Chrysler’s 2005 300C sees the return of the big American sedan

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Chrysler has stirred up an unlikely but tasty automotive stew. Just ask the people who are standing in line willing to pay sticker price for the all-new Chrysler 300 and 300C in an age when rebates, no-interest loans and cut-to-the-bone prices are business as usual.

The boxy sedan with the in-your-face grille and a chop-top look has people all agape.
If you would have offered an idea for a full-sized rear-wheel drive sedan of such blocky proportions a couple of years ago, you probably would have been administered a sanity test.

This is the self-proclaimed “year of the car” at Ford. And it’s the first year of General Motors’ much ballyhooed car revival.

But it’s the Chrysler division of DaimlerChrysler that has actually stolen the thunder from its rivals this year with the 300 sedan and its stablemate, the Dodge Magnum wagon.

And this car isn’t just about looking good. The 300 is the real deal. It’s well built, quiet, lavished in premium materials and loaded, and we mean loaded, especially with performance in the V-8 300C version.

The surprising substance found in the 300 has more than a little to do with the infusion of Mercedes pieces and technology.

At long last we are seeing the practical fruits of the merger between Daimler-Benz and
Chrysler. It took a few years, but the initial results are breathtaking.

We drove the 300C Hemi for a week and we were impressed. Inside the 300 you get more of a feeling of Lexus or perhaps a Mercedes, as the case may be, than of Chrysler. And that’s a good thing.

No, the Chrysler 300C is not a Mercedes. But Mercedes parts and technology, mostly from the E-Class, can be found throughout the sedan. The aluminum five-link rear suspension, the 5-speed automatic transmission in the Hemi version, the gear-shift lever and the tilt-telescoping steering wheel all came from the German portion of DaimlerChrysler. Mercedes owners may also be instantly familiar with the cruise control stalk. It also comes straight from the Mercedes parts bin.

But what is truly all-American, and directly from the big-car era of the mid 20th century is the long hood, the big-car feel and ride and the ample amount of rear-seat legroom.

The 300s are a 180 degree move away from the short hood cab-forward design championed by Chrysler in the 1990s.

The 300 is actually shorter than it looks, an inch shorter even than the 300M and nearly a foot shorter than the Concorde, two vehicles it replaces.

It is nearly a foot-and-a-half shorter than the big Ford rear-drive sedans, the Crown Vic and Mercury Grand Marquis. But it looks as big, it feels as big and it has as much space inside as those sedans because of a wheelbase stretched to 120 inches.

For one thing the big egg-crate Chrysler-style grille, the large expanse of sheetmetal under “pinched” windows and the thickset rear-end give the sedan a hefty, well-planted look.

The fact that it has caught the imagination of the public is somewhat startling because it can be argued that the 300 is homely. Fortunately, for Chrysler, not many people have that opinion.

One son, a true truck guy, on seeing the 300 for the first time last week was full of admiration. “It looks like one of those gangster cars out of the old movies,” he said. “I love it.”

The interior is straight forward, but attractive in leather and aluminum accents on the center stack and with chrome rings on the dashboard gauges. The switchgear is ergonomically sound.

The Chrysler 300 comes in four trim levels and with three engine choices. The base sedan is outfitted with a 200-horsepower 2.7-liter V-6. The upgraded Touring and the Limited versions come with a 250-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6. And the big dog, the 300C, comes with the vaunted 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 generating a neck-snapping 340 horsepower. (The planned SRT-8 will show up with over 400 horses when produced).

Trim levels start at $23,290 move up to $27,720, $30,530 and $32,995 for the C.

We have driven the 250-horsepower engine in the 300’s sibling, the Dodge Magnum, and found it very efficient. But, although we haven’t driven the smaller engine, we recommend biting the bullet and paying a little extra for the bigger V-6 which comes in both the Touring and Limited trim levels. But there simply is nothing in the big-sedan ranks that can touch the Hemi V-8 for performance and real automotive drama.

Push the pedal of the V-8 into the carpet and the sedan leaps ahead with a vengeance.
Your unsuspecting rear-seat passengers will think they are on a Disney thrill ride. This is not your daddy’s Lexus LS430 although you might think so in the solitude of the whisper-quiet interior under normal driving conditions.

But at full throttle the V-8 growls to life and sends the two-ton sedan to 60 miles per hour in a scant 5.3 seconds as measured by a major automobile magazine. Holy cow, that’s serious sports car territory.

The big beast drops off some through a quarter mile, but 13.9 seconds at 102 miles per hour is not shabby in anybody’s book.

Now here’s the good part. The V-8 has been endowed with what Chrysler calls a Multi Displacement System; a cylinder shutoff feature that officials say boosts fuel economy by 10 percent.

At light throttle at any speed between 15 and 82 miles per hour, a bank of four cylinders cuts off. When that happens, the 300C is effectively running on a 4-cylinder engine.

We found the system entirely seamless. Hit the accelerator and the car leaps. There’s no way you would know you’ve got this feature without reading about it. It allows the V-8 to garner an EPA rating of 17 miles per gallon city and 25 highway. This is accomplished on mid-grade 89-octane gas.

The 5-speed automatic shifter runs through the gears imperceptibly and when a downshift is ordered it arrives without hesitation.

Although Chrysler does not currently offer a sport suspension (they may offer one down the road), the big sedan acquits itself well on the twists and turns of back road America.
But while the 300C can be measured by sport car standards in straight-ahead performance, don’t get too frisky on the curves just out of respect for its ample weight.

While some may consider the interior setup utilitarian, we found it simple but handsome. Fit and finish is excellent and materials are first class. The use of the aluminum trim in the center stack is well done. Little flourishes such as an analog clock are a nice touch.

Rear-seat passengers are afforded comfortable seats, reading lights, storage pockets in the seatbacks and air conditioning vents. And the seatbacks fold down in a 60-40 split making the 300 practical for hauling stuff as well as passengers.
All 300 models get four-wheel disc brakes, air conditioning, a power driver’s seat, stereo with CD player, cruise control and tilt/telescoping steering wheel.
Move up the trim level ladder and more good stuff is standard. For instance the Touring, which might be the value leader of the group, adds the bigger V-6, alloy wheels, ABS, leather seating and stability control with Brake Assist.

The C has virtually everything available as standard equipment with the exception of navigation, side curtain airbags, high intensity headlights, a knock-you-dead 380-watt sound stereo system and adjustable pedals.

Standard on the C includes such items as 18-inch wheels, a 288-watt Boston Acoustics stereo with 6-disc in-dash changer, dual exhaust tips, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, one-touch up-down windows and an information center. A footnote – all wheel drive will be available on the 300 beginning this fall.

Our test car came with the astounding top-of-the-line stereo and satellite-ready radio. It brought the bottom line to $33,855.

Chrysler-built vehicles come with a 7-year or 70,000 mile powertrain warranty and that goes for the 300 and 300C as well.
The 300C is a wonderful example of a truly modern version of the big American sedan of yesteryear. Very appealing; indeed.