Review and photos by Paul Williams

2005 Chrysler 300C AWD
Click image to enlarge

It hasn’t taken long for the Chrysler 300 to become a familiar sight on Canadian roads. But it will be a while before the dramatically styled sedan stops turning heads.

Voted best new luxury car in Canada for 2005, the Hemi-engined Chrysler 300C has made a big impression, indeed. Its V6 variants are also in demand.

Such is the popularity of this vehicle (and its siblings, the Dodge Magnum and Charger), that the Brampton, Ontario plant where they’re built has activated three shifts a day to maximize production.

The story is now familiar: large, powerful (especially with the 5.7-litre Hemi engine), rear-wheel drive, bold grille, striking profile, packed with safety features, and priced within reachable limits for consumers shopping this type of car.

What can Chrysler do to top that?

All-wheel drive (AWD) comes to mind (as does even more performance, but see the SRT8 for that), as many of the Chrysler 300’s competitors offer this popular feature. It became available early in 2005 on the 250-horsepower, 3.5L V6 and 340 hp, 5.7L V8 versions of the 300.

Our black AWD 300C tester was driven first in the winter, and later in the spring to get a sense of the differences and similarities between the 300’s rear-wheel drive (RWD) and all-wheel drive platforms.

Essentially, it’s the same car, although the ride height is raised 2.5 centimetres compared with the RWD 300C, and the final drive ratio is raised from 2.82 to 3.07.

2005 Chrysler 300C AWD
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The AWD system adds a front differential and a transfer case to the rear-drive configuration (it intrudes slightly into the passenger footwell). The power is divided between the front and rear differentials and is transmitted to both axles at all times. The transfer case delivers a fixed 62 per cent of the engine’s torque to the rear axle, and 38 per cent to the front.

It’s not a particularly sophisticated system (no torque moving from side-to-side like an Acura RL, or from front-to-rear like a Subaru Outback or Audi quattro) but it’s effective nonetheless.

Weight is up by 111 kilograms due to the extra hardware, and the 3.5L V6, like the V8, gets a five-speed automatic transmission (Chrysler indicates this transmission will replace the four-speed across the range eventually. The RWD 2006 Dodge Charger is a case in point).

The AWD system adds $2,455 to the price of the 300C, giving it a base price of $45,850. The 3.5L Touring version increases by $3,535 to $35,830, and the 3.5L 300 Limited costs $39,830.

With its standard electronic traction control, electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, and emergency brake assist, not to mention the optimized front-to-rear weight balance, the RWD 300C is an impressive performer on all road surfaces.

2005 Chrysler 300C AWD
Click image to enlarge

To emphasize that point when the cars were first introduced, DaimlerChrysler Canada organized a slalom event on hard-packed snow and ice where the RWD cars were put through their paces. All who attended this event left feeling that there should be no issues driving these cars in the winter, and that has proven to be the case.

So it’s not like you need AWD to drive the 300-series cars effectively. But if you want it, you’ll find an added measure of traction when accelerating on slippery surfaces (snow, ice, gravel). And because the system is biased to the rear, you don’t lose the RWD driving dynamics.

The 300C AWD arrives with 18″ Continental all-season tires, and the only time the car was challenged was on a stretch of black ice on the highway that saw many vehicles involuntarily leave the road. We slowed down, kept our distance, and the 300C AWD was fine (and because of its strong construction and multiple airbags, I felt we’d be okay even if we did slide off the road).

I expect that with a set of winter tires, this vehicle would be the measure of any winter snowstorm that the Canadian climate could generate.

In contrast, on dry pavement the big Chrysler loves to cruise. It’s in its element at highway speeds, where engine sounds politely recede, wind noise is inaudible, and the ride is very smooth.

2005 Chrysler 300C AWD

2005 Chrysler 300C AWD

2005 Chrysler 300C AWD
Click image to enlarge

This experience is mostly duplicated in the city, except on bumpy stretches or broken pavement, where the suspension can become busy and feels loose (I have noticed this on the RWD cars as well). The rear suspension is based on a Mercedes design and it keeps the car straight and stable, but some refinement is definitely lost in the big Chryslers when the road conditions deteriorate.

The Hemi engine seems perfectly suited to this car, although you can get virtually the same look and amenities with the V6, while reducing your fuel costs and purchase price. True, the Hemi has cylinder deactivation technology that enables it to run on four-cylinders when cruising. But exercise your right foot at all, and your car will prove thirstier than some of its competitors with their high-tech V6s.

Chrysler does specify mid-range fuel, however, so there’s a savings over some vehicles.

The 300C AWD arrives with a standard touring suspension, automatic High Intensity Discharge headlamps, headlamp washers, premium leather faced seats, power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, 380-watt stereo with Boston Acoustic speakers, and the full array of power and luxury appointments. Our tester added the $2,895 navigation system (effective in metropolitan areas, but limited in rural areas) and the $995 Protection Group II (rear park assist, self-sealing tires, side window and side curtain airbags (good value) and $1,100 sunroof.

The AWD version makes the 300C virtually unstoppable in all weather conditions, and will provide an extra level of security for drivers who want the maximum traction from their car.

And don’t forget that this car, especially in Brilliant Black Crystal Pearl Coat with polished aluminum rims, is one head-turning vehicle. Presumably the novelty factor will eventually wear off, but this is a classic design that will look good into the future.

Technical Data:

Base price $45,850
Options $4,990 ($2,895 navigation system; $995 Protection Group II (rear park assist, self-sealing tires, side window and side curtain airbags; $1,100 sunroof)
Freight $1,200
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $52,140
Type 4-door, 5-passenger full-size sedan
Layout longitudinal front engine/all-wheel drive
Engine 5.7 litre “Hemi” V8, 16 valve, pushrod
Horsepower 340 @ 5000 rpm
Torque 390 ft-lb @ 4000 rpm
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Curb weight 1947 kg (4293 lb.)
Wheelbase 3048 mm (120.0 in.)
Length 4999 mm (196.8 in.)
Width 1882 mm (74.1 in.)
Height 1509 mm (59.4 in.)
Trunk space 442 litre (15.6 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 13.6 L/100 km (21 mpg Imperial)
  Hwy: 9.0 L/100 km (31 mpg Imperial)
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km

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