Test Drive: 2012 Chrysler 300S car test drives reviews luxury cars chrysler
2012 Chrysler 300S; by Jonathan Yarkony. Click image to enlarge

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Chrysler Canada

By Jonathan Yarkony

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2012 Chrysler 300

The Chrysler 300 is a stylish, comfortable, luxurious, powerful and patriotic car to drive. Never mind patriotic: I live in Brampton and drive by Chrysler’s Brampton factory several times a week on my way to work. I’m proud whenever I see Chargers, Challengers and 300s around town, and even if I have nothing directly to do with their manufacturing, I’m proud of my neighbours, and on their behalf.

The Chrysler 300 came out of the gate in 2004 as a 2005 model, garnering instant accolades for Chrysler’s return to rear-wheel drive dynamics and stuffing 5.7-litre Hemi V8s into as many driveways as they could. But far and away the biggest impression the 300 made was its design. New York-born and Montreal-raised Ralph Gilles rocketed to instant superstar fame as the pen behind the sheet metal, and Chrysler couldn’t build 300s quickly enough to satisfy demand for this throwback design, suggestive of classic cartoon mobster cars, yet with enough elegance to appeal to buyers looking for a luxurious but inexpensive large sedan. As gas prices soared and consumer buying patterns shifted to smaller segments, infatuation with the 300 wore off and left it in a position of declining sales.

Test Drive: 2012 Chrysler 300S car test drives reviews luxury cars chrysler
2012 Chrysler 300S; by Michael Schlee. Click image to enlarge

The redesigned 300 continues to channel its own unique brand of mobster chic, but the updated headlights and taillights push it in a more futuristic direction, while the horizontal-slat grille replacing the egg-crate pattern give it a sleek contemporary look. The profile remains very distinctively 300, and the more steeply raked windshield also reinforces the modern touches, but there remains a hint of Rolls-Royce in the C-pillar if you catch it at just the right angle, further suggesting its luxury inclinations.

Perhaps more than any other car in the Chrysler Group line-up, the 300 benefits from the new interior materials introduced by Fiat: in a car that delivers the traditional size for luxury cars, and hence the luxury expectations, the interior is now flush with soft, supple, matte rubber that had me poking and prodding the dash just for sheer goofy pleasure. While the layout and shape of the centre console may not be to everyone’s tastes, all the switches and controls feel solid and durable, and the UConnect system is intuitive and user-friendly in every respect, with a large, easy-to-read screen (8.4 inches on V8 models, 4.3 inches for V6s). Pairing my iPhone was straightforward and trouble-free, and reception was good over the Bluetooth speakers.

Test Drive: 2012 Chrysler 300S car test drives reviews luxury cars chrysler
2012 Chrysler 300S; by Jonathan Yarkony. Click image to enlarge

The Chrysler 300 model we drove featured the new S trim package, which adds a monochromatic exterior (painting over certain chrome accents), black chrome grille, piano black accents in the cabin and 20-inch aluminum wheels that were not on the car we drove, since it was equipped with winter tires on downsized rims. All-wheel drive cars with the S package make do with 19-inch wheels.

Another feature of the S package was the “Beats by Dr. Dre” audio system that sounds excellent, but also seems to be more of a marketing exercise than anything else. I’m not enough of an audiophile to say whether it is superior to something like the Genesis R-Spec’s Lexicon sound system, but then again, all I listen to are Mother Goose nursery rhymes when my daughter is on board, or a handful of alt-rock and punk standards I have saved on my phone when it’s just the adults. One sound that was not appreciated was a fairly distinct wind noise intrusion that seemed to be coming from the rear door even when all doors were securely closed.

Unique to the 300S were a set of Fiat 500-like red leather seats with a stitched S logo emblazoned on the seatback. Perhaps a little over the top, but there is no denying the drama of an interior awash in rich, piano black plastics complemented by vivid red leather seats and armrests. It worked with the glossy black exterior on our tester, but I can’t imagine it looking good with any other colour, and one downside of the custom leather treatment is that you miss out on the ventilated-seat feature of the standard 300C.

Test Drive: 2012 Chrysler 300S car test drives reviews luxury cars chrysler
Test Drive: 2012 Chrysler 300S car test drives reviews luxury cars chrysler
2012 Chrysler 300S; by Michael Schlee. Click image to enlarge

Seat comfort was excellent front and rear, and at over five metres in length (5,044 mm) and with a wheelbase over three metres (3,052 mm), rear legroom was good for 1,019 mm, with the square roof contributing to excellent headroom as well. Another small ergonomic detail that Chrysler got right is the dead pedal — it’s a full-size adult foot’s worth of solid support with rubber tread so that your left foot isn’t cramped or stuffed into an awkward position.

Once you start poking around below the belt line, you will find hard plastics around the central storage bin under the armrest and other out-of-the-way areas. Additionally, the plain shifter and plasticky faux carbon-fibre shifter gate is a disappointment compared to the upper dash, but the shifter does move through the gates with a solid, reassuring feel – though this is an automatic shifter I’m talking about, so you don’t have to go there too often. On the bright side, the 300S features real aluminum shift paddles that are curved to cup your fingertips and invite a bit of needless downshifting just to get a little more action from the Hemi. While some might find the engine and exhaust note too subdued, it toed the line between luxury and muscle, as is appropriate for this dressed up muscle car.

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