In many ways, the 300 is the best of what the Chrysler brand has to offer. As a flagship, it's a testament to how far the brand has come; it is the automaker putting its best leather-trimmed, chrome-clad, Beats Audio-powered foot forward. This is why we chose the spacious, comfortable 2014 Chrysler 300S for the long cruise from San Francisco to the Los Angeles Auto Show. Upon our arrival at the show, we were greeted with the unveiling of the 2015 Chrysler 300 and, suddenly, our ride wasn't the latest and greatest. However, the current model isn't automatically made obsolete just because a new model is just around the corner.
Let's start in the cabin, arguably the most important area in a luxury sedan. A massive dual-pane sunroof (a $1,595 option) brings light into the 300S' dark cabin and highlights our example's Ambassador Blue heated, leather seats with "S" embroidery, a nice complement to our Jazz Blue Pearl exterior paint. The materials you'll find on the dash and doors are quite good -- high quality plastics all over, a soft touch rubbery dashboard, and leather for the seats, steering wheel and "touch points" -- but they are missing the woods and metals that would separate a premium sedan from a luxury one. There's excellent levels of road and wind sound dampening, which leaves the 300's cabin quiet when cruising.
Really poke around -- maybe stick your fingers into the sunglasses holder -- and you'll find a bit of cost-saving cheapness hiding here and there, but you'd really have to be nitpicking to complain about something like a sunglasses holder. I came away from my many miles behind the wheel of the 300S noting the cabin's excellent fit and finish, everything feels solid to the touch, and there's no rattling or buzzing while on the road.
In the center of the dashboard, you'll find the Uconnect 8.4N infotainment system with the navigation upgrade. The Uconnect system is one of our favorites, featuring a large, responsive 8-inch touchscreen and a full host of digital media sources. We've got USB, Bluetooth audio and calling and more, all funneling into a standard 552-watt Beats Audio system.
I don't expect to convince audiophiles biased against the Beats brand based on their experiences with the visually distinctive headphones, but this system is quite good. Unlike the headphones, you can tweak the EQ to tune out a bit of the Beats signature bass bias and end up with a decent-sounding stereo that works well with compressed audio sources, such as MP3s and satellite radio. Alternatively, you can just crank the volume and enjoy the boom-bap. From their places around the 300's well constructed cabin, the system's 10 speakers (including a trunk-mounted subwoofer) can get teeth-rattlingly loud without much distortion or any buzzing from the interior panels.
If a well put together cabin with excellent sounding stereo with lots of audio sources is all that you're looking for from your 300S, the 2014 does an excellent job.
A $995 upgrade to the well-organized Uconnect infotainment system adds Garmin navigation with SiriusXM traffic to the mix. I'm also a fan of this navigation software and was pleased by its smooth voice destination entry, logical route selection, and its tendency to actively to avoid traffic when pathfinding. However, the route calculation was a bit on the slow side during my testing. If I missed a turn, it could be two to three blocks before the software would catch up with fresh instructions.
This is possibly due to the software thoroughly re-evaluating the entire route, resulting in better routing than a simple a "get back on track" recalculation would, but it could also just be because this is an older generation of the Uconnect hardware and software than we've seen, for example, in the new Chrysler 200. Whatever the reason, it is slow enough to be annoying.
Next year, we expect to see a newer version of Chrysler's Uconnect apps make an appearance in the 300, bringing Internet-powered audio streaming, Wi-Fi hotspot connectivity and more to the dashboard. This newer version of the infotainment and navigation software/hardware will likely look a lot like what's already there and should keep the excellent organization intact, but with better nuts and bolts. Car technophiles and infotainment addicts should probably wait for the next generation.
Under the hood of our example, I found Chrysler's Pentastar V-6 engine. The 300 has been powered by this 300-horsepower, 260-pound-foot of torque mill since 2011, but this was my first time taking it for a spin -- having previously only driven the 6.4-liter SRT V-8 model .
Where the SRT feels awesomely excessive, this V-6's powerplant feels just right for the large sedan. There's plenty of passing power when you need it and respectable levels of acceleration around town. On the highway, the V-6 runs smoothly and quietly and returns decent fuel economy. The EPA estimates our rear-drive 300S is good for 23 mpg combined, which breaks out to 19 mpg city and 31 mpg highway.
