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AMR Week Peek: Chrysler 300C
    By Michael Egan, Contributing Writer

The Exterior
If you like full size cars with gobs of real estate both inside and out, then the 2005 Chrysler 300C is probably on your short list. You know about the gangster styling with the bulging corners, large front end and shorter rear. You already know it looks nothing like the rest of the vehicles in its class, let alone the market. Styling is subjective but this is a really attractive car. It certainly turns heads, even in areas along the Merritt Parkway running through Connecticut's Gold Coast area, an area chock full of BMWs, Mercedes, Audis and the Japanese luxury cars from Infiniti, Lexus and Acura. On my run from New Hampshire to just outside of New York City, I often had to work harder to pass cars, not because the 300C lacks passing power, but because other drivers would accelerate to get a better look at the Chrysler. DaimlerChrysler definitely got the styling right on this car — separating it from everything else in its class while not going so far as to scare off all but the most conservative or ultra daring amongst us.

The Interior
The interior of the 300C is rich, with good quality leather seats, an attractive dash with gauges lit in a soft green with chrome bezels and a center stack that was attractive and easy to navigate. The vehicle I drove had the optional Sirius Satellite radio and navigation system as well, though neither one was difficult to use. The navigation system does however only let you set the destination while the car is stopped, so you either have to pull over to set a destination or you have to be really quick at the lights. Once you have it programmed though, it works flawlessly — guiding me to my destination expertly. I used my portable GPS/navigation unit to test the accuracy and both routed me the same way for the trip back and forth and both had it worked out to about the same amount of time. All of the controls are within easy reach, and the buttons are large enough that you can manipulate most with thin gloves on.

The 300C has a cavernous interior in both the front and rear. While I didn't carry any passengers in the rear, I did manage to jump back there to see how much room there really was. The 300C can carry 3 adults in the rear in relative comfort, I'm sure, and legroom is terrific.

The only shortcoming to the interior of the 300C is that the seats had less lateral support than I would have liked. I am a man of somewhat wide proportions, so I never really feel that the seats kept me centered as I worked my way around the curves. With the leather seats, I found myself sliding a bit when taking curves at higher speeds.

The Driving Experience
When I picked up the car, I have to admit to being a little bit giddy when I found out it was the Hemi. I was anxious to see what the car would really do — unfortunately, I also happened to be picking it up during a snowstorm so really wringing it out would have to wait a bit. I did however get a good chance to check out the traction control and, while I found it really intrusive most of the time, trying to drive on slippery streets without it proved more difficult. The rear end of the 300C wants to come around on you with even the smallest blip of the throttle. So, for the snowy drive down to New York City, the traction control system stayed engaged. Once the roads cleared, and I had a chance to really get on it, the Hemi engine was all that I had hoped. The power from this engine comes on early and stays on all the way up the rev range. This car has shove-you-back-into-your-seat acceleration, and gets up to highways speeds in short order. What else would you expect with 340 hp and 390 lb-ft on tap from the 5.7 liter monster? The exhaust note is pure magical music, with a low rumble at cruising speeds and a roar when accelerating. Even with the temperature at 40 degrees F, I still had to leave the window open as I drove along on city streets, just so I could hear the tune the exhaust played.

This car, like all 300Cs, features MDS. This stands for Multi-Displacement System. It's similar to GM's DOD, or Displacement On Demand, and Mercedes' system employed in the V12 S and CL-Class vehicles. Essentially, a bank of cylinders can be shut down at cruising speeds to save fuel. You'd be surprised how well the system works, and, more importantly, how seamlessly and invisibly it works. Chrysler claims that, by running on 4 cylinders when power demands are lower, a 20% savings in fuel consumption can be achieved. The EPA rates the Hemi-powered 300C at 17 city and 25 highway. This is not dissimilar from my 1.8 liter, turbo, 4-cylinder Passat...not too shabby, if you ask me. Chrysler has an interesting Flash movie showing MDS in action at their site.

One downside to the 300C driving experience is the suspension. This is a big car and handles like a big car. It's great in the straights but suffers from significant body roll in the curves. I would have preferred a much stiffer suspension to help better soak up the bumps as well as help this big car around the curves. As I drove from Nanuet, NY to Peekskill, NY up the Palisades Parkway and over Route 6, I found that I had to keep my foot off the throttle more than I would have liked because the amount of body roll on the winding roads would have made me seasick. I would never describe this car as tight-handling. The vehicle I drove also had issues with the suspension in that the nose dives so dramatically over small bumps on the highways that I bottomed out the shocks on several occasions. I'm sure that the suspension tuning given to the SRT-8 version of the 300C would handle this issue well...uh, no pun intended.

The other significant issue with the 300C is that it is a thirsty ride. For the 560 primarily highway miles I put on this car in two days, I only got about 12 miles per gallon. I expected that mileage would suffer due to my heavy foot once the roads were cleared but at 12 miles per gallon, I'd be filling up pretty regularly. At over $2 per gallon, driving this car can get expensive quickly. I know I just talked about the benefits of MDS, but if you don't give the car a chance to deactivate some cylinders from time to time, you never see those benefits. When you don't see those benefits, you really don't see those benefits. I guess I was smiling too much and pushing too hard to give MDS a chance to work.

Final Review
In the end, I can see why the 300C made so many 'Best of' lists, but it still has some shortcomings. The fit and finish is good, the interior comfort excellent, and the styling is unique and attractive, but the driving experience is where this car falls short. I'd pick it to drive across country, or to haul the family around, but for everyday driving, it lacks the driving excitement that I had hoped it would have had, primarily because the suspension doesn't allow you to take full advantage of the Hemi. And taking full advantage of the Hemi engine is going to cost you — either in fuel economy or speeding tickets.


Nearly Perfect


Well, Mike, I must say that I'm jealous. I've been trying to get my hands on a Magnum RT with AWD for a long-term test for some time, but haven't scored yet. The Chrysler is selling because it looks amazing, and is a pretty good value. No, it isn't the cheapest thing on the market, but it gives you Mercedes E-Class underpinnings and an amazing engine at a great price. For me, the suspension is not a big problem. Chrysler has parts you can easily use to fix this thanks to the recent release of the SRT-8 version of the car. And, for better or worse, the hip-hop community has embraced this car. As a result, many after-market parts are coming out. I've seen some very cool looking mesh grille treatments for the car, great rims, and other body parts. Also, as lowering a car is key in this market, after-market suspensions are being marketed for the 300 series cars. So, with the right suspension, the real issue becomes fuel economy. If you can afford to pay for your smiles, the 300C is an excellent car at a great price. When you're willing to be more frugal with your right foot, you will be rewarded from MDS. I can see this car being a great highway cruiser with ample power to pull away when you need to. Overall, a great car that needs just a bit of tweaking to be an amazing car.