2011 Chrysler 300 / 300C

2011 Chrysler 300 / 300C 2011 Chrysler 300 / 300C
First Drive Review

Although we may rhapsodize over the beauty of our favorite cars, precious few of them could be considered art. Whistler didn’t refresh his painting of his mom four years after completing it. Nor did he completely redo it every seven years for the rest of his life. And as much as the 300 might have looked like Chrysler’s chef-d’oeuvre in 2004, the company couldn’t just sit back and let it be. For 2011, the 300 receives a refresh rather than the redesign for which it is due, but the update addresses the most important things.

Much of the money allotted to the 300 rework went to the interior. Like the rejuvenated interiors in other recent Chrysler redesigns, virtually everything you can see or touch inside is improved by an order of magnitude: the dash, the center stack, the steering wheel, the door panels and seats—the list goes on. And the materials are light-years better, too. The dash is soft, the buttons on the new steering wheel actuate with a satisfying click, and the HVAC knobs slip from detent to detent as if lubricated by a film of oil.

Nestled in that updated dash, the new tach and speedometer are stunning, highly readable, and not overly ornamental. A new touchscreen navigation/infotainment display rides atop the center stack, beneath the classy trapezoidal clock that is emerging as a signature of Chrysler interiors. The optional Garmin-based nav system’s bold colors and large graphics make it easy to use, but they lend it an almost juvenile appearance. Still, we prefer basic and useful to elegant and stupefying.

The Importance of Being Consistent

Our only complaint about the 300’s new interior is that it is a strong testimony to the importance of matching material qualities. In a space that is among the best executed in its class, the 300’s few remaining dull spots—the window switch panels and the plain black plastic surrounds for the HVAC controls and nav screen are a few examples—call an inordinate amount of attention to themselves. The seatbacks offer enough support to keep occupants in place during extreme maneuvers, but the bottom cushion offers so little support it might as well be crowned.

Chrysler also refined the exterior styling. Although more elegant and mature than the brash shape of the designed-with-a-T-square original, the 2011 car nonetheless looks a bit less cohesive. Still, it doesn’t take a sharp eye to recognize the silhouette, and the softer detailing hides the 300’s musculature about as well as a tuxedo disguises a buffalo. Naturally, Chrysler has added LEDs to the headlight clusters as is required by current styling convention.

114 Additional HP? Well, Certainly!

Underhood, the headlining 5.7-liter Hemi is only slightly changed (it carries over with modest upgrades of 3 hp and 5 lb-ft of torque), but the new base 3.6-liter six-cylinder effectively replaces two V-6s (an anemic 2.7-liter and a more capable 3.5) and betters the old 3.5’s 250 hp by 42. (It tops the 2.7 by 114 hp.) Along with its 292 horses, the Pentastar V-6 offers 260 lb-ft of torque. Both hp and torque peak late (6350 and 4800 rpm, respectively), so downshifts are necessary for meaningful acceleration while rolling. It sounds a bit coarse at idle, but the Pentastar finds its voice as the revs—and output—climb. Although not the thrill ride of the V-8, the six is more than competent, something we could almost say about the old 3.5 but never about the 2.7.

The same five-speed automatic pulls duty behind both engines, but an eight-speed will begin to spread across the lineup later this year. Chrysler is aiming for a 30-mpg highway rating with the new transmission, which is a ZF design (the best the Pentastar manages with the old five-speed is 27 mpg). Although the five-speed automatic does allow for manual shifting, it has no dedicated manual shift gate. As in the previous-generation 300, the driver taps the lever left and right from its resting place in D to shift, but the new 300’s taller center console gets in the way—not that using the function is particularly satisfying anyhow.

Similar Suspension

With most of the redesign budget invested in the interior, chassis changes are limited—mostly tweaks to spring and damper rates and alignment adjustments. Once again, there are two available suspension tunes: base (or “Comfort”) and Touring. Both provide exceptionally smooth rides and switchback competence, although the base suspenders allow a bit more body roll than the Touring setup does. Opt for the 20-inch wheels or all-wheel drive, and the upgrade to Touring is included. Caution is recommended, though, as pairing the stiffer legs with 20-inch wheels results in untoward crashing over large pavement pocks.

The new electrohydraulic steering possesses only slightly more feeling than an ant-burning adolescent sociopath, but it has a satisfying heft and precision and an unwavering sense of straight-ahead. At triple-digit speeds, the 300 is superbly steady and surprisingly serene, thanks to increased sound insulation throughout the car.

Pricing Progression

The base car, with its greatly improved interior and V-6, starts at $27,995, $15 less than last year’s base model. A high level of equipment is standard, including Chrysler’s Uconnect Touch entertainment system—with Sirius satellite radio as well as iPod and SD-card inputs—a 12-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, and keyless entry and ignition. The 300 Limited tacks four grand onto the sticker, starting at $31,995, and adds leather upholstery with heated front seats, Bluetooth, a backup camera, a 276-watt amp for the audio system, 18-inch wheels, and chrome trim for the mirror caps and door handles.

For another $7000, the 300C adds the 363-hp Hemi V-8, the Touring suspension, navigation, and bigger brakes, as well as the Luxury package, which includes nappa leather, real wood trim, auto-dimming mirrors, heated rear seats, and heated and cooled cup holders. On the 300 Limited, this bundle costs $3250. All-wheel drive, once available on some V-6 and V-8 300 models, is now reserved for the top-of-the-line 300C AWD, which starts at $41,145. Chrysler says an all-wheel-drive option could return to the V-6 model down the road. In either case, the tippy-toes stance of the all-wheel-drive car is lessened a bit by a 0.2-inch ride-height reduction and a tire-to-fender gap that is tighter by 0.5 inch compared with last year’s car, but the all-wheel-driver still sits higher than the rear-drive cars.

Some fans might have been hoping for something more thorough than this update, but Chrysler spent its money in the right places. The new interior improves on the old one to a degree that is nearly impossible to overstate, and the new V-6 does something similar for the engine lineup. The refreshed 300 may not be a work of art, but it is considerably less dour than Whistler’s mom.