2015 Chrysler 300C: The best gets better — Preview / Test Drive

While it's still a handsome car, the 300's look, once dramatic, is becoming dated. Yes, the 2015 version is visibly different from the car introduced in 2004, but all of the 300's competitors have had more extensive facelifts since then.

300S

Still, as one Chrysler manager noted, there's no pressing need to fix what isn't broken. Between the 300 and the Dodge Charger, FCA owns 28% of the non-premium large car market — a large share of a segment that is shrinking.

dodge charger and chrysler 300 sales

The 300 was presented in a Texas gathering of Chrysler (FCA US LLC) executives and the media, and the presentation of the 300 was the first order of business. We were introduced to the various changes for the 2015 version: a few new trim pieces, reshaped taillights, and some interior tweaks highlight the latest iteration of Ralph Gilles' 2001 design concept. A new upscale version, the Platinum, features fine leather and real wood trim. The big changes lie under the skin, with the 8-speed transmission now coming standard with the 5.7-liter Hemi engine, instead of being restricted to the V6.

large car market shareFor our test drive, I got a very well equipped Chrysler 300C with all-wheel drive, which was good because my previous experiences with the 300 have been the 300S with the Pentastar V-6.

The first part of the trip was mostly spent admiring how well the 300C idles. The folks in Austin have mastered the art of creating gridlock with fewer vehicles than any city of which I am aware.

Once free of the traffic jams, we ventured out to Farm Road 2222, which is a wonderfully twisty road that meanders through the hills west of the downtown area. Traffic lights and traffic in general have spoiled what used to be a driver's delight when I lived in Austin some 30 years ago, but it's still a scenic route.

Thanks to Chrysler's excellent sound system and easy-to-use Uconnect interface, I was able to enjoy some good jazz while motoring through the countryside.

The 5.7-liter Hemi V8 provided plenty of power, and the 8-speed transmission had little trouble keeping the car in the right gear, but I have to say I would prefer either the Pentastar V-6 or the 6.4-liter Hemi from the sadly discontinued (for now) SRT. The V-6/8-speed combination is so smooth that it makes the 300 a cruiser difficult to match. For sheer stomp-everything power, nothing short of a Charger Hellcat is going to best the 392 in full roar.

tail-lights

The 300C was quiet and handled well. It's a far cry from the big boats of ancient times that used to wallow through the curves. The Chrysler seems taut and in control: except for one thing….

The drive was my first encounter with Chrysler's Lane Departure Warning Plus (LDW+) system. I can't say whether I like LDW+ any more than I like GM's “butt-buzz” vibration-in-the-seat warning. I can understand the need, but I am not so sure that the state-of-the-art is ready with a real solution that can identify if the driver is distracted or fatigued or is simply changing lanes or clipping the apex while taking a curve.

When it kicks in, the LDW+ system feels like the world's worst case of torque steer and I can see the potential for trouble if a driver is unfamiliar with it or is surprised by it. Other writers with whom I spoke had similar opinions. [Count in the editor.] The folks from Chrysler at the presentation didn't tell us about adjustments, if that says anything. Maybe it might be better to simply have a recording of R. Lee Ermey (“Gunny”) yelling, “You're drifting, numbskull!”

300S

It's not difficult to override the system and I was able to put the 300C through its paces through some nice curves on the route back into town.

The worst thing about events like this is that the number of people who need to get seat time and the limited amount of time available on the schedule don't allow for some serious one-on-one enjoyment.

A car like the 300C is something to be savored and stretched to its limits (while observing all traffic laws). I've driven several of the 300C's competitors, and they are very nice, indeed, but the 300 is fully the equal of any of them and better than most. Having driven a few thousand miles in a 300S, I consider it to be the best highway cruiser in its class. It's roomy, comfortable and can be equipped up to true luxury levels. Uconnect is still unequaled as an infotainment interface and the available Beats sound system.

awd

Other than the LDW+ system, my only real gripe with the 300 is the placement of the USB connectors. The plugs are on the back wall of the console bin and they are a real pain in the patoot to use unless your right arm is jointed in three or more places or your left arm is somewhat longer than normal. I mentioned this to Chris Benjamin, the chief designer for Chrysler interiors, and apparently he didn't think this was a problem.

The easy solution is to squirm awkwardly once, connect the cable, and leave it plugged in. That way, the next time you want to use your iPod or other MP3 player, the connector is handy. [The option the editor usually uses is simply plugging in a 64 GB USB drive containing all his music. Adding music does require that effort.]

Since both the LDW+ system and the USB are issues with simple resolutions, there really isn't anything that would keep me from buying a Chrysler 300 if I wanted a large family sedan. It's still the class of the class in full-size cars.

Note: The Chrysler 300s we drove in Austin were all pre-production models. There may be some differences between these cars and those that will shipped to dealers. Nothing to worry about: the cars that will be sold will likely be even better than the ones we enjoyed.

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