2012 Chrysler 300
    MSRP
    $27,670 - $47,670
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    2012 Chrysler 300 Expert Review:Autoblog

    Reborn Luxury Bruiser Aspires To Great Heights

    2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8

    We couldn't help but ask Chrysler officials point-blank about what cars their 2012 300 SRT8, the brand's self-proclaimed "Ultimate combination of world-class luxury and performance," will compete against. Their answer, delivered with zero hesitation and a perfect poker face? The Cadillac CTS-V. That utterance shut us up so quickly that we had to sit back in our chair to ponder the bold response.

    The new 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8, the highest-performing model ever in Chrysler's lineup, boasts a powerful 6.4-liter Hemi V8 punch, massive Brembo brakes, lightweight forged wheels, countless hours of suspension tuning and a slew of cosmetic goodies. It is, without question, a very impressive sport sedan. But choosing a target like the CTS-V, Cadillac's highly regarded flagship performance vehicle, may reveal a bit too much confidence. After all, the CTS-V isn't just more powerful – its chassis is a bit lighter, it's shorter in stature and it wears stickier shoes. Of course, it's also much more expensive.

    We didn't question Chrysler's comment, or even raise an eyebrow to their claim. We were, after all, sitting at a racetrack with a 300 SRT8 idling in the hot pits just a dozen yards away. Instead, we walked out of the building, donned a helmet and climbed into the driver's seat to find out for ourselves.


    Introduced as a concept at the 2003 New York Auto Show, the first production Chrysler 300 rolled into showrooms shortly thereafter as 2005 models. Designed during the peak of the DaimlerChrysler relationship, the 300 was a big change from its front-wheel-drive 300M (and Concorde) predecessors. The new car had bold styling and was built on a sophisticated rear-wheel-drive platform with a suspension borrowed from the W210 Mercedes-Benz E-Class (1996-2002) and W220 S-Class (1999-2006). Standard models were fitted with a 2.7-liter V6 rated at 190 horsepower, but a range-topping SRT8 model debuted at the 2004 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance boasting a 6.1-liter V8 rated at 425 horsepower. It was a much-needed shot in the arm for both the car and brand.

    2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 side view2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 front view2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 rear view

    Nearly seven years later, we're at the famed Willow Springs Raceway in the high desert of Southern California. The ambient temperature is in the mid-80s, which is cool for July, but the car we are piloting around the big track is the hot new second-generation SRT8 that's been boosted for 2012 with an even larger 6.4-liter V8 under its aluminum hood.

    From the outside, the SRT8 is distinguished by its half-inch lower ride height, body color side sill cladding and standard 20-inch wheels. The front fascia features upper and lower grille surrounds in black chrome and LED daytime running lights. Out back, the bumper cap sports twin four-inch exhaust pipes and there is a functional decklid spoiler garnishing the trunk.

    The interior starts with a leather-wrapped, heated SRT steering wheel with metal paddle shifters on each side. Integrated into the dashboard is genuine carbon fiber trim, gloss black surrounds and chrome accents. The standard sport seats, upholstered in Alcantara and leather, are heated and ventilated and feature the SRT logo emblazoned on the seatback. The door panels mirror a similar treatment. Underfoot, the accelerator and brake pedals are metal with small rubber nubs for better traction. The car in our photographs was configured with the Radar Red interior, one of two standard colors. For something a bit less boastful, choose the simple black interior or upgrade to the premium leather with Poltrona Frau Foligno upholstery with leather-wrapped door panels, instrument panel, cluster brow and center console side panels - it's quite classy.

    2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 interior2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 front seats2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 speedometer2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 navigation system

    Like the 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8, 2012 Dodge Charger SRT8 and 2012 Dodge Challenger SRT8, this 300 is fitted with a massive 6.4-liter V8. The 90-degree pushrod-operated 16-valve engine has a cast-iron block with aluminum-alloy heads. With a compression ratio of 10.9:1, and burning premium unleaded fuel, the powerplant is rated at 470 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque. The transmission is a traditional five-speed torque converter automatic sending power to the rear wheels through a standard Getrag limited-slip differential. According to Chrysler, the 300 SRT8 will sprint to 60 miles per hour in the "high four-second range" with a quarter mile in the "high 12-second range." The sedan's top speed is a reported 175 mph.

