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Review and photos by Laurance Yap
I received an interesting press release entitled “Wheels of World Leaders”, which listed the various cars that presidents, prime ministers, and other foreign potentates are chauffeured around in. Most of it was pretty predictable: George Bush rides in a specially-armoured Cadillac DHS, German Chancellor Schroeder has a selection of Mercedes and BMWs, and Toyota is developing a special limousine to replace the Nissan Crown Prince that the Japanese Prime Minister uses. Two surprises were the Brazilian President, who gets to ride in a Rolls-Royce, and Canada’s own Paul Martin, who rides in the back of a Chevrolet Impala.
In a lot of ways, the Impala’s a fine car – it’s reliable, it’s well-built in Canada, and is appropriately humble to appease Canadian sensibilities – but I wonder why Martin wouldn’t want to have a Chrysler 300 instead. I wonder this, especially, as I just spent four days behind the wheel of a 300 Limited sedan during which time I drove to Ottawa, around it, and back.
The 300 may just be the most exciting car to ever be built in Canada, and has enjoyed considerable success since its launch last fall. I mean, just look at the thing: it has an imposing nose, tough and tall flanks, and a chopped top that give it a decided hot-rod look, even in the lower trim levels with their 17 (instead of 18)-inch wheels. It is a car that looks more expensive than it is; while base prices start around $30,000, with a fully-loaded 345-hp Hemi-powered 300C listing for less than $50,000, the car’s jewel-like detailing comes from cars a class above. Check out the pull-bar door handles, trimmed deftly in chrome; the large side-view mirrors on their delicate stalks; and the intricately faceted lenses for the head and tail-lights. The workers on the line at Chrysler’s Bramalea assembly plant have also done a great job of screwing the 300 together, as it features tight panel gaps, a great paint finish, and trim pieces that look and feel like they’ll really last.
For a made-in-Canada car, the 300 is appropriately practical. Its buff body cloaks a platform that’s been stretched and adapted from pieces of the previous-generation Mercedes-Benz E-class, meaning that not only does it have exceptionally roomy front seats with a huge range of travel (Germans seem to span the greatest range, more than any other nationality, of short to tall), but also a cavernous back seat that would be perfect for Martin to be chauffeured around in. Even with the front seat set almost all the way back, I had enough room to stretch out in the leather-lined rear, and while the cushions on all the chairs may seem initially pretty stiff, they remain fatigue-free over long rides. Despite the 300’s chop-top look, headroom is actually very impressive, all the more so because the seats are set comfortably high and upright.
One of the question marks at the 300’s introduction was how its rear-drive chassis would deal with Canadian winters compared to the front-wheel-drive cars most people are used to. So long as you fit the car with a decent set of winter tires – which you should do with any car – the 300 is as confident and sure-footed as any other on the road, and indeed a lot more fun should you be inclined to play around a bit with the (standard) Electronic Stability Program turned off.
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Because the front wheels only have to steer, the purity of the steering feel is far better than in any front-drive car, and the overall balance in a corner is better too. In addition to ESP, the 300 also comes standard with anti-lock brakes, electronic traction control, and electronic brake-force distribution should things get out of hand; an all-wheel-drive version is also available for more snowbound traction, should you desire.
Two engines are available in the 300. The base 250-horsepower 3.5-litre V6 and its standard five-speed automatic transmission is more than enough to power it away from stoplights and up to rather illegal cruising speeds, while the 345-horsepower Hemi engine is a monster, able to screech the tires in almost any gear, and with sufficient power and torque to keep up with muscle-bound sedans costing more than twice as much. If that isn’t enough for you, an even crazier 6.1-litre Hemi SRT-8 version of the 300 is on the way. What’s perhaps most impressive about both the engines is their refinement; even the raucous Hemi remains smooth and silent under part-throttle, only bellowing to life when you floor it. Such refinement complements the suspension’s smooth ride and the generally hushed ambiance of the cabin quite well.
The 300 isn’t a perfect car by any means, however. While it’s overall a very satisfying performer on the road, the brakes could use a firmer, more linear pedal feel (it’s rather spongy now, making stop-and-go traffic, especially, a bit of a chore), and above 120 km/h there’s a lot of wind noise around the upright windshield pillars. While the interior is nicely designed and quite practical – with two big cupholders and a huge console bin up front – it does have a couple of ease-of-use issues. For instance: the shallow glass and thick pillars make seeing out of the car quite difficult, and imbue the cavernous cabin with a slightly claustrophobic quality; the steering wheel is wrapped in leather but not fully so, with the edge of the leather butting up inaccurately against a roughly-grained piece of plastic right where you grip the wheel; the navigation system has a turn-and-push knob for making menu selections but pushing it actually does nothing, with a separate “enter” switch doing the same job. Small complaints, maybe, but all the more annoying on a car that’s so good in every other respect.
Nevertheless, every car does have its faults, and at least from recent memory, the 300 has far fewer of them than the Impala while being similarly priced, sized, and well-made in terms of the initial impression of quality. It’s also a much more charismatic car, with a distinctive design, undeniable presence, and far more sophisticated road manners. Most of all, it has the look, feel, and smell of success: it’s a huge hit here in Canada, and if my bets are right, will be crowned overall Canadian Car of the Year next month. Why wouldn’t Prime Minister Martin want to have one of these things?
Technical Data: 2005 Chrysler 300 Limited
|Options||$6,100 (N Package)|
|Price as tested||$37,395|
|Type||4-door, 5-passenger full-size sedan|
|Layout||longitudinal front engine/rear-wheel drive|
|Engine||3.5 litre V6, DOHC, 24 valves|
|Curb weight||1862 kg (4105 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||3048 mm (120.0 in.)|
|Length||4999 mm (196.8 in.)|
|Width||1882 mm (74.1 in.)|
|Height||1483 mm (58.4 in.)|
|Trunk space||442 litre (15.6 cu. ft.)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 12.2 L/100 km (23 m.p.g.)|
|Hwy: 8.1 L/100 km (35 m.p.g.)|
|Warranty||3 yrs/60,000 km|