With all the emphasis these days on fuel economy and with the popularity of crossovers and SUVs as family haulers, it’s a wonder that the full-size family sedan hasn’t been put on the endangered species list along with the American crocodile, the snail darter, and Lindsay Lohan.
But though it commands a very small portion of the auto market in sales, the full-size sedan still remains a viable option for someone who likes the security of a big car without having the trappings of an SUV.
Though the current incarnation of the 300 dates back only a little over a decade, Chrysler first introduced the 300 nameplate back in the 1950s in combination with letters from the alphabet. The first 300 in 1955, was the C-300, the second in 1956 was the 300B, the third in 1957 the 300C and so on though the 300L in 1965. (They skipped the I.)
Chrysler dropped production of the 300 in 1971, briefly resurrected it in 1979, then dropped it again until reviving it for the 2005 model year.
The current version, the 2013 Chyrsler 300, is in the third year of its second generation.
The 300 now comes in several versions starting with the well-equipped base model that starts at under $30,000. It has a 3.6-liter, V6 engine with an eight-speed automatic transmission that delivers up to 31 miles-per-gallon on the highway and 19 on city streets. Leather seats are standard.
The 300S adds touches like a bit peppier engine and a sport mode with paddle shifters for the transmission with an MSRP just under $33,000, and the 300C ups the ante with more features like remote start, a premium sound system, and a navigation system.
The 300C represents the top-of-the-line. If its premium leather seats and other luxury features that earned it one of Ward’s “10 best interiors” aren’t enough, Chrysler takes the refinements to the next level with the John Varvatos 300C Limited Edition.
The men’s fashion designer has given the 300 its own distinctive flair inside and out, and you get his name on the console to impress all your friends, who may not know who he is but won’t admit it and are likely to be duly impressed.
The 300C starts at just under $41,000 and when you add options like the Varvatos touch and an optional safety package that includes blind-spot warning, park assist, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, and rain-sensitive wipers, it tops the $50,000 mark.
In addition to the standard V6 power plant, the 300 also is available with the famous 5.7-liter, HEMI V8 that ups horsepower to 363 and torque to 394 pound-feet at a cost of fuel efficiency that really isn’t all that bad.
Thanks to fuel-saver technology that deactivates four of the eight cylinders when the power isn’t needed, the figures for the SRT-8 300 are 16 mpg city, 25 highway in rear-wheel drive models and 15/23 for AWD.
When it comes to real-world driving, however, the V6 serves the purpose quite well. In most models, it sends 292 hp or 260 lb.-ft. of torque to the rear or all wheels. The engine in the 300S boosts those numbers to 300 and 264, respectively.
The ride itself is exactly what you would expect from its class -- smooth and quiet. Body roll when cornering is minimal, and even the V6 gets its two tons of body weight off from a standing start confidently with no laboring or engine grunting.
It’s a great highway cruiser, but even with his bulk is not chore to whip around mall parking lots.
U.S. News & World Report, which compiles a summary of automotive reviews, rates the Chrysler 300 No. 3 when it comes to affordable large cars behind the new Kia Cadenza and the Chevrolet Impala. Choosing one likely will come down to a matter of your taste because, unlike in some other segments, these are three cars with distinctively different design looks.
Finally, this might be a good time for shopping the 300. The 2014 models coming on the market are little changed from the 2013 300, and the end of any month also is a good opportunity for bargains.