    Even though it is counterproductive to rapid acceleration, standard fuel saver technology will stop fuel flow to half the Hemi's cylinders if the electronic watchdogs determine they aren't needed (EPA fuel economy numbers haven't been released). The system works in conjunction with the active exhaust, which allows hot gasses to flow straight through the mid and rear muffler under engine load.

    2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 engine

    Underpinning the 300 SRT8 is a new Adaptive Damping Suspension (ADS), which reads both driver and vehicle inputs (vehicle speed, steering angle, steering speed, brake torque, throttle position and lateral and vertical accelerations) to determine optimal suspension settings for all conditions. For driver control, the two-mode system is cockpit-adjustable between "Auto" and "Sport" through the touchscreen console display. (Chrysler engineers were quick to explain that ADS is a hydraulic system with Bilstein shock absorbers, not a magneto rheological fluid-filled system. Officials suggest that benefits of the system include active damping in both directions of suspension travel and the lack of an abrasive fluid wearing internals over time).

    There is plenty of firepower, so the braking system is equally as capable. Bringing the five-passenger sedan to a halt are four aluminum calipers, each fitted with four pistons, sourced from Brembo. The fronts clamp down on 14.2-inch vented and slotted rotors, while the rears are slightly smaller 13.8-inch rotors of the same design. The previously mentioned wheels are forged alloy with seven spokes each and offered polished or with black chrome finish. The standard tire size is 245/45R20, with a choice of all-season Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires or three-season Goodyear F1 Supercar rubber.

    At this point, many of you will notice that the specifications of the 300 SRT8 mirror those of the Charger SRT8. It is no secret that both vehicles share Chrysler's LX platform, but each is tasked with a different role. The 300 is traditionally a luxury player, while the Charger is a sport sedan. But this is where things get interesting. Not only do the 300 SRT8 and Charger SRT8 share the identical engine, transmission, brakes and suspension, but the two share wheelbase, vehicle length, track and have an identical curb weight. Remember, however, each play a very unique role in the automaker's big scheme.

    2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 brake caliper2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 tire2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 exhaust tip2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 badge

    Whether you call it "The Fastest Road in the West" or simply "Big Willow," the main 2.5-mile road circuit at Willow Springs International Motorsports Park is intimidating. There are sizable elevation changes, a half-mile straight and a 100-mph decreasing-radius sweeper that slings someone's vehicle off the pavement nearly every time we visit the track. Thankfully, this is our hometown track and our familiarity with the proper line gives us an advantage.

    However, we weren't alone at Big Willow. Our high-performance 300 SRT8 was sharing the asphalt with its SRT8 siblings from Dodge and Jeep. No worries, as this would give us an even better opportunity to see how Chrysler's luxury sport sedan handles against the Grand Cherokee, Charger and Challenger. Lined up in the hot pits, we programmed the active damping to "Sport" and waited for the starter's signal.

    With a satisfactory gap between our Chrysler and the Jeep that had pulled ahead, the track marshal gave us a quick thumbs-up. We pressed the accelerator to the floor and... screeeeeeeeeeech!

    The rear tires spun like they were covered in wet algae. The muscle-bound sedan, its engine belting out a beautiful rendition of the stereotypical American V8 roar, crawled forward for about 20 feet before the electronic traction and stability controls mated the melting tires to the pavement. We shot onto the track in pursuit of the Grand Cherokee.

    We initially used the convenient wheel-mounted paddles to run through the gears, but after clipping the apex of Turn 1 and waiting too long for the apprehensive slushbox to follow our request, we threw the transmission back into Drive. We didn't touch the paddles, or shift lever, again. In automatic mode, the five-speed transmission shifted more slowly than we'd prefer.

