The Chrysler 300, arguably America's first muscle car, traces its roots back to 1955 when it was offered with the signature 300-hp, 331-cu-in. hemi V8 engine and dual 4-bbl carbs.
Chrysler designated later models by appending a letter to the "300" marquee, starting with the 300C in 1957.
Fast-forward 48 years. The 300C is back, this time sporting a 340-hp, 390-lb-ft-torque, 5.7-liter hemi engine. The hemi, coupled to a five-speed automatic transmission with Autostick shifting, brought smiles to this previous owner of late-sixties 300s. The oft-snowy roads of Cleveland winters made the Electronic Stability Program a welcome addition to the rear-wheel-drive performance sedan. Well, most of the time. I had to disengage it after getting stuck in a snowdrift because the overly helpful Program would not permit any wheelspin whatsoever. I also disengaged it for kicks one dry day leaving only the baseline traction control engaged and found the torquey hemi more than capable of breaking loose the fat P225/60R-18 rear tires from a dead stop.
Outside, the 300C vaguely resembles a Bentley Arnage T, though the $34,425 sticker of the former is way less shocking. The low-slung top, truncated trunk, long hood, and ample grille give the car a custom hot-rod stance. Inside bears little resemblance to the relatively Spartan interiors of early 300 models, having been replaced with the plush, "power-everything" comfort luxury-car owners have come to expect.
Heated leather seats place you firmly but comfortably in front of a tortoiseshell-style steering wheel and logical dashboard display with large, easy-toread gages. I especially liked the twoway adjustable steering column that motors up and down and in and out with a lever touch. An "analog" clock at dash center gives a nod to nostalgia.
Long trips should be no problem for driver or passengers. The cavernous back seat has ample legroom for even 6-ft-tall adults, albeit at the expense of some trunk room. Dual-zone climate control, a full complement of safety features, and an impressive-sounding 380-W, six-speaker Boston Acoustic stereo system, round out the package. My only gripe about the ergonomics: the cruise lever on the steering column looks remarkably like a miniature version of the turn signal lever nearby, and more than once I grabbed the wrong lever.
Driving the 300C is an exercise in throttle control. The car begs to be driven faster than posted limits and does so with barely a growl from the dual exhaust, except under hard acceleration.Zero-to-60 times are said to be in the 5-sec range and top-end speed north of 130 mph. Fourwheel antilock disk brakes provide plenty of stopping power. Four-wheel independent touring suspension and rack-and-pinion steering give a firm, sure road feel in the twisties and on the open road. Around town driving and parking aren't bad either once you get used to the long hood. Surprisingly, the rather narrow side windows don't hurt the road view.
Fuel economy, as you might expect, isn't the hemi's strong suit. With gas hovering at about $2.00/gallon, 17 mpg in the city is marginal at best. I didn't go for a long freeway drive and wasn't able to verify the 25-mpg highway estimate. But then again, fuel economy has always taken a back seat to performance in 300s. Those drivers looking for even more zip than the 300C should check out the new 300C SRT-8 with a 6.1-liter, 425-hp hemi engine. The engine block is painted bright orange, just like the old days. It's due in showrooms just about now.