By Jim MacPherson
The 300 has played many roles in the Chrysler lineup. Originally, the 300 letter-series cars were fire-breathing, high performance models that offered power, speed and handling no other Chrysler – and few competitors – could match.
This model devolved into a sporty but less potent and more affordable offshoot. In 1999 the 300 returned, with a letter “M” as a suffix. True believers in the original letter series cars were disappointed, however. This new Chrysler 300M was a four-door sedan, not a sporty coupe or convertible, and the high-powered V-8 was replaced by a V-6 with front-wheel drive.
In 2005, Chrysler made amends with the introduction of a new 300, this time with no letter suffix on V-6 versions. Equipped with the optional HEMI V-8, this sedan became the 300C, a designation that also graced 1957 300s. HEMI models are powerful enough to leave the original 300s in the dust and, for purists, this sedan featured rear-wheel drive.
What really attracted attention and a substantial number of buyers to these new 300s, however, was the styling. It was bold and looked like nothing else on the road.
Last year, Chrysler redesigned the 300, going for more refinement in appearance and performance. Chrysler made the 2012 V-6 model as appealing as the V-8 with the addition of a new eight-speed automatic transmission. This transmission takes the place of last year’s five-speed unit in the mid-level Limited model. It’s an option in the base version of the 300, which continues to offer a five-speed automatic transmission.
Adding three more forward speeds than were last year’s transmission means the 2012 V-6 powered 300 delivers better fuel economy and improved performance. Chrysler brags about the 31 miles per gallon that the car delivered in the EPA highway test cycle, although we didn’t come close to that.
Chalk up our failure to cold temperatures, winter blend gasoline (it delivers fewer miles per gallon) and our willingness to tap into the performance potential of the 3.6-liter V-6, which is rated at 292 horsepower and propelled our test car to 60 miles per hour in 7.5 seconds. We also had the all-wheel drive option, which lowered the highway rating to 27 miles per gallon.
“I’ve had nothing but good feedback on the new transmission,” says Mark Freund, a sales and leasing consultant at Bolles Motors in Ellington. “It’s smooth shifting; people are aware of it and requesting it.”
The V-6 engine is plenty powerful and nicely refined. “Some people think they need the V-8 for power, but the V-6 is more than adequate and with its fuel economy, it makes sense,” Freund says.
The rest of the 300 also makes sense. The front seats are roomy and comfortable. As for the back seat, a visiting family member and an avid Audi owner was skeptical at the beginning of a 60 mile trip. At the end of the journey, he was thoroughly impressed by this Chrysler’s ride, silence and back seat comfort. The trunk is also roomy, and the opening, though shallow, is large enough to swallow a 60-quart cooler with lots of room left over. The S-style trunk hinges reduce trunk room, but they are completely enclosed by the trunk liner, so they won’t damage or crush cargo when the trunk lid is closed. The rear seats are split and fold, enhancing trunk room.
“People like the [300’s] full-size car ride, the four-wheel drive’s go-anywhere-in-any-weather ability and the nearly 50/50 weight distribution, which aids handling,” Freund says.
Engine: 3.6 V-6 5.7 V-8 6.4 V-8
HP 292 363 470
Torque (lb-ft) 260 394 470
EPA RWD 5-sp auto 18/27 16/25 14/23
EPA RWD 8-sp auto 19/31 n/a n/a
EPA AWD 8-sp auto 18/27 n/a n/a
Starts at: $28,170