Even the Limited gets standard leather — at least "leather-trimmed" — upholstery. Heated eight-way power seats with four-way lumbar adjustment are also included.
There's also a new rotary control knob for the transmission, but Chrysler hasn't leveraged its compact design aggressively. On the Ram pickups, for instance, a similar knob is up on the dash so that room is freed up in the center console. In the 300, the knob fills up about the same space as the previous conventional shifter. So no big advantage there.
How Does It Drive Around Town?
With the eight-speed automatic exploiting the V6's ample 260 pound-feet of peak torque production, none of the 300 models feels like a stripped-down compromise around town. In fact, the transmission's behavior is so poised that most buyers will never feel as if they've compromised with the smaller engine. All this despite that even the lightest 300 weighs in at a thick 4,029 pounds, according to Chrysler.
There's not much feel through the newly revised electric power steering, but the driver is always fully informed of what's going on with the front tires. Parking maneuvers are easy to accomplish thanks to a back-up camera that compensates for the 300's limited rearward visibility. Throw in the optional equipment like electronic lane keeping, adaptive cruise control with a full-stop element, collision warning and cross-traffic detection and the 300 gives you few excuses for running into anything.
The suspension sucks up bumps without ever losing its composure, the brakes haul the big beast down from speed easily and the whole car feels under-stressed in an urban environment. There's not a lot of excitement here, but plenty of reassurance.
The Hemi V8 frankly, beyond its exhaust rumble, just doesn't make much difference around town. That changes out on the open road. Point any of the 300s at a long, straight highway and it will swallow up distance the way a feeding shark goes through a school of sardines. Hit the curvy parts of the roads, however, and the modest limits of the comfort-tuned suspension become apparent and the sheer challenge of pushing so much weight becomes obvious. The 300 isn't a sport sedan.
Still, there's fun to be had on the curves, particularly if the Hemi is up front to pull the car through with some verve and eagerness. There's rarely any reason to turn off the traction and stability controls, but even with them on, the driver can feel the nose pushing in toward a curve's apex. And it's a thrill to use the paddle shifters available in the 300S and 300C to drop down a couple gears, hear the V8 roar and feel the tail tuck in and the car rush forward.
What Kind of Fuel Economy Does It Return?
For such a big car, the 300 can return exceptional fuel mileage. The EPA rates a 300 with the V6 and rear drive at 19 mpg in the city and 31 on the highway. That's 31 mpg from a big car that looks like it was carved from granite. Besides the expense of the all-wheel-drive option, the best argument against it is that it drops those EPA numbers for the V6 down to 18 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway.
The Hemi V8 includes Chrysler's fuel-saver technology that allows it to cruise while firing only four cylinders under light loads, but it's still relatively thirsty. The EPA rates it at 16 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway with rear drive.
What Are Its Closest Competitors?
Chevrolet Impala: Based on a front-drive platform but more or less the same size as the 300, the handsome Impala has a contemporary look that contrasts starkly with the Chrysler. And its interior feels just as roomy, too.
Ford Taurus: The aging Taurus is rightly criticized for being a big car with a less than generously proportioned interior. But it's still a fine driving machine.
Toyota Avalon: Now less dowdy than it has ever been before, the Avalon is not only sleek and good-looking, but available as a gas-electric hybrid. The Avalon's elegant, contemporary interior makes an interesting juxtaposition to the big Chrysler's cabin.
Why Should You Consider This Car?
For people who still want a traditional, rear-drive American sedan, this is as close as it gets. If you're a dazzling, sophisticated urbanite without unlimited resources, the 300 offers more styling panache than practically any car near its price point. And anyone who appreciates a comfortable ride for five should at least consider this car before moving on to more expensive, higher-prestige German machines like the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Car?
The timid need not apply for this bold sedan's in-your-face styling. Anyone seeking ultimate economy would do better to shop among the Honda Accords and Hyundai Sonatas instead of reaching up to this brawny bruiser.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.