The 2015 Chrysler 300 is a victim of the horsepower hyperinflation we’ve experienced over the last decade. When the rear-wheel-drive, Hemi-powered sedan debuted for 2005, people -- AUTOMOBILE editors included -- went berserk. We called the Chrysler 300 an American hero and named it our 2005 Automobile of the Year. Now, when I tell a fellow staffer I’m in Austin, Texas, to drive the latest iteration of the 300, he remarks, “Kinda boring, right?” Wrong. Although the times have changed, the refreshed 2015 Chrysler 300 remains compelling.
No Hellcats, No SRT
The reason we can even consider laying the B-word on the 2015 Chrysler 300 is the lack of performance variants. There will be no 700-plus-hp Hellcat iteration of the Chrysler 300, even though it’s mechanically identical to the Dodge Charger. Neither will the 470-hp 300 SRT return. Blame the Dodge brothers -- or really, CEO Sergio Marchionne. Under the latest organization of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Dodge gets the gonzo performance cars. That leaves the 363-hp, 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 as the top engine for the 2015 Chrysler 300. It now pairs with ZF’s excellent eight-speed automatic, which improves city fuel economy to 16 mpg. The 3.6-liter V-6 carries over unchanged.
Subtlety is lost
The 300’s last major redesign, in 2011, introduced more refined, subtler styling -- a nice but misplaced effort, considering the car’s entire appeal rests on its over-the-top ostentatiousness. After all, who wants a subtle fake Rolex? The 2015 Chrysler 300 rectifies this by appropriating many of the tricks aftermarket companies have been using for years. Chrysler’s winged badge now floats in the middle of a larger mesh grille that looks more Bentley-like than ever. The headlights are clear, as the turn signals have relocated to the wheel arches. Those arches can be filled with bolder-than-before 20-inch wheels, which come standard on the sporty 300S and the premium 300C Platinum. The over-the-top details work because the 300 remains very simple and handsome overall (quite unlike the overwrought Charger).
Rear-wheel drive and V-8 power: together forever
The extra-cost trim packages can be had with either engine, a good thing since some 85 percent of Chrysler 300 buyers now opt for the 3.6-liter V-6. We don’t blame them, since the six provides more than enough power—300 hp in S models, 292 hp in other trims—and achieves 6 mpg better than the Hemi on the highway. It’s also offered with all-wheel drive, which the V-8 is not. But we’re in Texas, where the roads are warm and gas is cheap, so we make a beeline for a V-8-equipped, 2015 Chrysler 300C Platinum.
We goose the throttle as soon as we’re outside of city limits and very quickly remind ourselves why we so love the combination of V-8 power and rear-wheel drive. The steering, electrically assisted in all models, feels direct and well weighted because it’s not burdened with laying down power. The Hemi plays perfectly with the eight-speed auto, providing wonderful sounding bursts of acceleration at any speed. The 300 is no sport sedan; it weighs more than 4,000 pounds and, even when equipped with a new sport suspension, prioritizes ride comfort over handling. Yet it is an easy, fun car to drive quickly. No front-wheel-drive competitor—not even the very good Chevrolet Impala—goes down the road with such authority.
The 2005 Chrysler 300 looked liked a Bentley and drove like a Mercedes-Benz, but it possessed the interior of a Chrysler. That remains true for the 2015 Chrysler 300, with the important addendum that what it means to have a Chrysler interior has changed quite a bit in the last decade. Even the base model, at $32,390, has nicely grained plastics, comfortable seats, and good panel fit. The most important interior update is the banishment of the maddening detent-less shifter, which made it difficult to tell whether you were in reverse, neutral, or drive. The 2015 Chrysler 300 has the same excellent rotary shifter found in the smaller 200 (and Jaguars).
Unfortunately, Chrysler seems to have consulted a Goth teenager on the interior color schemes -- black and more black, with optional dark blue seats. The depression lifts only on Platinum models, which can be ordered with cream leather inlays for the seats, door panels, and steering wheel. Yet the top trim paddles toward the luxury car deep end. Despite genuinely nice touches, like open-pore wood trim and a stitched leather dash, our $50,000 test-car feels out of its depth. Chrysler marketing reps admit as much, noting that previous attempts to compete with the $50,000-and-up crowd have met with limited success.
Yesterday’s hero is still pretty darn good
The 2015 Chrysler 300 isn’t a luxury car, and it’s not a high-powered performance car. In our heady times, that’s enough to dislodge it from our dream car pantheon. Yet the 2015 Chrysler 300 deserves a prominent spot on your shopping list. The same combination of style, power, and value that made the Chrysler 300 our Automobile of the Year when it debuted a decade ago makes it tough to beat today among sedans in the $30,000 to $40,000 price bracket.
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