Coronavirus fears have curtailed travel, sent the Dow tumbling 5,000 points and forced the cancellation of the Geneva Motor Show, but it hasn’t been able to kill off the Great American Sedan. At least at this writing, it hasn’t. Though some might call it an anachronism, the Chrysler 300 lives on, and I call it the Great American Sedan for some very definite reasons.
Quick history lesson: the American muscle car craze began (arguably, I admit) with the introduction of the Chrysler C-300 in the 1955 model year. The 300 referred to the 300 horsepower that was said to be produced by the hardtop’s 331 cubic inch Firepower Hemi V-8. Pre-dating the Pontiac GTO by a decade, the C-300 was followed by other Chrysler 300s that used a letter as a suffix (e.g. 300B, 300C and…well, you know the alphabet.) The C-300’s configuration was not unusual in its time. Rear-drive cars with sizable V-8 engines were as common as Good-n-Plenty in those days.
Now fast-forward to today. The C-300 and the current Chrysler 300C have a number of similarities — big V-8, ample-sized passenger cabin, rear drive. In other words, the current Chrysler 300C is the last of the Great American Sedans. Far from being as common as it was in the Stone Age years of the 1950s, its front-engine, rear-drive configuration is now on the endangered species list. The Dodge Charger and Dodge Challenger share the same basic layout, and you could stretch the point and say the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro do too, but that’s it, brother. There ain’t no more.
So is that a bad thing? Or a good thing? Well, tell us how you like to drive, and we’ll have an answer for you. For the way we like to drive, the Chrysler 300C is just fine, thank you.
Of course, in that timeworn American tradition of giving the buyer options, the Chrysler 300 is offered in several variants and each has its personality, but the family resemblance is not difficult to sense. The performance-oriented 300C is the star of the bunch, of course. Its horsepower and massive torque are not just performance-boosters; they also add luxury, because the 300C never feels out of breath. In fact, it never feels like it’s working very hard at all. Acceleration seems effortless, and the 300C strikes a nice balance between comfortable ride and precise handling.
The Chrysler 300C is propelled by a normally aspirated 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 that delivers 363 horsepower and 394 lb-ft of torque that makes highway and around-town drivability easier than ordering bacon with your buttermilk pancakes. The Dodge Challenger and Charger offer more horsepower and more drama, but the sophistication of the Chrysler 300C puts it in a different class.
For those whose 401K was decimated this week, a less expensive but still satisfying alternative to the 300C is the 300S. It offers much of the more expensive model’s goodness, but it is powered by the 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 that offers 300 horsepower and 264 lb-ft of torque, backed by the self-same 8-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission as the 300C. If you like gadgets, Sport mode available on both 300C and 300S reduces shift times from approximately 400 milliseconds to 250 milliseconds, increases engine and throttle responsiveness, and offers firmer steering feel from the fuel-saving electric power steering.
Styling & Design
The 2020 Chrysler 300C’s exterior design pays homage to Bentley while at the same time delivering an upscale, American vibe. The slit-like side windows and massive shoulders are a bit sinister, making the 300C look like the car the villain in the graphic novel drives. The finely drawn grille with narrow chrome edging, model-exclusive platinum chrome trim, and 20-inch polished-aluminum wheels contribute to the model’s overall gravitas. It’s not a vehicle to be messed with, and neither is the dude driving it.
The interior is contemporary luxe with legible instrumentation laid out in classic style, a large 8.4-inch center-dash infotainment screen and a conventional center console with padded armrest covering a storage bin. The 300C features distinct black or mocha interior motifs with deep-quilted, perforated Nappa leather seats and door panels, hand-sanded natural pore wood, and “French” accent stitching. The leather-wrapped steering wheel sports a unique chrome accent ring. The model offers plenty of front and rear headroom and legroom with total interior volume 106.3 cubic feet. Its conventional trunk boasts a robust 16.3 cubic feet of total cargo space, significantly more than a Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
Standard infotainment is Chrysler’s Uconnect 4C system. In the 300C it offers AM/FM/HD radio with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, SiriusXM Radio, and Voice Command with Bluetooth. The touchscreen displays music, vehicle information, and climate controls, and the system is fitted with an audio jack and two USB ports. If you want integrated navigation it is available across the 300 lineup, including, of course, the 300C. Also optional is a 19-speaker Harmon Kardon audio system with subwoofer and 900-watt amplifier that can move the car while it is standing still.
A lengthy list of active and passive safety equipment is available on the 300, and many items are standard. The 300’s electronic stability control includes brake assist, rain brake support, ready alert braking, hill-start assist, and all-speed traction control. The SafetyTec Plus Group is an optional package that includes advanced brake assist, rain-sensing windshield wipers, LaneSense lane departure warning with lane keep assist, auto high-beam headlamp control, full-speed forward collision warning with active braking, and adaptive cruise control with stop.
There are two ways to view the Chrysler 300C. If you’re a half-empty personality, you might see it as a dinosaur of a sedan in a new world of hybrid and electric vehicles, many of them crossovers. If you’re a half-full kind of person, you could see it as a very competent, 5-passenger luxury sedan in the American tradition that offers an interesting alternative to the large sedans from Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Audi.
The top-of-the-line 2020 Chrysler 300C with the Hemi V-8 engine has a base price right around $42,000 plus a destination/delivery charge of $1,495. Just for unfair comparison, a V-8-powered Mercedes-Benz S560 sedan (with 100 more horsepower than the 300C) has a base price of about $105,000. You can spend the $100K or you can buy the 300C, take the $50,000 you have left over and bet it on red. It might be your lucky day.