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Hemi or not, Chrysler 300 is a fine ride

Those who opt for the V6 instead of the V8 in the Chrysler 300 are certainly not missing out on much.

Without a doubt, one of the more brilliant marketing campaigns of all time has focused on Chrysler?s Hemi engine. The buzz around this V8 was such that people wanted a Hemi, or knew that a model had a Hemi, even though they weren?t really sure exactly what it was.

For the record, the name refers to the hemispherical shape of its combustion chambers, a design other manufacturers have also used ? but they didn?t trademark the name.

But while that engine is still a great piece of machinery, those who opt instead for the V6 in the Chrysler 300 are certainly not missing out on much. Especially now that the 3.6 L six-banger has swapped its previous five-speed automatic transmission for one with eight gears. And unlike the 2011 edition, where all-wheel-drive could only be ordered with the V8, the V6 in the 2012 can also be ordered with power to all four corners.

My tester was rear-wheel only, but was the new 300S trim line. While the base 300 starts at $32,995, the 300S starts at $36,095, with another $2,000 if you want the all-wheel version. The S package includes 20-inch wheels, unique chrome exterior accents, backup sensors, and interior items such as leather seats, power passenger chair, black centre stack, and carbon fibre graphics instead of wood. The steering is also tweaked for quicker response and better feel when compared to the base 300.

Beyond that, my car was seriously kitted out with a few more luxury packages that added numerous items including navigation, rain-sensing wipers, xenon headlamps, heated steering wheel, twin-pane sunroof, adaptive cruise control, and ?Radar Red? leather seats bright enough to be gaudy (fortunately, they also come in black). That was enough to bring it to $42,990 before freight and taxes.

The V6 makes 292 horsepower, which is less than some of its V6-powered rivals, including the Hyundai Genesis, Lexus GS350, Infiniti G37, Lincoln MKS and Buick LaCrosse. But in starting MSRPs among six-cylinders, only the less-powerful 3.0 L Cadillac CTS and 3.7 L Mazda6 are priced under it, as well as the gasoline and diesel versions of the VW Passat.

Despite trailing some horses to the competition, the 3.6 L is a slick unit. Even my Designated Passenger, who usually believes that the biggest engine is the best engine, described it as ?pretty gutsy for a luxo-boat,? and there?s a sweet snarl to the exhaust note on hard acceleration (the rest of the time, the cabin?s bank-vault quiet).

The new eight-speed transmission is as creamy-smooth as you?d expect, and for the first time, there are paddle shifters on the steering wheel for the manual shift mode. But while I love the transmission, its electronic shift lever is awful. These units are starting to pop up in a few vehicles, and like zebra mussels, they should be eradicated before they infest any more.

To use it, you toggle back or forth for the desired gear. That?s the theory, anyway; in practice, I usually overshot, ending up in Park when I wanted Reverse, since there?s not much room between them. And while the rest of the elegant ice-blue lighting can be dimmed at night, the lever isn?t part of that and its brightly illuminated letters are a distracting beacon.

The 300 is all about the big-sedan feel. It doesn?t seem as light on its feet as, say, the Infiniti or Hyundai, but the ride is smooth, legroom is impressive, and it stays very comfortable even on long trips. One complaint, though: the front doors open so wide, most people can?t easily reach to close them if they?ve been opened too far.

The enormous touchscreen in the dash is almost overwhelming, but the system, dubbed UConnect, is probably the simplest in the industry ? and that?s a very good thing. I could figure out all the navigation, stereo and phone controls without having to dip into the manual, and the icons are large enough to be quickly spotted and tapped when driving.

What I don?t like is that while the rest of the climate system can also be accessed through big dials below, you must go through the computer screens for the heated seats. They need dedicated buttons.

The stereo was further enhanced with a technology called Beats by Dr. Dre and the good doctor is quite a physician. The high notes rang out crystal-clear when I popped in some opera, which the Passenger promptly tossed aside in favour of some bass-heavy stuff that reverberated cleanly through the subwoofer in the trunk, instead of sounding like someone was banging on the deck lid.

Some years ago, Chrysler planned on reintroducing its high-end Imperial brand. It never happened, but it really isn?t all that necessary. Check the right boxes on the options list, and the 300 morphs into a decent luxury machine that can rival its competition, domestic or import.

And now you don?t even need the Hemi to make that happen.

2012 Chrysler 300

PRICE (V6): $32,995 ? $38,095, as-tested $42,990

ENGINE: 3.6 L V6

POWER/TORQUE: 292 horsepower, 260 lb.-ft.

FUEL CONSUMPTION: City 10.9, hwy. 6.4, as-tested 11.1

COMPETITION: Buick LaCrosse, Cadillac CTS, Ford Taurus, Honda Accord, Hyundai Genesis, Infiniti G, Lexus GS, Lincoln MKS, Mazda6, Nissan Maxima,Toyota Avalon, Volkswagen Passat, Volvo S80

WHAT?S BEST: Engine/transmission combo, luxury ride

WHAT?S WORST: Awful electronic gearshift lever

WHAT?S INTERESTING: Its interior was named to Ward?s 10 Best list for 2012

  • Hemi or not, Chrysler 300 is a fine ride
  • Hemi or not, Chrysler 300 is a fine ride
  • Hemi or not, Chrysler 300 is a fine ride
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