2017 Chrysler 300 AWD Limited
Still one of the best value-oriented luxury sedans available
After being blown away by the concept during a private introduction held in a little theatre-style auditorium at the New York auto show in April of 2003, I’ve had the luxury (literally) of driving every single iteration since this LX-based 300 started rolling off the Brampton, Ontario line in mid-February 2004. Chrysler launched the car two weeks later in Palm Springs with yours truly and a gaggle of auto scribes in tow, all of which appeared thoroughly impressed by this game changing four-door. I was absolutely dumbfounded then, and even now, some 13 years and one generation later, I must admit to still being quite smitten by the big car. Of course, I’m certainly not alone in this respect. The 300 has been so good for so very long that it’s developed a near cult-like following.
Before I get accused of being on Chrysler’s payroll, or at least in charge of the 300 fan club’s newsletter, let’s be totally honest for a moment. While we can all sing praises of that original 300 and the impressive update that came in 2011, Chrysler hasn’t done much particularly well over the past dozen or so years. In fact, since the brand’s 2005 high of 649,293 sales, its annual U.S. tally has plunged to just 231,972 units last year, which has as much to do with consumers’ waning interest in mid- to full-size four-door sedans and high-end minivans, as the winged blue ribbon brand’s succession of multinational parents starving it of investment.
When I started out as a fledgling car writer at the turn of the millennium, Chrysler was a very hot property with a host of cab-forward designs that were the envy of every domestic brand and a number of imports. These included the mid-size Cirrus sedan, the Sebring Coupe and Convertible, as well as the Concorde, 300M (this model’s front-drive predecessor) and LHS (yes, three unique luxury sedans under one “Pentastar” brand name), plus the Town and Country minivan.
That already sizable model lineup grew to include the PT Cruiser (a massive hit that soon added a convertible and sportier GT variant) and Prowler (this latter one due to the demise of Plymouth) in 2001, while the Cirrus was swapped out for the new Sebring Sedan that year as well. Model year 2004 added the Mercedes SLK-derived Crossfire sports coupe (soon after to include a roadster) and Pacifica mid-size crossover SUV. A key reason for Chrysler’s ultra-strong 2005 sales was the introduction of the model shown on this page, the 300 taking American roads by storm, whereas the Dodge Durango-based Aspen SUV was added in 2007.
To help paint a picture of just how far Chrysler has fallen in recent times, back in the day the place to be at a major auto show was the Chrysler stage, with concepts like the 1993 300 four-door coupe (it made this import fan want to own a Chrysler), the 1995 Atlantic coupe, 1996 LHX luxury sedan, 1997 Phaeton four-door convertible, 1998 Chronos four-door coupe (to-die-for gorgeous), 1999 Java (the small car they should’ve built), 2000 300 Hemi C Convertible (absolutely stunning), 2004 ME Four-Twelve mid-engine supercar (we were all shocked beyond belief at this well-kept secret), 2005 Firepower (possibly my favorite of all), and 2006 Imperial (you can’t win ’em all, but it showed the premium vision the powers that be at Chrysler had for the brand at the time).
After that it was as if Chrysler lost its ability to dream, with the awkward 2007 Nassau, the boring 2008 EcoVoyager, the pretty albeit too production-ready 200C EV, the Lancia-based “Design Study Concept” (even the name was dull… it’s written up as one of the 25 worst concepts ever created, and actually became the Euro-only 2012 Chrysler Delta), nothing at all for 2011, and the strangely contorted 700C minivan concept for 2012. Sadly, the most exciting Chrysler concepts to come along in years were the 2012 Chrysler Review GT and 2013 Imperial, which were only renderings and not even penned by Chrysler.
Not a single notable Chrysler concept was created from 2013 through 2016, with this year’s Portal being a boxy electric people mover that could’ve just as easily been imported from the wacky Tokyo auto show. If it weren’t for the new Pacifica minivan I’d say Chrysler has completely lost its vision as a brand.
This said Chrysler’s entire future is riding on a handsome, intelligently conceived, and very well built minivan, but a minivan just the same. If it were a compact or mid-size SUV it would be something to truly build upon in today’s crossover crazed market, but minivan numbers are stable at best.
The mid-size 200 family sedan is still available as a 2017 model, but according to FCA it’s being cancelled to make way for more SUVs. A shame as it was selling fairly well as of 2016 (just below the Chevrolet Malibu and ahead of the Kia Optima, Volkswagen Passat, Subaru Legacy, and Mazda6), which means when it gets discontinued later this year its 57,294 2016 sales (which totaled 177,889 in 2015 before they announced the cancellation) will make a significant dent in Chrysler’s total head count. A minivan and well-seasoned full-size luxury sedan won’t make up for those kinds of numbers (174,678 last year and probably less this year).
