The upgrade list is massive — and even includes the American full-size icon’s exterior.
But the changes outside are far more subtle than those under the skin and in the cabin. Chrysler is keeping the original 300 style alive for 2015 — hoping to ignite the same huge swell of passion that surrounded the original 2005 model.
What a launch that was. Makes you smile to recall the full-size American car reclaiming its former glory as gigantic, affordable wheels. This segment of the market was one of the last to ditch American car brands in favor of the often-smaller and better-made competition. By the mid-2000’s, even these ultra-traditional drivers were sick of suffering front-drive travesties with too-small back seats.
The 300 swooped in with its Bentley-esque grille, giant cabin and $25,000 base price like a bald eagle. The car single-handedly energized the Chrysler brand and the full-size car market with its super-lux proportions.
But the world is a much different place ten years later.
How does the new Chrysler 300 look, feel and drive in this brave new world? Is it a slam dunk versus its competitors: the Buick Lacrosse, Hyundai Azera, Kia Cadenza, Ford Taurus and Toyota Avalon? Read on to find out in two HD drive videos and 130 all-new photos!
So if the 300 is new for 2015, why does it look so familiar?
The answer is: this refresh maintains most of the hard points of the previous model. This includes the full glasshouse and much of the sheetmetal outside the nose and tail.
The second reason is that the original 300 was (and is) such a design icon that its details are well-known by almost all drivers.
Versus the 2014 car, the new 300 wears a much larger front grille without the horizontal chrome elements in favor of a SRT8-inspired dark cross-hatch. The lower bumper region is now more modern via a chrome mustache that glides across the lower face and around the lower ventwork like a chinstrap.
The headlamps have the same LED horseshoe shape but are new lighting elements that are brighter than before, paired with projectors to handle both the low and high beams.
Around the profile, the 300 is still a welcome icon in the car world. Fantastic rear-drive proportions with some elegant new form language in the body as the beltline wraps around to line the lower sills in one slick move.
In back, the trunk shape is tweaked along with an all-new rear bumper. Integrated and flush-mounted dual tailpipes are now crisp and pinched rectangles, while the LED brake lights are quite eye-catching.
The new 300’s brake lamps have a halo of solid red as the running lamp, lit to an ultra-bright stop lamp as the 30-plus internal LED elements inside ignite. It is a fresh look – particularly without the brakes engaged. When lit, it is a bit dot-intensive but overall a big improvement on the previous LED effort and its t-shaped sticks of LEDs inside.
Overall, the design is very satisfying. Even in this $33,000-as-tested Limited model, the 300 is one of the most handsome sedans on the roads. But the overall conservative redesign seems like a missed opportunity.
The 300 Limited majors on luxury. Among the trims, the 300 Limited is much closer to the V8-engined 300C than it is to the sporty and hip 300S. (The 300S is the one with gloss-black detailing throughout. Yum:)
As it is, the 300 Limited is instantly welcoming. A new and much-nicer steering wheel grabs the eye with its chic look, and is also a treat to touch with a truly soft leather wrap and a premium feel to the column-mounted button actions.
Once on the move, you will be shocked that a $33k car is this plush. This is a seriously comfy machine, with a dreamy and creamy ride quality that makes bumps disappear. We really liked its easy and relaxed road manners.
The main option of this 300 Limited is the Uconnect navigation system, which is very nice to have and very easy to learn. Some functions are hidden in the menus, however, and might be easier with redundant buttons elsewhere on the dash somewhere. The vented and heated seats come to mind in particular. Then again, there is modern feel to the cabin that is a bit like the button-shy Jaguar XF.
The rotary shifter is also similar to the Jag, but there are places where the 300’s low base price makes itself known. The lower dashboard is fairly hard and truck-like in its materials, while some features seem oddly missing — things like a backup camera and rear seat heaters are not standard.
BACK SEAT BLISS?
The 300 has a well-earned reputation as a back-seat hero. To go along with the 300’s roominess and its relaxed, reclined seating position, the 300’s back seat is now smoother and much, much quieter. Sound insulation is excellent throughout the cabin, but is especially noticeable for those riding in back.
