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2011 Chrysler 300C car reviews / road tests

car review

This review really should have been easier to write. It’s the second generation of a car, equipped with the same V8 and transmission as the first; and it’s a brand-differentiated sibling of a car we just had last week, the Dodge Charger R/T. But the 300C is surprisingly different from both its predecessor and its sibling, so this won’t be as easy as copying last week’s review and replacing the word "Charger" with "300C."

For one thing, the appearance is completely different, inside and out. The 300C has gone upscale, in a big way. Outside, ignoring the extra chrome and other details, the lights are visibly more costly, with LEDs surrounding the headlights; the tail-lamps have more detail, with separate shapes for running lights and brakes/turn signals, all encased in a plastic shell to avoid wear on chromed parts.

front seats

Inside, gauges are covered by a large leather-covered brow, matching the textured plastics; chrome sets off various elements and prevents the “huge mass of plastic” effect. Most “touch” surfaces have been softened, and being a 300C, our car had a solid “wood style” steering wheel top element and smoothly leather-covered bottom element. Visible stitching on the doors and various other surfaces fit the current fashion; while inserts, silver, and chrome on the doors prevent them from a cheap look. The leather seats were all perforated, front and back, for comfort, and the back seats were nearly as detailed as the fronts. The rear seats seem more spacious, with more legroom, than the prior generation — an illusion, perhaps? They provided good support, for rear seats.

In short, in both front and back seats, the 300C looks far, far better than it did in the past generation, and can now easily compete with other cars in its price range for interior appeal.

rear seats

Looks aren’t the whole story. Take the 300C on the road, and while the ride is very similar to the Dodge Charger, the interior seems quieter (among other things, the Chrysler has an acoustic windshield), and the powertrain is more luxury-tuned. We had both cars with the Hemi and all wheel drive, back to back; and while both stick to the road like glue, allowing for full power to be applied in situations that would turn many RWD cars into smoking wrecks, the 300C was clearly different. The Charger would snap your neck back with little provocation; the 300C seemed gentler, more restrained. It provided gobs of power, yes, but more gently — presumably the torque management was turned way up.

The powertrain in the 300C moved the car with authority, allowing very easy but also very quick acceleration around town and on the highway. But while flooring the gas at just about any speed in the Charger resulted in an instant-on power charge and a hard downshift, the 300C seemed to spool up a little more gently, and the transmission certainly downshifted with much less fuss. The 300C did not seem slower or weaker, but it was certainly gentler.

As with the Charger, the 300C is a full sized car, so there is no cramped cockpit or back seat; you can sit upright, and your head will not come near the roof; you can store things in the trunk; and you can put three people into the back seat. The engine is quiet at idle, and the va-VOOM when you hammer the throttle down is more restrained and muffled than with the Charger.

headlights

The ride is well cushioned, and smooths broken cement roads and such with no noise but with some minor jiggling. It’s a moderately firm but very shock-absorbing ride, not full-luxury but not sports-coupe either. The impression of speed is reduced by the high level of sound insulation, effortless power, and steady feel; cruising at highway speeds almost feels like crawling. If there aren’t other cars on the road going the speed limit, 80 will feel like 40.

The car feels heavy, but not ponderous, and not nearly as heavy as the previous version felt (it is, in fact, heavier now). Changes to the suspension improved both feel and actual cornering; you can fly through curves at absurd speeds, and for good measure stomp on the gas halfway through [do not consider this a recommendation to engage in foolish stunts]. The 300C doesn’t leap forward so much as it calmly gains speed; leaping is left to the Charger.

Stability control is there to rescue you from wet pavement, patches of ice or sand, and extremely foolhardy decisions, but a typical driver will never feel it working. With the all wheel drive, most people will probably never encounter stability control; it takes a lot to make it kick in.

The transmission was part of the background, shifting smoothly and quickly, kicking down rapidly when needed for passing power, and generally acting as we would in its place. Those who prefer manual overrides can use the AutoStick system, which is oddly set up as a lateral motion (right goes up a gear, left drops down).