I know I paint a bleak picture, but I’m stating nothing new to anyone who follows the auto industry. Chrysler’s been kept alive thanks to Dodge branded models that have, up until now, shared underpinnings, and most often sold in greater numbers. With the Avenger gone the 200 wasn’t able to sustain itself, so we’ll have to wait and see if FCA allows the Pacifica (which no longer shares anything other than the powertrain with the Grand Caravan) to remain solely a Chrysler, or if the automaker finally breaks down and builds a cheaper Dodge version in order to pull up sales volumes—although it’s doing pretty well as far as minivans go.
The Charger sedan, which attracted 42,196 more buyers last year than the 300 (95,437 compared to 53,241), and to some extent the Challenger sports coupe that also shares the LX architecture (at 64,433 deliveries in 2016), allows Chrysler’s flagship to exist. The two sedans will probably run mostly unchanged through 2018, at which point we’ll find out if replacements are currently in the works or not.
As it is, the second-generation Chrysler 300 before you is now a seven-year old model, which is pretty ancient for this day and age. The fact that it’s still so very good is testament to how advanced it was when it came out in 2011, not to mention how phenomenal the original 2005 model was when it arrived in 2004. Why does that 13-year old 300 matter? Because the LX platform architecture the current model rides upon is mostly the same. To the 300’s credit, many of the original car’s components were shared with the 2003–2009 W211 Mercedes-Benz E-Class (Chrysler was previously owned by Daimler), hence why it’s so damn good.
Of course, the new model was massaged significantly for its 2011 update, so much so that it looked, drove and felt like a completely new car. Its refinement was over-the-top back then, and while still quite good compared to cars of that era, it’s no longer best in class.
To be fair I wasn’t driving the top-line trim level this time around, my 2017 300 AWD Limited now the base model in a five trim lineup (albeit in RWD). The $32,340 entry-level Limited is followed by the sportier 300S at $35,675, the unique (and oh-so cool looking) rose gold tone-accented 300S Alloy for the same $35,675, the Hemi V8-powered 300C at $38,635, and finally the 300C Platinum at $42,770 (plus freight and dealers fees, of course). That last one is a pretty rich looking ride, but even if you load it up with every available option you’ll only be asked to pay $45,270, and by my experience Chrysler is usually willing to give you a sizable discount or an awesome finance/lease deal.
In other words, value is a key ingredient to the 300’s continued success, but by value I don’t mean cheap. The money asked is beyond fair for what you get, but as I was alluding to earlier you get a helluvalot. It starts with a really tight, well built, near full-size luxury sedan with a true sporting character. Whether you choose rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, as Chrysler outfitted my tester, the 300’s undercarriage is nicely balanced with excellent ride quality and superb handling dynamics.
Let’s not forget that some radical performance cars are based on this chassis architecture, such as the 707 horsepower Dodge Charger and Challenger SRT Hellcats, and the upcoming 840 horsepower Challenger SRT Demon (0–60 mph in 2.3 seconds!). None of the 300’s competitors’ front-wheel or all-wheel drive suspension designs could possibly manage that much power, but this modified Mercedes-sourced model has no problem doing so, or for that matter handling the many states of tune in between.
The 300 Limited utilizes FCA’s very impressive 3.6-liter “Pentastar” V6 that’s every bit as good as anything else on the market, premium or otherwise, and better than many. It’s a potent engine with 292 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, and makes efficient use of all that output via an eight-speed ZF automatic with manual mode and optional paddles. Takeoff from standstill is spirited, with shifts coming on quickly and positively, unlike some in this class that try to pull of a premium experience despite using continuously variable transmissions (CVT).
If this were my ride I’d have to be coaxed into choosing AWD, because as previously experienced the 300’s RWD setup is superb, and all of the model’s standard active safety gear, particularly traction and stability control, make it very capable in the extreme wet and snow, but I could understand those living in really cold climates wanting the all-wheel drivetrain. Either way the 300 is a winner when it comes to driving dynamics, equaling and surpassing many premium cars for pure handling prowess, while delivering a highly refined, wonderfully composed ride quality that’s unusual for its price point.
I don’t know about you, but even after all these years I find the 300’s design to be handsome in an almost aristocratic way. This car has presence that punches way above its financial weight, and probably more than most cars in this class the 300 makes a definitive statement about its owner.
Inside, there are some things the 300 does brilliantly and other areas where it falls a bit short. Let’s start with the good stuff, shall we? You won’t find a more dazzling gauge cluster in the mid- to full-size mainstream volume-branded class. It sparkles with an effervescent silver-blue that really pulls eyeballs yet is easy to read and filled with info via a full-color TFT display that takes up all the space in between. It’s accessed by switchgear on the left steering wheel spoke, these buttons very high in quality, ideally fitted, and nicely damped for a truly premium look and feel.
Over on the center stack the audio and HVAC buttons and dials are even nicer thanks to chrome and satin-silver detailing, rubber grips, and overall easy functionality, whereas the infotainment touchscreen just above is larger than average, very high in resolution, filled with attractive graphics, rich colors and deep contrasts, plus loaded with top-tier features like a backup camera with dynamic guidelines, accurate navigation with detailed mapping, a more complete assortment of dual-zone automatic climate controls than those on the regular HVAC interface, as well as similarly expanded audio controls, phone features, apps, car settings, and more.
