It’s the first Chrysler 300 update in four years, and it enhances the 300’s appeal without significantly shifting its spot in the automotive universe. Launched by the newly minted Fiat Chrysler Automotive group (FCA), the 2015 Chrysler 300 is still as American as they come.
That’s largely because, on a continent full of front-drive Chevy Impala, Ford Taurus and Toyota Avalon competition, the 300 and its Dodge Charger corporate stablemate remain unique among mainstream American sedans. They’re built on rear-drive platforms with longitudinal engines. On one hand, the ’15 300 update is mild: a facelift front, rear, and inside, a couple of mechanical enhancements, more techno-gizmos and a trim realignment. On the other, the impact of the sum exceeds the parts. The new Chrysler 300 is refined, modernized and more distinguished than it’s been in years.
The 2015 300's body stampings are identical to its predecessor's, except for the size of the cutouts behind its new LED taillights. Exterior changes are limited to the front and rear ends, in pursuit of what the design team calls “heritage styling.”
In other words, the stylists sought a throwback to the 2005 quad-headlight 300--known to some as the Baby Bentley. A more extensive re-skin in 2011 deliberately moved the 300 closer to generic, and maybe even dumbed it down. The 2015 tries to move it back.
The new 300’s grille is a third larger, and constructed of wire mesh on all variants. The Chrysler wing moves from the top edge of the grille closer to its center. The amber marking lights at the outer edge of the headlight clusters have moved to the lip of the front wheel wells, and the foglights are quad LEDs. In back, the bumper has a more prominent upper edge; wide, rectangular exhaust tips replace round portholes.
Chrome is applied more minimally all around. The 300 C Platinum variant gets polished satin bright work instead of chrome. The sport-tuned 300 S has black headlight fill, body-color mirrors and door handles, and an optional black roof panel. The 2015 styling tweaks restore some of the distinctiveness—the swagger—that was washed out of this 300’s predecessor.
Inside, designers wanted more contrast, though it isn’t so much a contrast of color or materials. Rather, it’s contrast of classic design elements and appointments with modern fixtures, starting with a bold, full-color electro-luminescent instrument cluster and a larger (8.5-inch) touchscreen at the top of the center stack. Even the base 300 Limited comes with heated front seats and leather upholstery.
The interior of the 2015 Chrysler 300C leans toward luxury.
The 300 C Platinum upgrades things with more luxuriant Nappa leather and quilted door panels. Its dash and console are skinned with French-stitched Laligno leather from Italian furniture maker Poltrona Frau. There’s more finish work throughout—more hand-sanded, oil-rubbed wood and more detail, including a two-tone leather steering wheel with chrome strip.
The drivetrain is carryover. Chrysler’s 3.6-liter corporate V6 is tuned to 292 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque in most 300s, just as before. A cold air intake and reduced exhaust backpressure increase the net to 300 hp, 264 lb-ft, in the 300 S. All-wheel drive is offered on all four 300 variants, with a planetary center differential and a transparent front-axle disconnect system intended to improve fuel economy.
The 5.7 liter Hemi V8 (363 hp, 394 lb-ft) is offered in all but the base Limited, and still with Chrysler’s Fuel Saver variable-displacement technology. The Hemi is no longer available with all-wheel drive. The biggest news is adaptation of Chrysler’s eight-speed TorqueFlite automatic, previously reserved for the V6, to the big V8. It adds one mpg to the Hemi’s EPA city rating and reduces manual shift times 38 percent (to 250 milliseconds, if it matters). All 300s now have the Jaguar-style rotary gear selector introduced in the new Chrysler 200.
There’s also rack-mounted electric power steering assist, replacing the ‘14’s electro-hydraulic system. It integrates the 300’s steering into certain safety systems and allows driver-selectable assist levels. A new sport mode adjusts steering effort, throttle progression and shift strategy to more sporting effect, and adds rearward torque bias to the all-wheel-drive.
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There are three distinct suspension tunings: comfort for the Limited and 300 C, touring for the C Platinum (optional on the C) and sport for the S. The sport suspension increases damping rates 20 percent compared to 2014, for the firmest tuning yet this side of the now-defunct SRT8. The ’15 300’s curb weights are essentially the same as the ’14.
And that’s with more gizmos. The UConnect system adds a Wi-Fi hot spot and smart-phone app that allows remote starting and other adjustments, and there are optional heated and cooled cupholders in the console. The rest is largely enhancement to various safety systems. The forward collision warning adds autonomous brake operation at lower speeds, which means it will begin applying the brakes even if the driver doesn’t. The lane assist can add a nudge of steering if the 300 wanders, and the aggressiveness of the nudge can be adjusted by the driver. The adaptive cruise control now operates to a complete stop, and it will accelerate again if the car is stationary less than two seconds. Theoretically it will work with the ebb and flow of stop-and-go traffic without driver intervention.
