Test Drive: 2018 Chrysler 300
According to J.D. Power research data, styling is one of the most important factors that people take into consideration when choosing a new vehicle. Representing potential proof of this sentiment, the Chrysler 300, a car that has provided luxury vehicle design elements and proportions to the masses since 2005, has survived 18 model years with no more than a significant refresh in 2011.
Now, the 2018 Chrysler 300 is arriving, serving a dwindling pool of full-size sedan customers. A rear-wheel or all-wheel-drive sedan equipped with a V-6 or a V-8 engine, the 300 is identical to last year’s model, but with a revised lineup that adds value and drops the price.
For this review, I spent a few days with a black-on-black 300S. A low-spec car without options, the price came to $36,890 including the $1,095 destination charge.
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Styling and Design
Though its Bentleyesque proportions haven’t changed over the course of nearly two decades, the Chrysler 300 remains appealing, especially to people seeking an upscale appearance at a discount. Despite the car’s ubiquity, there is a custom look to the car thanks to its long hood, chopped roofline, exaggerated wheel arches, and oversized wheels. In 300S trim, with black paint, blacked-out appearance details, and dark-finish 20-in. rims, this Chrysler looks especially menacing.
For 2018, it is worth noting that the new Touring trim level is offered with a Sport Appearance package that adds the 300S trim’s wheels and blacked-out exterior trim, giving the base car the same look at a much lower price. Bargain hunters seeking an upscale look at an impressive value will want to consider this version of the 300.
Inside, the 300 is less convincing as a luxury car. Inexpensive plastic is largely to blame, but so is the lack of contrast in versions with a black interior. The 300’s distinctly patterned dashboard, though constructed of soft-touch material, is not particularly upscale either, though fabric-wrapped windshield pillars and quality headliner materials are appreciated.
Step into a Chrysler 300 and you’ll notice how easy it is to get into and out of the car, though door hinge detents are weak and have trouble holding them open when the car is parked on anything but level pavement. The 8-way power-adjustable and heated front seats are really thrones, sitting up high for a commanding view through the narrow windows. Chrysler uses premium Nappa leather with contrast stitching for the 300S, one of the few genuinely luxurious touches within the cabin.
Initially, the 300S trim’s performance-bolstered seats are comfortable, but after hours on the road the lower bolsters became tiresome. The leather-wrapped steering wheel is pleasing to grip, and Chrysler softly pads the places where you’re likely to rest an arm or elbow. Rear-seat passengers enjoy generous space, too, but the front seatback panels are ringed in hard plastic trim, and folks with longer legs are likely to bang their shins on it from time to time.
A 16.3 cu.-ft. trunk awaits beneath the 300’s rear deck lid. That’s roomier than most midsize sedans, but smaller than some competing full-size vehicles. Thoughtfully, Chrysler provides an interior grab handle making it easy to pull the lid shut.
Features and Controls
Because the 300S is largely an appearance and performance package added to the Touring L trim, which itself adds little more than leather upholstery to a standard 300 Touring, the test vehicle distinguished itself more by what equipment was missing than what was included. If you’re willing to spend thousands of dollars more, pushing the 300S trim’s price tag well into the mid-$40,000 range, you can obtain both of the Premium equipment packages as well as a SafetyTec package and a BeatsAudio package.
Aside from the safety and infotainment features, which will be discussed in the next section, these upgrades provide a premium sound system, park-assist sensors, upgraded exterior and interior lighting, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, heated side mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, dual-pane panoramic glass roof, power rear window shade, memory settings for the driver’s preferences, and much more.
Additionally, Chrysler offers an Alloy Edition package that gives the 300S bronze-tinted trim elements, and an Appearance package equipping the car with racy SRT-inspired styling details. Last year’s optional black-painted roof, however, is not returning for 2018.
Controls are logically located and easy to use, with just a few quirks. For example, large radio volume and tuning knobs make using the stereo easier, but the buttons between them are unrelated to infotainment functions. Just below this panel, automatic dual-zone climate system controls are grouped together, but Chrysler employs buttons instead of knobs for the frequently used temperature controls, reserving a single knob for fan speed adjustment.
