You've got to hand it to Chrysler. A few years ago, the company's cars were lackluster and generic -- nothing to get the blood pumping. The 2006 Chrysler 300C HEMI RWD is a stylish, aggressive, attention-getting car at the heart of the Chrysler lineup. With a base price of $33,525 ($38,170 as tested), the 2006 Chrysler 300C HEMI RWD comes with a 3 year/36,000 mile warranty, and the EPA estimates that it will get 17 mpg city/25 highway -- not bad for a large sedan. Let's take a closer look.
First Glance: Return of the Letter Cars
The Chrysler 300 moniker dates back to 1955, when Chrysler introduced the C-300 coupe with 300 horsepower courtesy of a new engine with a curious name: HEMI. In 1956, Chrysler sold the 300 and 300B, for '57 the 300 and 300C, etc. A letter suffix meant serious horsepower. 1965 was the last letter car
. Note the "C" in the current 300C: Letter cars are back, HEMI and all.
The first thing that you notice on the 300C is that big long hood and grille. The proportions are so retro that they're almost a caricature of a late 1930s gangster car. It's not hard to imagine the 300C in the movie "Dick Tracy," even though it wasn't. Since its debut in 2005, the current edition of the 300 has far outstripped the popularity of the previous (1999 -- 2004) model.
The 300 is a large car, and rather than try to camouflage that fact, designers have emphasized size in every detail. The flared fenders accentuate large wheel openings; the flat trunk amplifies the height and size of the compartment. It's a brave approach, and mostly successful -- especially that bold hood and grille treatment. I'm a little skeptical of how enamored I'm going to be of the design in five years -- I fear that it will age quickly, and moor the 300 in time.
In the Driver's Seat: A driving position stranded in time
Jason had trouble getting comfortable behind the 300's wheelPhoto © Jason Fogelson
Here's where the 300C fails me -- driving position. The steering wheel and dashboard are so far away from the driver that I felt like I was driving a 1970s land yacht rather than a twenty-first century sedan. No amount of fussing with the tilt/telescope adjustment on the steering wheel or power front driver's seat could make me feel like I was part of the machine. The control feel was hopelessly remote. And design took another toll on driving enjoyment -- the roofline slopes so far forward of the driving position that it's virtually impossible for a tall driver to witness the change of a traffic light without crouching down and looking through the steering wheel.
The back seat is very roomy, as befits a sedan as large as the 300C. Passengers sit way down inside the car, in no danger of hitting their heads on the roof. If they're lucky, they'll get to see out the windows with the 300C's high beltline. Cocooned in comfort, they're unlikely to complain about their accommodations, especially if you opt for the $1,150 Rear Seat Entertainment Video System.
I have two friends in real estate -- they both drive 300Cs. It's an ideal car for ferrying about adult passengers in style without breaking the bank on luxury.
On the Road: HEMI power is a must for 300's bulk
I'm glad I drove the 5.7 liter HEMI V8 equipped 300C, and not the pedestrian 300, which only has a V6. The HEMI's 350 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque are well suited to the task of motivating the 4046 lb 300C through its paces -- I wouldn't want the V6's 200 or 250 ponies straining to giddyap (I might like to try the 300 SRT-8's 6.1 Liter V8 on for size some time, though -- 420 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque sounds like fun.). The 300C doesn't exactly rocket from the line, but it does gain momentum quickly. The four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes do a great job of slowing you down, and the four-wheel independent suspension controls body roll. You're never going to forget that you're in a big sedan while driving the 300C. There's too much car around you to let that happen, and the sheer mass of the car is part of the driving experience.
Chrysler has an excellent navigation system, and I highly recommend checking off the $2,130 box on the options sheet. You get a nice sound system upgrade with your nav system to boot, with seven Boston Acoustics speakers, a subwoofer and a 368-watt amplifier. My test vehicle also had a nice $495 package of real wood California Walnut trim -- classy. The enormous trunk makes the 300C a great road trip hauler.
Journey's End: A good choice for big-car fans
A solid ride, but not right for everyonePhoto © Jason Fogelson
I was a little disappointed in the 300C, until I realized that I wasn't the target driver that Chrysler was shooting for. I think that the 300C appeals to drivers who want to buy American and yearn for the good old days of big sedans with endless horsepower and straight line performance, back when the highway was the road to aspire to and a good Sunday drive was a way to entertain the family. Tastes change, but nostalgia reigns; 300C has certainly struck a chord. If you're considering a Mercedes E-Class
purchase, you'd be missing the boat not to check out the 300C before making your decision. 300C gives you a lot more for the money. There are other large sedans out there to consider as well.
If you love the HEMI but hate the big hood, check out the Dodge Charger. It's bigger than it looks inside, and I like the styling better than the 300C's. For a real throwback, did you know that Ford and Mercury still made the Crown Victoria and Grand Marquis? The Ford Five Hundred/Mercury Montego are more contemporary takes on the large sedan. Buick's Lucerne has that old guy driving position down pat.
For a good solid ride with good performance, the 2006 Chrysler 300C is an excellent value, and a stylish choice. Maybe it's the one for you.