By now most of you have seen or heard of DaimlerChrysler’s new line up of vehicles, most notable is the all new Chrysler 300. I was quite skeptical when word of these vehicles began leaking out at the 2004 Detroit Auto Show. What a mistake it was to underestimate this car, which was developed with help from Mercedes Benz. The 300 and the HEMI powered 300C are Chrysler’s first rear-wheel-drive cars in a long while and since their introduction, the motoring public have embraced them.
I have had several discussions with some top executives at DaimlerChrysler regarding their departure from what had been Chrysler’s marketing nucleus for over a decade- front wheel drive. Would the buying public in Canada take to a rear wheel drive car in our climate? The “suits” at Chrysler shot back, that so much technology had gone into this vehicle, the All-Speed Traction Control and Electronic Stability Program (ESP) would more than make up for the switch back to a rear-wheel drive platform. I was also aware that in the US, no serious attempt to move the model up-market could be attempted without abandoning the front drive powertrain.
At first glance the car is unlike anything produced in North America in 40 years. The term I hear mentioned at various functions is retro styling; true there are some styling cues from days gone by, but what a bold statement from a major car manufacturer! When you consider what this vehicle replaces and what Chrysler sold in this category only 10 years ago, this is nothing short of remarkable. The vehicle is striking from almost every angle and many have referred to it as a “baby Bentley”. Curves seem to blend effortlessly into acute angles and flat sheets of solid steel.
The Chrysler 300 is offered in either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive layouts and is available in four trim levels. The base 300 ($29,995), 300 Touring ($32,095) and 300 Limited ($36.095) come with a high output 250-horsepower 3.5 litre V6 and a 4-speed automatic transmission. The top-of-the-line 300 C ($43.095) comes with Chrysler’s legendary “HEMI” engine, a 5.7 litre V-8, that pumps out an impressive 340 HP and 390lb-ft of torque. The HEMI is mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission with AutoStick (a manual shifting mode). This engine features cylinder deactivation technology, which Chrysler labels as the Multi-Displacement System or MSD. The engine operates between eight and four cylinders; four are shut down when less power is needed (highway cruising for instance). According to Chrysler this can result in a gain in fuel economy of up to 20%. I failed to realize this or perhaps when in full V8 mode the HEMI is a gas hog.
The interior of the 300 is another revolution for Chrysler. It was very comfortable and the elegant dashboard and integration of cockpit features made the 300 a treat to drive. The fit and finish is outstanding and well beyond what anything in this price range. The integrated audio/navigation system was easy to use. However, a minor quibble is that some of the stereo functions are operated through the same LCD screen used by the navigation system. Another bone to pick with the 300 is outward vision. The low roof line and high beltline limits your outward view. In addition, the thick “A” pillars framing the windshield restricted visibility, particularly during fast cornering.
The 5 point rear suspension of the 300 was gleaned from the Mercedes E-class. Likewise, the traction control and stability control program are from the Mercedes Benz parts bin. Ditto for the transmission in the 300C, it is a derivative of the unit found in the Mercedes Benz S-Class. All this pedigree can be summed up in a word- WOW!
Fire up the HEMI and it is instantly apparent that this is not your father’s Chrysler. The lusty sound of the Hemi V-8, makes all aware that this was not an anemic mall cruiser. The traction control system springs to life within minutes of my first drive; the back end of the car started to slide out under acceleration but the ESP effortlessly and almost seamlessly pulled it back into line.
The marketing department of DaimlerChrysler arranged for a group of journalists to test the 300 and 300C in a variety of configurations on a snowy autocross course. The objective here was to show the vehicles perform with the stability control system working. The balance is phenomenal, with predictable throttle response. With the ESO off, the course was relatively easy- with the system engaged, the drive changed into a relaxing experience with the computer limiting power to each drive wheel while applying the required braking to the appropriate wheel. Certainly a quantum leap ahead in terms of safety over a simple front wheel drive layout.
Back to summer driving, while I was not able to time acceleration on this vehicle, suffice to say that many a “pony car” equipped with a V-8 engine were well aware of this dominating Hemi-powered machine.
I spent a whole week driving this bold beauty around Toronto. The two faults I found with the vehicle were the aforementioned outward visibility and fuel economy even with the MDS technology doing its thing. I admit however, that I probably didn’t operate the 300C in the most fuel efficient manner, but the HEMI made me do it!
To fully understand how well this vehicle has done in terms of penetrating the market psyche, one of the kids at my wife’s school ran up to her and commented that she was driving in “50 Cents” car! Now that’s considered iconic status and its hard enough to buy that in a car worth $200,000, but what does that say about the 300 retailing at between $29,995 and $50,000?
Job well done DaimlerChrysler and be proud, as this benchmark domestic sedan is produced right here in the GTA at DaimlerChrysler’s Brampton assembly plant.