Drivers change transmission gears using a rotary dial on the center console instead of a traditional shifter. Just one stalk juts from the steering column, used for everything from turn signals and high-beam headlights to windshield wipers and washers. The gauges are small and busy in appearance, making them harder to reference, especially at night. However, the center driver information center helps to provide clarity thanks to an oversized digital speedometer.
Safety and Technology
Every 2018 Chrysler 300 is equipped with a Uconnect infotainment system and an 8.4-in. touch-screen display. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone-projection technology is standard, along with a 1-year trial subscription to satellite radio, voice-recognition technology, and a couple of USB ports. Last year, a premium BeatsAudio sound system was standard for the 300S; it is an option for 2018. Another option is an embedded navigation system.
Thanks to a recent update, Uconnect is faster and easier than ever to use. The system has always been intuitive, though, offering large virtual buttons and appealing graphics. In addition to radio volume and tuning knobs, Chrysler supplies redundant buttons on the backs of the steering wheel spokes, which sounds like a terrible idea until you use them.
My test car had none of Chrysler’s available driver-assistance and collision-avoidance systems. Grouped into the SafetyTec Plus package and offered only for S, Limited, and C trims, the menu includes but is not limited to adaptive cruise control with full-stop capability, full-speed forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist systems, automatic high-beam headlights, and front and rear park-assist sensors. Separately, a blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert is optional for all versions of the car except the Touring trim, where it is not available.
Earning a mix of 4-star and highest-possible 5-star ratings in federal government crash testing, the 2018 Chrysler 300 receives an overall rating of 4 stars. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) had not officially rated the 300 as this review was published, but last year’s identical car got “Good” ratings except in the small overlap frontal-impact test (“Marginal”) and in terms of headlight performance (“Poor”). On dark rural roads, I did find it necessary rather than preferable to use the high-beam headlights.
In 300S specification, the standard 3.6-liter V-6 engine is rated to make an even 300 horsepower and 264 lb.-ft. of torque, increases of 8 horsepower and 4 lb.-ft over other trims. A 5.7-liter V-8 engine is optional, delivering 363 horsepower and 394 lb.-ft. of torque, each peaking at lower engine rpm than the V-6 engine.
Though it weighs just over 2 tons, the 300S doesn’t really need the V-8 engine. Chrysler gears the 8-speed automatic to provide enough off-the-line oomph to chirp the tires, and both the Sport driving mode and metal paddle shifters help to make the V-6 feel more responsive. Passing power isn’t as strong as might be expected on the highway, but the 300S returned 24.4 mpg over more than 300 miles and at an average speed of 29.1 mph. The V-8 is thirstier than that.
Equipped with a performance suspension and 20-in. wheels wrapped in 245/45 tires, the 300S is as close as Chrysler comes to building a sport sedan. Evaluated in the Boston and Cape Cod area, the 300S sharply transferred details about the battle-scarred pavement from the tires to the cabin, making it difficult to recommend this version of the car in regions where the infrastructure is crumbling. With that said, and given how far back the 300’s engineering dates, the car remained remarkably well planted to the road, the structure exhibiting less shimmy and shake than expected.
Low speed limits and high traffic enforcement made it difficult to assess the 300S trim’s ability to thread down a country road with speed. It had no trouble tackling traffic circles, though, the electrically assisted steering somewhat slow but agreeably light and accurate.
Conditions prevented me from driving the car like I stole it, so the brakes performed flawlessly, the pedal firm underfoot yet easy to modulate for smooth, jostle-free stops and seamless travel in heavy traffic. When equipped with the optional V-8 engine, every 300 gets an upgraded performance braking system.
Remember when hit songs from previous decades were known as “oldies but goodies”? That characterization applies to the Chrysler 300.
Regular updates have modernized the car in terms of its infotainment, driver-assistance, and collision-avoidance technologies. And with the exception of its “Marginal” small overlap frontal-impact crash-test rating, it remains a relatively safe choice in a sedan. The V-6 is strong and efficient, and the 300’s rear-drive dynamics are a delightful throwback to a simpler time.
Throw upscale styling and genuine value into the equation—especially after factoring in the ever-present rebates and incentives that drop the 300’s out-the-door price by thousands of dollars—and this Chrysler remains appealing despite its age.