Tearing up your own rulebook can be fraught with hazards, but Zetsche and company knew what they were doing. Confirming the benefits of the much-derided merger was a clean-sheet LX platform shared with Dodge's equally arresting 2005 Magnum wagons and '06 Dodge Charger sedans.
It was an open secret that much LX engineering came from the respected Mercedes E-Class, but Chrysler took pains to point out that all of its components were unique and would not bolt into an E-Class. Not that it mattered, because the 300 chassis had all the "right stuff." The front suspension, for example, comprised upper and lower control arms, coil-over shocks, and an antiroll bar.
Out back was a five-link setup with separate shocks and coil springs. Steering was controlled via a power rack-and-pinion unit. All-disc antilock brakes and a Mercedes-style Electronic Stability Program (antiskid/traction-control system) were standard for all but the base model, where they were optional. A final bonus from the German connection was the all-wheel-drive setup that was offered on two of the six models.
Actually, the only major carryover components were two V-6 engines and an associated four-speed automatic transmission, and even those were modified to suit their surroundings. The base rear-drive 300 used a 190-bhp, 2.7-liter V-6. An equally familiar 250-bhp 3.5-liter V-6 moved the midlevel Tourings, rear drive and AWD, the latter priced some $2300 higher.
But what everyone wanted -- and mostly bought -- was the Hemi. Designated 300C (another '50s echo), the Hemi models boasted a five-speed automatic with rear or AWD, the latter carrying a $1325 surcharge, and the big attraction, a thumping 340 bhp and a muscular 390 pound-feet of torque.
Sized at 5.7 liters, equal to 345 cid, this new Hemi was a modern marvel: smooth, efficient, strong at most any speed, and a treat for enthusiast ears. Most road tests easily beat Chrysler's 6.3-second 0-60-mph claim with rear drive. Road & Track clocked just 5.6 seconds, impressive for a 4150-pound sedan. So, too, the magazine's observed fuel economy of 18.3 mpg, despite much hard driving.
Assisting with that was a new "Multi Displacement System" exclusive to the 5.7 Hemi among Chrysler Group engines. Like GM's similar Active Fuel Management, MDS would automatically deactivate four cylinders under light throttle loads to reduce fuel consumption (wear and tear, too). It wasn't a huge fuel-saver, but it did work and was almost undetectable in operation.
V-6s were naturally tame by comparison. Car and Driver's rear-drive Touring clocked 7.3 seconds 0-60 mph, while a base 300 needed a lengthy 11 seconds, according to Chrysler. Yet there wasn't much payback in actual fuel economy, suggesting the V-6s were overmatched by the two-ton weight.
But whether Hemi hot or V-6 sedate, every 300 offered quiet, comfortable cruising allied to confident road manners, and big interior space (helped by a rangy 120-inch wheelbase). Craftsmanship marked a new high for Chrysler and equaled most anything in the near-luxury class, foreign or domestic -- let alone the large-sedan competition. All this for $23,000-$34,000. No wonder Consumer Guide® named the new 300 a Best Buy, thanks to a "combination of performance, roominess, and value. It's a worthy rival for a variety of family cars and sporty sedans."
For more on the amazing Chrysler, old and new, see:
- Chrysler New Car Reviews and Prices
- Chrysler Used Car Reviews and Prices