When it debuted in 2005, the Chrysler 300 set new standards in styling, performance and comfort. That a family sedan, let alone a Chrysler, should inspire so many young people to toss aside their favorite Japanese import is testimony enough to the success of designer Ralph Gilles' brilliant metal sculpture. But, the icing on the cake has to be the enormous number of aftermarket parts produced for the 300. The car dazzled auto show crowds, monopolized the SEMA show floor and began showing up everywhere, from rap videos to country clubs. Infused with a winning combination of aggressive American style, Mercedes-Benz parts (the rear sub-frame and five-speed transmission were borrowed from the E-Class Sedan) and a fire-breathing HEMI V8 engine, the 300 simply levels its competition in the areas of speed, handling and interior accommodations. Unfortunately, all this goodness is marred by a less than enviable repair history and somewhat drab interior color scheme. Hint: hope you like gray!
Why You Want It
Domestic devotees will find the 300's sophisticated styling, plush accommodations and sport-sedan like handling head and shoulders above its rivals from Ford and Chevrolet. In V6 form, the 300 easily competes with such heavyweights as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, although that's only on paper. Its large rear seat, huge trunk, good fuel economy and available all-wheel drive are certainly attractive, but its resale and reliability figures tell a very different story. If you can overlook the earlier model's spotty repair history, there is much to like, including an available 5.7-liter HEMI V8 offered in the 300C model. In V8 form, the 300's only real competition is the short lived Pontiac G8 and a few expensive sport sedans from BMW, Audi and Mercedes. As we noted, the interior design is handsome and well laid out (some models even offered imitation tortoise shell on the steering wheel and door pulls), but the drab gray plastics don't do much to inspire the same premium feel found in the Nissan Maxima or Mazda6, for example.
Notable Features and Options
The base LX model comes with a 2.7-liter V6 engine, four-speed automatic transmission, power windows, locks and mirrors, cruise control, tilt/telescopic steering wheel, air conditioning, an AM/FM stereo with CD player, and 17-inch wheels. The Limited and Touring trims offer the larger 3.5-liter V6 (after 2009, the Touring comes with the 2.7-liter V6) and more luxury options including leather seating, navigation, Boston Acoustic audio, adaptive cruise control, all-wheel drive, adaptive headlamps and heated front and rear seats. In 2007, and Executive Package was offered on Touring and 300C models stretching the wheelbase by six-inches and increasing rear seat legroom to more than 46-inches. Moving up to the V8-powered 300C brings a five-speed automatic transmission with manual shift control, traction and stability control, and 18-inch wheels on performance tires.
On the safety front, the 300 comes standard only with driver and passenger front airbags. Anti-lock brakes and traction control are optional on 300 LX and standard on Touring, Limited and 300C after 2006. A side curtain airbag was optional on 2005-2009 models; on 2008 and 2009 models, front seat side-impact airbags were also offered. In 2010, the front seat side-impact airbags were dropped, replaced by a standard side curtain airbag on all trims.
2005: The rear-wheel drive 300 is introduced in three trims: LX, Touring and 300C.
2006: A rear seat DVD system is offered on the Touring and 300C.
2007: The long-wheelbase Executive Package joins the line up. New options include adaptive cruise control, heated rear seats and SmartBeam adaptive headlamps.
2008: New options include MyGIG hard-drive based multimedia system, UConnect (Chrysler's name for Bluetooth) and a remote start feature.
2009: The 300C's HEMI V8 receives 19 more horsepower, while all-wheel-drive models receive a new Active Transfer Case that can disconnect the front axles when not in use, thus improving fuel economy.
Engines and Performance
The LX's 2.7-liter V6 is no great achievement, but it gets the job done and is the least expensive of the 300's engines. If a coarse engine and tepid acceleration is not your thing, we strongly suggest moving to the Limited model's 3.5-liter V6. With 250 horsepower on tap, there is plenty of power for passing and merging, and fuel economy remains competitive with others in this class. The real motivator for the 300 is the 5.7-liter HEMI V8. This engine features Chrysler Multiple Displacement System, which can deactivate four of the eight cylinders when cruising. 2005-2008 300C's produced 340 horsepower, but in 2009, that number bumped up to 360. Despite its extra power, the 300C's V8 manages nearly identical highway fuel economy figures as the 3.5-liter V6: 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway for the V6 vs. 15 city/23 highway for the V8.
