2006 Chrysler 300 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
More power available.
When it debuted as a 2005 model, the Chrysler 300 revived the long-dormant tradition of the full-size, high-style American performance car. While a 2.7-liter V6 was standard, and a 3.5-liter V6 optional, the engine that grabbed the headlines was the top-tier 5.7-liter Hemi V8 developing 340 horsepower.
The 300's namesake and inspiration, the original Chrysler C-300 of 1955, was one of the defining members of the big-muscle breed, powered by the original edition of Chrysler's famous hemispherical-head V8 known as the Hemi. With 300 horsepower from dual four-barrel carburetors and a solid-lifter cam, the C-300 achieved early fame as one of the most powerful automobiles built by Detroit. It won the NASCAR championship in its first year out, and set top speed records on the beach at Daytona.
Later 300s featured bigger Hemi engines and better-handling chassis. And now Chrysler is following this tradition, too. Released in the spring of 2005, the 2006 Chrysler 300 SRT8 upped the Hemi ante with 6.1 liters of displacement, 425 horsepower, and a chassis tuned for grand touring.
Meanwhile, Chrysler announced more than a dozen refinements across the 300 model range for 2006, including new colors, new special editions, higher levels of standard equipment, and a new DVD entertainment option integrated into the center console.
The Chrysler 300 styling is distinctive, and its interior is roomy, efficient and stylish. The instrument panel and switchgear are easy to read and operate. Pieces of Mercedes-Benz are slipping into Chrysler cars nowadays, and the 300C features a Mercedes-like steering wheel, leather under an arc of wood at the top.
A Chrysler 300 with a 2.7-liter V6 retailed for the low price of $24,450 including destination. You can't put any new car in your driveway that looks more expensive for less. It's a large, modern, stylish, comfortable car for a small price. Better is the Touring model, with leather, a powerful 3.5-liter V6, and all the latest active safety features.
With the 300C, it's all about the growl, the sweet-sounding exhaust note coming from subtle pipes under the rear bumper. The 340-hp Hemi has to carry 4046 pounds, so it won't run with a Corvette, but it is plenty fast, with a 0-60 time of 6.3 seconds, according to Chrysler. At the same time, the ride is smooth, solid and comfortable and the cabin is very quiet. With a base price of $34,400, it's a deal.
Along with the new Dodge Charger, the 300 is the first big, rear-wheel-drive sedan to come out of Chrysler in many years, replacing the front-wheel-drive LH line which, in one form or another, had served Chrysler since 1993. Back then, there were engineering cases for front-wheel drive, including reduced manufacturing costs and more efficient packaging. But the way Chrysler sees it, more prosperous times call for more performance-oriented cars, and rear-wheel drive remains much better than front-wheel drive for managing horsepower.
New technology has also helped the case for rear-wheel drive. Traction control, electronic stability programs, anti-lock brakes, and electronic brake distribution all improve the driver's ability to control the car. One of the most oft-touted advantages of front-wheel drive is traction in snow, but that too has been erased over the years. To prove the 300's traction and handling in snow, Chrysler invited automotive journalists to its testing facility on a frozen lake in Michigan's Upper Peninsula in early March 2005, and the 300 received excellent reviews.
All-wheel drive is available for drivers who want more traction.
Four engines are available in the 2006 Chrysler 300: 2.7-liter and 3.5-liter V6s, and 5.7 and 6.1-liter Hemi V8s. Trim levels are keyed to engine size.
The base Chrysler 300 ($23,775) comes with a 2.7-liter double-overhead-cam V6 making 190 horsepower and 190 pound-feet of torque, and rated 21/28 EPA miles per gallon. It's mated to a four-speed automatic transmission, refined this year for smoother shifting. Cloth interior with an eight-way power driver's seat are standard, along with solar window glass.
The new Great American Package ($1,435), available only on this base model, enhances safety with antilock brakes, emergency brake assist, electronic stability program and traction control, front and rear side-curtain airbags, and heated mirrors; plus comfort, convenience, and appearance features including a 6-CD changer with MP3 capability, carbon-trimmed instrument panel, and 17-inch machined-face wheels.
The 300 Touring ($27,825) uses a 3.5-liter single-overhead-cam V6 making 250 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque, rated19/27 miles per gallon on recommended 89 octane (87 acceptable). The 300 Touring also adds on the goodies: leather interior, 17-inch machined-face aluminum wheels, and fog lamps. Antilock brakes with emergency brake assist, electronic stability program and traction control are also standard. Touring is also available with all-wheel drive ($29,825), which includes a five-speed automatic transmission with semi-manual AutoStick control.
The new 300 Walter P. Chrysler Signature Series ($30,065) adds two-tone leather upholstery with special interior trim, Sirius Satellite Radio with a one-year subscription, GPS navigation, and a 276-watt Boston Acoustics stereo with 6-CD/MP3 player. AWD is not available.