It's an achievement for a car this big to ride this well and yet take turns as sharp, and as quickly, as it does, with nary a squeal from the tires. What's more, parking is made fairly easy by an absurdly tight turning radius — the big car doesn't take nearly as much space to turn as you'd think.

Seat comfort was mixed — one driver liked them, one didn’t; they are at least highly adjustable even if they still have not gotten back to the “sink into support” of the 300M. For added storage, you can easily fold down the rear seats (in a 2/3 arrangement so you can still have on or two passengers with a single long object sticking out from the capacious trunk). More storage is in the two-level glove compartment, made more useful by the redaction of the owner’s manual into an easily read highlights book and a USB thumb drive for the usually-ignored bulk of the book. (There are also iPhone apps and such.)

One handy addition is remote access to the windows; click Unlock, then hold it down, and the front windows both roll down until you release the Unlock button on the remote. You can do it from your office on the way out to the parking lot, or from your house on the way to the car.

gauges

The gauge cluster is unusual, hearkening back to the electroluminiscent displays of Chryslers from long ago, and drop-dead gorgeous, day or night. We’d find the speedometer a lot easier to use if it didn’t go up to 160 mph, cramming the all important 70-80 mph zone into a very small space with two many hashmarks; likewise, the tachometer probably doesn’t need to go up to 7,000 rpm when redline is around 5,600 rpm (electronically limited). Those who use the gauges as visual cues may think they’re not accelerating as fast as they are, with such small sweeps in the legal range (the entire legal region, 0-65, is confined to around 1/3 of the speedometer gauge circle).

On the lighter side, the gauges are both very attractive, as are the gasoline and temperature sub-gauges; more information is available via the center status display, which, by default, shows status messages, the outside temperature, compass heading, and odometer. The PRNDL, below, shows the current gear in red, and if you use the electronic range select née AutoStick, it gives you the gear number. Backlighting is used on just about every control and button and dial, a return from the absurd cost cutting of the past. The headlight switch (in its traditional on-dash location) provides a choice of off, automatic, parking lights, and headlights, with push-for-fogs, the rheostats (one for the dashboard, one for the other interior lights) sit right next to it.

climate and stereo

Climate controls are clustered together between the stereo knobs, underneath the large screen in the center of the car. There are physical buttons for temperature (driver and passenger sides), a/c, recirculate, automatic, and defrost, and a knob for the fan speed; if you want to change the vents or turn on the seat-warmers or steering wheel warmer, you'll need to use the touch screen. Amusingly, that's not true for the stereo — which has real knobs for both volume and tune/scroll, and steering wheel buttons for volume, tune, and mode. Between them, you can do most everything but change the bass/treble and balance.

The cruise control is back on the steering wheel, on the right; the trip computer controls are on the left. If you have them, the voice command button is on the left, and the laser-based distance-sensitive cruise control is on the right.

steering wheel

Numerous little touches make life easier —  like having the navigation system provide turn by turn directions in the status panel between the speedo and tach as well as on the big screen; and showing the park assist in the dash. The big screen also allows drivers to set numerous preferences, turning on or tuning safety and convenience features including the blind spot and cross path detection, automatic locking and lights, and such. It’s easier to use this system than the past EVIC control, which was easier than turning the key three times while pressing unlock and whistling a show tune.

Our test car had lights for the door handles and map pockets, which were dim enough to be ignored, but light enough to be useful.

One feature which I personally am not fond of, but which many like, is the keyless ignition and locks. Press the underside of the driver's door, and if your keys are in your pocket, it will unlock; press the underside of the passenger door, and all the doors unlock. The trunk has no physical key, but the fob button will pop it open (all the way) and so will a button inside, lined with chrome (as is the gas cap cover -- hurray, a Chrysler with a locking gas cap!) Once inside, a starter button takes the place of the ignition switch. Unlike most cars, the Chrysler both gives you directions (on the status display) and tells you what mode the car is in — off, accessory, and run — with lights above the switch. That's a good addition to an option I'd just as soon do without.

status displayAnother minor but useful example of forethought is the cruise control. Most cars tell you when the system is on, or when a speed is locked in; the 300C has little icons for on, locked, and “distance sensitive.” 

