2005 Chrysler 300 Limited and 300C car reviews

Review Notes: Chrysler 300 Limited (3.5 V6)
Personality Carved from a block of steel with a dash of 300-style elegance and a bit of Teutonic bluntness
Unusual features Hemi on 300C; styling; low-cost stability control
Above Average: Unusually good balance and cornering for a big sedan; cheap compared to similarly powered vehicles
Needs Work In: Daft cruise control
EPA gas mileage 19 city, 28 highway (3.5 V6)

Chrysler 300 Limited car reviews

The main star of the new Chrysler 300 lineup is the 300C, whose more gussied-up interior is overshadowed by the eager and powerful Hemi engine. That 340 horsepower wonder is light, ready to rev, and tuned for delightful sound and speed. (For more on the Hemi engine, read our review of the Dodge Magnum RT.)

We tested the 300 Limited model, which comes with the 300M's 3.5 liter V6 engine and four-speed automatic. (The Hemi comes with a five-speed automatic originally designed for Mercedes.)

The 300 Limited is very different from the 300M in more ways than the striking styling, which turned heads everywhere we went – in a way we haven't seen since driving the Toyota MR2 and PT Cruiser (back when there were few PTs) unless you count the head-turning that followed the Magnum. Those of us who thought Chrysler had lost its mind with the redesign were missing a trend; Chrysler's out front and in fashion, with front and rear clips resembling 300s and Valiants of years past, and a straight side line that some say hails from Bentley, and others think was inspired by big SUVs. But that's just styling.

The overall feel of the 300 is very different from any Chrysler in recent memory. It seems to have been designed to give a feeling of solidness, of being carved from a single block of steel. The high door sills, the feel of the switches, even the block shape all contribute to this feel, and for good reason. Market research showed that people associate the high sills and extended roof with safety, and the solid feel is associated with both safety and quality. Given the dings Chrysler has gotten for quality – largely from early-1990s minivan transmissions, the use of incorrect fluids in transmissions, and cost-cutting measures in early Neons – that can only be good for the company. We've seen the PT Cruiser's and Liberty's quality records and can only say that you may actually be better off buying a new Chrysler than a Honda.

Indeed, the 300 feels much more like a Mercedes E-Class than the 300M, and that's not surprising. Though most of the design was done in Auburn Hills, quite a bit was done under Mercedes supervision, which, as you may imagine, did not make the Chrysler engineers especially happy. The situation has fortunately changed, but the 300 does beg comparison with the E-Class. American patriots may be happy to know that most of the comparisons are in the 300's favor – particularly the 300C. The price is far lower, the styling better, and the reliability likely to be higher.

The solid feel extends to the ride, which keeps the occupants in close contact with the road. On some roads, that can mean a fairly busy ride, with major bumps cushioned, but overall not as much isolation as a second-generation Chevy Malibu or a Mitsubishi Galant. The lighter side of this is the balanced handling, which makes the 300 feel considerably smaller and lighter than the 300M (it is about the same size but heavier). The 300 likes to be thrown around turns at high speeds, and its lack of understeer gives it more precision than the 300M. Unfortunately, it also lacks decent tires, which means that the tires are screeching and squealing as it gets thrown around the turns. The Goodyear Integrity tires are not anywhere near being up to the task; we'd recommend replacing them as soon as you buy the car with something more up to the task.

Shutting off the active suspension – which is only an option on the base model – makes the 300 seem a bit less balanced and nimble, but it's still quite good by large-car standards. That's good news for those who aren't really into heavy-duty acceleration and would like the 300's size and heft without wanting to pay for a big, thirsty engine. The entry-level 2.7 provides decent enough pickup, and the lack of stability control seems to have less impact than high quality tires, except in controlling body lean and roll (which impacts on perceptions of control). We have been told that stability control becomes more important in snow and rain, but were unable to test these. The Magnum RT was very stable in wet weather and experienced surprisingly little loss of composure.

Power from the 3.5 V6 is good, with a wide torque band that starts just over 2,000 rpm and continues to near redline for instant movement. The four-speed automatic (shared with the base model) is, as always, responsive and ready to downshift, but also smooth and refined. It adjusts to driver needs and internal transmission conditions, and requires a special fluid, ATF+4, which is available on the aftermarket as well as from Chrysler. The Hemi gets a five-speed automatic that is more efficient, but has firmer shifts and transmits a small amount of vibration. We found acceleration and passing to be effortless, albeit not quite as quick as the 300M, which had more performance-oriented gearing and slightly lower gas mileage.

