The B52 bomber has been around a long time. Most of them are older than the pilots who fly them. This tells you something about the soundness of their design.
Same goes for the Chrysler 300.
In car terms, it’s ancient.
The current 300 hasn’t been significantly updated since 2011 — almost eight years ago (that’s effectively two “product cycles,” to use car industry jargon) and its underthings — the basic chassis — date all the way back to turn of the century.
That’s old enough to drink beer in some states — and vote in all of them.
And yet, it survives — and thrives.
Chrysler may be in trouble — its only other “car” being a minivan — and its parent company, Fiat, is noncommittal about the future of the brand. But the 300 continues to sell well, despite its age and notwithstanding that it’s a sedan, a type of car that everyone else is having trouble selling. Even Toyota and Honda.
So, what’s the Magic Recipe?
WHAT IT IS
The 300 is Chrysler’s only remaining car — and one of only two full-size, rear-wheel-drive sedans you can still buy for less than $30,000. The other one being the 300’s Dodge-suited cousin, the Charger.
It’s also one of the few remaining sedans in this class/price range that comes standard with a V6; most of the cars in this class don’t even offer one anymore.
And it’s the only one in this class — and the next class up — that still offers a V8.
A big V8.
You can also get all-wheel-drive, which many buyers want (witness the popularity of AWD crossovers) but for some strange reason almost no mid-priced sedans offer (Ford having announced it will stop making the Taurus and Fusion) and no mid-priced full-size sedans whatsoever offer.
Base price is $28,995 for the Touring trim with 3.6 liter V6 and rear-wheel-drive; you can upgrade to all-wheel-drive for $31,495.
The S trim — which starts $36,295 — is available with Chrysler’s 5.7 liter Hemi V8 (a $3,000 stand-alone option).
A top-of-the-line 300C — which comes standard with the V8 — stickers for $40,995.
The next-closest thing to the 300 that’s comparably priced is probably the Toyota Avalon, which is about the same size and is the only other sedan in this class besides the Charger which comes standard with a V6. But the Avalon is front-wheel-drive, does not offer AWD — and forget a V8.
You might also want to have a look at the Chevy Impala — which is also a big car and very roomy inside, like the 300 and Avalon. But it comes standard with a four — and also doesn’t offer AWD or a V8.
After that, there’s not much — unless you move way up — to a Genesis or Lexus. Or all the way up — to an S Benz or 7 BMW, which are among the few big sedans still available with a V8 at any price.
2018 sees few changes other than the V8 now being restricted to the S and the C trims; the Touring and Limited trims now come only with the V6.
A thumb in the eye of political correctness — for as long as Chrysler can get away with it.
Huge back seat (40.1 inches of legroom).
Huge trunk (16.3 cubic feet).
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
V8 limited to more expensive trims.
AWD only available with the V6.
Chrysler’s future is in the hands of Fiat.
UNDER THE HOOD
Someone at Fiat — which owns Chrysler — ought to take notice of the fact that the 300 is one of the few sedans that’s still selling briskly, despite being “old.” And then ask why.
The answer lies under the hood.
Instead of yet another downsized turbo four — these engines are sprouting like dandelions after a summer rainstorm but it’s not a natural occurrence — the 300 comes standard with an engine that’s twice as big (almost) as most of those.
And so doesn’t need a turbo to crutch what would otherwise be gimpy performance.
The broad-shouldered Chrysler comes standard with a 3.6 liter V6 making 292 hp (300, in the S — which gets a free-flowing exhaust) vs. the legion of 2.0 liter fours making in the 240-ish ballpark that you’ll find in almost everything (even some mid-sized luxury sedans, like the current BMW 5 and the Benz E) as other car companies prostrate themselves, like court eunuchs in ancient China, before the EPA and its high-pitched jabbering about fuel economy no-matter-what (and no matter what it costs).
Like the admirably insolent honey badger, Chrysler doesn’t seem to give much of a damn about the EPA — hooray! — and continues to build cars desired by the people who buy its cars, as opposed to government regulators, who do not.
