I remember clearly the first time I saw the Ralph Gilles-designed Chrysler 300 and I immediately thought, “Nice Bentley!” Turns out, what I saw that day wasn’t from Crewe or even Europe. This car was from a lot closer to home and it wore Chrysler wings on its imposing snout.
That car piqued my curiosity, but it also left an impression. One made purely by its love-it or leave-it design, topped off with a massive grille, back when massive grilles weren't a thing.
Fifteen years later, the automotive landscape has changed dramatically but the 300 remains largely the same.
Redesigned in 2011, the current Chrysler 300 rides on an updated version of FCA’s LX platform. The internet will tell you that the 300 and its Charger and Challenger stablemates were all pinned on an ancient Mercedes E-Class chassis from the 90s but the reality is that it was a Chrysler design that utilized suspension and transmission components from Mercedes’ parts bin.
The update in 2011 wasn’t clean sheet by any means, retaining most of the same greasy bits underneath but accommodating for newer components, like the new 8-speed automatic transmission, that had come along since the first generation came out in 2005.
What we ended up with was a 300 with a slightly softened exterior and a vastly improved cabin but a driving experience that hadn’t changed very much.
The 2020 Chrysler 300 is a full-size rear-wheel drive American luxury sedan, a class of automobile that has all but vanished from the roads. With the exception of the much more expensive Lincoln Continental, it’s the last one you can still buy today. Maybe that’s why, despite being around longer than Simon Cowell’s hairdo, it still sells relatively well.
Credit here goes to FCA for keeping the 300 relevant with consistent updates and integration of new technology as it’s become available. Also, the design, while not quite as striking as the first-gen model still stands out with its wide stance, slab-sided sheet metal, high-beltline, and tank commander greenhouse. Interestingly, the hairy-chested 5.7-litre Hemi V8 is still available.
The standard 3.6-litre V6 sends 292 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels via an 8-speed automatic transmission. A rear-biased all-wheel drive system is optional.
Ubiquitous across FCA’s lineup, the port-injected, naturally-aspirated 6-cylinder is wonderfully smooth, makes a pleasant noise, and provides more than enough motive force for this application.
There isn’t much to report on for 2020 other than the addition of some new colours. The U.S. gets a Radar red interior upholstery option and a “Red S” appearance package that we don’t.
Four trims are available: 300 Touring, 300S, 300 Limited, and 300C.
If you want the V8, it’s standard fare on the top-trim 300C and optional on the 300S, but in both cases, you cannot have the V8 and all-wheel drive together. The 300S is the sporty one of the group with blacked-out trim in place of the chrome, black 20-inch wheels, and exclusive piano black interior appliques. Provided you choose the rear-wheel drive option, you’ll also get a performance-oriented suspension setup that includes stiffer springs and bushings, tuned steering, more aggressive tires, and if the V8 is selected, beefier sway bars.
My Limited tester had none of this sporting intention but it did have the all-wheel drive box checked. The system here mainly drives the rear wheels, with the fronts disconnected under most scenarios for better efficiency. When slip is detected, torque gets transferred to the front wheels for increased traction. The AWD system will also engage if it’s cold outside or when the wipers are on in rainy or snowy weather.
For just over $48,000 a 300 Limited comes with a decent amount of kit including 20-inch wheels (19s if you opt for AWD), keyless entry, heated and ventilated power front seats, heated rear seats, Nappa leather upholstery, a heated steering wheel, 8.4-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple Carplay and Android Auto, and a six-speaker amplified audio system.
Also standard on all 300s is a very large trunk and standard split-folding rear seats for more cargo-carrying flexibility.
The cabin is pleasant with a simple, straightforward layout and soft-touch materials used on most surfaces. You get a good selection of hard buttons for most controls but like other FCA products, the heated and ventilated seats can only be adjusted through the Uconnect infotainment system, which can prove frustrating and not very easy to do when on the move.
Where it falls a bit short, especially at this price range, is included driver-aids, where there are few to mention. While you can add most of the important ones, like blind-spot monitoring, braking assist, forward collision warning, and adaptive cruise control through optional packages there are many sedans and crossovers that offer much of this standard.
My tester had $6400 worth of extras bringing the asking price for this large sedan to just under $60,000. Admittedly, a lot of money to spend on something that feels like a 90s throwback.
While I’m the first to admit that dynamic driving pleasure might rank higher on my pros list, commandeering the Chrysler 300 over the typical moon-surfaced and broken asphalt that passes for roads in Toronto unearths all the little gremlins an older platform can exhibit. It becomes more apparent when contrasted against the more modern vehicles you can buy from nearly every other automaker.
One of the biggest improvements in new cars today are the advancements made in the chassis department where even bottom-of-the-totem cars like the Mazda3 or VW Golf feel like they are carved out of a single block of steel versus the 300’s collection-of-parts feel. Much of this has come from automakers moving to shared global platforms that are thoroughly modern and encompass a wide variety of vehicle types and price ranges but allow even entry-level cars to feel robustly engineered. VW’s MQB, BMW’s CLAR, and even the chassis that underpins the Pacifica minivan
are excellent examples of this.
A Chrysler 300 seems to skip and hop over road imperfections rather than absorb them, courtesy of a chassis that flexes more than you expect it to, in turn asking more from the suspension to keep the tires planted on the road surface.
The large footprint also doesn’t translate into much of a show in the corners, where the 300 exhibits moderate amounts of body roll not helped any by vague steering and a floaty, slightly cumbersome feel when pressing on with enthusiasm. It’s not a land yacht from the 70s, far from it, but don’t expect this to be an agile sports sedan either. Not that I expect many of the intended buyers of this car to be of the corner-carving persuasion.
The 300 finds its comfort zone out on the open highway during sedate, steady-state cruising. For crushing miles in between two points this is an excellent vehicle, with its long, relaxed-riding wheelbase, spacious cabin, and cushy seats, especially when you get in the back where the rear thrones are particularly accommodating and exceptionally comfortable.
Those craving a bit of nostalgia and a modicum of old-school character with their new car purchase will be served well here, even more so if the burbly V8 box gets ticked. Not-like-the-others styling also works in the 300s favour, and if you like to shop local, you’ll be happy to know that it’s proudly built in Brampton, Ontario along with the Charger and Challenger.
Character is a nice thing to have and is seldom found in showrooms these days. Many of today’s automobiles are soulless and can come across as nothing more than excel spreadsheets with all the formulas in the right places—functional but boring and predictable. The 300 is not without its faults; it can feel like the old guy hanging out with a bunch of eager-to-please college graduates but it’s managed to stay competitive and most importantly it offers character and that keeps people intrigued. Just like I was when I first saw it all those years ago.