Power and poise well beyond its price. By Jim Hall • Photos by Guy Spangenberg May 2004 The all-new Chrysler 300C is one stylish ride. With its vertical grille, tall beltline and chop-top-looking greenhouse, this new rear-drive sedan has a presence that is powerful, dramatic and regal. Stylized touches abound inside as well, including tortoise-shell steering wheel trim, analog clock atop the center console and chrome trim accents surrounding the wristwatch-like faces of the speedometer and tachometer and the shiftgate. Add in the 5.7-liter 340-horsepower V-8 Hemi coupled to a 5-speed automatic transmission that’s lifted straight from the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and you have a lot of class for the cash: Even fully-optioned — including high-end luxuries such as a navigation system, ultrasonic parking assist, 380-watt sound system with 6-disc CD and MP3 player, and a Uconnect hands-free wireless system that works with your Bluetooth-enabled cell phone — it’s virtually impossible to bump the price of the 300C past the $38,000 mark. ----- Rear drive. Hemi V-8 power. Is it 1965, or 2005? By Douglas Kott • Photos by Guy Spangenberg May 2004 "Change is good." It was Andre Agassi's mantra when he lost the shoulder-length hair and headband for the Bruce Willis look, and it could be Chrysler's with the new V-6-powered 300 and our test car, the 300C, which resurrects the Hemi label for its V-8 powerplant after a half-century of absence. It's the third car, after the Crossfire and Pacifica, to bear the fruits of the Mercedes-Benz/Chrysler merger, and it's radically different from the François Castaing-era LH cars it replaces — to scratch the surface, this new LX platform is rear drive, and let's just say the cab-forward look is squarely in the rearview mirror. In person, the 300C is a bona fide eye-catcher. It's stately and mature, and yet powerful and compact-looking considering its generous overall length of 196.8 in., on a 120.0-in. wheelbase. Its proportions suggest that the rear wheels are providing the motive force, with a long hood, a nipped tail and bold wheel wells showing off the 18-in. rolling stock. In profile, two things are immediately obvious: The 300C is very high-waisted, with a chopped greenhouse reminiscent of a 1950s' custom; and the windshield angle, in a total reversal of the LH cars, is relatively upright. Moving around to the front, there's a face you'll never forget and can't ignore. Inspired by Chrysler's 1998 Chronos show car, the 300C's dramatic, imposing grille and bejeweled headlight clusters project a certain confidence...and disdain for more meekly styled cars, perhaps? In my humble opinion, it's a very successful look, alluding to Chrysler's famed Letter Cars of the 1950s and 1960s without crossing over and becoming a caricature of them. A tug on the substantial, chrome-plated door handle reveals an interior that's classy and refreshingly clean in its execution. The dash and door panels are two-tone, the lowers done in a light taupe to lend an airy feel; the uppers in a deep green. The gauges have light silver faces, and the elegant graphics and typeface for their numerals suggest a high-end timepiece. The panel, whose handy multiconfigurable information screen nestles between the speedometer and tach, is extra-readable as it's not buried in a deep recess. You get the feeling of looking at a 1960s' premium Hi-Fi system when taking in the center dash's satin-silver finish and rectangular shape, the strips of chrome on the door panels that blend into the door release levers, and the silver-clad spokes of the leather-wrapped wheel that incorporate secondary controls for the audio system. Tortoise-shell plastic, another kitschy yet classy nod to the past, comprises the upper third of the wheel's rim and also adorns the door pulls and shift knob. There's an analog clock above the center vents, and in a bit of a time-warp twist, a modern color LCD display beneath, part of what Chrysler calls its optional Navigation radio. This unit is a veritable Swiss Army knife of electronics, combining an MP3 player, a 6-disc CD system, AM/FM tuner and DVD-based navigation system in one unit. If desired, a Boston Acoustics 380-watt upgrade sound system and Sirius satellite radio can be added as options. The nav system is quite user-friendly. Menus and icons are selected via a joystick, and destinations can be selected in 10 different ways — everything from the standard method of entering the street address, to entering the names of two cross streets, to simply putting the cursor on the map where you want to go, then hitting the Enter key. Working hand-in-hand with the nav system is Chrysler's optional UConnect, a Bluetooth wireless system that seamlessly transfers a call from your Bluetooth-enabled cell phone to the car's hands-free system. The thumping of eight large pistons, though, is far more interesting than the silent flitting of electrons through microchips, and the 300C's 5.7-liter pushrod V-8 does not disappoint. First impressions: Its Multi Displacement System, or MDS, is virtually unnoticeable. Which is good, considering that past attempts by other automakers at such technology have been borderline disasters. Designed to deactivate four of the eight cylinders under light-load conditions, MDS is said to reduce fuel consumption by 10-20 percent over a conventional V-8 of like displacement. It works by collapsing eight of the 16 hydraulic roller lifters during cruise, then bringing them quickly — within one revolution of the crankshaft — back on line to produce the full 340 bhp and 390 lb.