    2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 steering wheel controls2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 shifter

    Our first on-track impression was that the 300 SRT8 handled itself with the dexterity of an angry grizzly bear. With a curb weight of 4,365 pounds and 54 percent of its mass over the front wheels, the Chrysler used plenty of muscle to quickly get to speed. However, despite the adaptive suspension's best efforts, it was a bit ungainly while running at full trot.

    Turn 2, basically a 450-foot radius banked skidpad, was entered gingerly. We fed the throttle slowly, bringing up speed until traction was eventually lost and the sedan started running a wider line. There was ample stability, but not a ton of feedback through the wheel despite a revised steering system featuring a new heavy-duty pump and gearing for improved feel and on-center response.

    Entering Turn 3 required heavy braking. Speeds fell rapidly from triple digits as we prepared for a hard left to climb into the Omega section of the circuit. Again, weight came into play as braking had to start a bit earlier in the 300 SRT8. Despite the massive amount of heat being absorbed by the components, the four-piston Brembos didn't flinch – we were pleasantly surprised by their performance.


    The top of the Omega is the slowest part of the circuit, but hitting it properly is critical to ensure speed down the back of the track. Turning under braking induced mild understeer accompanied with some tire scrub, but nothing embarrassingly nasty or unrecoverable happened. Again, we took it easy and then used the power of the 6.4-liter V8 to shove the vehicle down the hill. We hit the brakes firmly as we entered Turn 5 just to bleed some of our excess speed. There are plenty of opportunities for tail-happy oversteer – amusingly easy to control in the 300 SRT8 – around this left turn.

    We built plenty of speed over Turn 6 and down through Turn 7, but the brakes were applied before entering Turn 8. In a racecar or prepared track car, this 900-foot radius is done nearly flat-out. In a tuned two-ton family sedan on street tires, we approached it with a lot more discretion. No complaints about the Goodyear F1 Supercar rubber – plenty of grip there – however, the platform wasn't giving us the confidence to sweep around as quickly as we'd like. Give us a lower center of gravity, a larger contact patch (245s aren't exactly wide these days) and, of course, less weight.

    Coming around the front straight, after a cautious launch out of tricky Turn 9, our speed maxed out in the low 120s before we crossed the finish line. We had passed the Grand Cherokee a few corners earlier, our initial objective, but its driver didn't know the circuit, which made it an unrewarding accomplishment.

    A moment later, we pulled into the pits – as impressed as we were frustrated.

    2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 rear 3/4 view

    The 300 SRT8 demonstrated serious competency on the track despite its size and luxury underpinnings. The engine pulled strongly, the chassis was solid and the brakes were unflappable. While we wouldn't go so far as to say that throwing the big Chrysler around the circuit was fist-pumping enjoyable, it was certainly entertaining.

    However, we expected a driving experience that would rival the CTS-V. It never materialized. Several months ago, we tossed the Cadillac around this same track. The luxurious sport sedan felt "hunkered down" on the race circuit. That feeling of stability, combined with sticky Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 tires and a big horsepower advantage, translated to confidence and faster lap speeds. The 300 SRT8 fell short of its Wreath and Crest opponent. It is simply in a different league. Unfortunately, we didn't get the chance to see how the 300 SRT8 stacks up to the Generous Motor on public roads – we'll have to wait for a followup review to give you the skinny on its real-world performance.

    But don't be dissuaded – we genuinely like the 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8. Not for its track performance (its Charger SRT8 brother is better fit for circuit use), but for what it really is. With a base price of $47,995, and very well equipped in standard trim, Chrysler's luxurious new muscle car will excel in the real world. This is a place where luxury is measured by yards of leather, technology is assessed via state-of-the-art infotainment systems and performance is still very much weighed by the cubic displacement of the engine. On those scales, this sedan is proficient. Even better, however, is the immeasurable emotional delight of lighting up the rear tires and vanquishing unsuspecting victims off the line – that's what a Chrysler 300 SRT8 does best of all.

    New models, new 8-speed transmission.

