Archives: 2013 Chrysler 300

This piece first appeared in Autoshopper in Feb 2013. I’ve sampled four or five of these large Mopars now, and am struck by how different they manage to feel. I was going to change the bits of this article which echo bits of my Hemi Charger piece, but decided to leave them, the repetition adds emphasis. Or shows my limitations as a writer, take your pick.

When Chrysler launched the 300, in 2004, they took inspiration from the Firearrow concept car of 1954, pictured below — just compare the front views. Any car designer will tell you the “face” is usually the place where the design begins, the point of inspiration. Many seemed to like the Firearrow look of the ’04 300, but for me it never quite worked. To drive, the old car was OK, but it was plasticky inside, and always left me feeling a little underwhelmed. It was only when I drove the Dodge Charger, built on the same platform, that the design gelled somewhat — it felt more like a Dodge than a Chrysler — surprising given that both are based upon then-partner Daimler-Benz’s Mercedes W210 ( E-class ) platform.

It should also be said that these older 300s perhaps weren’t as well made as they might have been. My personal experience was with a low mile rental which developed serious brake issues after not particularly hard use — driving with friends on the Pacific Coast Highway, not thrashing around Laguna Seca.

So when Chrysler, now no longer part of Daimler but now part of Fiat, ditched the rather fish-faced Firearrow look, it seemed to me they had lost the whole styling focal point of the car. However, after 1000 miles and a few days with a 2013 example, my mind has been changed: the new headlights, the ribs leading from the C-pillars along the side of the trunk to the redesigned tail light mean the car looks significantly snappier than before, and not just outside, but inside too, with the backlit-in-blue dials and soft touch plastics. Overall, I am reminded of the R17 facelift the Rover 800 received — rather than a warming over yesterday’s ideas, it was face-lifted into the car it always should have been.

I commented as much to a car design expert I was chatting to about a completely separate project. He replied that he has the most respect for Chrysler’s design team anywhere in the industry “they do so much with so little – finances, manpower, brand.”

It may look good, but the ergonomics are maybe not quite there yet. One particular gripe I had was the way the top of steering wheel rim blocked the speedo at freeway speeds – the difference between being a mobile obstacle for other traffic and attracting the attention of the California Highway Patrol was totally invisible unless I altered my seating position or craned my neck — surprising, given my average height and build. The console screen seemed rather odd to me; air conditioning and ventilation have independent intuitive controls, but switching on the heated seats required screen interaction. The doors appear to open wider than the Grand Canyon. When seated, I had to lean right out of the car to reach the door and pull it closed. Not perfect, then, but a lovely place to be, with a quality feel, and some sparkle to the design.

So enough about the sizzle, how about the steak? Well, there’s a new eight-speed auto transition, and it is a joy. My fear with these transmissions is that the car is continually shifting, changing its mind about which gear it needs to be in. A car which downshifts two gears when you breathe on the throttle to climb a hill is an irritating travel companion, however the big Chrysler remains composed until really caned. It wafts down the road, whether rolling at 30mph or 80, yet is torquey enough to change speed to easily keep up with and pass other traffic without hurting its civilized demeanor. Perhaps it is my ineptitude, but I struggled with the shift lever both in this Chrysler and in a 2013 BMW 320 diesel I had in Europe recently, neither seemed able to swiftly transition from reverse to drive without brake and button pressing being perfectly co-ordinated.

For a moment, I found myself feeling that perhaps this car needs a bench seat: and in that thought, the 300s true colors can be seen. This is a big ‘mrcan see-dan, and I for one congratulate Chrysler for producing something which is not trying to impersonate German sports saloons, but with different virtues, and a different character. The 300 has gravitas, presence, and more than a bit of swagger – “Imported From Detroit” and all that – and that made me want to try the SRT model. This is a good car by any measure, but I should add that I completed my drive in an old fox Mustang — need I tell you which car was more memorable and fun?