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First drive: 2016 Chrysler 300S Alloy Edition

Chrysler dials up the sinister swagger in the 300S Alloy Edition

Chrysler taps into the minds of enthusiasts to create a 300 that feels customized right out of the showroom.

Eleven years ago, a small group of Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 owners in Southern California got together to create the first annual Spring Festival of LXs – a car show devoted to the Chrysler LX platform that underpins the two aforementioned cars, along with the gone-but-not-forgotten Dodge Magnum wagon and (in a slightly modified form) the Dodge Challenger.

Initially compromised of just a few dozen cars, the LX Fest has grown exponentially over the years. It now attracts well over a thousand diehard LX owners to the show, many of whom have added their own custom touches to their rides in order to give them a custom, one-off vibe. Years ago, the folks at Chrysler caught wind of the LX Fest and began supporting the show in various capacities, not only to meet these Mopar devotees, but to get a sense of the trends that enthusiasts have been gravitating toward. That research has helped to shape the evolution of the platform over the years.

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Now in its 11th year running, FCA came out to this year’s LX Fest with the new 300S Alloy Edition along for the ride – a package which includes a host of features that owners formerly had to turn to the aftermarket for. Is it enough to keep this platform feeling fresh and vital? I hopped behind the wheel of a 5.7-liter V8-powered model to find out.

Staging for performance

When FCA revamped the entire LX lineup for 2015, a number of new models also entered the fray, including the Challenger and Charger SRT Hellcats and the R/T Scat Pack models. But part of this platform update included Chrysler quietly discontinuing production of the Chrysler 300 SRT in the U.S. (a pseudo-SRT model is still available in select global markets).

As one FCA rep explained it to me, the logic behind it was something of marketing miscommunication between FCA and their customers: Buyers looking for the plushest 300 money could buy would walk into a showroom and say “give me the best 300 you’ve got” and they land in an SRT model. But the problem was that the SRT models are built around performance, and for buyers looking for the epitome of old-school luxury, the raucous engine note and firm ride wasn’t translating particularly well.

It tacks on about 25 more ponies to the 5.7-liter’s 363 horsepower while also improving the engine’s soundtrack substantially.

With the 6.4-liter HEMI V8 removed from the 300’s options sheet, buyers looking for understated performance were left without a home in the Mopar lineup to some degree. And while the 300S doesn’t offer nearly the same level of performance as the 300 SRT did, it does recapture some of that presence and swagger.

The 300S has always been a model that’s had a focus on style, with 20-inch wheels, premium audio, and a posh leather interior among the list of standard equipment. The Alloy Edition takes this a step further, applying a bronze hue to the wheels not unlike the Brass Monkey wheels offered on the SRT-spec Challenger and Charger, along with matching trim, titanium exhaust tips, a body-colored rear ducktail spoiler, performance suspension and uprated brakes.

Taking things a step further here is the inclusion of the Scat Pack Stage 1 Performance Kit on this test car. Not to be confused with the R/T Scat Pack models mentioned earlier, this is a dealer-installed package of performance parts directly from Mopar Performance that are now on offer to provide more performance tuning options for owners of 5.7-liter V8 models, specifically in the realm of engine output and sound.

2016 Chrysler 300S Alloy Edition First Drive
Bradley Iger/Digital Trends

Referred to simply as the Stage 1 kit on the 300 models, this includes a performance cat-back exhaust system, cold air intake, an ECU tuner and a performance oil filter. It tacks on about 25 more ponies to the 5.7-liter’s 363 horsepower while also improving the engine’s soundtrack substantially without raising the volume high enough to be obnoxious.

The Stage 1 kit commands a price tag of $2,495. That might seem like a lot until you start pricing out these components in the aftermarket and realize you might actually end up saving money here – and avoiding the hassle of seeking out the right parts and having them installed by a reputable shop.

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There are also Stage 2 and Stage 3 kits available, which dig far deeper into the mechanicals, going as far as swapping the camshaft and porting the cylinder heads. But oddly enough, these higher tier kits aren’t emissions certified, which means that if you live in a state with smog laws you wouldn’t be able to legally operate a car with either of these kits installed. Here in California, that makes these kits essentially a non-starter, and performance enthusiasts will have to make do with the Stage 1 offering.

Evolving gracefully

The fact that the LX Fest is celebrating its 11th year running does inadvertently point out that the platform which underpins these cars has been in production for more than a decade. Contrary to popular belief, the LX platform is not derived from a Daimler design, but is instead an updated version of the Chrysler LH platform which had been tweaked to accept Mercedes-Benz E-Class and S-Class suspension components as well as a rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive powertrains.

The 300S Alloy Edition still provided enough entertainment to keep me engaged.

The LX architecture has seen a number of tweaks over the years that have helped maintain its viability, with the 2015 refresh offering some of the most comprehensive mechanical updates thus far, with a new automatic transmission and a host of new suspension packages on hand. The ZF eight-speed gearbox continues to be a winner here in the 300S, but while the Dodge SRT models now offer three-way adaptive suspension damping, on the 300 it simply isn’t on offer with any package – including the 300S.

That seems like a bit of a missed opportunity here since those adaptive dampers would likely allow the 300S to have a compliant ride in its most comfortable setting and responsive cornering in sportier modes – as the Challenger and Charger SRT models do – but without the ability to alter damping characteristics, the 300S Alloy Edition is relegated to a static suspension tuning that seeks to accomplish both, yet ultimately sides with comfort rather than performance.

Of course the aftermarket is more than happy to oblige owners looking for a lower stance and tighter handling, though considering the nature of this particular model, it seems like a more earnestly performance-tuned suspension setup should at least be on the options sheet.

But the 300S Alloy Edition still provided enough entertainment to keep me engaged during my time with it. Off the line acceleration is admirably rapid, with the quick ratios and fast shifts of the paddle-controlled automatic allowing the motor to stay in the sweet spots of the power band when I wanted to have some fun, but otherwise keeping things serene and under the radar when all of the car’s settings were keyed down while cruising around town. It might not be the 300 SRT I want it to be, but coming in at under $43,000 all told, it also doesn’t cost what a 300 SRT did either.

The road ahead

One of the reasons that the LX platform has such a devout following is that no one else is really playing in this full sized, rear-wheel drive sedan space in this price range anymore. Rumor has it that in a few years’ time, the LX architecture will be put out to pasture and replaced by augmented versions of the platform that the upcoming Alfa Romeo Giulia rides on, no doubt resulting in a smaller footprint for the 300, Charger and Challenger if they do indeed adopt it.

It makes sense considering where the industry is headed, particularly in terms of weight savings and chassis rigidity, but I wonder if that’s what all these Mopar fanatics at LX Fest are really looking for in a car. For enthusiasts, choosing a car is as much an emotional purchase as it is a pragmatic one, and the visual presence of these big, square-shouldered bruisers is a huge part of their appeal – as is their capacity for passengers, cargo, and housing 700 horsepower engines. Here’s hoping those folks have something to look forward to from FCA for many years to come.

Highs

  • Ample passenger and luggage space
  • Sinister looks from the factory
  • Block-rocking audio system

Lows

  • No adaptive suspension option
  • Platform starting to show its age