    Introduction

    The Chrysler 300 is a full-size four-door sedan that comes in a variety of models to suit a style, performance, or set of features. Whether V6 or V8 and regardless of model it's a roomy, comfortable, quiet cruiser. Apart from its relative the Dodge Charger, the Chrysler 300 is the only rear-wheel-drive sedan we can think of that you can get for less than $35,000. 

    Thoroughly revamped and restyled for 2011, the 2012 Chrysler 300 nonetheless gets some revisions. Some new models have joined the lineup for 2012: a stylish Chrysler 300S, the new Chrysler 300C Luxury Series, and a new Chrysler 300 SRT8 super-sedan. 

    The Chrysler 300S is a sportier 300, with 20-inch wheels and firmer suspension. 

    2012 Chrysler 300 V6 models offer a new 8-speed automatic transmission from ZF that makes the Hemi V8-powered car nearly irrelevant. With this new transmission, the V6 gets an EPA-estimated 31 mpg Highway. 

    A new, optional navigation system is the best we've ever seen, with a large, 8.4-inch screen that's easily understood at a glance and easy to operate. We highly recommend opting for it. Also new for 2012 are the usual assortment of color and wheel design upgrades, and not one but new sound system upgrades. 

    The Chrysler 300 has all the heritage traits of an American luxury sedan such as room, comfort, endless features and amenities, power and a degree of presence, yet is also has good road manners, stops and changes directions as well as it goes. It also has a distinctive look ever harder to find in this era of economy-driven aerodynamics, pedestrian impact standards and corporate styling. 

    All-wheel drive is available. The ride height on 2012 Chrysler 300 AWD models is slightly lower than on 2011 models. 

    The Chrysler 300 comes in nearly any combination of V6 or V8 engine, 5- or 8-speed automatic, and rear- or all-wheel drive. 

    The 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 model comes packed with a 470-hp 6.4-liter V8 (only a Corvette ZO6's is larger), Brembo brakes, forged alloy wheels, and Bilstein adaptive dampers similar to those Maserati uses. It's quick and good bang for the buck. 

    Consideration for the Chrysler 300 covers a wide spectrum including the Cadillac CTS, Lincoln MKS, Lexus GS, Infiniti M, Hyundai Genesis, Volvo S60, BMW 3 Series by price or 5 Series by size, and Mercedes C and E classes for the same criteria. A 300C AWD can compete with Ford's Taurus SHO. At about $47,000, the SRT8 is a cost-effective sports sedan alternative to Cadillac's CTS-V, BMW's M-cars and Mercedes-Benz's AMG E-Class. A Hyundai Genesis R-Spec is near identically priced but we don't find it a performance match. 

    Lineup

    The 2012 Chrysler 300 ($27,170) comes standard with a 292-hp 3.6-liter V6, 5-speed automatic, cloth upholstery, dual-zone climate control, multi-function tilt/telescoping steering wheel, driver information center, keyless entry, power windows/locks/heated mirrors, cruise control, AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA Sirius audio with SD card and USB inputs, 12-way power driver seat, LED cabin lighting, 60/40 split-fold rear seat, and 17-inch wheels. 

    Options include an 8-speed automatic transmission ($1,000) and Uconnect voice control with Bluetooth ($295). Available for any 300 are Ivory pearl paint ($500) and an engine-block heater ($40). (All prices are Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices, which do not include destination charge and may change at any time without notice.)

    Chrysler 300 Limited ($32,170) upgrades to leather upholstery, 8-speed automatic, remote start, fog lamps, 18-inch wheels, 276-watt Alpine audio system, power passenger seat, and heated front seats. Chrysler 300 Limited AWD ($34,320) features all-wheel drive, bigger brakes and 19-inch wheels. The Luxury Group ($3,250) includes fancier leather, Olive wood trim, heated/cooled front seats and cupholders, heated rear seats, wood and leather wrapped heated power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, power adjustable pedals, driver memory system, power rear sunshade and auto-dimming exterior mirrors. A SafetyTec package ($2,420) adds adaptive cruise control with collision warning, adaptive bi-Xenon SmartBeam headlamps, blind-spot and cross-path detection, rain-sensing wipers, front and rear park sensors, and rear fog lamps. 

