Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Test Drive: Chrysler 300 AWD

By Ben Aghajanian, UpShift Contributing Editor


The best full size, American luxury sedan on sale today.

Syracuse, NY
I recently had the opportunity to drive a new, 2013 Chrysler 300 AWD at Lowery Bros. Chrysler Jeep. This was my first time in any redesigned 300. This car represents the renaissance of Chrysler, and it shows in the details. 




This particular car was painted Diamond White, with a black on tan interior, and equipped with the 3.6L Pentastar V6, fuel injected and with variable-valve timing. The Pentastar is coupled to a brand new 8-speed automatic designed and (currently) manufactured by the German transmission specialist, ZF. It is noteworthy that this transmission is used in some of the world’s most exclusive automobiles, like the BMW 650i (which I’ve also driven, and is brilliant—link here), the Bentley Flying Spur, the Jaguar XJ, and the Rolls Royce Ghost. It is quite clear that Chrysler is sweating the details and aims to be taken seriously. I would argue that they’ve already leapfrogged Lincoln, here.

One of the first things I noticed when I sat down in the driver’s seat of the 300 was how much ROOM there was. I’m 6’3” and I had acres of space—leg room, knee room, elbow room, etc. This was in contrast to vehicles such as Ford’s Taurus, which, while somewhat roomy, has a very large center stack which intrudes on knee room. I find that most cars lack this “extra” space, and so I often gravitate toward SUVs which afford more room. Not an issue with the 300.

Secondly, the materials used in the 300’s interior are pretty good. It’s not an Audi, but it’s competitive with Infiniti, Acura, Cadillac, and perhaps BMW—though the newest interiors out of Munich are getting quite lavish. The seats are very comfortable and adjustable 8 ways, meaning that the bottom cushion actually moves independent of the back rest, allowing a much larger range of comfort and better ergonomics. Similarly, the steering wheel has a fantastic amount of adjustable telescoping range. It comes out further than in most cars, so even tall people will be able to find a comfortable driving position without reaching for the wheel. I got back into my car after the test drive, and had a “Wait, this isn’t comfortable!” moment.

On the road, the 300 handles itself rather well for a 4,000lb sedan. Traffic was heavy when I took my test drive, but the suspension soaks up bumps well without being too floaty. That being said, I’m looking forward to driving one equipped with the sport suspension and the paddle shifters—I think it could really take advantage of the 8 speed auto and the rear wheel drive architecture. One thing to note is that first gear seemed rather long. On an 8 speed, I would expect the first couple gears to be tuned toward acceleration. Nonetheless, operation was smooth, and highway passing was handled with ease, as was engine braking coming down hills.

The V6 gets the big Chrysler moving with relative ease. The exhaust note was a little raspier than I expected, but I actually welcome that in an age when most carmakers seem to tune their engines to do the best impression of an appliance. As this was a new car, I kept the RPMs under 4,000, so I cannot comment on the refinement at redline. The 8 speed auto was similarly competent. The only thing that I could not figure out was the apparent lack of a manual-shifting mode—only ‘Drive’ and ‘Low’ are options. I did some searching online, and according to AllPar.com, a Mopar enthusiast site, manual shifting is only currently available on the 300S trim (paddle shifters) and the V8 models (Autostick). This seems like an unusual oversight, as almost every other vehicle in its class has some type of manual mode, standard. 

When I first closed the door, the solid thunk made it feel as though I was sitting in a hermetically sealed chamber—it sounded that airtight. That first impression carries over to driving on the highway, where there is minimal wind noise, and conversations can be carried on with ease. I synced my phone with the Bluetooth via Chrysler’s uConnect multimedia system, and made a test call to someone, who could barely tell that I was in a car. The sound quality of the system is very good. While I still prefer buttons for in-car functions, uConnect seems to be one of the better touchscreen solutions. As a plus, physical volume, tuning, and climate control knobs are still present below the screen, so you get the best of both worlds.

The 300 is an impressive sedan overall. With the recent refinements, Chrysler’s LX Platform has aged well and remains very competitive. The materials, features, and driving manners are a cut above—not to mention the All-American styling that stands out from the field.
 Vehicle courtesy Lowery Bros. Chrysler Jeep, photos courtesy Chrysler Group.