By Jennifer Geiger
March 27, 2015
The 2015 Chrysler 300's attention-grabbing styling, elegant interior and composed road manners convey an overall classiness that rivals luxury sedans.
Austin, Texas, is weird; the city actually hangs its hat on that distinction. A small patch of donkey blue wedged in a sea of elephant red, the liberal stronghold prides itself on its odd-man-out political status and singular strangeness. I visited the Texas city to drive the updated 300, which proved itself to be anything but strange.
Light exterior and interior styling updates, a standard eight-speed automatic transmission with rotary dial and additional safety features highlight the changes for 2015. Compare the 2014 and 2015 models here. The 300 goes head-to-head with large sedans like the Chevrolet Impala and Ford Taurus, as well as the more upmarket Hyundai Genesis; compare them here.
The 300 Limited, 300S, 300C and 300C Platinum trim levels are available for 2015. Sadly, the high-performance SRT8 version has been discontinued. I tested a pair of rear-wheel-drive V-6 Limited and S models; Chrysler expects around 40 percent of buyers to opt for the base Limited sedan. All-wheel drive is a $2,500 option with the V-6 only.
Exterior & Styling The 300 has always made a splash visually, and the new model's exaggerated front-end proportions ensure it will continue to be a statement-maker. Its signature gaping grille is even larger this year — 33 percent — and inside the mesh grille floats Chrysler's winged badge. The overall look is more dramatic, yet cleaner.
The sporty 300S model looks more menacing; it adds blacked-out trim, large 20-inch Hyper Black wheels, more sculpted bodyside sills and a unique deck-lid spoiler.
How It Drives The 300 is a potent, pleasant highway cruiser with a serene ride and a hushed, well-isolated cabin. The 292-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 burbles to life with ample low-end oomph, and the hilly country roads around Austin were an easy match for the responsive eight-speed automatic; it quickly snapped off shifts for smooth, linear power. It's the sole transmission for 2015, replacing the previously available five-speed automatic, and it's a good match — much more refined and precise than the dodgy nine-speed automatic in some other models from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
The rear-wheel-drive V-6 is EPA-rated 19/31/23 mpg city/highway/combined. With the available 363-hp, 5.7-liter V-8, fuel economy drops to 16/25/19 mpg, up a smidge from last year's 15/25/18 rating (the V-8 is available only with rear-wheel drive). The Genesis sedan doesn't quite measure up: rear-wheel-drive V-6 versions are rated 18/29/22 mpg and V-8 models get 15/23/18 mpg.
Austin's hills and valleys yielded plenty of sweeping, banked corners and rolling curves, which the 300 took in stride, moving with more agility than you'd expect from a long, heavy sedan. It doesn't float much over bumps, and though body lean around corners is pronounced, the 300 is never sloppy or unmanageable. Newly standard this year is electric power steering, which has a light, natural feel around town that firms up solidly at higher speeds.
Interior The theme inside is modern yet classic. The latest suite of technology features is paired with a tastefully designed cabin trimmed in upscale materials, with a clear emphasis on detail.
Materials on the Limited trim are appropriately upscale, with soft-touch plastics, supple leather, glossy wood panels and bright chrome trim. The top-of-the-line Platinum model ups the lux factor considerably with Berber floormats, low-gloss wood trim (that actually looks like it came from a tree) and quilted leather seats. The S model's Black with Ambassador Blue Nappa leather interior did not impress; the carbon-fiber-look trim and glossy black paneling are appropriately sporty, but the garish color combination seems at odds with the rest of the cabin's elegant, understated vibe.
The sedan's interior proportions carry over from last year. The large, comfortable backseat provides oodles of room for tall adults. With 40.1 inches of legroom, it bests the Taurus (38.1), Genesis (35.0) and Impala (39.8). New to the backseat is a pair of USB ports.
Ergonomics & Electronics The big news inside is the loss of the console shifter. As with other new Chrysler products, a rotary dial in the center console replaces it; it's easy to use and makes the cabin look less cluttered. Also new is a 7-inch color display between the gauges. It's configurable and can display a helpful array of information like navigation, audio and vehicle settings.
The large 8.4-inch Uconnect touch-screen again takes center stage on the dash, stacked between the classic analog clock up top and a redesigned cluster of large climate buttons and dials below. Again this year every facet of the Uconnect multimedia system is refreshingly simple to use, from its intuitive menu structure to its large, responsive onscreen buttons. New for the system is Uconnect Access, an app-based system that works with a smartphone to offer a suite of new functions like roadside assistance, theft-alarm notification and voice texting, as well as the ability to turn the vehicle into a 3G Wi-Fi hotspot and start the car with a mobile phone.
Cargo & Storage Trunk space is unchanged for 2015. The sedan's wide, cavernous trunk has plenty of space even for large, bulky luggage thanks to a wide-opening, deep compartment. With 16.3 cubic feet of space, it trails the Taurus (20.1) and Impala (18.8) but offers a bit more room than the Genesis (15.3). After strapping my three kids into the backseat, I easily folded my double stroller into the trunk, with room left over for a couple of bags.
Safety In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the 300 earned scores of good across all areas of testing except the small-overlap frontal test, to which it has not yet been subjected. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has not yet tested the 2015 300, but rear- and all-wheel-drive versions of the 2014 received an overall five-star rating. Because the 300 wasn't fully redesigned for 2015, that rating is likely to carryover.
The 300's roomy backseat can easily accommodate three child-safety seats, making it one of few sedans to accomplish this feat. Its three sets of Latch anchors — one more set than most sedans offer — make it extra versatile when it comes to installing car seats (see the Car Seat Check).
Several new active safety features join the options list for 2015, bringing the 300 in line with luxury sedans. Chrysler's Lane Departure Warning with Lane Keep Assist is a camera- and radar-based system that nudges the steering wheel to get the car back into the correct lane if it senses wandering. Adaptive Cruise Control-Plus with Full Stop operates as it sounds: It's essentially cruise control that works in stop-and-go traffic. Lastly, Full-Speed Forward Collision Warning-Plus alerts the driver of an impending crash with visual and audible cues and will automatically stop the car at speeds below 20 mph if an accident is imminent. At higher speeds, it slows the car to decrease the severity of impact.
These new systems join previous safety options like blind spot warning, rear cross-path detection, front and rear parking sensors, and a backup camera. Click here for a full list of safety features.
Value in Its Class In terms of pricing, shoppers should be pleasantly surprised by some familiar numbers: The base, rear-wheel-drive Limited model's $32,390 starting price, including a destination fee, carries over from the 2014 model, and the car is well-equipped with standards like heated leather seats, the Uconnect system, and Bluetooth streaming audio and hands-free phone support. All-wheel drive adds $2,500 across the lineup but is available only on V-6 models. Upgrading to the V-8 adds $3,000 on all trims.
The only weird thing about the 300 is that it's in a near-extinct class — the large, American, rear-wheel-drive luxury sedan has become something of a rare creature, though Chrysler will have some company when the Cadillac CT6 debuts. Chrysler's 300 is the quintessential specimen, standing out for its blend of refinement, energy and affordability.