Standard on these cars is the status area between the speedometer and tachometer. Dubbed the Vehicle Information Center (VIC), this display always shows the compass heading and outside temperature; if the car is warmed up, it'll also show you when you're running on four cylinder mode (by flashing the word “ECO.”) You can decide what else it will show - your current speed, for example. The user interface is a little clumsy but it works well overall.

The VIC display can show the usual gas mileage, average speed, etc.; or it can show interesting data such as oil temperature, antifreeze temperature, transmission fluid temperature, and whether the car is in RWD or AWD. It would be nice if there was a “multiple info” mode which showed more than one of these at a time, since there’s room for it; or if the system could alternate among several metrics; or if you could show the the same information in the huge center screen, at the top of the well-styled center stack (which avoids looking like a stack, with squarish-oval trim around the big screen, the climate/stereo controls set into a panel below, and a small, subtle covered storage bin underneath.

large screen controls

The center screen is also handy for the rear camera, which provides a panoramic view of what's behind you, now including a boosted color image at night. This isn't just handy for backing into spaces; you can also make sure you're not blocking a driveway when in tight spots. The screen also includes the heated seat controls — which show up by default when the system is booted, on the screen that asks you to agree not to be distracted while driving. There are no physical heated-seat buttons (except for the rear seats) but in this case that's probably okay, since you can turn them on as soon as you've started the car.

Above, the Charger had the usual panoply of dome and map lights, along with a drop-down sunglass/eyeglass holder and the universal garage door opener buttons.

Gadgets, gizmos, and safety devices

Rear cross path detection and blind-spot detection, both of which can be shut off, alert the driver to potential hazards with yellow lights in the mirrors and audible alerts. While you can twist and turn to see around the blind spots, notably the big rear pillar, these systems, annoying as they sometimes are, can be helpful; it only takes one prevented collision for them to pay off. We tested these out in a busy parking lot, and they are surprisingly sensitive, able to spot cars before the driver does. The blind-spot detection works all the time, activating a yellow light in the mirror when a car is there, but only sounds when you put on your turn signal. Rear cross path detection is activated when you shift into neutral (that can, optionally, also turn the mirrors down for parking ease); it is supplemented on 300C by default with a rear-view camera, and with the Safety-Tec package, by the parking distance sensor.

lights

The “adaptive cruise control” system uses radar to figure out how far away the car in front is; that system also provides the forward collision warning. Chrysler’s implementation allows the driver to choose the distance from the car in front, with three settings which we can call “metro highways,” “Midwestern highways,” and “long, mostly empty stretches between cities.” The shortest setting provided a safe distance but didn’t invite people to cut in; the other settings were a bit long for areas where drivers are rude or impatient. The system worked well, apparently allowing some “fudge factor” when the car in front slowed down, and providing for brisk but not jarring acceleration when the obstacle in front was cleared (by either the 300C or the other car changing lanes). The system worked predictably and well.

The rain-sensitive wipers were a bit odd since there was no clear setting for automatic mode, but they did their job well enough. The rear sunshade, standard now on 300C, is handy for protecting rear occupants from the sun, keeping the interior from baking, and supplementing the automatic day/night mirror when needed.

SmartBeam headlamps, used with either halogens or HID headlights, adjust to ambient light and oncoming traffic; every time the car is started, the headlights do a little dance, whether to initialize or to show off. The SmartBeam camear is mounted on the rear view mirror, and the windshield in front of it needs to be kept clean.