The 300 Limited ($30,820) also begins with Touring equipment but adds chrome wheels, heated front seats, power passenger seat, automatic headlamps, automatic temperature control, Sirius Satellite Radio and electronic vehicle information center. AWD is available ($32,120) and again upgrades the automatic transmission from four speeds to five.
The 300C brings the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 mated to the five-speed automatic with AutoStick, in both rear-wheel ($33,725) and all-wheel-drive ($35,050) versions. Also standard are 18-inch chrome wheels, dual exhaust, projector low-beam headlamps, a premium leather interior and, new for 2006, power adjustable pedals. It gets 17/25 mpg on 89 octane recommended (87 acceptable). It also has bigger and more powerful front brakes, because the engine is some 300 pounds heavier than the V6, and the car is considerably faster. The Hemi engine was brutally tested by Chrysler engineers, and is covered by Chrysler's 7-year/70,000-mile powertrain warranty.
The 300C Heritage Edition (price NA) features SmartBeam intelligent headlamps (which automatically adjust brightness for driving conditions), a 368-watt Boston Acoustics stereo, and additional exterior chrome.
The SRT8 ($39,920) tops the 300 pecking order. This is a true high-performance sedan, in the mode of BMW's M models or Mercedes' AMG brand, and it features loads of performance tweaks, unique design features and most of the luxury gear. The SRT8's centerpiece is a 425-hp, 6.1-liter Hemi V8.
Stand-alone options include front and rear curtain airbags, Boston Acoustics premium sound system, air filtration, ultrasonic rear object detection, self-sealing tires, hands-free cellphone capability, power adjustable pedals, premium sound system, GPS Navigation system, SIRIUS satellite radio, sunroof, walnut interior accents and Xenon high-intensity headlamps. Higher-level models can be ordered with a DVD entertainment system integrated into the center console.
The Chrysler 300 is clearly bold and, we would argue, cool. But mostly the styling is uncompromising and makes no apologies. Curiously, maybe magically, it might appeal to both young and old.
The 300 looks dramatic in profile. Rear-wheel-drive architecture allowed this whole new shape. The wheelwell cutouts, wrapping around 17 or 18-inch wheels, are striking. The wheelbase is long for a modern car at 120 inches (the 1955 original stretched 126), but the overhangs are short, offering a visual sense of power. The sedan roofline, a sort of '30s gangster tease, beautifully complements the lines which are long, low and carved as if from a big horizontal block of metal. The roof rakes thickly down to a short deck, and the sides are like large slabs. The long hood glides forward and drops off a cliff whose face is the massive grille, so strong it dictates the car's lines.
The high-performance SRT8 may be the coolest-looking 300 of all. Its unique features include body-color front and rear bumper inserts, mirrors and door handles; and the modifications are more than aesthetic. The front and rear ends direct air flow through unique ducts that cool the brakes, while a specially designed rear spoiler increases rear downforce by 39 percent, helping keep the rear tires firmly planted at high speed without increasing drag. Yet the coolest thing about the SRT8 might be its 20-inch, forged aluminum wheels and asymmetrical high-performance tires. These maximize that visual power, and they're staggered in the classic track-performance tradition, with the rear tires slightly wider than the fronts.
The interior of the Chrysler 300 is marked by spacious silence. Chrysler engineers have been reducing interior and wind noise with all their new vehicles, so it's not surprising that the flagship sedan should get the treatment. Chrysler has its own $36 million aero-acoustic wind tunnel, and they've been trying to get their money's worth out of it.
The cabin is roomy, thanks largely to the efficient shape of the exterior: the chassis is pushed out to the wheels, and the wheelbase is long, leaving 106.6 cubic feet (SAE standard) inside. The 60/40 split rear folding seat, with a folding center armrest and integrated cupholders, offers a relaxing 40 inches of legroom, although because it's rear-wheel drive the driveshaft tunnel on the floor down the center of the car has returned. The door openings are extra large, making climbing in and out noticeably easier and more pleasant.
It's a very clean cockpit. Our 300C had a satin silver center stack, which was elegantly functional, nothing decorative about it. We felt blessed not to have to play games with the controls and switchgear to get them to function. There are two horizontal rectangular climate vents on either side of an analog clock, above the sound system and climate system controlled by four simple knobs. The 300C steering wheel is a nice four-spoke design with tortoise shell trim making a gradual arc along the top, like a Mercedes-Benz wheel. The four gauges are round, clear and pleasing to the eye in a balanced layout, with black numbers and needles on a white background, almost Italian-looking. From the driver's perspective, it's all good.
There is a gated shifter for the AutoStick, forward of which is a marginal fast food bin, but the console is nice and deep, with coin holders and deep cup holders.
