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First drive: 2015 Chrysler 300

Chrysler's distinctively American 300 wears 'full-size' with swagger

Updated with a cleaner but still distinctive look and more desirable features, the 2015 Chrysler 300 remains a compelling choice among roomy and affordable sedans.

Texas may not be the biggest or most populous state in the Union, but you wouldn’t know it by talking to Texans. Their pride in their home state is perhaps unrivaled in the country.

A visit to the Lone Star state’s booming capital city of Austin – along with the scenic, surrounding Hill Country – reveals good reasons for Texans’ self-admiration. The landscape possesses a stark beauty of limestone outcroppings, hearty oaks and, plentiful flora and fauna. And natural springs bubble up through the earth, feeding little oases and sustaining natural life.

Beginning with its “Born in Detroit” ad campaign, Chrysler similarly leverages geography and pride to sell cars. Now, though, the automaker is thinking outside its Michigan home. America, the country that brought you baseball and a man on the moon, builds great automobiles, Chrysler says — nothing wrong with that. If Germans can lean on their reputation for precision engineering to sell cars, why can’t Americans use national pride to move steel?

To that end, what’s more American than a full-size sedan? Elsewhere in the world, narrow roads, imposing taxes, and pricey fuel make big cars the luxuries afforded only by the wealthy. Here in the States, though, anyone can have a spacious sled to cruise highways and boulevards in comfort. And for those who truly love their freedom, the 2015 Chrysler 300 is offered with a 5.7-liter HEMI V8.

Driving big

The Hill Country offers as much opportunity for sports car drivers as it does for outdoorsmen or bird-watchers. Narrow, winding two-lane roads carve up and down hills and dive into valleys, crossing streams edged with craggy chunks of limestone. While that landscape may be ideal for a nimble, lightweight roadster, it proved less than ideal for a big sedan weighing more than two tons.

Up front, the new 300 is subtly softer and more refined.

Few cars as large as the 300, though, could readily hide their mass on such roads. Instead, the 300 felt right at home cruising Interstate 35 and navigating the quaint streets of Georgetown or the cosmopolitan Austin cityscape. Adaptive cruise control reduced the stress of suburban highway congestion, accelerating and slowing with the pace of traffic. Especially in the 300C Platinum, ample space and luxurious finishes felt a step above the mainstream positioning Chrysler targets for its big sedan.

Granted, a fully-loaded 300C Platinum is priced just above $50,000 — no small figure. Still, Chrysler brand CEO Al Gardner made a point to explain that the automaker wants customers to consider Chrysler a mainstream nameplate, not a luxury one. With the decidedly populist Dodge Charger sharing architecture and showrooms with the 300, though, that position seems somewhat confusing.

Of course, the U.S. is a big country full of diverse styles and tastes. What’s right for Texas or Florida or Detroit may not be perfect in California or New York. That said, the 2015 300 will look good in any American environ.

Exterior and interior design changes

For the 2015 model year, Chrysler 300 sports revised styling for its front and rear fascias, new interior design, an eight-speed transmission for V8-powered versions and the new range-topping Platinum trim. Together, these updates help the 300, long praised for solid driving dynamics and distinctive styling, to remain a strong competitor in a largely unremarkable field of mainstream full-size cars.

Up front, the new 300 is subtly softer and more refined. Most noticeably, the horizontal grille bars of the previous model are replaced with a mesh grille insert that incorporates Chrysler’s winged badge. Amber side markers are now at the leading edge of the front wheel arch, and a wide lower grille with LED fog lights runs the width of the fascia. Indeed, it’s a very Jaguar front-end now.

At the rear, changes are equally understated. Softer curves, halo LED taillights, and more restrained use of chrome adorn the lifted rear end. A lower valence in contrasting black is trimmed with new, horizontal exhaust outlets in place of the predecessors round tips.

Chrysler offers the 300 in four trim levels: the base 300 Limited, the sporty 300S, the more luxurious 300C and, at the top of the range, the 300C Platinum.

The 300S uses body-colored side mirrors and an optional black roof to contribute to an athletic and youthful look. The Platinum trim replaces exterior chrome with matte silver details and, inside, uses exclusive color schemes and extensive leather surfaces.

For the American car buyer loyal to the ‘Big Three,’ the latest Chrysler 300 ranks highest.

Interior design changes also modernize the latest 300. A rotary gear selector similar to the one fitted to the Chrysler 200 frees up some space, both visually and practically, in the center console – another feature borrowed from Jaguar. Also shared with the 200 is a new, multifunction steering wheel that includes controls for the configurable display nestled between the tachometer and speedometer.

Several new interior color combinations, each inspired by a U.S. locale, use contrasting colors to lend the 300 a more upscale feel. The new 300C Platinum trim, for example, gets an exclusive indigo and linen treatment and includes high-end stitched leather wrapping the dash and elegant, open-pore wood trim.

Mechanical updates

Chrysler’s big four-door continues to offer a standard, 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 producing 300 horsepower and 264 pound-feet torque, delivered through a smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic. All-wheel drive remains a $2,500 option, now available only with the base engine. The 5.7-liter Hemi V8, which delivers 363 horsepower and 394 lb-ft, now uses the eight-speed, too, resulting in a 1-mpg bump in city and combined fuel economy as well as a 0.2-second improvement in 0 to 60 mph time.

2015 Chrysler 300 steering wheel

New, electrically-assisted power steering allows drivers to choose between three settings: normal, comfort, and sport. Selecting sport mode also affects throttle and transmission response. With the eight-speed gearbox, though, more power is always just a gear-change away.

New technology

Safety systems are updated, too, and now include optional forward collision warning with automatic braking, a camera-based lane departure warning system with lane-keeping assist, and adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality.

Uconnect Access allows enables remote functions like unlocking and starting from a driver’s smartphone.

Rounding out the changes for 2015 are new apps for the Uconnect infotainment system. A built-in Wi-Fi connection makes the 300 a mobile hotspot, which proved ideal on rural Texas backroads.

Uconnect Access allows enables remote functions like unlocking and starting from a driver’s smartphone. Finally, a pair of USB jacks for the rear seats gives long-haul passengers a place to recharge.

Conclusion

Compared to other domestic full-size sedans, the Chrysler 300 is more distinctively styled and more fun to drive, thanks in part to its rear-drive platform. By comparison, both the Chevrolet Impala and Ford Taurus are front-wheel drive. Although, the Ford can be had with all-wheel drive, too.

That’s not to say that the 300 is my absolute favorite among all mainstream full-size sedans, foreign and domestic, though, at least not based on my limited time behind the wheel.

For now, that honor goes to the chic and technically rich Hyundai Genesis. Of course, it’s a bit pricier than the Chrysler. And while it may play well in more urban locales, the Korean competitor may find a cooler reception in America’s heartland. For the American car buyer loyal to the ‘Big Three,’ the latest Chrysler 300 ranks highest.

Highs

  • Distinctive styling
  • Available V8 power
  • Wide trim and equipment selection

Lows

  • Noticeable heft
  • Inelegant switchgear
  • Unclear product positioning