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.
Gone is the center stack that resembled a desktop computer tower. Gone is the enormous four-spoke steering wheel removed from the U.S.S. Constitution. Gone are the Indiglo gauges and the brittle plastic switchgear. The Chrysler 300 now has a cabin that might (just might) make luxury car shoppers think twice about paying extra for a fancy badge. While the look is hardly what we'd describe as groundbreaking (or even especially interesting), it's classy enough and the controls are well laid-out. Perhaps most impressively, the materials are top-notch, with surfaces that are soft-touch and pleasantly textured. The difference is really night and day compared to last year's car.
Chrysler's new Uconnect Touch interface is standard. This 8.4-inch touchscreen controls the car's many infotainment features and is a vast improvement on the substantially smaller screen presently found in other Chrysler Group vehicles. When equipped with the optional Garmin-sourced navigation system, the 300 comes with Sirius Travel Link, a technology previously exclusive to Ford that features real-time information for traffic conditions, weather and even movie times. However, if we're to nitpick, the standard iPod interface curiously omits "Playlist" from its available menu options, which is irritating, though we're told Chrysler is considering a fix.
Rearward visibility continues to be compromised by the thick rear pillars, though on the upside, this year's more rakish windshield has improved forward visibility. Passengers should continue to find an abundance of space in all dimensions, and the trunk's volume of 16.3 cubic feet is pretty generous.
This time Chrysler's toned most of that down. The grille's now shrunk into a softer shield. Smaller headlights wear LED eyeliner. The fenders are more rectilinear, especially on the rear where they've picked up some of the intricate stamped-in details seen on the current Ford Taurus, Buick LaCrosse, even the most recent E-Class. From dead on, the rear end's vertical-tube taillamps have never glowed as expensively. If they were any thinner, they'd strike a distinctly Caddy note. Point of taste: polished chrome 20-inch wheels hit the proper blingy note on the old car, but on this one, the more subdued 19-inchers seem more fitting.
There's more love to go around once you step inside the 300. The expensive-looking cabin wears new shapes, new trim and new materials, most of it emphatically better than ever. The cockpit doesn't look so plain anymore, with its timepiece-faced gauges, elm trim and matte-finish plastics. The big metallic ring around the LCD screen and air vents looks more like a thought balloon than a styling element, though--an unfinished idea, though well-finished. And while the textures all feel swell, the rubberized dash cap has the gummy grip that lint loves to call home.
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.
The all-new 2011 Chrysler 300 features more than 70 safety and security features, including standard Keyless Enter-N-Go and electronic stability control (ESC) with segment-exclusive Ready Alert Braking and Rain Brake Support safety features to improve overall vehicle handling and performance.
Chrysler brand’s signature SafetyTec Group is available on the 2011 Chrysler 300 Limited, 300C and 300C AWD models and packages many first-time-available features including adaptive-forward lighting (AFL), high-intensity discharge (HID) projector high and low-beams with automatic headlamp 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, exterior mirrors with supplemental turn signals and approach lamp (300 Limited adds HomeLink universal transceiver, rain-sensing wipers and SmartBeam® headlamps to the package group).
In addition, standard front-row reactive head restraints, standard full-length side-curtain air bags, driver’s knee bag and standard front seat-mounted side-thorax air bags offer enhanced occupant protection to passengers in the event of a collision.