LX in Snow: Pushing the Chrysler 300C and Dodge Magnum RT in bad weather

Chrysler 300 Limited car review

The Chrysler 300 and Dodge Magnum - otherwise known as the "LX cars" - were designed to perform well with a standard suspension, but were also given a standard stability control in the Limited/SXT and 300C/RT models. The end result is a well-balanced car with unusually good grip - but, since rear wheel drive is standard, many may wonder how well they can perform on slippery roads. During an afternoon with 300Cs and Magnum RTs at an impromptu test track, complete with ice, water, and snow, we found out just how well the LX works, both with and without the active suspension.

Dodge Magnum RT rear wheel drive handling in snow

First, a professional driver took a rear wheel drive 300C around the course, starting in the ice - which was shovelled onto a plastic tarp, rather than being a sheer sheet which no car could keep traction on - with a 90 degree turn to the right. He then brought us through the snow, hitting the gas, and on to the skidpad before a high-speed lane-change. He did this twice, the first time without the electronic systems, and the second time with them.

Even without the electronic systems, the 300C performed very well around the skidpad and on the lane-change exercise. With the systems, it was even better, easily handling the snow, and going slower, but without any loss of traction, in the skidpad; the lane-change felt better and more controlled, as well.

My first experience behind the wheel was typical but not admirable. I did, in short, what most of the other journalists did - hit the gas and spun the wheel to the side, an action which is guaranteed on just about any torquey rear drive car to result in a nice spin, which is exactly what we got (by the way, we did this in a Corvette to see if there was any way to knock it off balance - and, yes, that will do it). Once I got the car back in the right direction, I headed off, found that it took off nicely from the snow - albeit with wheelspin - and got a respectable speed on the skidpad that would not challenge any pro or semipro driver. The 300C felt surprisingly stable in the lane change, even with the enormous torque of the 5.7 Hemi being applied as I stomped on the gas.

Dodge Magnum rear wheel drive car plows through the snow

The next round was with the electronics on, and I did the exact same thing on the first turn. The pro driver noted that the system still had to obey the laws of physics, a sobering thought which probably occured to large numbers of SUV owners as they tried to figure out how to get right-side-up and out of the ditch during their first snowfall.

The driver also coached me on something that the Chrysler engineers had mentioned - that the system did not simply come in and try to keep the car on the road, but tried to figure out what the driver wanted to do and then help the driver to do it. In short, if you spin the wheel to the side and then stomp on the gas, the system will sit around and watch you go out of control. If, on the other hand, you make a gentle steering adjustment, the computer will think, "Aha! He wants to move from a 28 degree angle to a 26 degree angle!" and will work with the throttle and brakes to make it happen. We experimented with it later, and it really did seem to respond to driver input more than anything else - a nice system. Of course, Mercedes uses the same system, though other reviewers have generally found nice things to say about the LX in comparison with the smaller and pricier E-Class.

Dodge Magnum in icy waterEvery time I managed to knock the 300C off kilter, which, by the way, is pretty easy to do when you're driving very badly and irresponsibly and whalloping the gas pedal while swinging the wheel sharply on wet roads, simply backing off of the gas and turning the wheel slightly would bring it right back under control. This worked even without the stability control - at least, with the system shut off (it still activates, more subtly, when it senses dire emergency). The sole exceptions were those floor-it-while-turning-from-a-start moves on the ice, which had it going around in a circle. Treat that Hemi with respect.

The LX works in two main ways: when it senses understeer, it hits the inside rear brake and might cut power; when it senses oversteer, it hits the outside front brake, and might reduce power. The stability control measures the steering angle, yaw, and lateral acceleration, the former to see what the driver wants, the latter two to see what the car is actually doing.

The all wheel drive models behave in a rather similar way - they have a fixed power ratio, putting 62% of their power to the rear wheels and just 38% to the front. You can get a Magnum RT or 300C with the all wheel drive to go out of control in much the same way as a 300C, and you can get them back under control just as easily. The added stability from the all wheel drive is countered to a small degree by the higher center of gravity: an extra inch of height was added to make room for the front half-shafts and rails. Taken largely from the Mercedes C, S, and E Class, the all wheel drive system is an on-road package, okay for dirt tracks and "light" off-roading, tuned to make it feel like rear wheel drive. A single front ball joint and control arm are used instead of double arms and joints to have half shafts. All all wheel drive models are made with upgraded brakes, a five-speed automatic, and more, so that it costs $1,300 to $2,000 depending on the model (and how much equipment they already had).

We were amazed at the grip of the all wheel drive Magnum in the hands of a different professional driver: the car moved around the skidpad so fast it seemed to be leaning at a 25 degree angle, yet it stayed pointed where the driver wanted it to go, without the stability control. That control slowed her down considerably on the skidpad, but she still made surprisingly good time, but without the sounds of tortured tires. Again, it seemed to be able to handle ice and snow quite well, but more impressive was its ability to stay planted firmly on the ground no matter how bad the driving it had to endure. That's saying a lot for a big sedan with a 340 horsepower engine generating 365 lb-ft of torque.

The final demonstration was the driveway test: a steel ramp was put up at a fairly steep angle, and snow was piled on the right half of it. A rear wheel drive - not even all wheel drive - Magnum RT was driven to the bottom. The Magnum went up the ramp, slowly, but it went up just the same. Our Fury would never have made it.

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