Chrysler 300C

Standard luxury features include the vehicle information center, remote start, eight-way power front seats with four-way lumbar adjustment, heated/ventilated leather front seats, heated leather back seats, dual-zone automatic air conditioning with humidity sensor, 8.4 inch touch screen, remote USB and audio ports, 276-watt amp with six speakers sand satellite radio, voice command, cell phone connection, auto-dimming rear view mirror, leather-wrap-and-wood heated steering wheel, power rear sunshade, capless fuel filler, rain-sensitive wipers, power pedals, and power tilt/telescope steering column. Standard tires are P235/55R19 all-seasons.

You can also put all the windows down remotely, and the two-driver memory system covers the seats, steering wheel, pedals, mirrors, and radio.

The SafetyTec package was the only option on our car, and it added $2,795 to the price (ending up at $43,940 as tested). For that, we got foldaway mirrors with integrated turn signals, HID headlamps with automatic levelling and tightly focused beams, rear fog lamps, forward collision warning, rear parking assist, blind spot and cross path detection, and adaptive (distance sensitive) cruise. Outfitted similarly to the Dodge we had last week, the 300C was around the same price; but it comes by default with more standard equipment.

Chrysler 300C stereo and navigation system

Our test car included an auxiliary radio and USB jack, along with a power jack, in the center console; all were backlight, and the aux/USB jack had a clear plastic cover to prevent rubbish from falling in. Above that was a removeable change tray, which also had an iPod-sized indentation (with enough room for an iPod Classic and its docking cord).

If you don’t have an iPod, or don’t want to subject it to car rides, you can also load up a huge amount of music onto an SD card and plug that right into the center stack. Given how large and cheap SD cards are, that’s a great option — probably better than using an iPod. There are only two gotchas — it can’t play iTunes Store AACs, though it can play “DIY” AACs (which is a step forward); and if you use a Mac, you have to use a utility (or Terminal) to get rid of all those empty resource-fork files. Neither problem is hard to address, though getting rid of iTunes Store DRM is a nuisance — burn the music to (virtual) CDs, then convert it back in again as “free and easy” AACs. (But keep the originals because conversion degrades sound quality a bit — maybe not enough to notice.) We were surprised at how well the system took a bunch of tunes deliberately not stored in folders, and sorted them by artist and by album.

Our car had a standard Alpine stereo unit (part of the 300C package), and it was quite good — we tried it with a range of music that is highly dependent on having a quality audio system, including Bachman & Turner and Devo's Something for Everyone, along with classical, pop, and regular ol' whatever's-on-satellite-radio. All came through with flying colors; clarity is quite good and a marked improvement from the 2010s.

sd card

The iPod control worked well with our iPod Classic and but was faster with an iPod Nano and Touch. It took a long time for the Classic and stereo to get along the first time; Jim Z pointed out that the iPod Classic has to spin up its hard drive, flush its internal cache, and load the data, while the Touch and Nano have no “seek” time delays. It took no time at all to link with an iPod Touch; we did have an issue with the Touch where it wanted to remain in Shuffle mode and wouldn’t let us browse except at rare and apparently random intervals. This might be a bug in our first-gen Touch rather than the system itself. Certainly, it worked flawlessly from the SD card.

The system allows browsing of the iPod through the touch screen, showing the names of artists or albums, and even showing cover art (where you have it). You can also move to the next or prior song by using the physical tuning knob, which is a big deal for safe driving; however, you can't set the tone, balance, or fade without going through touch screen gyrations.

By default, once music is playing, the stereo shows the audio screen with the map display inside; the screen is large enough to get away with that, the map ending up about as big as it would be in the old Pacifica's display, or on a portable nav system. navigation system

Yes, this photo is from the Dodge Charger, which has a nearly identical system but with red highlights.

The optional Garmin navigation system was a wonder — it was the fastest nav system we’ve ever used, taking input as fast as we could type and adapting very quickly when we ignored its advice. All the usual geegaws were in place, though compass heading was supplied by the gauge cluster display rather than being shown on the screen, and the map always defaulted to the same zoom level regardless of where we’d set it last time. Directions were generally accurate.

