2008 Chrysler 300C AWD Review
When a representative from Chrysler picked up the 300C AWD that I’d driven since last weekend, it was the first vehicle I’ve tested this year that I really think I’ll miss not driving every day. It was finally a vehicle that had substantially more luxury, comfort, and horsepower than the vehicles that my family owns personally. Not only did the car have nearly every convenience imaginable, but also had the well-known 5.7 liter Hemi V8 underhood.
The styling of the Chrysler 300C is instantly recognizable, and also polarizing. The designer of the 300C, Ralph Gilles, saw his stock at Chrysler rise so much as a result of the model’s initial success in the marketplace that he was promoted to Vice President – Jeep/Truck and Component Design, Chrysler Group. Although the 300C’s styling is polarizing, there are plenty of people who love the car’s shape, which can’t necessarily be said for some of Chrysler’s more recent products. The overhangs are fashionably short, and the fender bulges are a modern touch. The most apparent traits are the very high door sills and short windows, which give the car’s greenhouse almost the appearance of the turret of a tank. When I told friends who aren’t auto enthusiasts that I was driving a Chrysler 300C, they usually had no idea what I was talking about until I mentioned the squat windows and how it looked something like a 1930s gangster car. “Oh yeah, that one! Does it have a Hemi?”
The 300C has aged pretty well as it’s been on the market for several years; my belief is that the larger the wheels installed on this large car, the better-proportioned it looks. So, the 300C SRT8 with the 6.1 liter 425 horsepower/420 lb-ft monster with standard 20 inch wheels looks best, and the 300C’s standard 18-inch wheels look decent (particularly when chromed as my test car’s were), and the base 300’s 17 inch wheels don’t quite seem big enough for the car. If you want a 300C with the big 20 inch wheels without the insurance and fuel economy penalty of the SRT8 model, you can buy those wheels as part of the $2,673 SRT Design package, although it’s not available with the all wheel drive model.
My first impression of the 300C’s interior was extremely favorable. The word on the street for years has been that Chrysler built solid vehicles with sub-par interior materials and design. In fact, the 300C’s interior was attractive and seemed to have good material quality. After spending an afternoon riding in a Magnum R/T last summer, I suspected that the interior materials in the Chrysler LX vehicles were better than expected, and the 300C’s interior confirmed my suspicion. The dash was nicely padded, and the door panels – although harder than the dash – felt OK to the touch. The steering wheel had a section of fake wood at the top, which was actually decent (I’ve driven several Lexus automobiles with “wood” steering wheels, and they felt no more or less like real wood than this one did). However, the steering wheel was larger than I would have preferred. I prefer a smaller diameter wheel with a thick rim; the 300C’s was large diameter with a thin rim. Perhaps the wheel was just another throwback to a bygone era, as rear wheel drive (as most 300Cs are) V8-powered American cars are.
The interior of my light blue metallic test vehicle was trimmed in two-tone grey, with darker grey on the upper half of the dash and door panels, steering wheel, and console lid. The lower half of the dash and door panels and the seats were trimmed in the lighter grey. Overall, the look worked pretty well. Speaking of the seats, they were reasonably comfortable for several trips over one hour, but didn’t offer much lateral support. The back seat wasn’t as large as I would have expected; as you can see in the photo gallery linked at the end of this review, a rear facing convertible child seat is a tight fit, even when the seat in front of it is fairly far forward. Also, I couldn’t get ether of the rear seat safety belts to lock by pulling them all the way out, although the owner’s manual said doing that should do the trick.Sizable portions of the seats also appeared to be made of vinyl rather than leather. I found the rectangular shape of the center stack to be in line with the interior styling theme of most Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep vehicles I’ve seen, but at least it more or less works with the squared-off, broad shouldered exterior shape. Also, its silvery fake metallic finish was smooth, which I preferred to the flat silver metallic in the Lincoln MKZ AWD that I reviewed a few weeks ago.