The 300’s big V6 makes power the natural way — without boost — and is a simpler and so less expensive engine. The turbo fours attempt to make up for the lost performance of no-more-six-cylinders via the expedient of force-feeding, but they do so by perversely adding expense to the engine for the sake of saving gas.
And despite all the jabber, they don’t save that much gas vs. no-turbos V6s, either.
The V6-powered 300 with rear-drive (another feature that explains the car’s perennial popularity) rates 19 city, 30 highway. With the available all-wheel-drive system that dips — just slightly — to 18 city, 27 highway.
Which is not bad at all.
For reference, the V6 powered (and front-drive- only) Toyota Avalon — which is lighter by almost 500 pounds — only manages 21 city, 30 highway. And its 3.5 liter V6 only makes 268 hp.
Then there’s the Chevy Impala — the other size-equivalent (and price comparable) cross-shop. Its standard 2.5 liter four (a big four, by today’s downsized-engine standards) underwhelms with an EPA rating of just 22 city, 30 highway — despite being two cylinder shy and 30 percent smaller, in terms of displacement, than the 300’s 3.6 liter V6. The Chevy’s four is also pathetically weak. Just 197 hp (100 fewer hp than the 300’s V6). No surprise, the four cylinder Impala is slow as well as thirsty.
It needs a rheumatic 8-plus seconds to get to 60 — vs. a speedy 6.3 seconds for the 300.
No wonder the Impala will soon sleep with the fishes.
The V6 Avalon is comparably quick but it has nothing to answer the 300’s optional engine, the 5.7 liter Hemi V8. This one ups the underhood ante to 363 hp and 394 ft.-lbs. of torque, which is unanswerable in this class — unless you buy the 300’s cousin, the Dodge Charger.
Otherwise — as we say in Jersey — forget about it.
The big bicep’d Hemi hauls the 300’s 4,000-plus pounds to 60 in about 5 seconds flat and delivers the reassuring V8 rumble of America’s great days that nothing powered by a turbo four, however quick, will ever be able to reproduce.
The V8 isn’t even particularly thirsty: 16 city, 25 highway. That’s only 5 MPG less in the city (and on the highway) than the Avalon’s V6, which doesn’t make 363 hp or get the Toyota to 60 in five flat.
Both engines are paired with an eight-speed automatic, with normal (D) and sport (S) modes, which can be selected via the drive-by-wire rotary control knob located on the center console. The S and C trims also get steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, to allow manual gear selection.
ON THE ROAD
The deciders over at Fiat ought to take a 300 home for a long weekend — to allow the reasons for its ongoing appeal to really soak in. To grok why this car deserves to live and — by dint of that, Chrysler, too.
It’s not just the big V6 — and the bigger V8.
It’s the big wheelbase — 120.2 inches — which gives the 300 an unmatched big car ride. Unmatched, at least, unless you’re willing (and able) to spend $60,000-plus to get into something similarly long-wheelbased and rear-wheel-drive from Benz or BMW or Lexus, etc.
Which isn’t just coincidental.
For those who do not know the history, the 300 traces its lineage to the Mercedes E and S, from which it borrowed design and mechanicals (this was back when it was DaimlerChrysler, before it became FiatChrysler) including chassis and suspension pieces and that’s why it is uniquely a big luxury car in a way that only much-more-expensive luxury-brand sedans are.
The Avalon, for example, rides on a much shorter (111 inch) wheelbase, despite being about the same overall length. Because it descends from the Camry. Not that there is anything wrong with the Camry. But it’s not the same thing as descending from a Benz.
Similarly the Chevy Impala. Its wheelbase is just 111.7 inches, despite it being longer overall than the 300. Like the Avalon, the Chevy is fundamentally a downsized car — and not just under the hood.
Startlingly — appealingly — the Chrysler 300 is longer-wheelbased than the current Mercedes E sedan (115.7 inches) and not-far-behind the Mercedes S-Class sedan (124.6 inches) and that car is a six figure luxury car.
