Buzzwords like “breakthrough”, “paradigm” and “integration” are management Viagra. They give ignorant execs and clueless PR folk the power to appear talented. But no word sets the flack-talker’s soul afire like “synergy.” And no other word was deployed more often to justify the merger of Daimler-Benz with Chrysler. But what happens when you synergize top-dollar Mercedes underpinnings with Chrysler engineering and sell it for the price of a Camry? I’ll give you 300 guesses.
Judging by its looks, the Chrysler 300 is still a winner. The chopped roof, crisp overhangs, Audi TT-esque fender flares and jeweler’s grade front fascia are still the stuff of urban legend. The SUV-like stance (generated by a sky-high beltline) and K-car influenced rear deck further distinguish the big Chrysler from the Boyz in the bland. Personally, I find this flying brick (with a drag coefficient to match) a far cry from Bentley sedans and vintage 300’s. Put another way, who stole a Checker Marathon and ran it through a wind tunnel?
Too bad that chunky profile only looks solid. Rest your butt on the front end, lean back and give your best “mean mug” for the camera and the front clip flexes and twists in disapproval. Ditto the back bumper: rest a box before loading the trunk and the 300’s posterior sags like the rack of a middle-aged supermodel.
The Chrysler 300’s interior continues the cheap and not-so-cheerful theme. Aside from tight panel gaps and soft polymers above the dashboard equator, the cabin is awash in the kind of flash cast plastics “enjoyed” by owners of Hyundai’s Excel. The 300’s cabin serves-up a farrago of bargain basement materials: from hard, nasty armrests to a vinyl-wrapped steering wheel. The 300’s thrones were designed by the folks at Slip n’ Slide, complete with leather inserts that are virtually indistinguishable from their vinyl surroundings. The optional Boston Acoustics’ boombox is as clear as it is loud– provided you remain in front.
Hop in the back and the sound quality flies out the window, right after the delightful gong resonance made by closing the rear portals. The 300’s backseat is best reserved for short trips with short people; everyone else leaves the 300’s lean rear cushions tired and stressed after a lengthy interstate odyssey. The trunk’s shallow, oddly-shaped cargo hole and the overly aggressive assist-struts on a zero-leverage deck lid do nothing to help the family car basics. There’s but one shining [three pointed] star in the 300’s cabin: a cruise control stalk with all the precise, perfectly weighted feel of a Mercedes’ part– donated to an otherwise lost cause.
Throw the 300 into some switchbacks and you can tell where the car’s manufacturer spent their money. The 300’s independent (front) and five-link (rear) suspension is a distant cousin to the old E-class. Tweaked by the Dark Lords of DCX and bolted onto to a stiff chassis, the greasy bits provide plenty of poise for one so portly (3800 pounds). Boot the package in a corner and 250lb-ft of torque sends the 300’s rear tires dancing in delight– moments before the ESP flashes a warning that this isn’t an E63 AMG and you aren’t Michael Schumacher (or Jay Shoemaker).
Even with the handling Nanny in attendance, the 300 is a wonderful mix of raucous handling and reassuring ride. The 300’s Chris-Craftian tiller has way too much rim for spirited maneuvers, but the power-assisted rack and pinion steering provides reasonable feel for a passenger sedan aimed squarely at the over-40 set. With 55-series tires on hand (ironically enough), the Chrysler’s ride is 401K-compliant, splitting the distance between BMW’s teeth chattering firmness and the roll and pitch of a Toyota Camry.
Even without the hemispherical hot tamale under the bonnet, the 300's no slouch. The sedan’s 3.5-liter high-output SOHC V6 may not stand a chance against the latest hi-po six-pots, but 250hp hooked-up to a reasonably responsive five-speed autobox ensures that the 300 gets out of its own way without unnecessary delay, thirst (19/27) or embarrassment. (Which is more than you can say for the base by name base by nature 2.7-liter V6.)
Taken as a whole, the 300 is proto-synergy. When first mooted, the Daimler Chrysler combo was touted as a ”merger of equals,” blending German engineering with American style. Instead of blowing away the competition with anal retentive engineering and unassailable build quality, the Chrysler 300 is a half-baked half-breed: a car with excellent bones, a flash exterior, a dreadful interior and dubious build quality.
Props to the 300 for reinvigorating American car design, finding tremendous popularity and more than paying its way. But it’s time for DCX to update this bad boy or build something that fulfills the merger’s original premise. Otherwise, the 300 is destined to become a textbook case of a synergistic failure to turn hype into reality.