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The Next 300

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On: Thu, Jan 13, 2011 at 10:54AM | By: Lou Ruggieri

The Next 300

If you didn't notice something a little special about the first Chrysler 300 back in 2004, it's possible you came upon this article by accident, and you really aren't much a car buff at all. It may have been hard to describe, but for most of us, there was something about the 300 that just said, "Yea, I dig it!" Maybe it was the fact that it was one of the first true rear-wheel drive American sedans we've seen outside of a Cadillac. In fact, it was the first RWD sedan from Chrysler in 15 years. Or maybe it was that it harked back to fond memories of big sedans of the 50s and 60s that displayed a visible heft and didn't try to be anything but a solid luxury car for the masses. 

If you didn't notice any of the 300's styling, then you probably weren't one of the several hundred thousand to purchase one since its inception. To put it in perspective, 300 sales eclipsed the 300,000 mark in its first 25 months. But, have no fear because instead of running out to your nearest Chrysler dealer and picking one of the last remaining 2010 models out there, you will have a chance to be on the forefront of a new generation of Chrysler's popular flagship. The new-for-2011 Chrysler 300 promises to be better than its predecessor in almost every way ... Almost.

The engine is certainly better, with a base 3.6 liter Pentastar V6 that puts down a respectable 292 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque (up from a base of 190 and 190 respectively) available in the Touring and Limited versions of the car, while the more potent 300C model will get the legendary Hemi in 5.7 liter guise making an on-ramp friendly 360 hp and 390 lb ft of torque. Although there has been no grumbling of an SRT8 version, its safe to say that unless gas prices get to something like seven dollars a gallon, expect to see the hot-rod 300 about a year from now. Also new to the next-gen 300 is optional all-wheel drive, a first on the 300 marque. Chrysler has dialed in some novelty by giving the 300 an active transfer case that can switch from AWD to traditional RWD without the driver doing much more than enjoying the savings in fuel economy.

Inside the new 300 is where customers are likely to be most awestruck by the American car. It should come as no real surprise to learn that Rolls Royce and Bentley may have played a part in the inspiration of the 300's design, so keeping to those lofty standards, Chrysler has tried to make the 2011 300 a little closer to those high-rent role models. Inside the new 300, the first thing you will notice is nothing. There is barely a sound to be heard, thanks to triple-sealed doors, lined wheel-wells (to absorb sound before it gets to the cabin), dual-plane acoustic glass on the side windows and windshield, as well as insulated underbody panels to drown any sound before it has a chance to interfere with your driving experience and make you feel like you are just slightly better off than that guy next to you with the buzzing hole-in-his-exhaust 1987 Pontiac Fiero. And to be fair, you probably are. Other features on the 300 help to support the plush luxo-lifestyle most of us wouldn't mind with things like heated and cooled cupholders, dual-zone climate control, an 8.4 inch navigation screen, a dual-pane panoramic sunroof, and, of course, a heated wood steering wheel.

Now if you were paying attention, we mentioned earlier that the 2011 version will be a better car than the 2010 car in almost every way. The 'almost' refers to the exterior of the car. Some... and probably most, will enjoy it just fine. The windshield is a few degrees steeper, standard 19-inch wheels or optional 20s are not going to be on anyone's complaint list, and the rear of the car accentuates its 'business-is-pleasure' attitude. The front of the car is where things might get a little disagreeable. Some will like the sideways horseshoe-shaped LED daytime running lights that are all the rage these days, but they somehow seem just a bit gimmicky on the 300. Sure, the big boys are all doing it, Bentley, Mercedes, Audi, etc., but if everyone begins to do it, then the only ones that aren't become the standouts. And, from some angles it can look as though the 300 has to wipe something out of the corners of its eyes. But we digress ...

The only other issue is that Chrysler lifted from the luxury brands is the idea of a corporate face. Again, Acura, Mercedes, BMW, and others are adopting the idea that they want a sense of uniformity among their brand (and there's no doubt it improves their bottom line to have one mold in different sizes than 19 different ones), but this can be seen as either good or bad. To some, namely your humble author, the face of the new 300 detracts from all of the charm the old 300 had. The older version was undoubtedly Chrysler, but it was a step apart, which seemed right for a car trying to be more than it is. However, the new face instantly recalls one of Chrysler's most popular cars, the Sebring, which is definitely not a luxury car, and could be defined as the quintessential rental car.

But not everyone will see what some of us see, and that's okay. Without a doubt, the 300 will define itself mostly from behind the wheel, and make it clear that it is the best of the breed despite its somewhat pedestrian DNA. The first car was a show stopper that sold like crazy, and now that the new generation is on its way to the showroom floor, Chrysler expects nothing less from the next 300.

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