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2011 Chrysler 300Redesigned 2011 Chrysler 300 sedan exudes elegant refinement
This almost all new, substantially re-engineered and mildly restyled 2011 Chrysler 300-the last of 16 new or significantly changed vehicles from "new Chrysler" since its 2009 emergence from bankruptcy-is far better than the previous one. Its look is smoother, its interior plusher, its chassis, suspension and powertrains stronger and more refined, and its feature content is substantially updated.
When Chrysler's then new, rear-wheel-drive, 2005 full-size 300 sedan hit the streets, it was praised for bold styling, aggressive attitude and surprising dynamics. Since everyone else was doing smaller, more fuel-efficient front-drive sedans, Chrysler was running counter-trend.
And it worked. That `05 300 was widely praised, won numerous awards, sold strongly and polished the brand's then-sagging image. Some call it "the car that saved Chrysler" the last time it was in financial straights (before the 2008 collapse), and that is probably true.
Times change. "This all-new 300 is our flagship," said Chrysler Brand President and CEO Olivier Francois. "From its premium materials, state-of-the-art connectivity features, new chassis architecture and best-in-class power, the all-new 2011 Chrysler 300 embodies the brand's new attitude in every detail. It will reenergize our brand, like the original 300 did."
The 2011 300 is available in four flavors: 300 (starting at about $28,000), 300 Limited, 300C and 300C AWD, and with Luxury and SafetyTec option groups. As Chrysler's flagship sedan, its mission is to compete with large luxury imports, for much less money, in addition to domestic full-sizers.
"We wanted to retain most of the positive elements of the predecessor while adding some from the very bold, strong, proud American 300s of the 1950s and `60s," said Chrysler design chief Brandon Faurote. An all-new grille sports seven wave-sculpted horizontal blades, their darker "liquid-chrome" finish contrasting smartly with the bright-chrome grille surround, under a new wing badge. Key-slot-shaped bi-functional projector headlamps have a scalloped lower edge and (Audi-like) LED daytime running lamps in a unique C shape.
In profile, the 2011 Chrysler 300 shares its predecessor's elegant (somewhat Bentley-like), short-front-overhang, long-wheelbase proportions but with more refined and tailored details. Its windshield is more laid back and its front pillars slimmer, and its fender peaks rise above the sculpted hood and deck. In back are an integrated deck-lid spoiler, a chrome appliqué between vertical LED taillamps with signature "light pipes" and dual oval exhaust tips in the lower fascia.
But the new interior may be the new 300's single most obvious improvement. Faurote described it as, "more fluid, sculptural and refined, with much softness." We call it beautifully designed, crafted and assembled, with precision fits and rich materials. There are soft-touch surfaces everywhere, plus available heated and ventilated Nappa leather and real wood on the instrument panel, doors, console and steering wheel.
The new seats have an S-shaped spring suspension and the front-seat backs a four-way (up/down and fore/aft) lumbar system, plus variable density foams for added comfort. The new instrument cluster features two large, chrome-ringed dials with cool blue illumination matching the cabin's blue LED ambient lighting. Bright chrome on the smaller details contrasts with satin chrome on larger accents to mimic the look of milled aluminum.
The new 300's all-new 292-hp 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine offers an excellent balance of performance and fuel efficiency, with EPA ratings of 18 mpg city and 27 highway. A move up to a top-of-the-line 300C gets you a 363-horse Hemi V8 good for sub-6-second zero to 60 performance, yet with gas-saving cylinder deactivation cutting off four cylinders at light loads, it can deliver 25-mpg highway economy.
The 300C AWD's all-wheel-drive system seamlessly transitions between rear-drive and AWD with a segment-exclusive active transfer case and front-axle disconnect. When AWD is not required, it automatically uncouples the front axle to improve fuel efficiency up to 5 percent.
The 2011 Chrysler 300's available Uconnect Touch (standard on 300C models) integrates infotainment and convenience features through the segment's largest (8.4-inch) standard touch-screen radio. It offers state-of-the-art connectivity, Garmin navigation and SIRIUS Travel Link for real-time weather, fuel prices and more. And the combination of the large display and user-friendly touch-key categories make it unusually easy to use.
Chrysler says the new 300 also boasts more than 70 safety and security features, including standard front-row reactive head restraints, full-length side-curtain air bags, front seat-mounted side-thorax air bags, a driver's knee bag, Keyless Enter-N-Go and electronic stability control (ESC) with (segment-exclusive) Ready Alert Braking and Rain Brake Support. An optional SafetyTec Group adds adaptive-forward lighting (AFL) HID projector high and low-beams with automatic leveling, Forward Collision Warning (FCW) with adaptive-cruise control (ACC), Blind-spot monitoring (BSM) with Rear Cross Path (RCP) detection, ParkSense front and rear park assist system, LED-illuminated rear fog lamps, and exterior mirrors with supplemental turn signals and approach lamp.
This new 300 rides on Chrysler's second-generation E-segment (large-car) architecture, with redesigned suspension geometry and all-new hardware. "It's an entirely new platform with very little carried over from the previous car," said 300 chief engineer Mitch Clauw at the media drive event. "We started the program three-and-a-half years ago with 3,300 functional objectives derived from surveys of luxury-sedan competitors. Our targets were the Lexus LS 460 for quietness and ride and the Mercedes S Class for handling, and we couldn't get there just by modifying the original steering and suspension."
Chrysler says it delivers "grand-touring performance expected from premium European luxury sedans to make this all-new American flagship one of the best driving sedans in the world." That may be a stretch, but we found it surprisingly good, especially given this big sedan's substantial size and weight.
The new standard V6 puts out plenty of power, while the 300C's muscular Hemi V8 generates pavement-wrinkling torque, accelerative rush and a sensuous sound-track. More importantly to serious drivers, this new big sedan does indeed carve corners, steer and stop about as well as anything out there at anywhere near its size and price, and its cabin really is luxury-car quiet and comfortable.