Why harp on wheelbase? Because — like a big engine — there is no substitute, if you want to experience that large-living boulevard ride which was once the birthright of average Americans but which has become (thanks to the EPA and the eunuch genuflecting of most car companies) mostly for the rich only.
Same goes for the brawny engines. There is something very satisfying about it. Especially when you roll up beside a 5 Series BMW or Mercedes E and know you’ve got more engine than he’s got. And that he paid $20k more than you did.
Even more satisfying when you roll up beside a guy driving his four-cylinder/front-wheel-drive homogenized milk carton on wheels that cost about the same as what you’re driving.
Fiat really ought to think hard about this.
The politically correct orthodoxy also assured us that Hillary was inevitable. But people wanted Trump. And here he is. You don’t have to like it. Some people hate it. But it is a fact, regardless. So also the love for this big lug of a car, notwithstanding that it is eight years older — and really 18 years older — than the current/brand-new Toyota/Honda sedans, which are suffering sales ED for the first time in their histories.
Could it be on account of the fact that people — the ones not in Washington and not pontificating on CNN — continue to prefer bigger, both under the hood and otherwise? No matter what their nudge-in-the-ribs “betters” in DC and New York think they ought to prefer?
AT THE CURB
The bigness continues in the back — and in the trunk. The 300 has 40.1 inches of second row legroom (39.2 in the Avalon) and a 16.3 cubic foot trunk. The mid-sized sedans which are not selling well anymore have tight back seats and small trunks — and are depressingly downsized under their hoods.
Why not buy a crossover?
They’re also, for the most part, boring to look at — more homogenized than a quart of store-bought milk — while the 300 is as bold as a Cuban expresso first thing in the morning. There is no mistaking its confident letterman swagger for anything else with four doors — except its brother from the same mother, the Dodge Charger. These are — dare it be said? — manly cars.
It’s not just the big engines and the big room. It’s the big personality. There’s precious little of that available anymore. Which is why the 300 continues to sell, despite its age.
A good thing never gets old.
Think about it. A basic shape — and sheetmetal — which hasn’t changed much since 2011. Same basic interior layout, too. And people still buy it. Sales go up — while the sales of brand-new sedans (EPA eunuch-approved) like the Accord and Camry (and the Avalon, which is a stretched Camry) are tepid or even down vs. last year’s old models.
This is not just a big — and big-engined car, either. It is a heavy car. The best saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety feature of all. The lightest version — with the V6 and rear-drive — weighs almost 500 pounds more than the heaviest Avalon (4,013 vs. 3538, respectively). With the V8, that rises to more than 700 pounds.
Pity the fool who jousts with the 300 — unless he’s in a Tahoe.
Imagine a Hellcat version of this thing.
The Charger/Challenger Hellcats are rear-drive; but the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk pairs the supercharged 707 horsepower Hemi with AWD. So, the equipment is available. Now picture that in a big sedan that weighs 1,000 lbs. less than a Grand Cherokee.
Such a combo would be even more politically incorrect than the cheery 300 already is and also present an embarrassing situation for AMG Benzes and BMW Ms — which is exactly what Chrysler needs right now.
But what Chrysler needs most of all is your support — before Fiat decides to pull the plug on what is not only one of America’s great brands but the only brand still building cars with balls for regular Americans. People who want big engines, in big vehicles — packaged boldly.
But not priced out of their reach.
Fiat has the rear-drive architecture to update the 300 without transforming it into another FWD-based Avalon-Impala thing. The worrisome thing is that it looks like Fiat is going to abandon Chrysler — probably out of fear of Uncle’s fuel economy fatwas, which are the reason why the 300 (and the Charger) are the last of their breed, everyone else having cried Uncle.
THE BOTTOM LINE
This may be it.
Act while you still have time.
*** Photo courtesy of Caricos
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The Eric Peters Car Review is sponsored by the NMA Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting your interests as a motorist and citizen through the multi-faceted approach of research, education, and litigation. The Foundation is able to offer this assistance through tax-deductible contributions.