First Drive

2011 Chrysler 300 gets a makeover

Big Chrysler sedan goes to finishing school and it's all for the good

2011 Chrysler 300

CHELSEA, MI – Among the most significant of those vehicles is the heavily-revised version of the most recognizable car in the Dodge-Chrysler stable, the one that set tongues wagging when it first first hit the streets – the Chrysler 300.The extra money necessary to do the job right was approved and the designers and engineers went to work – doing what they had been prevented from accomplishing due to budgetary and other restraints. The 300 is the flagship of the Chrysler brand and is now a showcase for the new Chrysler.

The 300 trip to finishing school also included lessons in how to whisper. Whether at rest or rolling along at highway speeds this is an exceptionally quiet cabin thanks to a pair of composite underbody panels that contain almost three metres of acoustic insulation, dual-pane acoustic glass in the windshield and front-doors, foam in most body cavities, triple seal door frames and acoustic liners in the wheel wells.

Similar efforts went into the suspension. Every piece has been massaged or changed, resulting in a surprisingly agile big sedan with a superbly comfortably ride bereft of the harshness usually associated with such alacrity.

The previous generation Chrysler 300 was all about style. The 2011 version is about refinement and substance. Making the improvements even more impressive is the fact the new 300 has more than $3,600 in additional equipment with no change in price, while the 300C gets $9,600 in added value. Pricing ranges from $33,000 to $40,000.

Much of the ultra-bold, in-your-face styling of the first generation of the big rear-drive sedan has been retained. But the 300 has moved on and now graduates from finishing school.

Its rough edges have been smoothed off, from the projector headlights accompanied by 16 LED daytime running lights in the shape of the letter C to the sculpted rear valance incorporating dual chrome exhaust outlets. The sharp angles have been rounded off and an increase in glass area and a more sharply-raked windshield reduce the gun-slit look of the old model.

In addition to the exterior panels, the suspension, drivetrain and interior have all moved upscale. The interior is arguably the most dramatically altered. Chrysler interiors were, to be kind, OK. Now they have moved several rungs up the development ladder. The

This is easily the quietest and most refined interior in the history of the Chrysler brand. The new bosses at Fiat reprtely took one brief look at the current and proposed interiors and ordered them canned.

The sweeping one-piece instrument panel is covered in a nicely textured soft-touch material. Panel gaps are all but non-existent and impressively uniform. A pair of large round analog instruments flank a digital readout in front of the driver while a large 8.4-inch display dominates the centre stack.

Also incorporated within that stack is a satin-finish oval that includes a clock fashioned after a high-end watch as well as centre vents.

All the latest connectivity and infotainment features are available or standard, depending on trim level. The lighting is especially praise-worthy. Ask your dealer to extinguish the lights in the showroom for full effect!

Similar gains have been made in refining the driving dynamics. The 300 is still available with V-6 or Hemi V-8 power but the six is new and the eight has received some subtle upgrades.

The big story under the hood is the replacement of the ancient, noisy and not-too-efficient V-6 used previously with the new Pentastar V-6. This silky newcomer sends 292 horsepower to the rear wheels through the same five-speed automatic used previously. The optional Hemi now boasts 363 horsepower and can be had with rear or all-wheel-drive.

The six is a treat. With enough power to slug it out with most V-8s it offers considerably better fuel economy than the notoriously thirsty HEMI, but without being a slug. This is a big, heavy luxury car, yet the Pentastar six belies that fact. Hills and passing are a breeze and the noise and refinement levels are worthy of much more costly vehicles.

Out with the old, in with the new. That's the refrain at Chrysler these days. After a couple of years of financial turmoil and stagnant product, almost everything in your local Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep store is either new or heavily redone.

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