2011 Chrysler 300C AWD

2011 Chrysler 300C AWD Gallery

Currently, Cadillac is offering up a fleet of well executed products. However, when we look at things objectively, 2012 will leave us with…3 body-styles of CTS (in normal and extra-strength) and 2 utility vehicles (SRX for normal folk and the Escalade in 3 body styles for the more ostentatious among us).

While you may still find left-over 2011 STSes and DTSes on dealer lots, what will we soon have available to us in a larger-than-CTS sedan while we wait for the upcoming XTS? What about if your tastes run more toward power that comes in 8-pulses per every 2 revolutions but you aren’t really looking for 500+ hp and/or sub-20 mpg ratings? What brings Cadillac levels of luxury but isn’t an SUV or CTS?

The Caddy Edge humbly presents for your consideration the second generation (LY chassis for those who watch such things – shared with such things as the Mercedes E-Class of a couple generations back as well as the Dodge Charger and Challenger) Chrysler 300C AWD.

300CRoom for 5 grown adults? – check

V-8 power? – check again (in this case 5.7 liters of neo-Hemi packing 358 hp @ 5150 rpm and 389 lb·ft @ 4250 rpm). Not V-Series power, but for folks pining for the old STS (not offered with V-8 power for a while now) and DTS Northstars – perhaps just what the doctor ordered.

Technology? – check…Bluetooth cell connection (with Bluetooth audio streaming as well – advantage Chrysler); 8.4″ touch interface control screen; Navigation from Garmin; Traffic/Weather/Sports/etc. data streams from Sirius XM; HID headlamps with auto-highbeam; parking sensors with cross traffic alerting

Comfort? – check – Panoramic sunroof; Heated and cooled seats; Heated steering wheel; Power rear sunshade

All of this in a Cadillac-like rear-drive based platform. Chrysler, as you may recall, was once owned by Mercedes. As such, the 300C and its platform-mates are all derivatives of the Mercedes E-Class though we guess neither Fiat (Chrysler’s new controlling company) nor Mercedes will admit to that lineage. Our test car was actually the AWD model, a system derived from the Mercedes 4-Matic system. It operates in rear-drive most of the time (for a slight mileage boost) only engaging the front-drive hardware through computer-controlled clutches when things get slippery. Speaking of mileage improvement, this particular V-8 also brings a cylinder deactivation system that seemed to run the big 300 in 4-cylinder mode a very large percentage of the time and returned a solid 21 mpg in our mixed driving loop.

So, it checks all the boxes you’d come to expect from a Cadillac (except perhaps it isn’t bringing the badge respect that some feel comes with the Wreath and Crest) – but is it a worthy alternative to a Cadillac or a good option for folks looking for the sort of car we mentioned above but that Cadillac isn’t building right now?

Power, Ride, and Handling:

This sure isn’t a CTS. From a power standpoint, that’s a good thing. For only a slight mileage penalty in our driving loop, you get what only 5.7l of torque buys you…effortless performance. Even at altitude, the 300 had plenty of power for passing (realize 40-50 hp is AWOL just from the lack of air in the Colorado mountains).

From a ride standpoint, the 300C is firm, but slightly softer than what CTSes provide. It provided a perfectly luxurious ride, with a bit of jarring over the worst bumps and dips. Handling, especially in our mountain-road/performance-driving heavy testing, is not what a CTS driver would expect. We even found it to be less sophisticated in the twisties than the last SRX turbo we drove. Its biggest failing was in transitional maneuvers – moving from straight-ahead to cornering was just fine, but when unwinding any of that same cornering the car felt sloppy and unsettled. However, if you are coming out of an STS or DTS or don’t find yourself going for time up a canyon road – you likely will find this compromise to be acceptable, at worst.

So, if you aren’t exactly possessed of visions of being the next Loeb – how about the other things a car in this class should be expected to deliver?

Infotainment/Interior/Technology:

I’m sure Cadillac is tired of hearing us play this old saw – but let’s revisit one last time before Cadillac gets their new high-tech interiors out in the XTS/ATS/SRX refresh…

Cadillac’s Bluetooth implementation, in a word, blows. In our testing, it is clunky, often not working at all. The other infotainment options are feeling incredibly dated. In contrast, the 300C’s implementation was speedy, usable, and actually got out of the way most of the time.