Noise control is surprisingly good, which helps given the tire squeal, but also means that there is little wind noise at highway speeds – an annoyance that rates high in owners' impressions of their cars. The windows seem better at sound insulation than in earlier cars. The 3.5 liter V6 is a bit noisier than the Hemi, with a less refined sound, but it is not intrusive or harsh.

The navigation system is a bit underused: you set personal preferences through the trip computer instead of through the huge nav screen. Fortunately, the stereo and climate control are handled by real knobs and buttons; though the radio information is displayed in the nav screen (absent such niceties as the radio station name and type, the song name, etc.) and on the trip computer, and the various audio adjustments are shown on the screen. You can adjust bass, treble, and midrange. The Boston Acoustics speaker system is good but the sound in the Magnum RT with the $300 optional CD changer was better.

Every time the car starts, of course, you have to wait for the nav system to start up before pressing the inconveniently placed ENTER button to agree not to be distracted by the system. Then, if all you want is to see a map, you have to press CANCEL to get out of the main nav screen. It would be nice if they'd make you agree to not be distracted by reading a warning that you might be distracted only when you use the various menus, and not when you just show a map or audio information, but that's par for the course. One nice touch is that when the map is showing, you can change the scale just by twiddling a knob – no need for buttons and such. Changing the orientation from North to "you're going up" takes the press of a single button. Those are both common features and it's good that they've been made easier to use.

The steering column is exactly the same as the one used by Mercedes, with the sole exception being the pattern on the steering wheel itself; it's designed and made by another company. We would have preferred a Chrysler column, because the Mercedes-style controls are relatively inconvenient: the cruise control has six different movements and is placed just above the turn signal for maximum annoyance. The "cruise on" light is in the stalk, rather than on the dash, and the whole setup is unnecessarily different from what most drivers are used to. The Toyota style stalk – stubby, on the right, and going up, down, and forward rather than in to turn on, forward to set, back to cancel, up to speed, down to coast – is easier to use and doesn't get in the way of the turn signals. Likewise, Chrysler's horn-mounted buttons are easy to hit with the thumb without looking or thinking.

Another annoying Mercedes-like feature is the wiper control, which makes you go past every intermittent wiper setting before getting to the settings most people use most often: slow and fast. Other vehicles have a separate intermittent setting.

On the horn itself, instead of those cruise buttons, are enigmatically labeled buttons which turn out to control the stereo volume and mode, and the trip computer in the instrument panel. Controlling the trip computer is quite different from, and harder than, past Chrysler models, but once you figure out how to get there, it shows the compass and outside temperature or the parameter of your choice (distance to empty, gas mileage, etc.) with fewer options than in the past. Audio information is also displayed in the trip computer readout.

You can set personal preferences, such as locking all doors at once or just the driver's door, using the trip computer and steering-wheel buttons. If you don't get a trip computer, you can do it through arcane control sequences that are described in the owner's manual, instead of going to the dealer to have them set. We're glad that customers can still do it themselves.

The switches are all heavier and quieter than in the past: not in any way an indicator of quality (how often do switches break in any car?), but it does give us fallible humans a perception of quality and safety. None are hard to move, and you can do pretty much anything while wearing gloves.

Speaking of safety, visibility is good in all directions except for the rear quarter, where the 300M also had a large blind spot. The Magnum actually seems better there. The high trunk may lead to danger for toddlers and other little people in driveways, but that's true for most cars and just about all SUVs now. We were surprised by how good the visibility is: we expected something more along the lines of the Celica or Audi TT, the "peeking out of a bathtub" experience. It's hard to tell from the inside that the windows are relatively small.

The roof overhang in front can be good for blocking out the sun and teaching drivers not to go too far into intersections with traffic lights. Sun visors can be swung all the way into position without hitting the driver, which is fairly unusual. However, on the safety side, it would be good to have seat belt adjusters or guides for short passengers in the back seats.

The front provided many adjustments. Our Limited had a freely telescoping and tilting steering wheel, and pedal adjusters are available though not standard. The driver's seat travel is simply amazing – over ten inches. 

Yes, but what about the 2.7 liter V6?