The doors all around still open wide and low to make access easy, which is a big advantage in day-to-day life over other cars with such low and sexy rooflines.
Sticking in back, a nice central armrest shades the Buick Lacrosse on premium feel, while the overall sense of rigidity is much better than the floppy Avalon chassis.
Great Box! ….
A truly fantastic gearbox is nice.
(But has it ever been a real selling point? Yes, yes it has. Chrysler launched one of the world’s first fully-automatic transmissions with its celebrated TorqueFlite three-speed in 1956.)
The latest eight-speed automatic and 295-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 engine is one of the best powertrains in the world. No caveats. It is brilliant. Always fast and eager — Yet also able to lope along with almost no engine revs, noise or fuel consumption. Just fantastically adaptable to your moods while delivering searing sprints and unreal passing power bursts.
The flip-side of having extra short lower gears and extra tall top gears? Superb highway fuel economy. The big torque of this smooth-revving V6 actually makes all those gears seem worthwhile. Check the drive videos for proof that this ZF transmission and 3.6-liter V6 are a heavenly pairing.
The one issue? The 300 Limited’s rotary gear selector is ‘PRNDL’ versus the ‘PRNDS’ choice for 300’s with paddle shifters. We believe the 300S includes these shifters. Obviously, not a big issue and most drivers will not care. But for sportier drivers, it is nice to have some level of gear control for engine braking.
… So-So Rack
So, if Chrysler went all in with German tech company ZF for these amazing transmissions, did they also pick up some excellent ZF steering racks?
No, we do not believe so.
The first few days of driving the 300 Limited, it is not immediately clear if the steering is imprecise or just super, super light. This is true one-finger lghtness both for parking and at highway speeds. Feather-weight, yet with good straight-ahead tracking and stability.
On harder driving around big sweeping corners, the 300 Limited has a fair bit of lateral body lurch before settling down for the curve. Throughout these types of corners (generally 40-mph-plus), the electronic power steering of the 300 Limited is deeply unhelpful. It goes beyond lack of feel, and into an overall lack of confidence around corners. The 300 Limited’s steering just feels nervous and unable to point the car around a corner in one movement. Lots of mini tweaks and adjustments needed before you are headed straight again.
So you tweak the angle of the steering, but then the body can heave again. Repeat this four times through most fast bends…
The steering is a big let-down because solid, direct and feelsome steering should be the rear-drive 300’s ace versus front-drivers like the Buick Lacrosse.
Yet even as a front-driver, the Buick is much more confident from the wheel in hard. The wandering and anxious EPS is much too similar to the Avalon – watering down a big 300 advantage.
That being said, with the traction control off, the 300 Limited is more than happy to wag its tail and do a bit of drifting on gravel roads.
The 2015 Chrysler 300 starts from $31,400 and swells to the range-topping 300C Platinum’s $42,000 base price. We strongly prefer the style and chassis tune of the 300S from around $34,000, even over the 300C from $37,000.
The Chrysler 300 has always reminded the world that space is a luxury in and of itself. Yes, luxury cars like the BMW 2-series in the Chrysler’s price range are premium and swanky. But is there more value in the luxury of comfort? For many, the answer is yes.
The 300 Limited proves how smart this insight really is for many car shoppers.With a much larger cabin than Cadillac CTS, Jaguar XF, BMW 535i, the Chrysler 300 also delivers these goods for less than half the price. (None of this is new for 2015, but worth repeating.) In terms of V8 power for the top trims, the 300 even matched that jet-set of competitors on power and speed.
For the first time ever in 2015, however, the 300’s drivetrain and refinement are world-class right from the base rung.
We’d vote for the 300S to add style and a bit more grip — but the 300 Limited is an A-grade vehicle with or without the 300S pack or the HEMI V8 engine.
+ Real power
+ Great MPG
= A huge achievement in $33k luxury.
Tom Burkart is the founder and managing editor of Car-Revs-Daily.com, an innovative and rapidly-expanding automotive news magazine.
He holds a Journalism JBA degree from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Tom currently resides in Charleston, South Carolina with his two amazing dogs, Drake and Tank.
Mr. Burkart is available for all questions and concerns by email Tom(at)car-revs-daily.com.