2015 Chrysler 300 First Drive
The March of Progress
Progress is inevitable. Sometimes it happens quickly, but often it's a slow march. Enough small steps forward, though, can add up to a bigger total leap. Such is the story of the 2015 Chrysler 300. It's composed of myriad small improvements that when taken together turn a good car into a genuinely better car.
The biggest of the small changes to the updated 300 rings in at 33 percent, and it's the increased size of the grille. Chrysler admits the previous model, while a much better overall car than its predecessor, didn't have the presence and attitude of the 2005 car we all love. This car, the Chrysler people say, is inspired by the 2005 car, though I see more Jaguar XJ in it. Making the nose taller and reducing the slope of the hood would help, but that would no doubt run afoul of pedestrian impact regulations.
Elsewhere, new taillights, wheels, and exhaust tips differentiate the new car from the old, though perhaps not to the casual observer.
The next largest small change stares you in the face. The new instrument cluster shows clear influence from the all-new Chrysler 200 and adds a great deal of functionality. The dials remain watch-like in appearance, but they're now split by a 7.0-inch customizable display that provides the driver with far more information that's much clearer and easier to read.
Just in front the cluster is another small but noticeable change: the steering wheel. Lifted from the 200, it's a stylish piece that's comfortable to hold with intuitively laid-out controls. It's connected to a new, fully electric power steering system that few owners will notice as being different. Steering response is linear and appropriately quick for a large, semi-luxury sedan. The weighting increases naturally as you turn the wheel, and if you dig deep enough in the center touchscreen's menus, you can change the overall weight. There's no road feel in the wheel, but the old car didn't really have any, either, and it isn't sorely missed in a big cruiser like this.
The steering wheel isn't the only new round thing in the interior. There's also Chrysler's rotary shifter, plopped unceremoniously on the center console. Functionally, it's worlds better than the old electric rocker it replaces, but an opportunity was missed to actually integrate it into the interior design or take advantage of its compact size to free up some needed storage space on the console. Instead, it's been shoehorned into the hole where the old shifter sat, and that's that.
The good news is it's still attached to Chrysler's eight-speed automatic transmission, and it's got an improved Sport mode. Select S, and the throttle tightens up, the downshifts get more aggressive, gears are held longer, and the transmission will hang out in lower gears than normal to keep the engine in the meat of the powerband. Should you choose to use the paddle shifters while in S, the transmission will go full manual and won't revert back to auto. Press the separate Sport button on the dash to tighten up the steering, as well. Press that button without selecting S on the transmission, and it'll also sharpen up the throttle response and enable the paddle shifters, though the transmission will revert to auto if you don't touch them for a while.
All the above transmission talk applies to both V-6 and V-8 models. The ancient five-speed auto that held back V-8 300s for so long is finally gone, replaced with the quicker- and smoother-shifting eight-speed. Better ratios and programming fully exploit the V-8's power and willingness to rev in ways the five-speed never could, and it buys you an extra city and combined MPG, as well. For the 15 percent of 300 buyers who opt for the V-8, it's a godsend. Finally, the V-8 car drives as well as the V-6 car, but with more power and more rumble. Although we mourn the loss of the under-appreciated (to the tune of less than 1 percent of all 300 sales) 300 SRT, the 5.7-liter Hemi is plenty quick in its own right and feels faster now that the transmission can keep up. The unloved V-8 AWD model is likewise departed.
The standard 3.6-liter V-6 also is perfectly quick. With up to 300 hp in S models, the V-6 is tuned to provide plenty of low-end torque, and for most people, it'll feel nearly as spritely around town as the V-8. It doesn't have the raw power to compete on the dragstrip, but it's plenty strong enough to satisfy the average driver from light to light. It even makes a pleasant growl in the process.
If there's one thing that hasn't changed about the 300, it's how the car drives. It still feels like a big, imposing car. The big, long dashboard rolling out ahead of you into the long, wide hood gives a sense of length to the car, and the wide, short windshield seems to stretch the car from one side of the lane to the other. From behind the wheel, it imparts a feeling of grandeur and privilege generally reserved for much more expensive cars. Despite some efforts to reduce the curb weight, the 300 still feels big and heavy when you pitch it around a corner. The seats, while quite comfortable, aren't made for serious handling maneuvers, and though the suspension keeps the car composed at all times, it can't mask the physics at play. The weight transfer evident while cornering discourages hardcore performance driving, but driven well within its limits, the 300 grips and handles very well and is still fun on a good road. Pushed to those limits, the car will alternatively understeer if you carry too much speed into the corner or oversteer if you're too assertive with the throttle on the way out, though in both cases the computer is happy to intervene and keep the car pointed in the direction you originally intended. Ride quality remains as good as ever, compliant and isolating for comfortable cruising. All in all, it drives just like the last 300, and that car drove quite nicely.
The computer's services aren't limited to overzealous driving, either. The adaptive cruise control system will now bring the car to a stop and resume moving in traffic, if the stop isn't too long. The camera watching the road ahead will subtly warn you if you drift out of your land and gently move you back in if you don't take action. Best of all, the point at which it issues a warning and the vigor with which it forces you back into your lane are both adjustable via the touchscreen. That same camera will also watch for stopped cars ahead and will now even brake for you if you're really not paying attention. The 99.9 percent of the time you do your own braking, you might find the initial bite of the brake pedal a bit spongy, but you'll get used to it, and the car will have no issue slowing or stopping.
The new 300's improvements aren't all mechanical, either. Inside, the quality of materials has risen even further than the existing car, and the fit and finish is impeccable. The optional contrasting color schemes add a visual pop not found in the competition. Extra charge-only USB ports in the rear will be greatly appreciated in device-heavy households.
The 2015 Chrysler 300 is a textbook definition of a mid-cycle refresh properly executed. A gaggle of small but significant updates altogether push the already good car further forward, creating a product with fewer weak points than ever before. Best of all, most of the little improvements are essentially gratis, as the base price remains the same as the outgoing car. Slow progress isn't as exciting or sexy as a big makeover, but the result can be just as good.
For more than 100 additional images of the 2015 Chrysler 300, head to the second page of this review.