Words were large and easy to read, and most parts of the screen were “clickable” — putting our finger on the current speed and speed limit (available for most main roads, and turning our speed red when we went “too fast”), for example, gave us a full distance to destination in miles and minutes, along with the compass heading, elevation, maximum speed, etc. (We would have liked a preference for keeping the zoom setting tighter, and one for providing more latitude between the speed limit and the red print, though we can see that lawyers would have a field day with that.)

Chrysler 300C: summary

Overall, the Chrysler 300C is a great package at a good price. With the Hemi engine, you get strong acceleration, handled with velvet gloves in the Chrysler (and with a heavy wrench in the Dodge); with AWD, it comes with increased control, and thanks to an automatically disconnecting front axle, that control has but a small price to pay in gas mileage.

On the highway, gas mileage is nothing to brag about, at 23 mpg (we actually experienced 26 mpg at higher than usual highway speeds). City cycle is far worse, with EPA rating the car at 15 mpg; take short trips and it could be worse, because the four-cylinder mode only comes when the engine is warm. The EPA rates the 300C at 16/25 with rear wheel drive, and 15/23 with AWD, despite the clever auto-disconnecting front axle. The 2011 V6 models came in at 18 city, 27 highway; the 2012 V6 eight-speeds clocked a more impressive 21 city, 31 mpg highway, with far better acceleration than the five-speeds.

chrysler car

The 2011 Chrysler 300C AWD started at $41,205, which is around $8,000 more than the Charger. That price includes the Hemi engine and a five-speed automatic transmission. Standard safety features include the backup camera, SmartBeam headlamps, side curtain airbags for front and rear, front seat airbags, reactive head restraints, stability and traction control, four wheel antilock disc brakes, hill-start hold, fog lamps, tire pressure monitoring, and knee airbag.

Standard luxury features include the vehicle information center, remote start, eight-way power front seats with four-way lumbar adjustment, heated/ventilated leather front seats, heated leather back seats, dual-zone automatic air conditioning with humidity sensor, 8.4 inch touch screen, remote USB and audio ports, 276-watt amp with six speakers sand satellite radio, voice command, cell phone connection, auto-dimming rear view mirror, leather-wrap-and-wood heated steering wheel, power rear sunshade, capless fuel filler, rain-sensitive wipers, power pedals, and power tilt/telescope steering column. Standard tires are P235/55R19 all-seasons.

You can also put all the windows down remotely, and the two-driver memory system covers the seats, steering wheel, pedals, mirrors, and radio.

review photo

The SafetyTec package was the only option on our car, and it added $2,795 to the price (ending up at $43,940 as tested). For that, we got foldaway mirrors with integrated turn signals, HID headlamps with automatic levelling and tightly focused beams, rear fog lamps, forward collision warning, rear parking assist, blind spot and cross path detection, and adaptive (distance sensitive) cruise. Outfitted similarly to the Dodge we had last week, the 300C was around the same price; but it comes by default with more standard equipment.

The car has a five year, 100,000 mile powertrain warranty and a three year, 36,000 mile basic warranty; 24 hour towing is included. The 300C is now 73% American and Canadian (up from 70%), and is built in Ontario; the engine hails from Mexico, the transmission from the United States. (V6 models get either American or Mexican engines).

As far as complaints, most are minor. Visibility could be better, especially in the 3/4 view where the large pillar gets in the way; it’d be nice to have a standard ignition switch option; and the gauges have too small an active area, with too much space for places most people never go. That said, the beancounters were kept far away from this car. This car doesn’t scream value, which would be out of character, but it is certainly solid, very likeable, and one of the very few that might end up in our garage eventually.

Also see 2011 Dodge Charger: finally a 300M replacement, our 2011 Charger review, and the first generation 300C.

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