2012 Chrysler 300 Review:
With the demise of the Lincoln Town Car and its corporate siblings, the Mercury Grand Marquis and Ford Crown Victoria, we’re witnessing the vanishing of an era.
The American automobile scene once was dominated by elephantine rear-drive sedans and station wagons with big-bore engines—imported from Detroit, as the advertising slogan asserts.
Now, with only a couple of exceptions, they are gone. Ford’s biggest sedans are the front-drive and all-wheel drive Taurus and Lincoln MKS, and General Motors no longer offers a big, rear-drive sedan. Its biggest sedans are the Cadillac XTS and Buick La Crosse, both front-drive with all-wheel drive optional.
Only Chrysler soldiers on with old-fashioned Detroit iron. There are two: the fundamentally similar Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300. They could very well eventually occupy much of the police and livery business that currently is dominated by the Crown Vic and the Town Car, although Ford and GM are cobbling up special vehicles to compete in those niches.
Of course, as the Chrysler 300 tested for this review demonstrates, these modern wheeled barges bear little resemblance to their forbears. In earlier times, the ponderous big rear-drivers usually had pushrod V8 engines and three-speed or four-speed automatic transmissions.
In 2012, you can order a 300 with standard rear-drive or all-wheel drive, an eight-speed automatic transmission and a powerful V6 engine. The eight-speed rivals the transmissions in some European luxury cars like BMW and Mercedes-Benz, and the thinking that went into plugging it into the 300 likely was part of the legacy of the failed merger between Mercedes and Chrysler.
Should you want to step up in power—with the accompanying loss of fuel economy, of course—the 300 also is available with a 363-horsepower, 5.7-liter V8 and a honking SRT8 version with a 470-horsepower, 6.4-liter V8.
Nobody really needs any of that unless the buyer has unexplained inner needs. The 300’s 292-horsepower V6 works fine even with the added heft of the all-wheel drive—the weight is 235 pounds over two tons. However, it doesn’t get the juices flowing. The test car delivered nonchalant acceleration from rest, though it surged forth as the engine revolutions built.
But the all-wheel drive 300 is not a car for drag-racing runs or rapid motoring on racetracks or curving mountain roads. Its forte is leisurely traveling on interstate highways. Comfortable seats, automatic climate control, a decent audio system and plenty of sound-deadening materials built into the chassis and body result in comfortable long-distance cruising.
There’s also the built-in confidence of the all-wheel drive system, which apportions engine power to the wheels depending on the amount of traction. It’s a welcome addition for anyone who lives in nasty climates.
Despite its bulk and impressive interior space, the 300 should be regarded as a four-passenger conveyance. The outboard back seats provide generous knee and headroom, with support and comfort rivaling that of the front seats. But the center-rear position is, in a word, terrible.
There’s a giant floor hump that eliminates foot room and the seat bottom padding, high and hard, wipes out any semblance of headroom or basic comfort.
To be fair, it is rare for any sedan—and even quite a few sport utility vehicles and crossovers—to offer decent center seating in back. But the 300’s perch is particularly punishing. On the other hand, there’s a commodious trunk that looks bigger than its volume rating of 16 cubic feet. It’s well padded with C-hinges concealed to protect luggage.
To anyone who cherishes the traditional sedate driving experience, the 300 fits like the final piece of a puzzle. Luxury touches abound, from the plush perforated leather front seats to the soft touch materials on the instrument panel and doors, and the large touch-screen controls for audio, climate and navigation.
Of course, the 300 bears little resemblance to the mush mobiles of old. The suspension system delivers a settled ride but not at the expense of reasonably controlled handling, especially given the 300’s bulk.
Nevertheless, if you’re used to driving a compact or mid-sized car, the 300 feels like an ark that must be maneuvered in slow motion. It doesn’t lend itself to rapid lane changes or shooting gaps in city traffic. Best to simply wait in line.
The tested 300 was a top-line Limited AWD model. The base price of $36,345 covered the obligatory safety equipment of traction and stability control, antilock brakes, multiple air bags (including a knee bag for the driver) rear-view camera and tire-pressure monitoring.
Limited model equipment also included the leather upholstery, automatic climate control, satellite radio, Bluetooth connectivity, pushbutton and remote starting, keyless entry, heated outside mirrors, cruise control and 19-inch polished aluminum wheels.
A $3,250 option package delivered ventilated front and heated rear seats; a powered tilt-and-telescoping and heated steering wheel; a powered rear-window sunshade, and adjustable power pedals. A $1,295 panoramic sunroof completed the package, bringing the suggested delivered price to $39,690.
That’s not cheap in today’s market. But it’s in the ballpark with other large cars from U.S. and Asian manufacturers. Against European rear-drive and all-wheel drive luxury cars, it comes across as a lesser performing but way less expensive alternative.
- Model: 2012 Chrysler 300 Limited AWD four-door sedan.
- Engine: 3.6-liter V6, 292 horsepower.
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.
- Overall length: 16 feet 7 inches.
- EPA passenger/trunk volume: 106/16 cubic feet.
- Weight: 4,235 pounds.
- EPA city/highway fuel consumption: 18/27 miles to the gallon.
- Base price, including destination charge: $36,345.
- Price as tested: $39,690.
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