Our leather interior was a subtle two-tone beige and gray, and the seats were on the firm side but comfortable (again, Mercedes-like), although they could use more side bolstering in the 300C which has the engine and tires to corner harder. They are elevated by 2.5 inches, as this is the thing to do nowadays because buyers like to sit high, but because the door sills are also high for safety, it's a good overall relative fit. Because the windshield rake is relatively modest, visibility forward is enhanced over that very long hood. Visibility out the rear is also excellent, without much intrusion from the roofline.
The trunk of the 300 holds 15.6 cubic feet, and opens forward to the fold-down rear seat, so the ability to tow a boat and carry all you need is there. A European-style safety innovation can be found in the trunk. The well in the cargo floor, holding the spare tire, is built at an angle, so if the 300 is crashed into from the rear, the tire will rotate upward allowing the frame structure to deform as designed.
The 300C feels as solid as it looks, having inherited significant mechanicals from its parent company, Mercedes-Benz. From a handling standpoint, the 300 is heavily and positively influenced by a design borrowed from the Mercedes E-Class: five-link rear suspension mounted to a subframe, and the short-arm/long-arm front suspension, modified for the 300's longer wheelbase, wider track and bigger wheels.
The ride in the 300C is very smooth and solid without any weakness that we could find in a half day of hard driving, and we wouldn't change a thing. Its 120-inch wheelbase comes within half a foot of the big Chrysler 300s from the 1950s, but in overall length this new 300 is nearly two feet shorter than those behemoths. Result: great ride, reasonable parking.
And the cornering is good enough that higher-performance tires should be made available. The 300C comes with Continental all-season tires, P225/60R18, but they squeal early and don't do justice to the chassis. Chrysler engineers have gotten the rack-and-pinion steering right; it's just the right amount of weighty, and provides a secure feeling. The power assist is constant-rate and not speed-sensitive; it's been a while since we felt a constant-rate system, and we like its accuracy. It felt heavy but not big, and was responsive and confident.
We tossed the big 300C from side-to-side through switchback turns, and it beautifully maintained an even keel, with an insignificant amount of body lean, especially considering that it's called a family sedan, not a high-performance sports sedan.
Driving the 300C hard over some twisty mountain roads, the big Bosch-built brakes really did the job. In fact, we called them 'great' in our notes, inspiring surprising confidence in a car that weighs just over 4000 pounds. The front brakes on the 300C are bigger and better than those on the V6 models, with 13.6-inch vented rotors and dual-piston calipers compared to 12.6 inches and single-piston. The 300C rear rotors are 12.6 inches and vented (same size but unvented in the other models). Antilock brakes with electronic brake distribution, which balances front and rear, are standard on all but the plain 300.
With brakes big enough for towing, the 300C is rated to tow up to 3800 pounds, using a trailer hitch available from the Mopar catalog. Part of the reason for the rebirth of the large rear-wheel-drive sedan (Ford and Cadillac are there too) is that buyers are beginning to ask what they need an SUV for. But mostly, with 390 pound-feet of torque, you sure won't be getting in anyone's way with your trailer.
Chrysler claims a 0 to 60 time of 6.3 seconds for the 300C, but it feels quicker than that. It won't snap your neck, because it does have two tons to carry, but you'll love the deep growling Hemi exhaust note along the way. And that big torque can't be underestimated for its fun and convenience.
This V8 introduces an important new technology: a system that shuts down four of its eight cylinders when the power isn't needed. The transfers from 8 to 4 to 8 cylinders happen in 0.04 seconds, and are undetectable by the driver. As a result, the Hemi is a 340-horsepower engine that can get up to 30 miles per gallon while cruising at 60 mph on the freeway. So if you want to cruise with a light foot, you're only using four cylinders and half as much gas.
But if you prefer a heavy foot, the SRT8 is the most impressive 300 of all. This model is not a hot-rod in the traditional American sense, which might be described as rough or even crude. Rather, the SRT8 is more a complete performance upgrade, in the fashion of European models such as the BMW M cars or the Mercedes-Benz AMG models, with improvements to the brakes (from Brembo) and a suspension tuned to match the big engine without beating up the people inside.
The SRT8's Hemi is a big engine, 6.1 liters in displacement, and tuned for free revving and immediate thrott.
The Chrysler 300 stands out with bold styling harkening back to its glory days in the 1950s. Like its ancestors, the 300 uses rear-wheel drive, better for power and handling. With traction control, antilock brakes and stability control, it's effective on snowy and icy roads. Most versions are available with all-wheel drive. The 300 is exceptionally quiet and offers a wonderfully smooth and solid ride with tight handling. It's very roomy inside with an intelligent instrument panel and controls, and is also easy to climb in and out of.
Chrysler 300 ($23,775); 300 Touring ($27,825); 300 Touring AWD ($29,825); 300 Touring Signature ($30,065); 300 Limited ($30,820); 300 Limited AWD ($32,120); 300C ($33,725); 300 C AWD ($35,050); SRT8 ($39,920).
Brampton, Ontario, Canada.
Options As Tested
Chrysler 300C ($33,725).
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