300C PanelThat said, if you don’t like interfacing with your car’s functions via touch panel…you need to look elsewhere (and might start considering stocking up on current generation cars so you can avoid the tidal-wave of new high-tech, touch interfaces that are going to replace the manual buttons we all know. In the aforementioned Cadillacs, we are hearing that capacitive touch ‘buttons’ are going to be all the rage. The 300C has an interim solution that puts most controls into the 8.4″ touch screen front and center in the center stack. 7 primary functional areas are always available across the bottom of the screen, the first and second for entertainment, third for car systems like heated/cooled seats, power rear window-shade, the fourth for climate control (also accessible for key functions through hard-buttons below the screen), the fifth is for navigation, the sixth for phone control, and the seventh and last gives access to Sirius Travel-link features like local gas prices, weather, etc.

As you’d expect of an interface that leans almost entirely on the touch screen – things are kept simple and logical. We had an iPhone 4 paired for both calls and media streaming in under 5 minutes with no checking the manual (oh, said manual is made up of a tiny quick-ref guide and a DVD for all the in-depth information). Making phone calls was a bit problematic through voice (though the system did pull in the phone book from the phone – unlike Cadillac’s system that requires you go 3 levels in to just access the phone’s own voice-activation). You also have the option to do plenty of the key phone functions from its dedicated page of the interface.

Navigation is provided from the good folks at Garmin and is actually quite easy to use (especially if you are familiar with the Garmin interface already…we aren’t but had no problem finding features/adapting to finding and navigating with this system).

One more infotainment perk to call out – access to the Sirius/XM stations turned out to be very usable. I’d thought for years that satellite radio was not worth it, but with this interface, it was easy to find stations, easy to get back to favorites (even without setting preset buttons). Nicely done.

Outside of the center stack, there are a few other little surprise and delights that come with this new design of note:

Adaptive cruise – this feature allows you to set the cruise but maintains a set following distance from the car ahead (has three pre-set distances, none of which would be construed as ‘tailgating’). This works as advertised and even manages to maintain following distances on a curvy mountain road. I’m torn on this as it seems to remove the driver from being as active a participant in the driving – can see potential value during long roadtrips.

300C FrontHeadlights are HID and steer into corners (nothing new there), but they not only have an auto option to turn on, but also a feature that activates high-beams as soon as no cars are coming your way and back off as soon as a car gets close enough to warrant. That’s a big plus if you want maximum visibility at night.

The rear window has a power sunshade (controllable from both the front seat and from a button accessible to the rear passengers) that helps keep the interior cooler and your rear passengers comfortable.

Dual heated and cooled front cupholders. This sounds silly, but having sampled them in both the Escalade Platinum Hybrid and now in this 300 – they work and are handy to have around to keep your chilled (or hot) beverage at its preferred temp significantly longer.

300C GaugesThe info display in the gauge cluster (between the gauges0 that has extra details you don’t see every day – like transmission temperature and AWD mode (so you can see exactly when the front drive hardware is engaged).

Parking sensors with cross-traffic detection. Not only do these keep you from running into things behind or in front (front sensors are a nice touch and not universal…the CTS does not have them, for example) but also detects cars that you can’t see as you are backing out of a space that are heading your way. Better to have your warning be a beep inside than that other car’s horn. Additional safety features you don’t see often, yet, are blind spot warnings (a light in each outer mirror that come on to warn of a vehicle in your blind spot) and front collision warning (a feature we, thankfully, never tested during our short time with the car).

And, last but not least, this is the first cap-less fuel filler we’ve experienced. Open the fuel door and instead of a cap that needs unscrewed, there is just an auto-sealing opening. Insert the filler (it opens when you put the nozzle in) and go. No more check-engine lights from forgetting to click the cap (it also makes it literally impossible to lose the cap because you didn’t put it back after a fill-up).

Conclusions:

So, if you are a CTS fan for its smaller size; like your sedans in the sporty vein; need a top-tier badge on your grille – then maybe the 300C isn’t for you.

However, the 300C does fill a nice gap Cadillac has left in its lineup until the XTS hits (and maybe even after – depending on how good a product it turns out to be next year). If you like your luxury in big and stately sedan form, don’t need corner carving expertise, or can’t stand to be packing fewer than 8 pistons on your way to pick up groceries – then this might be worthy of a look. If you also happen to like your media and electronic options to get out of your way and just work – big plus again (until Cadillac releases their new package next year).

2011 Chrysler 300C AWD
Powertrain – 5.7l Hemi V-8/5-speed automatic
Base price – $40320
Options – panoramic sunroom ($1295); SafetyTec package ($2795 – includes parking sensors, adaptive cruise, HID headlamps, blind-spot warning system)
Price as tested (with destination) – $45235

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