    Chrysler 300C ($38,170) and 300C AWD ($40,320) come with a 363-hp 5.7-liter V8, 5-speed automatic and bigger brakes. Standard equipment mirrors the 300 Limited with Luxury Group and navigation, but with Olive wood optional. Also available: premium audio systems, SafetyTec package, moonroof, 19 and 20-inch wheels. 

    Chrysler 300S comes with a choice of V6 8-speed automatic ($33,170) with AWD ($35,320); V8 5-speed automatic ($39,710) with AWD ($41,320). S denotes body-color trim with gloss-black grille and headlight trim, matte carbon and piano-black cabin trim, 300S logo on cloth (V6) or leather (V8) seats, and the Beats By Dr. Dre sound system. The S V8 also gets rear sunshade, rain-sensing wipers, and performance-tuned steering. 300S options include UConnect with 8.4-inch touch screen, Garmin navigation, Sirius Travel Link with Real Time Traffic and Sirius satellite radio ($795). 

    Chrysler 300 SRT8 ($47,170) comes with a 470-hp 6.4-liter V8, five-speed automatic, 20-inch forged aluminum wheels, Bilstein adaptive damping, and unique suspension and stability control calibration, brakes and tires. It also includes new nose and tail sections, sport seats with suede inserts, SRT-specific instrumentation and driver information, and a one-day driving experience on track with professional driver instruction. Most 300-line features are standard on the SRT8 though there are some options: three-season performance tires ($150), moonroof ($1,295), SafetyTec package, Harman/Kardon audio ($1,995), black chrome package and premium leather package. SRT8 carries a $1,000 federal Gas Guzzler Tax. 

    Safety equipment on the Chrysler 300 includes front, front side, driver knee, and side curtain air bags, electronic stability control with Brake Assist, and tire pressure monitoring system. The optional SafetyTec package groups several safety features together. Optional all-wheel drive improves stability in slippery conditions. 

    Walkaround

    The front of the Chrysler 300 looks like a large sedan version of the Chrysler 200 midsize sedan and Town & Country minivan, with many of the same visual cues in the grille, headlamps, air intakes and front bumper. It's much sleeker and more rounded at the nose, but carries a much lower aerodynamic drag coefficient because of the rounded elements and the very laid-back windshield angle. Neither the windshield nor the rear window carries any bright moldings at all, unusual for a luxury car, but it works on the 300. 

    On the S and SRT versions a gloss-black grille and headlight housings framed against monochrome bodywork; it's hard to imagine understated and menacing applied to the same car but that's how it looks. Think of an S as what you needed a customizer for previously but can now get with factory fit, finish and warranty. Add in big dark wheels and the S and SRT versions deliver the aggressiveness of an AMG E-Class or Cadillac CTS-V with more elegant machinery like a Bentley GT. We have mixed feelings about the styling, especially that of the 300 SRT8. It looks like an upscale hot rod, but we're not sure it quite pulls it off. If you're going for the hot rod look, a Dodge Challenger seems more appropriate. The styling seems to work best on the standard models. 

    The profile of the Chrysler 300 shows pronounced wheel lips front and rear, and they are connected by a sharp body line that starts at the trailing edge of the front wheel well and rises continuously to finish at the side of the tail lamps. That line, coupled with the larger side windows, narrower pillars, and another sculpted line at the bottom of the doors, does wonders to slim down and muscle up the look of the 300. 

    At the rear, there's a chrome bar running across the bottom edge of the decklid between the new vertical LED taillamps and a tall, flat rear bumper between the exhaust outlets that widens the look of the car at the rear. The execution of the LED daytime running lights at the front and the LED rear lamps is excellent. The S and SRT have deeper panels and a lip spoiler for stability. If it were ours we'd peel off the SRT8 emblem and keep people guessing. 

    Interior

    The Chrysler 300 instrument panel, seat trims, center stack, switches and controls, door panels and door pockets were all redesigned for 2011. The largest changes you'll notice for 2012 are the 8-speed shifter, two upper-echelon sound systems and the SRT8's more distinguished interior. 