Between the V-6 engine and the rear wheels is a single-option 8-speed ZF 8HPRE automatic transmission. The 8HP series is one of the best slushboxes in the business; we're seeing variations of this gearbox pop up all over the place, from Audi and Bentley to BMW and Rolls-Royce, and with good reason. The upshifts are smooth and seamless when you're cruising, and downshifts are quick and crisp when you need to hustle. The 300S features paddle shifters that give a bit of manual control when prepping for a pass or a corner and a Sport mode that livens the engine's performance up a skosh.
As much as I liked the gearbox behind it, I disliked the 300S' T-shaped shift lever which makes choosing gears difficult and tricky. You shift by holding a button and pulling the shifter as you normally would, but it only moves a bit and returns to a neutral position when you release it -- like modern automatic BMW's. When parallel parking and attempting to go from reverse to drive, I'd often end up in neutral, or worse, park. With time, you could probably get used to the shifter's quirks, but next year, Chrysler will be replacing the 300's lever with a dial that should be easier to use without fumbling. I can't wait.
The S trim level also features a slightly sportier touring suspension than the base or C models, as well as exterior styling that includes more sinister black chrome brightwork. But make no mistake: the 300S is a cruiser, not a sport tourer. If it's thrills you seek, save up for the SRT model.
The rear-wheel-drive is standard, but the sedan is available in all-wheel-drive. The 300S is also available with a V-8 engine options that offer more power but steps down to a five-speed automatic. At least for the 2014 model, I think this V-6 is a sweet spot for power and efficiency.
Our model featured the 2014 Safety Tech package ($1,995), which includes blind-spot monitoring, forward collision alert and adaptive cruise, and front and rear parking-distance sensors. This pricey package also rolls in a bunch of options that probably should be standard features on a luxury sedan; I'm talking about rain-sensing wipers and exterior mirrors that feature dimming glass, turn signals and courtesy lamps. We've also got a Light Group upgrade ($895) that adds adaptive HID headlamps with automatic high beams and self-leveling, as well as rear fog lamps.
If you're interested in the latest driver-aid tech, perhaps you should wait until next year. The 2015 will be available with a better Safety Tech package that offers full-speed forward collision warning that can assist with automatic braking and adaptive cruise control with full stop (the current system disables below about 20 mph). A move to electric power steering enables lane departure warning with lane keep assist.
The 2015 model also features a fascia design that, to my eye, looks a bit too much like an Audi at first glance, and the new infotainment tech that I mentioned earlier. If you were eyeing a V-8 300S, you should definitely wait for the 2015 as the 5.7-liter will be available with the excellent eight-speed ZF automatic transmission.
But the arrival of a new model often comes with discounts for the incumbent, and if you're planning on getting a V-6 model with its excellent base level of tech and amenities, one could probably haggle their way into a pretty big discount on an excellent 2014 Chrysler 300S like this one. It's already a pretty good deal, but it could become an even better one.
The MSRP for the 2014 Chrysler 300S RWD starts at a base of $34,395. With the aforementioned options and a $995 destination charge, our example reaches an as-tested price of $40,870.
Drivers in Australia can have a crack at the V-6 powered 300S starting at AU$47,500. In the UK, there is a £30,020 300C Executive model, but no 300S, which makes apples-to-apples comparison difficult. The Executive is also powered by a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 that outputs 236 horsepower and 399 pound-feet of torque, which we weren't able to test.
With what I'd describe as a "more premium than luxury" level of amenity, the 300S has a hard time going toe to toe with Lexus and the Germans, but it hold its own and compares nicely with another one of our favorites, the Hyundai Genesis, ending up as a better value when comparably equipped...and it's only going to get better.
|Model||2014 Chrysler 300|
|Powertrain||3.6-liter V-6, 8-speed automatic, RWD|
|EPA fuel economy||23 mpg combined, 19 mpg city, 31 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||N/A|
|Navigation||Optional Garmin navigation|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard, audio streaming and hands-free calling|
|Digital audio sources||USB/iPod, satellite radio, CD, aux-input, BT audio|
|Audio system||Beats Audio 10-speaker, 552 watts|
|Driver aids||Standard rear camera, Optional blind-spot monitor, adaptive cruise, forward collision warning|
|Price as tested||$40,870|