I must admit, however, my love of horology found the beautifully detailed analog clock situated just above even more enticing. It features a unique isosceles trapezoidal shape with curved edges, a multi-textured white face, long chromed hands, raised chrome indices, 12 and 6 Arabic numerals top and bottom, and “CHRYSLER” neatly written across the top half—very classy—while a nice glossy faux wood (with reasonably good density) flowed down the lower portion of the stack onto the center console below (genuine matte-finish hardwood graces the 300C Platinum’s cabin).
The latter surface features yet another Chrysler differentiator at center stage; the large “E-shift” rotating gear selector dial boasting beautifully detailed knurled metal side grips. In my opinion, this is the smartest design for choosing the usual “PRNDL” transmission selections, as it couldn’t be easier to use and takes up very little space, but alas there are no paddle shifters with base Limited trim—I recommend those with a leaning toward performance move up to the 300S or higher. On that note I would’ve liked to have seen an “S” for sport mode on the dial as well, but as noted earlier the eight-speed ZF autobox (which is the same as used by BMW, Audi and many premium brands) is plenty reactive in default guise and a wonderfully smooth operator.
I shouldn’t leave all this goodness without mentioning the fabric-wrapped A-, B-, and C-pillars, a nice premium touch for a car that could easily compete against much pricier luxury-branded four-door sedans if its above-waste-line soft-touch synthetics and below-the-belt hard shell plastics were a bit more upscale, this being the only obvious shortcoming in an otherwise very well executed cabin.
The 300 has always being a large and accommodating car, although I wouldn’t say its rear seats are the roomiest in the class. They’re plenty comfortable, and there’s lots of headroom, but some newer competitors have more available legroom. After positioning the driver’s seat for my five-foot-eight frame I had about eight inches left over ahead of my knees, three inches above my head, and plenty of room to each side, while a large flip-down center armrest made things more comfortable with only two in back. The only rear compartment amenities were a set of powered USB plugs on the backside of the front console, the aforementioned upper trims providing plenty of additional rear passenger luxuries if you care to add some more coin to the bottom line.
As it is, you might actually be surprised by how well equipped this Limited model is despite only being entry-level on the 300 trim hierarchy. Along with features already mentioned such as the 7.0-inch full-color customizable in-cluster multi-info display, filtered dual-zone auto HVAC, and Chrysler’s Uconnect 8.4 multimedia center with an 8.4-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, six-speaker audio, HD and satellite radio (with a complimentary one-year subscription), it gets standard auto on/off bifunctional halogen projector headlamps, chrome-accented LED taillights, dual bright exhaust tips, 18-inch polished aluminum wheels on 225/60 all-seasons, a comfort-tuned suspension, proximity-sensing access with pushbutton ignition, heated power-adjustable side mirrors, a sound-deadening acoustic windshield and front door glass, a tilt and telescopic leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, Nappa leather upholstery, three-way heatable 12-way powered front seats with four-way powered lumbar, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, dual remote USB charging ports, illuminated front cupholders, illuminated vanity mirrors, a ParkView backup camera, integrated storage and illuminated cupholders for the rear seat armrest, 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks expanding on an already large 16.3 cubic-foot trunk, a security alarm, hill start assist, tire pressure monitoring with a display, a full assortment of active and passive safety features, plus more.
I’ve you’ve been browsing through the photos you may have noticed the panoramic sunroof overhead. It’s a fabulous addition that features a powered front half as well as a powered sunshade for blocking extreme rays, yours as part of the $2,995 Value package or as a $1,795 standalone option when choosing one of the other two packages, my tester featuring the most fully-loaded $3,695 300 Premium Group upgrade that also adds LED fog lamps, remote start, an auto-dimming driver’s side mirror, integrated turn signals and courtesy puddle lamps for both exterior mirrors, navigation, SiriusXM Traffic Plus with real-time traffic info and Travel Link, sensational sounding 10-speaker 552-watt Beats Audio, a universal garage door opener, front parking sensors, and blindspot monitoring with rear cross-path detection. My tester was also improved with a set of 19-inch rims on 235/55 all-season performance tires that come as part of the $2,500 upgrade to AWD. Lastly, my car benefited from a particularly gorgeous hue of $695 Redline tri-coat pearl paint, the total bill coming to $41,120 plus freight and fees. Again, not too shabby for such a sweet luxury ride.
As you can probably tell I’ve got a soft spot for this Canadian-made luxury sedan. It really deserves all the praise I’ve doted on it, and when more fully equipped becomes one of my favorite four door family haulers (or executive conveyances, depending on how you fit it into your lifestyle). It’s even pretty decent on fuel with an EPA rating of 19 mpg city and 30 highway. I only wish FCA would put more resources into the storied Chrysler brand in order to boost up its overall image, as it could become a true luxury contender. As it is, the 300 remains one of the best large sedans available to budget-oriented car buyers today. I recommend it highly.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press