You are looking at a rare beast in the U.S.—a full-size domestic rear-wheel-drive sedan.
The Chrysler 300 and its sister Dodge Charger have been the lone wolves in the rear-wheel-drive world in America since they replaced the old front-wheel-drive sedans back in 2004. Since then, the Pentastar people have given us a second generation and some tweaks to a sedan that contains more than a bit of attitude imported from Detroit in their shapes.
Now Chrysler has added some Sport to its classic model, making do with a well-known trick of adding some accents to the shape and upping the content to refresh it two years into its redesign. Now we find out if the tweaks done to the sedan that really resurrected the legendary Chrysler 300 name of the 1950s is one legendary chief engineer Robert Rodger and designer Virgil Exner would like, or is it just an old sport.
Chrysler concept – Chrysler showed off the new look its 300 sedan would get with 1999’s 300C concept convertible. Then came the blocky muscular 300 of 2005, built on a new rear-wheel-drive platform. The wide, hunkered-down look was aggressive and quite different, so the redesign in 2012 really only evolved that basic look with a smoother shape and muscle.
For 2014, Chrysler has added the “Sport” option, which adds a “blacked out” appearance package as well as unique 20-inch “dubs” versus the base model’s 17-inchers.
There’s no denying that the 300 is a large sedan with a high shoulder line, short greenhouse and massive presence. The intimidating face is the first thing you notice, its classic grill’s chrome frame with big winged Chrysler emblem with black inlay framing seven black chrome blades, while headlights gain blacked-out frames with a C-shaped LED light bar.
Chrome accents under the headlights on other 300s are deleted on the Sport, now gloss white over faux lower inlets with a silver spear and chromed fog lights.
Brushed alloy and gloss black 10-spoke wheels shod in P245/45R20-inch Firestone Firehawk GT rubber are neatly framed by the 300’s flared fenders, and really give it presence. The sculpted slab sides get edgy fender-tops and a side design line that rises under the window, adding to the low wide look, as does the squat roof line.
The high trunk also adds to the look, as do classic vertical LED taillights over powerful-looking twin exhaust pipes under the imposing rear bumper and “300” deck-lid badge. It’s a simple yet cool monochromatic look with body-color door handles and Gloss Black B-pillars and a light touch of chrome side window trim. I really don’t mind the almost Rolls-Royce look in the 300’s side design, adding a bit of definition to the shape.
The 300S did get some looks at a Cars and Coffee cruise-in. Not too bad for a design that’s basically been around for eight years. And it looks good in white.
Chrysler comfort – The 300S’s interior is precisely done since the 2012 redesign, with some sportier accents in the S.
All four doors get puddle lights underneath when opened, and the front doors unlock with a touch.
The interior is done in padded black plastic, a stitched leatherette-clad hood over the ice blue-lite gauges for distinctive look. Black, silver and white rings with ice blue illumination glow in the inset 140-mph speedometer and 7,000 rpm tach, the latter with a shapely “S” on its blue and black face. They flank a color LCD trip computer screen that offers navigation and stereo information, visible through a manually tilt and telescope 4-spoke steering wheel with a thick leather-clad rim.
The upper spokes offer cruise, voice command, Bluetooth telephone, and trip computer display buttons in front and stereo and die-cast alloy paddle shifters behind. Our test car had keyless ignition with remote start off the key fob.
The dashboard and doors get a carbon fiber-like trim strip with a gloss black accent. A matte black soft-touch panel dead center hosts an ice blue-lit analog clock and a big color touchscreen that houses the 300S’s tech.
Navigation is a graphically clean Garmin system with Chrysler Uconnect that has SiriusXM Traffic with real-time monitoring that reroutes if accidents or congestion is logged. The voice recognition system displays the next possible commands for navigation and audio menus on the main screen as it verbally prompts you, and it takes fewer commands to get dictation done.
The screen displays right and left climate control temperature settings a clock, and outside temperature across the top. The bottom strip has touch buttons for radio, phone, climate control, navigation, CD/MP3 player, and more. It’s also the back-up camera screen. The only annoyance is that the front seat heaters need a double tap from a screen sub-menu to access. Give me a button to turn them on and off.
The real kick is from the “Beats by Dr. Dre” sound system. You have AM-FM-CD-SiriusXM hooked to a 12-channel amplifier with three 3.5-inch speakers in the instrument panel, two 3.5-inch speakers in the rear doors, two more 6 x 9-inch front-door woofers, two 6 x 9-inch and a center-mounted 8-inch speaker in the rear-shelf and an 8-inch trunk-mounted dual-voice coil subwoofer in the trunk. It sounds solid, clear and powerful.
Basic A/C, and audio volume and tuning buttons are on the gloss black panel below the screen. A 12-volt power outlet and storage slot are below that, with a stubby electronic shifter ahead of twin blue-lit cup holders. Under the low center armrest is a storage area with another 12-volt outlet and the MP3 and USB audio inputs.
The front bucket seats get embroidered “S” emblems and 12-way power, their black Nappa leather accented with silver stitching on the edges and center sections. All controls are backlit, and the front cabin is cleanly designed and an easy place to live with decent storage in the door map pockets and a large glove box with shelf. Plus there’s blue accent lights in the inside door handles.
Overhead, the 300S gets a long moonroof with a power sunshade.
