300S takes luxury to a lower price

2012 Chrysler 300S
2012 Chrysler 300S
Posted: October 08, 2012

A peek inside the Chrysler 300's walk-in closet reveals 13 different driving ensembles. The fashion possibilities range from a $27,470 sub-luxury base V-6 to a $47,170 sporting model powered by what's either a torque-rich, 465-horsepower V-8 or an eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

In between are a number of other large, roomy sedans, including ones with a smaller V-8, rear and all-wheel-drive, and varying emphasis on comfort and the sporting life.

The 300, the latest iteration of a legendary car that debuted in 1955, was redesigned in 2011 and has been essentially a carryover for 2012 and 2013. There has, however, been one important upgrade: the eight-speed automatic transmission I found in the 2012 300S I just tested.

The eight-speed, the same transmission employed in the Audi A8, was designed by ZF, the German gearbox builder. By adding three gears to the five-speed menu offered by the base 300 gearbox, the tester's 3.6-liter, 292-horse V-6 gets to stay closer to the sweet spot in its power range. That translates into better acceleration (0 to 60 in a sprightly 61/2 seconds) and markedly better mileage.

The eight-speed tester had EPA mileage estimates of 19 city and 31 highway, pretty good for a big, two-ton sedan. The old five-speed in the base model musters ratings of 18 and 27. (Compare the mileage of the V-6/eight-speed tandem with the V-8s, and the gulf grows even more. The 6.4-liter V-8 in the 300 SRT8 delivers EPAs of 14 and 23.)

I thought the 300S I drove, which was priced at $42,155, was a pretty good choice. It's not going to take a big night at the Bellagio to buy it and fuel it, for openers. And the peppy V-6, in concert with the smooth-shifting gearbox, sporty suspension, and the wide, 20-inch performance tires, makes it more fun to drive than you might think.

The sporty suspension and tires kept the tester composed during aggressive cornering and did a good job of policing body roll. Braking was also a plus, as was the steering system. It was precise and offered good on-center feel, although, like most electric power-steering units, it didn't afford much road feel.

The bottom line is that the car's driving dynamics make it feel smaller than it is, and that's a good thing.

And despite the fact that sport-tuned suspensions and low-aspect performance tires don't do ride comfort any favors, the 300S rode surprisingly well.

Though the 300's restyling packs less drama than its interior remodeling, it still gets your attention. I don't think it's the most beautiful big car I've ever gazed upon, but it has a formal presence that I find attractive. Its grille, with its deeply carved, horizontal blades and liquid chrome finish, also draws the eye, as do those lovely, 20-spoke, polished and painted alloy wheels.

The interior benefits from a clean aesthetic and good quality materials. The instruments are as attractive as they are readable, and the controls are satisfyingly precise. The optional leather-trimmed, saddle-stitched bucket seats proved comfortable, supportive, and quite handsome.

The interior, a considerable 122 cubic feet, allowed enough backseat leg and head room to make glad the heart of an NBA power forward. The roominess theme included the trunk, which got even larger when the rear seatbacks were folded down.

The 300's innards also proved low-decibel business. Even at highway velocities, the 300S managed to keep its voice down.

The 300S hasn't been tested by the government for crashworthiness or rollover risk, but it does have an extensive litany of safety devices ranging from a knee-bolster airbag for the driver to reactive head restraints.

It's also nicely equipped with standard features such as an eight-way power driver's seat. In the case of the tester, an option list weighing in at more than $7,000 added safety gear such as forward collision warning and blind-spot detection, and hedonism such as a heated or cooled console cup holder.


Excellent

2012 Chrysler 300S

Base price: $33,470.

As tested: $42,155.

Standard equipment: 3.6-liter engine, eight-speed automatic transmission, rear-drive, and a generous safety and comfort menu, including keyless ignition and speed-sensitive power door locks.

Options: Power adjustable pedals with memory and a power sunshade for the back window. A dual-pane, panoramic sunroof and the ever-popular heated or cooled console cupholder.

Fuel economy: 19 m.p.g. city

and 31 highway.

Styling: Sturdy formality.

Handling: Who says big guys can't dance?

Engine performance: Good guts.

Ride quality: Fine.

Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles bumper to bumper.


Contact Al Haas

at alhaasauto@aol.com.

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