The 300C that I spent time with included a navigation system, which was relatively easy to use in spite of not taking time to read the owner’s manual. It also featured both Sirius satellite radio (with Boston Acoustics speakers and a subwoofer) and Sirius Backseat TV. The backseat TV is a impressive idea technologically (the LCD display is hidden inside the center console lid), but only offers three channels, all of which are child-oriented: Nickelodeon, Disney, and the Cartoon Network. However, I’m not sure that it’s any better to have live TV broadcasts than to just play a DVD in the back seat (which the 300C can do). The reason is, most people today – and especially most young children – are not accustomed to waiting for a particular show to be on TV. Instead, their DVR records it and they watch it at their leisure, or they get it from their cable company’s On Demand feature. So, while I loved the idea of Sirius Backseat TV, every time I turned it on to see what was playing, it happened to not be one of the shows that we find appropriate for our two year old. Just bringing along a DVD or three of his favorite shows would have worked better, had we been inclined to allow him to watch videos in the car. (Our rule of thumb is that it has to be a two hour car ride before the screen is flipped open). This 300C was also equipped with Chrysler’s MyGIG hard disc system for storing media files. I didn’t have an opportunity to test MyGIG with a USB thumb drive or an audio CD (I will this week in the Chrysler Town & Country Limited I’m testing), but I can report that it unfortunately does not include an iPod interface like Ford’s SYNC system does. I plugged my iPod (3G video) into the USB port on the radio faceplate, and it knew that a USB device was connected, but could not find any music (there are over 2,500 songs on it) or photos (there are over 3,000 photos on it), but at least it could charge the iPod. There is a plain aux in jack below the USB connector on the front of the faceplate to connect an iPod, but forget about controlling it on the navigation screen or the steering wheel’s controls as you can in Ford products or any others with true iPod connectivity.
Ergonomically, the 300C was fine. All controls fell easily to hand and the instruments were easy to read. I only had two ergonimic complaints; one was that the dual-zone climate control’s temperature knobs showed temperature numbers around the dial, but did not have a readout anywhere indicating the set temperature for each zone. The other was that the trip computer (displayed between the speedometer and tachometer) was diffcult to navigate using the steering wheel buttons (and they are the only way to use the trip computer).
As expected, it’s a lot of fun to have a large, powerful V8 underfoot. The Hemi (rated at 340 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque) and its German-sourced five speed automatic transmission make a good team, with the latter willing to hold onto low gears even in automatic mode for a few seconds until it’s sure that you didn’t want to play any longer. Of course, it’s almost addicting to have that much power and torque underfoot, and if you’re like me, you’ll find yourself stabbing the go-fast pedal just for grins and giggles and to enjoy the sounds and thrust of the Hemi. I didn’t feel like the car was extraordinarily quick off the line (although it is something of a surreal experience to stomp on the gas pedal of a car that you know would obliterate its rear tires if it weren’t all wheel drive and you were trying the same trick; instead it just hops forward with zero wheelspin), but the transmission was willing to drop a few gears and the 300C felt like it had great midrange passing power.
The big kid wasn’t always excited to play on curvy roads. Hampered somewhat by the large steering wheel, not a lot of steering feedback, and a suspension tuned more for comfort than for sport, the 300C sometimes felt as if it were a bit floaty and insecure on quick back road jaunts. It doesn’t embarrass itself, but I don’t think it’s a car that is so capable that it can make a good driver great or an average driver good; the engine and even the brakes inspire a reasonable amount of confidence, but the steering and softer suspension remind you that you’re not driving a Lotus Elise. Oh, and by the way, it tips the scales at somewhere around two tons, so you’re really not driving an Elise.