Chrysler says 300 owners have the broadest demographic spread among those buying any of its vehicles, based on age and income. That might explain a price span exceeding 50 percent from the least expensive 300 to the most expensive. At $32,390 with the $995 destination charge, the base Limited comes with leather, UConnect, heated front seats and 17-inch wheels. It’s offered with all the safety options, and AWD adds $2,500.
Next up is the 300 S ($35,890), with sport suspension, paddle shifts, standard Beats audio and 20-inch Hyper Black finish wheels The Hemi is $3,000 more. The 300 C ($38,890) comes with 18-inch wheels and adds ventilated front seats, heated rear seats and a leather upgrade. The new C Platinum gets that fanciest interior, high-watt Alpine audio and 20-inch wheels. At $43,390 before AWD, the Hemi or some of the safety options, it’s expected to account for 5 percent of sales.
The current Chrysler 300 increased sales nearly 50 percent over its four-year run. Through its final year, it has expanded Chrysler’s share of the large sedan market 2.5 percent, as that market as a whole was flat. And in our estimation, the 2015 300 is substantially improved.
The 2015 Chrysler 300C gets more chrome and metalwork than its sportier 300S brother.
How’s it drive?
Nothing about this sedan feels old. Classic, maybe, and definitely unique, without the cookie-cutter quality that seems to muddle so many mainstream sedans circa 2015. Don’t underestimate the impact of a facelift.
The Platinum interior is indeed premium--here the Baby Bentley thing might legitimately apply. The matte finish, open-grain wood is excellent, and liberally applied. The leather dash and console are good, and the quilted door panels, great. The C Platinum is definitely a class above standard, and maybe above anything in the class. The front seats are roomy, but not the most supportive. You’ll want to move and wiggle every so often to get the blood flowing and inhibit numb cheeks. All 300s are quiet and tight. It’s obvious they’ve been building this car for a while. Panels and seams match better than in any Chrysler product we’ve seen.
The V6 delivers better than adequate scoot—strong, if not exciting, even with the extra weight of AWD. There isn’t much to complain about with the transmission. Shifts are smooth, and it’s more willing to kick down than most transmissions tuned to extract maximum economy in the EPA cycle, especially in sport mode. It’s more decisive in its gear selection than some of the mega-gear transmissions FCA has introduced the last few years.
The Chrysler 300S ditches much of the brightwork inside.
The touring suspension is never excessively roll-y. The 300 serves control and security to its driver, even at a good clip and particularly with all-wheel drive, which adds a sure-footed feeling (and a bit of understeer) without much heft or inertia. This is not a go-fast machine, per se, but it’s solid, comfortable and confident, and never numbing to drive (except maybe those seats). Other cars in this class feel like upsized versions of a front-drive, midsize Fusion/Camry/Malibu, with strengths and weaknesses that go with that. The 300 is a tad heavier and a bit wider than its obvious competitors, but it feels like its own car—unique, and maybe even a throwback, if throwback carries no negative connotation.
The Hemi definitely raises the excitement factor. It’s just meatier and more eager to run, and a bit of rush is never further than a jab at the gas pedal. The ultimate for the enthusiast driver is the 300 S with Hemi. It forgoes some of the security all-wheel-drive provides, but usually that is good. You’ll notice immediately that the S V8’s tail is more reactive to throttle inputs. Its steering feels less bound up, and the car feels lighter. It’s the liveliest 300 of all.
The 2015 Chrysler 300 can be a comfortable, stylish cruiser, a bit of a muscle car or a top-drawer old-guy car (that’s a sincere compliment). It’s versatile, in a fashion, and it can even be invigorating.
The 2015 Chrysler 300S uses blackout trim to present a more aggressive appearance.
Do I want it?
If you want a rear-drive American sedan, the options are limited. The Chevy SS is an outstanding car, but it’s engineered to appeal to a fairly hard-core buyer, not particularly engaging to behold and priced to limit volume. It also originates in Australia. The Chrysler 300’s FCA stable mate, the Dodge Charger, is—well, it’s a Dodge. There’s no French-stitched, Poltrona Frau Faligno leather in a Dodge.
The Chrysler 300 is unique. In a market increasingly subdivided to satisfy every possible need, the machines themselves can actually get harder to differentiate. "Unique" is one of the highest compliments we can pay. Long live the 300.
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