Youth is apparently wasted on the young, but there are some days where I do feel old. Flat feet and many attempts at athletic endeavors have left me with the knees of someone twice my age, while genetics has caused my hairline to retreat like Philippe Pétain in the face of the German onslaught. I would be more easily at peace with this if I had some of the context and erudition that came along with age and maturity, but not even erudition can act as a substitute for the kind of knowledge that can only be earned through experience and acquired over time.
For someone like Thomas Kreutzer, the Chrysler 300C will represent the latest iteration in a long line of powerful, opulent “letter series” cars that were responsible for the muscle car era. For me, the 300C represents the product that made Chrysler relevant again (at least in my eyes). No longer were they the purveyor of cheerio-and-snot splattered Town & Country minivans or the legions of severely geometric 1980′s sedans favored by my grandparents friend who refused to buy a German car.
Prior to this, the last time I was in a 300C was when I went for breakfast with an old neighbor of mine. Mr Lynett was 91 years old when he bought his 300C SRT8, and at that age, his C5 Corvette 50th Anniversary Edition was difficult to get in and out of, and the manual transmission was tiring on his bi-annual cross-country drives to California to visit his grandchildren. Having worked on the Manhattan Project, buying a foreign car was out of the question, but the SRT8 offered similar performance, an extra set of doors and was made in the right country – sort of. I’m not sure if Mr Lynett realized that the last great American sedan is actually made at Chrysler’s Brampton Assembly Plant, about 25 miles outside of Toronto.
I was hoping to get an SRT8 as an homage to Mr Lynett, but a 300C Luxury Series AWD was the sole V8 powered version available. I didn’t mind. As much of a speed freak as I am, I also have a strong pragmatic streak, and I would be hard pressed to justify jumping up to the current generation SRT8 on any grounds beyond feeling insecure about not buying the SRT version. The 363 horsepower and 394 lb-ft on tap was beyond adequate for any situation one might encounter, and let’s face it, these are never ever going to see a racetrack. The 5-speed automatic is starting to show its age; shifts are slow and labored, and it starts to seem like the weak link in the entire powertrain package. It seems a little late for Chrysler to start using the ZF 8-speed gearbox on the 300C, but it would only serve to improve one of the car’s few dull spots.
From an aesthetic standpoint too, I much prefer the 300C over the SRT; the 6.4L car looks like it’s trying hard to be a Made In Canada America version of an M car. The 300C looks like the kind of car I’d drive if I made my living by billing for my time; understated enough that your clients won’t think they’re bring ripped off, but still something that feels special when you get behind the wheel.
The best American full-size cars were designed to eat up the highway miles with minimal fuss, and the 300C keeps that tradition alive. At 75 mph, the ride is smooth and silent, the Hemi V8 hums along below 2000 rpm. Chrysler’s Adaptive Cruise Control system, which can automatically adjust your speed based on the distance between you and the car ahead of you via radar, means even less work for the driver. The automatic slowing of the car was a bit spooky at first, it’s easy to get into a rhythm using the system. Set yourself up for a reasonable speed and keep your hands on the wheel. You can even avoid the automatic braking phenomenon by setting yourself up to pass people before the distance threshold is met.
With crossovers becoming the bodystyle of choice for family cars and long-distance crusiers, the full-size sedan is in danger of extinction. Sales have been in a freefall for the last few years, with fleet sales making up a heavy percentage of the segment’s overall volume. The latest rumors suggest that the Taurus will get the axe after this generation, thanks to slowing sales and a series of disastrous consumer clinics. Meanwhile, cars like the Maxima, Avalon and Azera continue to linger in obscurity, as the Pathfinders, Highlanders and Santa Fes of the world cannibalize their market share.
Ironically, the LX cars, with their iconoclastic rear-drive packaging and high-power engines have a pretty good chance of surviving. The global rear-drive platform being used in the Maserati Ghibli will likely underpin the next-generation of full-size Chrysler sedans and (hopefully) an Alfa Romeo product. Since Chrysler doesn’t have to worry so much about selling their cars in Europe or Asia, they can design the next Charger and 300 with American consumers in mind. Until these cars are CAFE’d out of existence, replaced by CUVs with small, turbocharged engines, Americans will be able to enjoy Canada’s best big rear-drive sedan for a while longer. And we’re richer for it.