The back seat is large and very comfortable for two, although leg room isn’t as good as you would think. There’s good room under the front seats for rear feet. Folks in back get rear air vents and a 12-volt outlet plus a fold-down center armrest with illuminated cup holders. But rear seat passengers did note that it was tough to buckle up since the latch point is recessed deep in the seat cushions.
Another note, the front doors are long and open wide for easy access; but that puts the grab handle too far away to easily reach when seated. The trunk is deep and wide with hidden hinges, and can be expanded thanks to split folding rear seatbacks. There’s also a capless gas filler, sealed by the gas door like Fords.
Chrysler capability – The original 1955 Chrysler 300’s HEMI V-8 had 300-hp and set a record-breaking speed of 127.580 mph on the sands of Daytona Beach. Now the 300S’s 3.6 liter aluminum V6, with a cold-air induction, also has 300 hp and 264 ft.-lb. of torque with an eight-speed automatic with steering-wheel paddle shifters and sport shift mode. You can get a 5.7 liter HEMI V8 with 370 hp. But let’s stick to our V6.
When we tested a 300 SRT8 a few years ago with its 470-hp HEMI V8, it leapt to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds. Our current V6 300S had less than 1,000 miles on the clock and did the same run in a brisk 6.5 seconds, its shifts precise and smooth as it netted an average 25 mph indicated on regular. Drive sedately and you’ll be rewarded by an “ECO” indicator in the gauge panel’s trip computer. But slap the shifter into “Sport” mode and the 8-speed stayed in a gear longer and held the revs higher before each shift, as the V6 offers a bit of a sporty snarl as it works.
My only issue with the stubby electronic shifter was that it was tough to get it into reverse sometimes. You have to tap the button and click it forward, and sometimes it didn’t stop in “reverse.”
Chrysler came up with an independent short/long-arm front suspension and a 5-link independent rear suspension with gas-charged monotube shocks all around. The result, with those 20-inch wheels and tires, was a very comfortable ride on almost every surface and good bump absorption without any float.
The sedan also had decent grip when driven hard thanks to the Firestones’ big tire patch. We could tackle a corner with a bit of brio and the 300S hung on neutrally, taking a curve quite well. We found the 300S’s tail could be coaxed out with throttle in a sharper turn, like a classic rear-wheel-drive sports sedan, all caught by stability control. But we felt the two tons of sedan when pushed hard, not as lithe as some competition.
For stopping power, 12.6-inch front and rear disc brakes that offered a progressive pedal feel and decent stopping power in regular driving for our 4,029 lb. sedan. When we pushed harder and did some simulated panic stops from 60 mph though, we couldn’t get them to bite to lockup and activate ABS. We got definite brake fade and some very hot brakes after three hits. For safety, front/side-curtain/seat-mounted side-thorax, and driver’s knee bag, rear head restraints in all positions, electronic stability control, Rain Brake Support, and tire-pressure monitoring.
Chrysler cash – A base 2014 Chrysler 300 starts at $30,545, while our 300S begins at $33,645 with everything above standard, including the stitch-accented leather, 20-inch wheels and rubber, 300 hp V6 with 8-speed automatic and Uconnect 8.4-inch touchscreen system with SiriusXM TravelLink with traffic, weather, gas prices, stocks, and sports scores.
I wasn’t fibbing about the 300S being rare among full-size sedans—only the $35,000 Hyundai Genesis 3.8 is a rear-wheel-drive—the $33,000 Chevrolet Impala, $34,200 Ford Taurus Limited, $36,000 Lincoln MKZ, and $38,000 Buick LaCrosse are front-wheel-drive.
Power varies too. A 195 hp 2.5 liter four in the Impala, a 240 hp 2 liter four in the MKZ, a 288 hp 3.5 liter V6 in the Taurus, 304 hp 3.6 liter V6 in the LaCrosse, and a 333 hp 3.8 liter V6 in the Genesis. Despite the variation, only the Genesis is a sub-6 second car, while the rest are about 7 sec. or a tad less to 60 mph. All average about 25 mpg, and all have good people room and good to great cargo space.
All of them are a bit more fun to drive, the Buick and Lincoln a bit lighter than the rest. And as far as stage presence, none match the aging but still impressive 300S bar the Lincoln and the new Chevrolet.
Bottom line – The Chrysler 300S is showing its age, and it isn’t the lightest dancer on the asphalt. But it still impresses with looks, content, room and V6 power, while its brakes and overall light-foot character need a bit of work.
Vehicle type: 4-door, 5-passenger, rear-wheel-drive, full-size sedan
Base price: $33,645 (As driven – same)
Engine type: Aluminum block DOHC 24-valve V6
Displacement: 3.6 L
Horsepower (net): 300 hp at 6,350 rpm
Torque (lb.-ft.): 264 at 5,800 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic w/paddle shifters
Wheelbase: 120.2 in.
Overall length: 198.6 in.
Overall width: 75 in.
Height: 58.7 in.
Front headroom: 36.9 in.
Front legroom: 41.8 in.
Rear headroom: 36.9 in.
Rear legroom: 40.1 in.
Cargo capacity: 16.3 cubic feet
Towing capacity: up to 1,000 lbs.
Curb weight: 4,029 pounds
Fuel capacity: 19.1 gallons
Mileage rating: 19 mpg city/ 31 mpg highway
Last word: Looks great, takes less filling and still moves out