Chrysler 300C (2005)

"You'd be perfectly happy cruising all day and night - except when you stopped to fill it up with gas, of course. "
Good: head-turning style, highway cruiser,
roomy interior
Bad: rear visibility, rear-wheel-drive,
gas-guzzling engines

The 300C is a rear-wheel-drive sedan that replaces Chrysler's Concorde and 300M. The "300" name actually goes all the way back to 1955, when Chrysler introduced a 300 coupe.

Chrysler sells this car with a number of different engine options. There's the 300, which comes with a 3.5-liter V6 engine; the 300C, which has a 5.7-liter V8 hemi; and the 300C SRT8, which includes a rather humungous 425 horsepower, 6.1 liter V8.

The 300C lists for $33,495. An all-wheel-drive version is available, starting at $34,820. Both the base and the all-wheel versions come with an automatic transmission with a manual shift option. If you're looking for something with a little more room, Dodge's Magnum is a wagon version of the 300C.

With a 5.7-liter engine, there's power to spare at all speeds. We confess it's fun to have all that power under your foot, though we'd have liked to try driving the 300, with the 3.5-liter, V6 engine. We suspect the smaller engine would still have had plenty of power.

We drove the base, rear-wheel-drive version, which is nice. It has all the benefits of rear-wheel drive: no torque steer and a lighter feel than many contemporary, front-wheel-drive cars. We found the steering reminiscent of older American cars with V8's-with none of the steering slosh from days of yore.

A warning, however: If you live in the Snow Belt, we'd advise against the rear-wheel drive. You'll want to go for the all-wheel drive, in which case you'll sacrifice some of the pleasant, rear-wheel drive handling. It'll be worth it, though, to not find yourself stuck in a snow bank and eating the leather seats for nourishment, come January.

The suspension is quite good: comfortable, but not too floaty. In our view it could be a little bit tighter. For example, if you're going down a ramp and you hit a seam in the road, the car will still tend to jump to one side just a touch. We didn't care for that, although it certainly wouldn't constitute anything close to poor handling, in our judgment.

This car is an absolutely wonderful highway cruiser. You'd be perfectly happy cruising all day and night - except when you stopped to fill it up with gas, of course. We averaged about 18 miles a gallon. We can't really recommend the hemi engine because it's such a notorious guzzler, but there's no doubt that it's appealing to have that kind of power.

The interior is a very nice mix of light and dark plastic. There's plenty of room in this car. In the back, the high windows make you feel like you've sunk in a bit, which can't help but make you feel a bit like Mr. Magoo. The seat comes up rather high around you, which definitely gives one the feeling of security and comfort. The front seat room is very nice, as well.

There is good storage and a deep armrest, with cup holders right where you want them. The trunk is plenty large, too.

The radio and ventilation controls are all easy to use. Basic functions are included on the steering wheel. The switches and steering wheel have a Mercedes-like quality to them, which feels much superior to the standard Chrysler stuff that we're used to seeing.

The steering wheel is very easy to adjust. The gauges have a retro, green background, but we didn't especially care for it. Other cars in this class, like the Lexus, have clear, easy-to-read backlighting. That's not a big deal, though.

One drawback is the rear visibility. The windows start narrow, and they only get smaller towards the rear of the car. It is not great. Visibility out the back and the sides is especially problematic. We found ourselves really relying on the side mirrors, much more than with other cars. Fortunately, if they're adjusted correctly, the side mirrors do a good job.

When we drove the car, the rear window seemed permanently fogged up. Even when we put the rear defroster on, it stayed fogged. We're not sure if this was a problem just with the car we drove, or a bigger issue with this model in general.

One of the other nice conveniences of this car is that it's very easy to set your personal preferences, like whether the horn beeps when you lock the car. On a lot of other vehicles now, these settings are hard to figure out.

The first thing you notice about this car is the looks. This car is a serious head-turner. It looks like a cartoon gangster's car. We can't pinpoint exactly what features make it look this way, but there's no denying it. The 300C is slightly over the top and garish. It's squared off and muscular looking. We suspect it appeals more to men than women.

In general, servicing costs are going to increase exponentially as the size of the engine goes up. The smallest engine is clearly going to be much easier to access and service than the humungous, 6.1liter engine.

Fortunately, most of the work can be done at any reputable, independent mechanic who will help you keep repair and servicing costs down.

We fully expect reliability to be average to below average, based on our past experiences with Chrysler products. We hope to be proven wrong, but until we have evidence to the contrary, it's our guess that the 300C's reliability is not going to be stellar.

Overall, the 300C is a very decent effort by Chrysler. With the all-wheel-drive option, we think the 300C is a really nice package.

If you can get past the cartoon gangster styling cues, don't have any qualms about averaging 18 MPG and are looking for a comfortable car to cruise the open highway, the 300C would be a perfectly good choice. We doubt this car will have the reliability of its Japanese counterparts - but they don't have the coddling cushiness of a car like the 300C.

In terms of design it is more successful than the similarly edgy Cadillac.

The 300C isn't our kind of car, but we think it holds some appeal for someone who's looking for a family car that's not the same, humdrum minivan. If you're lucky enough to talk your spouse into a 300C instead of, say, a Town and Country minivan, more power to you!

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