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Up close with the 2011 Chrysler 300

Posted by Bill Griffith  March 17, 2011 04:29 PM

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(All photos: Bill Griffith/Boston.com). Click photo for larger version.

Ask someone from Chrysler "What's new?" and the answer is "Everything."

There's new leadership, a new attitude, new vehicles in the showrooms, and plenty more coming down the pipeline. Most importantly, there's new hope for the future.

Instead of being a subsidiary, as the company was with Mercedes and Cerebus, there's been a total shift in corporate culture and a new joy of life with Fiat, including the attitude that "we'll either succeed or fail as an entity."

Chrysler brought three of its redesigned vehicles to the Larz Anderson Auto Museum in Brookline last week. Included were three versions of the Chrysler 200 (the successor to the Sebring) in a four-door sedan and two convertibles, both soft- and hardtops. Also in attendance were the 2011 Town & Country minivan and revised 2011 300 sedan.

Some things were immediately evident: There's now an emphasis on "product" at the company and "car people" are in charge. There's a clear focus now that Dodge should be the entry/mid-range brand and Chrysler the luxury brand. And there's a family identity. All three of the new Chryslers have the same seven-bladed grille, similarly flared wheel wells, and LED front lighting packages.

A small thing, you say? Not really, when you're trying to rebuild and identify a brand as battered as Chrysler.

In short, the 200 fills in for the badly-outdated Sebring, and the Town & Country should keep Chrysler — originator of the minivan — at the top of that segment.

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But it's the 300, the so-called "Baby Bentley," that should gain the bulk of the attention. Even though the large sedan segment only accounts for about four percent of the domestic market, those are the vehicles that set the tone for each marque. While the silhouette remains the same, the powertrain, suspension, and interior give the car major upgrades. And consumers had a voice in the process.

"One of the significant changes was to rake the windshield another three degrees," said Tom McCarthy of the Chrysler engineering team. "That enables drivers to better see overhead lights and signs."

When Dodge CEO Ralph Gilles was in Boston for the New England Auto Show last fall, he emphasized that car people were in charge again and that two areas that were getting special attention at Dodge and Chrysler were powerplants and interiors.

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Sitting inside the 300 at twilight, the instrument panel was quite attractive with sapphire blue lighting that matched the interior's ambient lighting. However, three journalists couldn't figure out how to adjust the heated seats and luxurious heated steering wheel.

It turns out the new UConnect audio/navigation/entertainment screen was the solution. Touch the climate control icon and all the adjustments are front and center. It's not as intuitive as a button, but the bulk of the 300's controls are easy to work.

It's also quiet inside the cabin, a product of composite underbody panels, laminated glass, triple-sealed doors, foam insulation, and wheel well liners.

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While the 300 is available with a 5.7-liter, 363-horsepower Hemi V-8, McCarthy lauded the performance of Chrysler's new 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, a 292-horsepower engine mated to a five-speed automatic transmission that delivers 18 miles per gallon in city driving and 27 on the highway. An 8-speed automatic is planned later this year for an estimated 30 highway. "The engine is a standout. Combined with the new suspension, it's just fun to drive," he said. We agree.

The 300 is available in three trim lines: 300, Limited, and the 300C, the only trim available with all-wheel-drive. The first generation 300 also offered AWD; however, the car sat about three inches higher than the rear-wheel-drive versions. That's been rectified in this redesign.

A "disconnect" system in the AWD package allows the car to function as a rear-wheel-drive sedan under normal conditions, albeit as a 4,300-pound version versus the 4,000-pound two-wheel-drive car. Prices start at $27,995 (including destination) and run into the low 40s.

***

Another part of the Chrysler family made news on the same day. Ram, the truck brand formerly under Dodge, announced it would sell the Grand Caravan's cargo van trim exclusively.

The 2012 C/V is powered by the Pentastar V-6, has a commercially-tuned ride, and heavy-duty, self-leveling suspension.

Ram-Cargo-Van-2012.jpgOther features include a solid sliding door and several options for solid or opaque privacy panels for the rear quarter windows. There is an option for either a solid floor or one with hidden storage bins and tie-downs for interior loads. It also will accommodate 4x8-foot sheets of building materials.

Taking it by the numbers, the C/V will have an 1,800-pound cargo payload, 3,600-pound towing capability, a 20-gallon fuel tank, and 25-mpg highway mileage. It is scheduled to be on the market by the third quarter of 2011.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on About.com. He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee
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