It seems every review of the 300 has a bit where they talk about the 2.7, which apparently nobody has driven, but everyone assumes it'll be far too slow. "Jerseyjoe" reported:

"The Chrysler dealer loaned me a new 300 base model with 2.7 for 4 hours the other day. Because I had no adult supervision I got to give it a spirited road test within the limits of driving on secondary roads in New Jersey. The 2.7 surprised me with its willingness to keep accelerating to red line! Very sporty feel. After a couple weeks of test driving other vehicles it dawned on me how much car you got for $23K and how it killed everything in its class. It would make the perfect commuter car with 28 MPG and in black was formal looking enough for a night on the town. My only beef is that the cruise control does not look like it belongs to the car and should be left out. All it needs is a 6 speed manual.

There are many places for storage, including map pockets on all doors, an overhead sunglass bin, a nicely sized rectangle by the shifter (with a removeable liner), and the center console itself, with its well-designed, built-in change holder and mini-tissue holder. The backs of the front seats don't have pockets, and the fold-down rear armrest has two simple cupholders but no storage. The front cupholders are hidden by a lid and mechanically adjust to the size of the cup via plastic thingies near the bottom. The trunk, though a bit smaller than the 300M, is still quite large, and the rear seats fold down for larger items. There is no mechanical trunk lock on the outside, and, like most new cars, no passenger side trunk lock. That means that if your only mechanical lock freezes or breaks, you'd better have fresh batteries in the remote.

Head, shoulder, and waste room are all very good. We found the seats a little less than comfortable, with a very firm surface; one observer noted that you sit on them, rather than in them. Both front and passenger seats on our Limited had manual bolsters. The passenger seat had a manual recline as well, with a power front-back control.

The 300 is, in general, an easy car to drive once you train yourself to use the nonessential features and to avoid hitting the cruise control instead of the turn signals. The smooth automatics help in calm driving and heavy traffic, while providing instant access to engine power. The small-car feel is very nice considering the interior space, too.

Most of the annoyances of the 300M have been dealt with. The interior was reportedly designed for long-term freedom from buzzes and rattles – the 300M ages fairly well, but any improvement in buzz and rattle reduction is worthwhile, since those are a primary means by which people decide whether a car is reliable. The door handles pull out rather than lifting, making them easier to use. The ignition key goes into the dashboard so it's more visible and easier to use. Finally, the 300M's technological checklist has been updated: a navigation system is available, accessories keep power until the door is opened, and there is an active suspension and all-speed traction control, with all wheel drive as an option.

The 300 is hard to compare with other cars, partly because the 300C is so different from the base model. The new Chevy Malibu, which competes with the base model, is quicker and has a more comfortable ride, but feels less substantial and balanced; the Camry and Avalon are considerably sloppier in handling and have looser powertrains, albeit with more cushioning. Most competitors suffer in a feature to feature comparison, especially if you really want a V8 or rear wheel drive – there are precious few vehicles in the 300's price range with either of those. You can of course compare a 300 to a Mercedes E Class; but why embarrass Mercedes?

Most flattering to the 300 are comparisons to SUVs. The comfort level is equal to or better than most mid-sized and larger SUVs, which have to deal with a higher center of gravity, while the cost is actually fairly low for the segment. What's more, the 300's acceleration and gas mileage are far more attractive than most SUVs near this price class.

The most attractive 300 is the 300C, the top of the line, and it shows in the product mix that's been sold so far. The base and Limited models are not bad, and the styling is the same across the line, but that Hemi option has gas mileage similar to the 3.5 V6, with undeniable bragging rights and effortless, gleeful acceleration, not to mention a hefty complement of standard features. No wonder so many German luxury cars are being traded in. But for those who don't care whether they get front or rear wheel drive, and don't object to a V6, the market's considerably more crowded.

Our opinion: consider both the 300 and Magnum as excellent alternatives to SUVs – cheaper, better on gas, more comfortable, and providing roughly the same usable space as the average mid-sized SUV. The 300C and Magnum R/T provide great performance without much of a penalty in gas mileage. The base models are nice when ordered with appropriate options, but should undergo a mandatory tire change, and are competing in a market that has many fine cars.

The Chrysler 300 has become an overnight success and a major hit, with desirable styling and an unbeatable top-end powertrain. If you were waiting for rear wheel drive, it's here. If you are concerned about rear wheel drive in snow and rain, we've heard reports that the 300 and Magnum do quite well – and will soon have all-wheel drive options. These are unusual vehicles, priced to sell, and most people have a harder time actually finding one to buy than making up their minds.