    This is a big car, and the interior roominess and dimensions front and rear are suitably generous. One of the more pleasant surprises in the Chrysler 300 is the amount of light entering the car. 

    The interior environment is classy without being fussy, and the LED lighting and instrumentation are spot-on. Upholstery can be cloth, leather, or suede and leather on SRT8 and trim is faux wood, real wood, carbon-fiber or piano black lacquer style; interior adornment is generally matte-finish chrome so annoying reflections are minimal. 

    The instrument panel contains a bright gauge package, with crisp graphics and ice-blue accent lighting that is brilliantly legible day or night. 

    The center stack is dominated by a large (8.4-inch) touch-screen control system, with audio and climate functions. Optional is a brilliantly colorful, large-icon Garmin navigation system. This system, because of its size, graphics, and capabilities, may be the best all-around nav system currently available, easy to read, easy to use, and often readable from the back seat. We highly recommend it. Turn onto Beaver Brook Road and in big type at the top of the screen it says, 'Driving on Beaver Brook Road.' We love it. 

    The 300's new four-spoke padded steering wheel has a nice, thick leather-wrapped rim and a thickly padded hub flanked by redundant switches for the voice-activated telephone, cruise control, sound system, and driver information center. On S and SRT models magnesium paddle shifters rise behind the horizontal spokes. They work well except several times we'd bump one of the paddles when making a tight turn, such as turning left at a stop sign; this manually selected first gear, which we wouldn't notice until when the car didn't automatically shift into second while accelerating away from the intersection. It's a minor annoyance but worth mentioning. 

    All the materials in the seats, door trim panels, headliner and instrument panel are appropriate, yielding either the classic warm luxury environment in the 300 Limited or a more youthful, efficient style in the S and SRT. Either way the cabin is a quiet, calming place where miles are put away with ease; and a fuel tank can last 500 miles on the open road. 

    Two new audio systems are available. The Beats By Dr. Dre package features 10 speakers, one trunk-mounted subwoofer and a 552-watt 12-channel amplifier. Lest that's not enough, the Harman-Kardon system uses 19 speakers with subwoofer and a 900-watt 12-channel amplifier for 7.1 surround sound. 

    SRT8 models get a unique steering wheel with flattened bottom, sport seats that fit even big guys, carbon-fiber look trim and dark accents, and the touch-screen adds choices like steering angle, additional instrumentation and sport-mode switching for suspension, engine and transmission. 

    The trunk capacity of the Chrysler 300 is 16.3 cubic feet. Plus, every Chrysler 300 has a split-fold 60/40 rear seat for longer items. 

    Driving Impression

    The standard engine in the Chrysler 300 and Limited models is the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 with double overhead cams, 24 valves, and variable valve timing that aids flexibility and good fuel economy. The V6 puts out 292 horsepower at 6350 rpm, 260 pound-feet of torque at 4800 rpm. Like many modern engine it makes power high up the rev band, so don't be afraid to rev it. It's plenty smooth and delivers strong propulsion. With the 300's standard 5-speed automatic it rates an EPA-estimated 18/27/21 City/Highway/Combined miles per gallon. 

    However, a new 8-speed automatic bumps that to 19/31 City/Highway mpg because it allows easier acceleration and lower engine speed on the highway. With gentle throttle it will get into top gear at 50 mph with the engine running just 1000 rpm, allowing level interstate cruising on minimal fuel. An all-wheel-drive V6 with the 8-speed automatic rates the same 18/27 mpg as a rear-drive 5-speed automatic. 

    The 8-speed also gets a new shifter. It has four positions (PRND) and a +/- gate to the side for manual operation. The stubby T-handle looks like an inverted putter head and is essentially an electronic switch. As a result the same motion is used for changing from Drive to Sport or Sport to Drive, and it's very easy to get Park when you want Reverse by pushing once too often. If it's your only car you'll grow accustomed; if you drive more than one automatic then acclimation will take longer. 

