I put three thousand miles, split pretty evenly between Chrysler Corporations’ two flagship V6 sedans. Read more to see what I think of them.
How did we get here?
The Chrysler 300 (and its platform twin, the Dodge Charger) have been an interesting piece of work in American automotive. Born originally in 2004, the Chrysler LX platform was supposedly an upgrade from the LH platform that preceeded it.
But, in reality, LX was more of a Mercedes E-class sedan, than it was the LH platform that preceded it. Suspensions, transmissions, and as much of the Mercedes parts bin that made sense, wound up in the platform. Damiler engineers were flown over to help develop the platform, and it really is more of an E-class than an LH-derived platform.
From 2005 to 2010, this had mixed results. Half way along, Daimler and Chrysler split, and R&D dollars basically ceased. It wouldn’t be until bankruptcy that Fiat would step in and give Chrysler some much-needed cash infusions to resurrect the LX platform.
As a result, things like side impact safety, transmission performance, and other fatal flaws stagnated one of only two multi-spec, rear wheel drive platform in the United States.
RWD in the United States has had a lot of misfires in the 21st Century. The Ford Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis, and Lincon Towncar would have been great… had the platforms gotten completely rebuilt from the ground up. Instead they resulted in a bad B-grade zombie flick representation of RWD, in the USA. General Motors seemed to mimic that with the Pontiac Bonneville, Buick Lucerne, and Cadillac DTS. GM did a better job, but far from success.
The only real American RWD innovations that rivaled Chrysler’s 300 came out at the worst times. The Pontiac G8 arrived right when the economy was collapsing. The Cadillac CTS is really the only competition to the 300, and starting at $12,000 more than the 300, it’s hard to argue that Chrysler doesn’t have the value proposition right.
Okay, so right now, all we have is the Chrysler 300/Dodge Charger for solid RWD sedan performance… under $40,000, that wears an American flag. And we’ll ignore that Chrysler is probably about to be 51% owned by Fiat… beggers can’t be choosers.
Getting into the car, you feel like you’re stepping into something modern. This is something that I’ve only felt once before with Chrysler (Crossfire-aside), and that was on the 2011 model year Chrysler.
No longer having to separate itself from Mercedes-Benz on the high end, you get a real sense of Luxury. Especially with the leather-appointed Limited trim, the plastic surfaces that you’ve come to expect from American luxury are muted. They’re not gone, but they are muted. The surfaces panning down below the dashboard, and through the center column are still loaded with the stuff.
My big complaint with the interior quality is the fake wood. No, I don’t care if it’s real wood or fake. I just dislike wood on my car in general. Never understood it, never appreciated it, wish it was gone. Anodized aluminum would be better. Heck, the cheap silver plastics that adorn my Pontiac G6 would be better. Taste aside, the wood is all reflective plastic-coated junk, which will proudly blind you when the sun is in the right spot.
Okay, I’m nit picking. The 300 in terms of presentation is nicely done overall. I’m impressed.
Now let’s talk comfort. The leather seats are extraordinarily comfortable. In 500 miles with the car, I can’t think of one point that I felt a muscle ache in the seats. If you think of Camaro as your benchmark for RWD ride comfort today, think again. This car is as comfortable as the CTS, with a five-figure discount.
My one complaint with the leather seats, is the air conditioning. The seats are offered with heating, but no cooling option. Leather can get hot while driving, and more than once I found myself leaning forward to reduce perspiration. We’re in the second decade of the 21st Century, and even Kia now offers actively-cooled seating as an option. Time for Chrysler to step up here.
One more complaint with the 300’s comfort… the doors. I have to admit, it’s rare that I say that a car has a great door, but the 300’s do have issues. The doors are not Camaro-heavy, but they aren’t CTS-nimble either. The doors recoil in painful ways. One point I got smacked from behind as the door decided it didn’t want to rest where it had initially.
This is usually the point where I start attempting to “fix” the door — by getting very innovative, and using my arm as a crowbar, seeing how far the door will bend beyond its limits… usually with a few four letter words flying out at the same time. It may make bystanders grimace, it should make Chrysler engineers grimace more. Are there worse cars out there that do this? Of course, but this is the Chrysler 300. An old person should see a door stand still, and not fear recoil from behind.
Enter the Charger
By the time I got to the Charger, I had adjusted my driving habits to accommodate the five speed automatic. But, I shouldn’t have to. I shouldn’t have to think of the car as a stick shift with a confused brain.
Clearly, the five-speed is what I hate the most about these latest LX sedans from Chrysler. The second-worst thing, is door position… or rather, the fact that the doors will never stay as open as you want them too. About two dozen times, the door came slamming back on me, at the worst possible time. It will stay at the position you leave it at, just long enough to lure you into thinking the door will remain stationary. Then, as you’re picking something up out of the car, it will come slamming back — once or twice painfully into my back.
These are heavy doors, so I can see why it happens. But, it’s also the year 2012, so I can’t accept any justification for it happening on a $30,000 sedan. And, with options, such as the eight-speed, you aren’t getting out the door for anything very much under thirty grand.
The rest of the problems get a lot more trivial, fast. Sure, GM has about twenty more horsepower on their V6, so what. No, it’s not as nimble as the Zeta platform. How’s that hunt for a Chevy Caprice PPV going? What’s that? You’re paying five thousand dollar premiums for it? Just checking.
No, not until the Chevrolet SS launches next year, is there any Rear-Wheel Drive sedan that competes well in the class of the Dodge Charger or Chrysler 300 at its base. As you start to get into the Chrysler 300 Limited range, the Cadillac CTS starts to enter the fray, but you’re dealing with a well-optioned 300 vs a no-frills CTS. If you want ride comfort, you’ll probably still go with the 300.
Now, when the Chevrolet SS does land (late) next year, all bets are off. The one hope Chrysler Corp has for avoiding a major platform refresh, is that the SS may not land with a V6. And that would make it a hard sell even for me. Getting 30 mpg is pretty essential in this economy, especially if the cost of gas doubles over the next decade, which is how long I typically ride cars into the ground. Even with Active Fuel Management, something all American RWD sedans now seem to have nearly, you still lose a lot of MPG vs the direct-injected V6.
The horsepower gap is closing too. We’re now eighty horsepower apart from V6 to V8 Hemi on the Chrylser and Dodge. The numbers for the V8 may jump up a bit, but I doubt horsepower will alongside it. Chrysler is in a good place here with both sedans, even against FWD competitors such as the Taurus.
While now mostly owned by Fiat, Chrysler and Dodge are keeping the spirit of American muscle alive. Both sedans show you don’t have to look overseas to get an amazing sport sedan. However, the entry level automatic transmission may scare most of those buyers back into the hands of Hyundai’s Genesis on the low-end, and the Cadillac CTS/BMW 5-series on the high end. Chrysler should make the eight-speed standard, as you should on your test-drive list.
The difference between the crippleware-grade base transmission, and the eight-speed automatic transmission upgrade, is massive. Do not overlook this when shopping for either of these cars, you will regret it for years to come if you don’t test drive both automatics.
Other than that, a few door retention issues are all that are stopping me from converting from a GM loyalist. The line between the Pontiac G8 and Dodge Charger has gotten thin, really thin.
Those are tough statements to write from behind this keyboard. The only true competition in sight for these units is Chevrolet’s SS performance sport sedan, and that’s still about fifteen months away (at least). And there’s no guarantee the bowtie will offer a V6 engine…