If you need evidence that Chrysler has changed, look no further than the marketing for the redesigned 300 sedan. Not the sedan itself-we'll get to that-but the marketing. In the latest commercial, an announcer speaks to the concepts of character, conviction, pride... and a fuel-efficient eight-speed transmission. Meanwhile, the sedan is shown driving confidently and serenely through the streets of Detroit, passing by school children, firefighters and families on its way to a house in the suburbs.
The commercial extends the superb "Imported from Detroit" campaign, reinforcing a compelling theme of success and renewal through commitment and hard work. Leaving behind the excess and bravado of the past, the reinvented Chrysler claims a sense of responsibility that we haven't associated with it in a long, long time. And that's exactly what many of us have been hoping to see.
The marriage between Chrysler and Mercedes-Benz in 1998 was supposed to be the catalyst for an improved Chrysler brand, but that relationship generated more frustration than synergy, lasting less than a decade and starting the American manufacturer down the path to its eventual 2009 bankruptcy. Credit for a kinder, gentler Chrysler instead goes to Italian automaker Fiat, which got Chrysler back onto its feet two years ago and became the majority shareholder when it acquired controlling interest from the Canadian and U.S. governments earlier this year.
For its part, the 300 builds upon the bold design and powerful stance of the original 2005 version, with refreshed styling that maintains its unique place in the sedan market. However, the real difference is in the small details. Gone are the little annoyances that made the past model more bark than bite, replaced by an attention to detail that dramatically improves the overall experience. The engines are still big and powerful, but Chrysler would rather focus on the cutting-edge eight-speed transmission, fuel-efficient all-wheel-drive system, and dramatically improved interior.
Design-While many current family sedans lean toward sportier and more athletic exteriors, the 300 has more in common with super-luxury sedans such as the Audi A8 and Lexus LS, looking as if it was carved from a block of iron. Notable styling cues include the new LED daytime running lamps and elegant, trapezoidal grille.
The 300 is upright and solid, but has a surprisingly trim figure. The price range is considerable, though, going from the starting point of $32,995 up to $48,995 for the SRT8.
Inside, the 300 employs an understated design highlighted by excellent blue-backlit gauges and a smart-looking trapezoidal clock integrated into the dashboard. The cabin is comfortable, inviting, and-best of all-looks nothing like the platform-sharing Dodge Charger. Chrysler has often cut corners on its vehicle interiors, but that behaviour appears to be a thing of the past.
As far as build quality goes, the 300 is a vast improvement over its predecessor. It might not be perfect, but the materials, fit, and finish have caught up with the rest of the auto industry.
Performance-A new 3.6L V6 produces 292-hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, while the 5.7L HEMI V8 carries over from before with 363-hp and 394 lb-ft of torque. Then there's the 6.4L HEMI V8 found in the SRT8 model, producing a staggering 470-hp and 470 lb-ft of torque. Rear-wheel drive is standard, and all-wheel drive is optional.
As great as it is that Chrysler is pushing a fuel-efficient eight-speed automatic, it's a bit disappointing that it's only available for the 3.6L V6, and is an option on the base Touring model. Considering how big the 300 is, you would expect the car to be soft and ponderous in the traditional American-sedan way. However, American sedans have undergone major changes in the past few years, and the 300 is no exception. The handling is direct and predictable, while the ride quality remains smooth and easygoing.
Environment-In addition to looking good, the cabin is highly functional, with loads of passenger and storage space, including a large glovebox and centre console, huge map pockets, illuminated cupholders, and a folding rear seat to expand the already considerable trunk space.
The best reason to skip the base Touring trim is to swap the small 4.3" touch panel for the excellent Uconnect Touch 8.4 Media Centre, which comes with a giant, 8.4" touch panel (an Apple iPad has a 9.7" screen). The redesigned Uconnect system is responsive, easy to use, and upgradeable with a Garmin GPS navigation system.
Chrysler has also brought Beats By Dr. Dre Audio Technology to the 300, providing it with a 10-speaker, high-definition audio system designed for accurate, studio-quality sound reproduction. Beats by Dr. Dre has already found its way into headphones and smartphones, and it's fitting that the technology has shown up as part of the new Chrysler.
Thumbs up-Across-the-board improvements; excellent eight-speed transmission; intelligent Uconnect Touch 8.4 system.
Thumbs down-Limited availability of eight-speed automatic transmission.
The bottom line-Puts the exclamation point on the reinvented Chrysler. firstname.lastname@example.org