Everybody’s gone SUV/Crossover crazy lately. Manufacturers are luring us out of small cars with the new CX-3, HR-V, Trax models, while sales of the largest SUV’s like Escalades, Tahoe and Suburbans – thanks in part to cheap gasoline – are selling like crazy.
In the rush for capability, capacity and audacity, something’s been lost. In case you might have forgot, there’s a segment that still deserves your attention.
Ladies and Gentlemen, may we re-introduce a performer we’ve know and loved for years – the Great American Sedan. And perhaps there’s none greater than the 2016 Chrysler 300S.
Depending on your age, you might have learned to drive, been brought home from the hospital – or had some memorable dates in the back seat – in one of these 4-door behemoths.
So: does the Great American Sedan deserve a place in our driveways, even today?
The 300S fires the first volley with a rugged, masculine, and purely American look. This is masterful design; it’s premium without being pretentious. It’s still blocky, but the square edges have been honed to create a vibe that’s athletic. It exudes confidence. Think NFL Linebacker in a well-tailored suit.
Our tester added to that “don’t mess with me” with the new and sinister Alloy Edition package, posing menacingly with Gloss Black Exterior Paint hunkered over Bronze-painted 20-inch Aluminum wheels. Dark bronze and black also find itself in the mesh front grille and surround, and on the rear body-color spoiler.
With no chrome to be found anywhere, except on the slim Chrysler badges front and rear, and a little bling from titanium exhaust tips, this is the most striking 300 we’ve ever seen.
And at night, with LED fogs and taillights piercing through the darkness, you can’t help but feel like the bad-assest bad-ass of all time.
Inside is equally dark, but it’s never somber. The front bucket seats are deep and plush. The rear seats give limo-like legroom. The thick-rim leather wheel feels great in your hands, and the gauges and controls are bathed in a soft blue glow that makes you feel special.
The 300S is equipped with Chryslers’ outstanding Uconnect system, with a massive center screen holding a neat party trick – you can press and hold icons and then drag them to any position on the screen you choose, just like an iPad. Thoughtful and very cool. Between the speedo and tach, a large TFT screen lets you pull up the information you need quickly and easily.
Drop your hand to the shift lever and – surprise – you find a small rotary knob to dial in your gear. It wouldn’t look out of place in an Aston or Jag. While we’d prefer a traditional shifter, Chrysler does at least give you steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters to swap cogs manual-style.
And Chrysler gives you good reason to do so. While we prepared to glide along with the capable 292 horsepower 3.6-liter V6 we’ve sampled in the past, our tester was equipped with 5.7-liters of V8 Hemi goodness. Combined with the company’s 8-speed automatic, it makes for breathtaking performance.
It starts at effortless. Cruising along, a tap of the toe and you easily merge with traffic. But give it some boot, and 363 horsepower and 394 lb-ft come on tap in a fury, and you’re propelled with a serious leather-lined push in the back, all the while a nicely-filtered wail of Nascar racer fills the cabin. Intoxicating.
While the Hemi alone is worth coveting, it’s the 8-speed auto that really makes it special. There’s no flat spot, no point where the engine is caught napping. The ideal ratio is always available, shifts are fast and smooth, and the grunt is massive and reassuring. Best of all, when you’re back in cruising mode, those extra gears mean even at freeway speeds you’re barely over idle – making for quiet, serene, and even efficient progress.
Considering how hard we drove, and how large the 300S is. We averaged close to 18 mpg overall. Impressive. The only downside – if you want all-wheel-drive, you can’t get the V8. Learn to countersteer. The Hemi’s worth it.
Large and powerful doesn’t stop the 300S in the dynamics department, either. 300S models get a specially-tuned suspension in the Alloy Edition. It feels remarkably well planted in turns, and gives you excellent feedback throught the wheel, making it easy to place. Make no mistake, this is a big car, and probably not your first choice for the local autocross, but you can cover ground quickly and easily, and find yourself smiling afterward.
Chrysler made us smile as well with a very judiciously-equipped vehicle. The 300S starts at $35,470 and is a thoughtful blend of premium and sport. $3,000 of Hemi power and $995 of UConnect Navigation and HD Radio made our leather-lined rocket ship come in at under $40,000.
Under $40K sounds like a bargain, but some perusing of the website had us yearning for a little more.
We’d probably be tempted to plunk down the additional $3,000 for the package including adaptive cruise control, forward brake assist, forward collision warning, blind spot detection and rear cross path detection. Your money also brings a front and rear park assist system with rear back up camera – all pretty useful with the 300’s volumptuous dimensions and tall trunk line. We’d also opt in for the Dual-pane panoramic sunroof for $1,795.
Even with those goodies, you’re still come in under $44,000 which is impressive. A loaded-up Avalon comes out to $42,000, but you’d be running a V6 with nearly 100 horsepower less, and as nice a car as it is, it’s unlikely anyone driving one will ever be called a badass.
So the 300S Hemi is a great Great American Car. The style, the performance, the broad-shouldered appeal is special and palpable. While the idea of a powerful American sedan is certainly not new, it lives in the modern world quite comfortably. It continues to earn a place on our roads, our garages, and definitively deserves a place in our hearts.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.