Capsule Review: 2015 Chrysler 300

Derek Kreindler
by Derek Kreindler

25 years ago, every American automaker offered at least one vehicle that fit what Kim Clark and Takahiro Fujimoto called “the American Plan”: body-on-frame construction, rear-wheel-drive, V8 power, and a roughly 120-inch wheelbase. This was in stark contrast to the increasingly popular offerings from offshore, which were the antithesis of the American Plan. Today, no American automaker offers such a product.

The modern family car has abandoned the American plan in favor of the transverse, front-drive layout that was once the exclusive province of compact and subcompact cars. Chrysler’s dependence on the K platform meant that they were committed to such a change early in the game. They were also arguably the first of the Big Three to abandon the American Plan when their M-Body cars died in 1989. Today, however, they are the only ones that offer anything close to it.

Allow me to pre-empt cries of “BIAS!” from fans of the bowtie brand. The Chevrolet SS, as enticing as it is, is an ultra-low-volume specialty car meant to compete with high-zoot versions of the Dodge Charger. In another life, GM may have introduced a Zeta-based Impala. But that dream died along with Lehman Brothers. The LX cars, meanwhile, have soldiered on, getting progressively better with age. Not long ago, Jack had good things to say about a rental 2014 model with the V6/8-speed combo. As of about now, that version is obsolete.

New for 2015 is a larger grille with a prominent Chrysler badge. It recalls the “Bentley grille” aftermarket add-ons that were popular during the 300’s introduction in 2005. There are also slight changes to the lighting and wheel and tire packages and an updated gauge cluster (no ATS-style 80’s dials here). A rotary gear knob also replaces the awkward short-throw shifter that Jack’s 300 employed.

The biggest news for 2015 might be the demise of the SRT versions of the 300 – at least in our market. Certain overseas markets will get a new 300 SRT, since they don’t get the Charger. North American customers who want a hi-po 300 will have to make do with the 300S V8, which features bespoke styling treatments like side skirts and a rear wing, as well as slightly stiffer suspension settings.

But in keeping with TTAC tradition, we made a bee-line for the “base” car, the 300 Limited. Base is a bit of a misnomer, since this version has just about everything one could possibly want in a large sedan. The standard spec sheet reads like a checklist of everything we like about Chrysler products: the 3.6L Pentastar V6, made to an 8-speed automatic transmission, the UConnect 8.4″ touchscreen and the Alpine stereo (which Jack nominated as one of the best in the business), an all-new electric power steering system borrowed from other rear-drive Chrysler products that surpasses the old hydraulic unit.

Opting for the Limited means you can’t get the 363 horsepower Hemi V8 or the 300-horsepower variant of the 3.6L Pentastar V6 – instead, you must settle for a mere 292 horsepower. But the Limited does offer a choice of either rear or all-wheel drive, and a driving experience free of extraneous technology like Lane Departure Warning with Lane Keep Assist, Forward Collision Warning with Active Braking and Adaptive Cruise Control (which, it must be said, works quite well).

What you do get is a sedan based on a 21st century version of the American Plan. The 120-inch wheelbase makes this an ideal interstate cruiser, though the Charger has a bigger trunk. The Pentastar V6 makes far more power than the V8s of a quarter century ago and the 8-speed transmission (double the number of ratios found in that same era) makes the most of all 292 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. Over mixed driving on the freeways and back roads of Austin, Texas, we saw about 24 mpg, while highway mileage is claimed by FCA to sit at 31 mpg.

For not much more than thirty grand (or less, when you factor in the inevitable cash on the hood, or buying a year-old ex-rental) you can have a proper American sedan that will leave you satisfy in every single way, assuming you never try the V8 version. Chrysler was keen to tout the V8 powered 300S, but I’ll take the regular 300C (the black car in our photos), without any of the sporting pretensions or superfluous body modifications. Where the V6 starts to run out of breath above 80 mph, the 5.7L Hemi keeps on pulling well into the triple digits. The 8-speed is a welcome replacement for the durable but antiquated 5-speed Benz unit.The new EPAS system will be familiar to anyone who has driven a new Jeep Grand Cherokee – the steering is weighted nicely, but doesn’t provide the most lucid feedback, Body motions are well controlled, and the 300 is about as responsive and nimble as you’d expect a two-tonne full-size sedan to be. The lone disappointment are the brakes. The pedal felt soft and lazy, forcing me to press the toe of my Ariat Ropers towards the carpet far quicker than I’d have liked when coming to a halt from high speeds. One could live without most of the performance gear from the SRT versions on a daily basis. The big binders from the 6.4L Charger wouldn’t hurt on the 300.

