2014 Chrysler 300 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
John Varvatos Editions top performance-luxury sedan lineup.
The Chrysler 300 is a full-size four-door sedan that comes in a variety of models to suit an owner's preference for style or performance, or to provide a specific set of features. Whether V6 or V8 and regardless of model, the Chrysler 300 is a roomy, comfortable, quiet cruiser.
Chrysler 300 comes with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Apart from its corporate 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. Most are front-wheel drive.
Chrysler 300 carries over unchanged for 2014. It was last re-engineered and restyled for 2011. Several models joined the lineup for 2012, a sporty Chrysler 300S, the Chrysler 300C Luxury Series, and the high-performance Chrysler 300 SRT. Chrysler added a pair of special John Varvatos Collection versions of the 300C during the 2013 model year: a Luxury Edition and a Limited Edition. Both incorporate distinctive styling elements based upon the famed fashion/lifestyle designer's work. Each is available fort 2014.
The Chrysler 300S features 20-inch wheels and a firmer suspension. The John Varvatos Limited Edition features a monochromatic black exterior, with a titanium-finish grille surround, enlarged air vents, and special titanium/chrome-finish Chrysler winged badges. The Luxury Edition can be finished in black or Dark Mocha.
Chrysler's standard V6 engine develops 292 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, while the 300S version gets a boost to 300 hp and 264 pound-feet. All Chrysler 300 V6 models use an 8-speed automatic transmission from ZF that performs so effectively, it makes the Hemi V8-powered car nearly irrelevant. With this transmission and rear-wheel drive, the V6 sedan gets an EPA-estimated 19/31 mpg City/Highway.
The available 5.7-liter Hemi V8 produces 363 horsepower and 394 pound-feet of torque. A 5-speed automatic transmission mates with each V8 model. Fuel economy is EPA-estimated at 16/25 mpg City/Highway (15/23 mpg with all-wheel drive).
With a brand history dating back to 1955, 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, it also has good road manners, and stops and changes directions as well as it forges ahead. Chrysler's largest sedan also has a distinctive look that's ever harder to find in this era of economy-driven aerodynamics, pedestrian impact standards, and corporate styling. Options for the 2014 Chrysler 300 include a panoramic dual-pane sunroof.
For the all-out performance fan, the 2014 Chrysler 300 SRT model packs a 470-horsepower, 6.4-liter V8 (only a Corvette ZO6's is larger), along with Brembo brakes and cast or forged alloy 20-inch wheels. Available Bilstein adaptive dampers are similar to those Maserati uses. Needless to say, SRT is quick; but the SRT also delivers good bang for the buck. Previously called SRT8, the 300 SRT comes in two trim levels: Core and Premium.
Consideration for the Chrysler 300 covers a wide spectrum, including the Cadillac CTS, Lincoln MKS, Lexus GS, 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 Taurus SHO. Starting at $44,495 for the Core model, the 2014 Chrysler 300 SRT could be considered a cost-effective sports sedan alternative to Cadillac CTS-V, BMW M and Mercedes-Benz E-Class AMG. A Hyundai Genesis R-Spec is similarly priced, but we don't consider it a performance match.
Chrysler's 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.
The 2014 Chrysler 300 ($30,545) and 300 AWD ($33,045) come standard with a 292-hp 3.6-liter V6 and 8-speed automatic transmission, leather-trimmed cloth upholstery, heated front seats, automatic dual-zone climate control, multi-function tilt/telescoping steering wheel, driver information center, keyless entry, power windows/locks/heated mirrors, cruise control, UConnect 8.4 with 8.4-inch touch screen and AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA Sirius audio with SD card and USB inputs, 12-way power driver seat, 60/40 split-fold rear seat, and 17-inch cast aluminum wheels.
(All prices are Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices, which do not include destination charge and may change at any time without notice.)
Chrysler 300S comes with a choice of 300-hp V6 and 8-speed automatic and rear-drive ($33,545) or AWD ($36,045); or 363-hp V8 with 5-speed automatic and RWD ($35,745) or AWD ($38,245). S denotes body-color trim with gloss-black chromed grille and headlight trim, matte carbon hydrographic cabin trim, 300S logo on seats, and the 552-watt 12-channel Beats By Dr. Dre sound system. Sport mode on the V6's transmission yieds quicker shifts at higher revs. In the 300S, Chrysler's V6 produces 300 horsepower (8 more than usual). With V6, the touring-tuned suspension includes 20-inch wheels; the 300S V8 gets a performance-tuned suspension and larger brake discs. The Hemi V8 features Fuel Saver technology, which eliminates half the cylinders during gentle cruising.
Chrysler 300C V6 ($36,545) and 300C V6 AWD ($39,045) come with the V6 engine and 8-speed automatic; Chrysler 300C V8 ($38,745) and 300C V8 AWD ($41,245) contain a 363-hp 5.7-liter V8, 5-speed automatic and bigger brakes. Standard equipment includes heated/cooled front seats with memory, heated rear seats, leather/wood steering wheel with memory, LED ambient lighting, heated/cooled cupholders, SiriusXM Travel Link and Travel, Alpine 276-watt premium audio, and 18-inch wheels.
