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AUGUST 10, 2004
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Chrysler 300C Hemi
Chrysler 300C Hemi
Highs: One mother of a motor, refined ride and handling, baby-Bentley
looks, plenty of space.
Lows: Small patches of cheapness, may be too stiff-legged for some,
unproven quality and reliability.
The Verdict: The winner by default also has darn few faults.
As far as we're concerned, the verdict on the DaimlerChrysler merger
is in. Together, the two companies have built a gotta-get-one vehicle
that neither Mercedes nor Chrysler was ever able to deliver at
anywhere near this price. Case closed, jury dismissed.
Is the 300C really that good, you ask with brow deeply furrowed, or is
this just typical motor-mag shill?
In a nutshell, no.
Granted, here in the company of the aged and the overheated, the
newest car seems especially modern and civilized. The 300C is not the
biggest, with more inches at the wheelbase but four inches fewer
between the mirrors than the Crown Vic and a shorter overall length
than both the Ford and Pontiac. Yet it never feels wanting for space
inside until you pack three across the back seat.
The single-piece skin swathing the dash looks durable if a bit
over-grained. Chrome-ringed dials—green fluorescent at night—add
suavity and convey the essentials. Knobs sit where a roving hand
expects to find them, even for the navigation system, which is quickly
mastered. The climate control makes its climates quietly, especially
when set to "low auto," a shrewd feature that restricts fan blow to
hold down noise.
A thick, leather-wrapped steering-wheel rim feels substantial,
serious, even with its whimsical "tortoise shell" accent (which looks
like sea scallops afloat in Aunt Jemima, only better). Fake tortoises
also donated fake shells to the pulls on the door panels, which
despite an additional chrome sash still look a little dowdy. A fan
club did develop for the 300's seats and their simple, supportive
The Chrysler gets nearly universal palaver. Jaded John Q. can't get
enough of that Elvis-era grille, skimmed roof, and wide-set wheels.
Sure, it's a new shape, but a half-dozen other cars unwrapped this
year won't draw half this much attention. The 300C has got the look.
It's got the brawn, too. A growling Hemi and a Mercedes-designed,
Kokomo-built five-speed automatic are a dream team. The V-8 delivers a
devastating punch, and the automatic makes sure it's delivered through
the appropriate ratio. Feeling playful? Your mood is read fast by the
computer, which starts holding gears. If you want something different,
just slap the shifter sideways from the "D" position. Nothing is
simpler or more transparent.
Our 300C sucked up fuel at the rate of a gallon every 15 miles over
400 miles, even with the Hemi's seamless cylinder-deactivation system
at work. Ditto the Crown Vic, and the Pontiac slurped its way to just
14 mpg. Obviously, the Hemi's cylinders weren't deactivated very much,
especially during the track testing. We were unable to duplicate our
initial 300C test numbers mentioned at the top. This car ran to 60 mph
in 5.9 seconds and turned the quarter in 14.4 at 99 mph, significantly
slower for no readily apparent reason (same test site, similar test
weight). Both were preproduction cars, perhaps with slightly different
computer calibrations. The braking distance from 70 mph was an
undistinguished 189 feet—all three cars here stopped within seven feet
The electronic stability button doesn't turn the system off, it just
cuts it to a reduced-intervention mode. On the skidpad, lateral g and
high slip angles are an aphrodisiac to the yaw sensors, so the
Chrysler herked and jerked its way to a 0.76-g performance, the lowest
of the group. But in the emergency lane change, where a good
stability-control system helps rather than hurts, it was fastest by a
wide margin: 62.2 mph. In the real world, the 300C instills cornering
confidence with negligible body lean and steering that scribes precise
arcs. The ride can get a little crusty over bumps, but the
chipped-from-granite structure prevents sympathetic rattles and
Grunt, grip, attitude, and comfort. Until there's a serious contender,
Chrysler owns the Detroit franchise on all of it.
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Copyright© 2004 Hachette Filipacchi Media, U.S., Inc.
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