While the changes to the 300 itself are incremental, what really matters is that Chrysler has finally managed to separate the 300 and Charger into two distinct product lines. The 2015 300 Limited is only $2,000 more than a comparable equipped $29,995 Charger SXT, but the difference in interior quality is significant enough that only the most die-hard skinflint, Dodge brand fanatic or rental car company would consider the Charger as a serious alternative. Of course, there is a base model Charger SE at $27,995, as well as the big block 6.4L and 6.2L SRT Chargers, but that’s the point; Dodge now has Charger options to bookend the 300, whereas before, it was a mish-mash of John Varvatos Luxury Editions and Scat Packs and Super Bees at intersecting price points.The rationalization of the two product lines doesn’t solve the essential question of who the 300 is for. It’s not as sporting as a Cadillac CTS, but sharper than a V6 Hyundai Genesis. It’s bigger, roomier and pricier than a V6 Camcord, but an Impala or an Avalon is probably better for hauling rear seat passengers.But that’s ok. The weird niche that the 300 (and Charger) occupy is what allow it to exist. It has the market sewn up for itself, and nobody has the stones to challenge Chrysler. It’s a formula employed by everything from the Mercedes E-Class Wagon to the Toyota Tacoma to the Mazda MX-5 – niche products that serve a particular customer, and serve it well.

Derek Kreindler
Derek Kreindler

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  • Mrb00st Mrb00st on Jan 01, 2015

    I think this whole "Gee what segment does this fit in? Who is going to buy it? It doesn't fit!!!" argument is so tired. It's a big American* sedan with brash looks, a nice interior, and lots of power. For like 30 grand. So people who prefer a big squishy 'murica yacht for 30k have one choice, and aren't really punished for choosing it.

  • Stuki Stuki on Jan 02, 2015

    Like how they are leaving the Nascar engines to Dodge. Hopped up, gaudily appointed "luxury" cars (that'd be AMG S) always struck me as about as flattering as a toupee with 80s era highlights.

  • Varezhka I have still yet to see a Malibu on the road that didn't have a rental sticker. So yeah, GM probably lost money on every one they sold but kept it to boost their CAFE numbers.I'm personally happy that I no longer have to dread being "upgraded" to a Maxima or a Malibu anymore. And thankfully Altima is also on its way out.
  • Tassos Under incompetent, affirmative action hire Mary Barra, GM has been shooting itself in the foot on a daily basis.Whether the Malibu cancellation has been one of these shootings is NOT obvious at all.GM should be run as a PROFITABLE BUSINESS and NOT as an outfit that satisfies everybody and his mother in law's pet preferences.IF the Malibu was UNPROFITABLE, it SHOULD be canceled.More generally, if its SEGMENT is Unprofitable, and HALF the makers cancel their midsize sedans, not only will it lead to the SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST ones, but the survivors will obviously be more profitable if the LOSERS were kept being produced and the SMALL PIE of midsize sedans would yield slim pickings for every participant.SO NO, I APPROVE of the demise of the unprofitable Malibu, and hope Nissan does the same to the Altima, Hyundai with the SOnata, Mazda with the Mazda 6, and as many others as it takes to make the REMAINING players, like the Excellent, sporty Accord and the Bulletproof Reliable, cheap to maintain CAMRY, more profitable and affordable.
  • GregLocock Car companies can only really sell cars that people who are new car buyers will pay a profitable price for. As it turns out fewer and fewer new car buyers want sedans. Large sedans can be nice to drive, certainly, but the number of new car buyers (the only ones that matter in this discussion) are prepared to sacrifice steering and handling for more obvious things like passenger and cargo space, or even some attempt at off roading. We know US new car buyers don't really care about handling because they fell for FWD in large cars.
  • Slavuta Why is everybody sweating? Like sedans? - go buy one. Better - 2. Let CRV/RAV rust on the dealer lot. I have 3 sedans on the driveway. My neighbor - 2. Neighbors on each of our other side - 8 SUVs.
  • Theflyersfan With sedans, especially, I wonder how many of those sales are to rental fleets. With the exception of the Civic and Accord, there are still rows of sedans mixed in with the RAV4s at every airport rental lot. I doubt the breakdown in sales is publicly published, so who knows... GM isn't out of the sedan business - Cadillac exists and I can't believe I'm typing this but they are actually decent - and I think they are making a huge mistake, especially if there's an extended oil price hike (cough...Iran...cough) and people want smaller and hybrids. But if one is only tied to the quarterly shareholder reports and not trends and the big picture, bad decisions like this get made.