    The 300C and 300S V8 come with the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 engine, generating 363 horsepower and 394 foot-pounds of torque at lower rpm than the V6. Paired with a 5-speed automatic it rates 16/25/19 mpg (15/23 with all-wheel drive) and mid-grade gasoline is specified. While the extra 71 horses over the V6 and infectious sound get the headlines, it's the 134 lb-ft of added torque that shows up far more often. Not many $40,000 four-doors will launch as hard as an all-wheel-drive Hemi. 

    We've sampled everything from the base, cloth upholstered V6 to the hairy-chested (but buttoned up) SRT8, and for most drivers the V6 will be more than adequate. It has adequate power when you need it and uses minimal fuel when you don't, and never makes untoward noise or vibration. We'd opt for the 8-speed automatic both to maximize efficiency and because it improves feel, performance and response. 

    We exercised, pushed and stressed Chrysler 300s in the hills and valleys, sinewy mountain roads and a racetrack and found them to be wonderful traveling companions. The variable-ratio electro-hydraulic power steering system has a lovely, firm feel to it, as though it's actually connected to and directing something down there on the road surface, and the car turns in with authority and without objectionable body roll. On S models the steering is faster and effort is increased with the V8, dare we say perfectly matching that model's composure. 

    Ride quality is smooth, comfortable and quiet. The cabin has been quieted down considerably with the addition of an acoustic bellypan under the car, acoustic material in the wheel wells and pillars, laminated front glass, multiple door seals, and an acoustic wrap around the complete interior to block out noise from the mechanical systems, the wind and the tires. Chrysler claims it's quieter than a Lexus LS460, an admirable claim, but we can say only that it is clear enough to hear a trumpet soloist breathe while the car is gliding along at 100 mph. 

    The anti-lock brake package with electronic brake-force distribution has everything you could ask for in terms of power, pedal modulation, and emergency capabilities, and is the largest component of a very complete safety package that includes traction control, stability control, and front, side, roof and driver knee air bags. 

    The SRT8 pushes the realm of super sedan. With a 470-hp big-bore V8, solid-shifting 5-speed automatic, adaptive dampers from Bilstein, four-piston Brembo brakes and lighter forged alloy wheels with fairly sticky 20-inch tires the SRT8 adds to every dynamic. It's muted enough to make a fast, comfortable touring machine and amped-up enough to make quick work of any road. The 5-speed auto does what it's told but isn't as advanced as much of the competition's 6-, 7-, and 8-speeds. Fuel economy is respectable only compared to other super-sedans, and it isn't as fast as things like the Cadillac CTS-V or Mercedes E63 AMG. However, using all those cars delivers usually requires a racetrack. Also, the SRT8 costs $15,000-$40,000 less, and a set of replacement tires is about two-thirds that of the other cars. 

    Stand on the gas and the SRT8 accelerates like a rocket, with truckloads of torque. It feels like a modern muscle car. When cruising, it comes up short in the refinement category. The big-horsepower versions of all of these big, luxury hot rods lack some of the refinement of the less-stressed versions, but this seems particularly true with the Chrysler 300 SRT8. There's a clunky factor here. If we're going to suffer the downsides of a hot rod, we prefer the looks and character of the Dodge Challenger or Charger to the 300 SRT8. 

    Summary

    The Chrysler 300 is a big American car with room, comfort, power, presence. It comes in a wide range of models and offers a good value. 

    NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent G.R. Whale reported from Los Angeles; with Jim McCraw reporting from San Diego; and Mitch McCullough in New York. 

    Model Lineup

    Chrysler 300 ($27,170); Limited ($32,170), AWD ($34,320); 300S V6 ($33,170), AWD ($35,320); 300C ($38,170), AWD ($40,320); 300S V8 ($39,710), AWD ($41,320). 

    Assembled In

    Brampton, Ontario, Canada. 

    Options As Tested

    none. 

    Model Tested

    Chrysler 300 Limited ($32,170). 

    *The data and content on this web site is subject to change without notice. Neither AOL nor any of its data or content providers shall be liable for errors in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.

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