Not surprisingly, the tiny greenhouse (at least relative to the size of the rest of the car) is more driven by form than function. As the driver, I never had much of an issue with visibility – and actually felt less of the “sitting in a bathtub” sensation than I felt with the MKZ a few weeks ago – but my wife was really bothered by the short windows when riding as a passenger. Also, our two year old in his booster seat had a lot of trouble seeing outside the car, even though he’s taller than most three year olds. Still, they are the car’s styling signature, and a 300C without a squat roof and high door sills would be like hacking the tail fins off of a 1959 Cadillac Eldorado.
The 5.7 liter Hemi in the 300C and Dodge Charger includes Chrysler’s MDS cylinder deactivation. I was skeptical about its real-world value, as a 2007 Suburban I’ve spent a lot of seat time in seems to only engage V4 mode in downhill situations with the driver’s foot off the gas, but in the 300C, it engaged pretty frequently, and with impressive results. The system could easily stay in four cylinder mode for all flat surface and downhill cruising, even at highway speeds. I could not feel any sensation when the system cycled between V8 and V4 modes, although the engine’s exhaust note sounded a little odd with only half of the cylinders firing. Still, it’s a small price for a solid economy improvement.
The previous paragraph about the MDS system was a perfect segue into a discussion about fuel economy in the 300C. People do not buy these cars if they are concerned about fuel economy. That being said, I found it much easier to exceed 20 miles per gallon in a V8 powered sedan that weighs two tons that I have in my experiences with a V8 powered SUV that weighs two and a half tons. Driving around 100 miles on a weekend trip with my family, without any stop and go traffic, the car returned about 21 miles per gallon, since it spent a good deal of time in four cylinder mode. I could have done even better, but it’s pretty tempting to have 390 lb-ft of torque at my disposal. Driving it during the subsequent several days in stop and go traffic, and therefore not in V4 mode, the economy sank to about 17 miles per gallon.
The EPA rates the 300C AWD at 15 city/22 highway, which seemed about right. The RWD model has the same city rating, but is rated at 23 mpg on the highway. Comparatively speaking, the MKZ AWD is rated at 17/24, although real world economy for the MKZ AWD in my experience was pretty much on par with the 300C AWD. Although the MKZ had an impressive interior, and was about $5,000 cheaper, I know which one I’d rather drive daily if I were doomed to get 17 mpg anyway – and it would be the one with a Hemi under the hood.
The base Chrysler 300 RWD starts at $25,325 and currently has a $2,000 rebate. Stepping up to the 300C RWD, the base price is $36,415 before a $3,000 rebate. The AWD model adds another $2,100, for a base price of $38,515. The major options include navigation with MyGIG for $1,240, upgraded Boston Acoustics sound system with subwoofer for $485, Protection Group (extra airbags, etc.) for $1,080, HID headlamps for $695, adaptive cruise control for $595, and power sunroof for $950. Excluding rebates, the 300C AWD tops out around $46,000. Although it is a good car with a ton of equipment, that price puts it in the neighborhood of some pretty stiff competition, such as entry level BMW 5-series and almost a Jaguar XF. Most people could probably live without HID lamps, adaptive cruise, Sirius Backseat TV, and MyGIG, which would chop the price to a more reasonable range.
I was impressed by the 300C. As alluded to earlier in this review, my high standards have so far prevented me from deciding that a vehicle I’ve tested for a week at a time is one I’d be willing to pony up my own money to buy, but the 300C was actually the closest I’ve yet come to really liking a vehicle that I have tested enough to almost miss it after it was picked up. The car packs a lot of technology and equipment under its skin; in spite of its relatively simple (yet, of course, very effective) overhead valve V8, gadgets such as an integrated hard disc for storing music, satellite TV, and adaptive cruise control almost make the 300C a car that has some internal conflicts. Is it an old-fashioned throwback to what American cars used to be, or is it a high-tech flagship for the Chrysler brand, combining raw American muscle with many modern amenities? Possibly it’s a combination of the two, but whatever it is, the 300C is probably the best vehicle sold by Chrysler right now, so that should be worth something.