For a car of its size, the 300 handles amazingly well. It provides that rare combination of a comfortable ride and the ability to tackle winding corners with the ease of a sports car. Steering, brakes and throttle response are all first rate, but most impressive when driving the HEMI V8 teamed with Chrysler's five-speed AutoShift transmission. Because the 300 is a rear-wheel drive car, we suggest moving to the higher trim levels to gain traction and stability controls, especially if you live in an area that experiences frequent snow and ice. About the only drawback we can report is limited visibility caused by the car's narrow windows, tall doors and raised trunk.
Recalls, Safety Ratings and Warranties
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, has issued the following recalls for the 2005-2010 Chrysler 300:
2005: Recalls include a loose battery cable that could result in fire, and a poor spot weld on the back seat floor that could result in the seatbelt anchor giving way.
2005-2006: Recall for possible transmission problem resulting in failure to shift gears.
2006: Recall for 300s with the 2.7-liter V6 due to possible braking issues.
2007: Recalls include faulty installation of a parking brake cable on long-wheelbase models, a transmission software glitch that can cause the wheels to momentarily lock up when shifting from drive to neutral and back at speeds over 40 mph, and a defective anti-lock brake control module.
2008: Recall for faulty rear axle hub nuts that can loosen resulting in power loss and possible loss of control.
2009: Recall for faulty tire-pressure monitoring sensor.
Recall repairs are required by law even if the vehicle is out of warranty. Your dealer can check to see if the repairs where performed and if not, will fix the car at no charge to you.
As for safety, the 300 earns top honors from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in front and side impact tests, but the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) differs in their opinion, giving 300 models without side curtain airbags a 'Poor' rating and those with side airbags only a 'Marginal' grade. The IIHS does give the 300 a 'Good' rating in its frontal offset crash test.
The 2005-2006 Chrysler 300 came with a 3-year/36,000-mile basic warranty and a 7-year/70,000-mile powertrain warranty. After 2006, the powertrain warranty shifted to unlimited miles and coverage for the lifetime of the original owner. However, this warranty is not transferable. Chrysler does offer second-owner warranty coverage for a fee, usually accessible when buying a Certified Pre-Owned Vehicle through Chrysler. Contracts range from 2 year/24,000 miles up to 7 years/100,000 miles.
Word on the Web
You know what the experts say, but what about the people who live with the 300? We've scoured a number on online consumer and enthusiast websites including CarComplaints.com, ConsumerReports.com and the 300CForumZ.com to see what common problems owners are experiencing. While owners generally rave about the car's looks, performance and comfort, there are a number of complaints covering a whole range of components. The most common problem areas center around the transmission, fuel system and drive system on 2005-2007 models. 2008-2010 300s seem to have worked out most of the earlier bugs and earn fairly high praise from all venues.
Although not as roomy inside, the Toyota Camry can certainly be cross-shopped against the Chrysler 300. Sure, the 300 offers an optional V8 engine and it certainly looks a lot cooler, but the Camry has a near bulletproof reliability and repair record, great resale value and can be found in larger numbers. If you have your heart set on a domestic model, the Chevrolet Impala might work, although its design is much older and it doesn't have many of the cutting-edge electronic and communication features found in the 300. A late model Ford Five-Hundred/Taurus is also a good candidate, with the former offering a huge trunk and passenger compartment, and the 2010 and newer Taurus having similar styling and performance as the 300. If you're looking for something that is stylish, performance oriented, has good resale and reliability ratings, and that can still stands out in crowd, consider a Nissan Maxima. While its interior space and trunk volume can't match the 300, its impressive high-tech gadgetry, CVT transmission and powerful V6 engine make Maxima a fast, fun and efficient alternative.
While we love the performance afforded by the 300C's 5.7-liter HEMI V8, we think the car can be costly. It's the most expensive car in the stock 300 line up and those endowed with a lead foot will find the car's city fuel economy to be poor. Insurance for a V8 car can also be high, especially if you have teenagers on the policy. The best balance of bang for the buck and livable daily driver is the 2008-2010 300 Limited with the 3.5-liter V6. In this car, you get comfort, safety and a good power to fuel consumption ratio.