2011 Chrysler 300

SAN DIEGO — What a difference a grille makes! No, that’s not a parody of a Dinah Washington song…it’s an initial reaction to the changes made to the 2011 Chrysler 300 Luxury Sedan.

Although the car has basically been in its current form since 2005, the changes — both major and subtle — have given the vehicle a new lease on life.

And it does start noticeably with the grille – that bears a familial resemblance to the other vehicles in the Chrysler brand. Happily for many, Chrysler has (finally) discontinued the controversial tic-tac-toe grille that was the front-end’s signature appearance.

Chrysler’s new flagship sedan’s powertrain has been simplified by offering two choices; an all-new 3.6L V-6 delivering 292 horsepower (an increase of 63% from the previous 2.7L V-6) and 260 pound-feet of torque (up 36%). Introduced just six months ago, the 3.6L Pentastar V-6 has already gained recognition as one of Ward’s Automotive “Ten Best” engines for 2011. It’s designed to run on 87 octane regular fuel and achieve 18 mpg city/27 mpg highway.

The other powerplant is the legendary 5.7L HEMI V-8 that delivers 363 horsepower and 394 pound-feet of torque. The innovative V-8 engine features Fuel Saver Technology that allows for seamless transition between smooth, high-fuel economy four-cylinder mode when less power is needed, and full V-8 mode when more power is demanded. Both engines are mated to a five-speed automatic transmission with Auto Stick.

The 2011 300 is extremely quiet – a testament to the work put in by the company’s NVH engineers. It’s a solid road car available in RWD or AWD. It comfortably seats five (2/3) and is available in four trim levels: 300, 300 Limited, 300C and 300C AWD. We drove the Limited (V-6) and the C (HEMI) and both performed well without exception. Quiet, easy handling and enough oomph to keep us happy – all the pieces needed to make a promising car.

Inside there’s a lot of new technology, like the segment’s largest standard touchscreen radio (8.4”) and state-of-the-art connectivity with Garmin navigation with some world-class functionality and Sirius Travel Link for real-time weather, fuel prices and more.

Beautiful blue and white instrument lighting is exceptionally easy on the eyes and very legible. Externally there’s great use of LED lighting both front and rear.

Many may question why Chrysler continued the same essential appearance (side by side the changes are readily apparent) of its top model and but a few miles behind the wheel and any comparison to “rehashed” iron is of no consequence. Throughout its entire line Chrysler has corrected and improved on everything that in reality should have been caught initially.  Now that it appears to have succeeded it has a solid base from which to start anew. The 2011 Chrysler 300 is an elegant way to begin.

— Al Vinikour