Chrysler 300C John Varvatos Limited V6 or Luxury V6 ($41,045) and 300C John Varvatos Limited V6 or Luxury V6 AWD ($43,545) get the V6 engine and 8-speed automatic; Chrysler 300C John Varvators Limited V8 or Luxury V8 ($43,245) and 300C John Varvatos Limited V8 or Luxury V8 AWD ($45,745) contain the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 and 5-speed automatic. Both models have distinctive styling touches. Finished in monochromatic black, the Limited Edition features a titanium-finish grille surround, larger air vents, and special Chrysler winged badges. The Luxury Edition may be finished either in black or Dark Mocha. Special John Varvatos interior features include abundant leather, such as a leather-wrapped instrument panel and cluster brow with French seam accent stitching.
Options depend on the model. Available for any Chrysler 300 are Ivory Pearl paint ($500) and an engine-block heater ($95). The UConnect 8.4N system ($995) includes Garmin navigation, Sirius Travel Link with Real Time Traffic and SiriusXM satellite radio. Also available: premium audio systems, SafetyTec package ($1,995), panoramlc dual-pane sunroof ($1,495), plus 19- and 20-inch wheels.
Chrysler 300 SRT Core ($44,495) and 300 SRT Premium ($48,495) come with a 470-hp 6.4-liter V8, 5-speed automatic with Auto Stick, 20-inch cast aluminum wheels, Bilstein damping, and unique suspension and stability control calibration, brakes and tires. It also includes sport seats with suede inserts, SRT-specific instrumentation and driver information, and a one-day driving experience on track with professional driver instruction. SRT Premium adds HID headlamps, SRT leather-wrapped steering wheel with memory, auto-dim driver's mirror, ventilated front seats, heated front/rear seats, carbon-fiber finish rear door panels, overhead console with Home Link, remote start, Alpine premium audio, and UConnecdt 8.4N with Garmin navigation. Most 300-line features are standard on either or both SRT models, though there are some options, including three-season Goodyear performance tires ($150). Each SRT carries a $1,030 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 a tire-pressure monitoring system. All models except the base 300 have a rear backup camera. The optional SafetyTec package groups several safety features together, including forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring with Rear Cross Path detection, and front/rear park assist. Optional all-wheel drive improves stability in slippery conditions.
Up front, the Chrysler 300 shares design cues with 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. That's unusual for a luxury car, but it works on the 300.
On the 300S and SRT versions, a gloss-black grille and headlight housings are 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 previously needed a customizer to create, but can now get with factory fit, finish and warranty.
Add big dark wheels and the S and SRT versions deliver the aggressiveness of an AMG E-Class or Cadillac CTS-V, but reminiscent of more elegant machinery like a Bentley GT. We have mixed feelings about the styling, especially that of the 300 SRT. It looks like an upscale hot rod, but we're not sure the SRT quite pulls it off. If you're going for the hot rod look, a Dodge Challenger seems more appropriate. Styling of the Chrysler 300 seems to work best on the standard models, though not everyone gives a favorable nod to the overall blocky look of this stretched-out sedan.
The profile of the Chrysler 300 shows pronounced wheel lips front and rear, 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, a chrome bar runs across the bottom edge of the decklid between the vertical LED taillamps and a tall, flat rear bumper, between the exhaust outlets that widen the look of the car at the rear. 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 SRT emblem and keep people guessing.
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 the SRT. 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's 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, for example, and in big type at the top of the screen it says, Driving on Beaver Brook Road. We love it.
Chrysler 300's 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 that several times we bumped one of the paddles when making a tight turn, such as turning left at a stop sign; this action manually selected first gear, which we wouldn't notice until 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 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; even better, a full tank can last 500 miles on the open road.
In the John Varvatos Limited Edition, pewter metallic leather is accented with gray/black stitching. A special gauge cluster evolved from Varvatos's latest watch design, with a pearlescent white face. Inside the John Varvator Luxury Edition. ultra-premium leather blends with hand-sanded wood. Nappa leather is offered in black or Dark Mocha/black, with embossed Varvatos logos. The leather-wrapped steering wheel includes die-cast paddle shifters.
Two step-up 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.
SRT models get a unique steering wheel with flattened bottom, sport seats that fit even big guys, plus carbon-fiber look trim and dark accents. The SRT's 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. Every Chrysler 300 has a split-folding 60/40 rear seat for longer items.
Standard engine in Chrysler 300 models is the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 with double overhead cams, 24 valves, and variable valve timing that aids flexibility and fuel economy. The V6 puts out 292 horsepower at 6350 rpm, and 260 pound-feet of torque at 4800 rpm. (In the 300S, output rises to 300 hp.)
Like many modern engines, the V6 makes power high up the rev band, so don't be afraid to rev it. The V6 is plenty smooth and delivers strong propulsion. 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.
