Chrysler redid their full-size 300 sedan last year, and we really loved the updated style and nicer interior, but frankly our six-cylinder model was a little on the sleepy side to drive. We knew a new eight-speed automatic was in the works—and hoped that would perk things up—but we weren’t prepared for what a huge difference it made with the 2012 Chrysler 300S sedan.
In fact, the combination of the eight-speed transmission and Chrysler Pentastar V6, with 31-mpg highway performance, makes this the optimal choice over the available eight-cylinder engine. That’s right: We coulda had a V8—and we’re glad we didn’t!
Our Chrysler 300S test model wowed us from the start. The S model’s black headlamp bezels and black chrome bars in the grille set off its Tungsten Metallic paint beautifully. Crouched over unique 20-inch aluminum wheels, the 300S looked “bad to the bone.”
Thankfully, our 2012 300S had the muscle to back up the looks. While the 292-hp 3.6-liter V6 is unchanged, the new eight-speed automatic (the 300 base model still gets last year’s five-speed) makes sure the engine is always in the sweet spot, and it flies.
Not only is it quick off the line, our tester had a wonderful growl as it pulled toward redline. With eight gears, you get to enjoy this more often. As part of the S model packaging, you also get paddle shifters on the wheel, and you can fire off rapid shifts that are as good as anything on the market. All this and, remember, up to 31 mpg on the freeway!
The Chrysler 300S also has a specially-tuned suspension that makes the most of those meaty 20-inch wheels and tires, with a comfortable ride that still provides plenty of grip. It’s even nimble, given that this is a big, broad-shouldered car that takes up its share of the road.
That bigness pays off in the cabin, which is limousine large and comfortable. Our tester had the optional red leather, which absolutely makes the car. Combined with the dark interior trim (replacing other model’s traditional chrome and wood) plus blue LED backlit gauges and radio/navi display, it’s simply stunning inside.
When you’re done drooling over its style, there’s plenty of good stuff to enjoy as well. The 300S get a 10-speaker Beats by Dr. Dre audio system, which makes any genre of music sound terrific. A large touchscreen display makes accessing your info-tainment easy. In fact, most of the European and Japanese luxury cars could learn a lesson from the 300 on how to simplify all the switches and controls down to an elegant, logical interface.
Being a Chrysler, every 300 model is luxuriously equipped. You just decide what level of opulence suits you best. The base 300 starts at a mere $27,470, which is a lot of style and presence for the price of a Camry. There’s the Limited model in the middle then the 300S, which starts at $33,470. If you want a HEMI—and we know we’d love it—we say drive the V6 8-speed first. It’s priced around $38,470. We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the 300 SRT8 rocket ship, with a 6.3-liter, 470-hp V8 that will happily peel the asphalt from the road for $47,470.
Our moderately optioned V6 300S tester came in at $41,775—and it’s exactly how we’d order one for ourselves.
Bottom line: We really loved our time in the 2012 Chrysler 300S. The bad-boy looks, the strong performance, outstanding fuel economy, and the comfort and luxury all add up to an unbeatable package. What a difference a new transmission and a little fine-tuning can make.