-ft. of torque that this iron-block engine is capable of. It's truly seamless, and the exhaust note offers no clues to the transformation. Squeeze the narrow pedal and you're met with a rush of steadily building acceleration with muted V-8 backfill, without hitches, stumbles or burps no matter the situation. At the test track, our radar gun recorded the 300C sprinting to 60 mph in just 5.6 seconds, well under Chrysler's own estimate of 6.3. In the standing-start quarter mile, a 300C will outrun several respectable sports cars including the Nissan 350Z, along with some full-size luxury heavy-hitters like the Lexus LS 430 and Infiniti Q45. Indeed, its 14.1-sec. clocking at 101.1 mph would make a Porsche Boxster S driver leery about racing for pink slips. In this type of car, the smooth transmission of power is at least as important as the power itself, and here the 300C profits from the Mercedes/Chrysler merger by using the same 5-speed DaimlerChrysler automatic transmission, manufactured in Kokomo, Indiana, that's used in the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. In fact, about 20 percent of the 300C's components by value are sourced from Mercedes parts bins, including the front seat frames, steering column and the basic multilink rear suspension design. From rest, launches are smooth yet decisive, and upshifts through the evenly spaced ratios register as gentle nudges to your backside. Both its smoothness and efficiency owe a debt of gratitude to adaptive electronic control, which monitors accelerator and brake pedal usage plus lateral acceleration to alter shift points according to driving style, and continually adjusts hydraulic pressure for the gentlest possible shift. Of course, there are times when you want to take gear-selection matters into your own hands; for those occasions, there's the sequential AutoStick mode, where you simply tap the gear selector sideways...left for downshifts, right for upshifts...to choose the correct gear for the situation. There's no need to move the lever into a dedicated sequential gate. The 300C would make an excellent road-trip car, as its comfortable seats and generous cabin width allow you to shift around in several positions — key to maintaining comfort in the long haul. The view out is commanding, with a seating position that's 2.5 in. higher than a 300M's while still maintaining generous head room, even with the chopped appearance of the greenhouse. The electric tilt/telescope steering column has a wide range of adjustment, as do optional adjustable pedals; and some of the controls borrow a page from Mercedes' playbook, i.e., the slender 4-way cruise control stalk above a turn-signal lever that twists to actuate the windshield wipers. Like the rest of the car, climate controls are straightforward yet classy, with small chrome accents on the knobs and clear pictograms for the ventilation modes. And the ride quality is impressive, with springing on the comfort side but enough shock control to give a locked-down, planted feel with little sense of wallow or float. For such a smooth-riding car, the 300C corners with minimal body roll, and though the all-season Continentals, size 225/60-18, managed a fairly modest 0.79g on the skidpad, their contact patches feel securely fastened to the road in reasonably brisk driving. Plenty of Mercedes know-how manifests itself in the suspension design — especially the rear multilink arrangement that's quite similar to that used in the E-Class, only with longer links commensurate with the 300C's wider track. Steering feels precise on center, and effort required ramps up in a natural way as the wheel is turned. Dab the brake pedal and you're met with little slop and a firm feel that's easy to modulate. In short, there are no surprises; just predictable, linear response, with the sense that the suspension is allowed to do its job well through virtue of the 300C's solid structure. It's no BMW M5, but it does provide satisfying roadholding for a large, comfortable sedan. With the Electronic Stability Control (ESP) disengaged by pressing a dash-mounted button, the big Hemi can snap the rear tires loose. Even when switched off, it will still intervene when its sensors determine the car is wildly out of shape. But leave it engaged (which is the normal mode) and ESP is a true guardian angel, smoothly working in unison with the traction control to keep wheel slippage to a minimum, and the car moving on the driver's intended path by subtly braking a wheel or wheels. On dry pavement, the threshold of intervention is high enough to prevent spoiling your fun when cornering hard. All in all, the 300C is an impressive car at an appealing price — loaded with most available options, our test car couldn't crack $38,000. Yet its performance, road presence and luxury aspire to the levels of big European sedans. We're not suggesting it's the equal of a BMW 545i or Mercedes-Benz E500, but it's about a Honda Civic less expensive, and it's light-years ahead of the LH cars. Cab forward, rest in peace.