Our 2014 Chrysler 300C John Varratos Luxury Edition, equipped with the V6 and all-wheel drive, emphasizes restrained elegance inside the cabin, led by lush leather upholstery. Performance from the V6 is close to startling, reminiscent of a powerful Hemi V8 of the recent past but refined, quiet, and thrifty for a large car (at least on the highway).
Acceleration with the V6 is aided by the 8-speed transmission, but some low-speed, lower-gear shifts weren't nearly as smooth as expected. Shifting rather curtly on those occasions, the gearchanges may be accompanied by a momentary but well-defined little jolt; and at times, those shifts drag out a bit instead of finishing promptly. This phenomenon helps give the V6 the feel of a performance V8, but that's not a benefit for every luxury-sedan buyer. Waiting to see if the next low-speed shift will be overly noticeable isn't the route toward fully relaxed driving.
The 8-speed's shifter has four positions (PRND). John Varvatos and 300S model incorporate a selectable Sport mode, with paddle shifters 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 all too easy to get Park when you want Reverse by pushing once too often. It's even possible to wind up in Reverse when that's not your choice. You can't rely on feel, but must watch the instrument-panel indicator to make sure which gear you're in. If the 300 is your only car you'll grow accustomed; if you drive more than one automatic, then acclimation will take longer.
With the standard 8-speed automatic, V6 models rate an EPA-estimated 19/31 City/Highway miles per gallon. All-wheel drive drops the estimate to 18/27 mpg.
At one point, our test Luxury Edition's information display went crazy. While stopping at a light, waiting to turn right, the transmission seemed to issue a momentary jerk. The display suddenly warned us to Service AWD, alternating with a flashing notice that the FCW (forward collision warning) was now Off. All seemed to operate normally, so we proceeded despite the warnings. When shutting off the engine at a parking spot, yet another flash appeared, stating that the gearshift, of all things, needed service. After restarting the engine, the warnings disappeared, so we'll chalk this one up to a computer glitch that managed to reset itself.
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 City/Highway/Combined (15/23 mpg with all-wheel drive). Mid-grade gasoline is specified. While the extra 71 horses over the V6 and infectious sound get the headlines, it's the 134 pound-feet 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) SRT, and for most drivers the V6 will be more than adequate. It has sufficient power when you need it and uses minimal fuel when you don't, and never makes untoward noise or vibration.
We exercised, pushed and stressed a group of Chrysler 300s in 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. The car turns in with authority and without objectionable body roll. On S models, the steering is faster and effort is increased, perfectly matching that V8 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, and multiple door seals. An acoustic wrap around the complete interior blocks 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's clear enough to hear a trumpet soloist breathe while the car is gliding along at high speed.
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. It's 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 SRT pushes the realm of super sedan. With a 470-horsepower big-bore V8, solid-shifting 5-speed automatic, adaptive dampers from Bilstein (on Premium model), four-piston Brembo brakes and lighter forged alloy wheels with fairly sticky 20-inch tires, the SRT adds to every dynamic. It's muted enough to make a fast, comfortable touring machine, yet amped-up enough to make quick work of any road. The 5-speed automatic 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 a Cadillac CTS-V or Mercedes E63 AMG. However, using all that those cars can deliver usually requires a racetrack. Also, the SRT costs $15,000-$40,000 less, and a set of replacement tires costs about two-thirds that of the other cars.
Stand on the gas and the SRT accelerates like a rocket, with truckloads of torque. It feels like a modern muscle car. When cruising, however, 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 SRT. 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 SRT.
The Chrysler 300 is a big American car with room, comfort, power, and presence. It comes in a wide range of models, all the way up to the stimulating SRT and the new, luxury-laden John Varvatos editions. Each offers good value in the large-sedan league.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent G.R. Whale reported from Los Angeles; with Jim McCraw reporting from San Diego; and Mitch McCullough in New York.
Chrysler 300 ($30,545); 300 AWD ($33,045); 300S V6 ($33,545), 300S V6 AWD ($36,045); 300S V8 ($35,745), 300S V8 AWD ($38,245); 300C V6 ($36,545), 300C V6 AWD ($39,045); 300C V8 ($38,745), 300C V8 AWD ($41,245); 300C John Varvatos Luxury V6 ($41,045), 300C John Varvatos Luxury V6 AWD ($43,545); 300C John Varvatos Luxury V8 ($43,245), 300C John Varvatos V8 AWD ($45,745); 300C John Varvatos Limited V6, 300C John Varvatos Limited V6 AWD; 300C John Varvatos Limited V8, 300C John Varvatos Limited V8 AWD; 300 SRT Core ($44,495), 300 SRT Premium ($48,495).
Brampton, Ontario, Canada.
Options As Tested
Boston Audio Group ($995), SafetyTec Group ($1,995), Light Group ($895), panoramic sunroof ($1,595).
Chrysler 300C John Varvatos Luxury Edition V6 AWD ($43,695).
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