The standard engine in the Chrysler 300 and Limited models is the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 with double overhead cams, 24 valves, and variable valve timing that aids flexibility and good fuel economy. The V6 puts out 292 horsepower at 6350 rpm, 260 pound-feet of torque at 4800 rpm. Like many modern engine it makes power high up the rev band, so don't be afraid to rev it. It's plenty smooth and delivers strong propulsion. With the 300's standard 5-speed automatic it rates an EPA-estimated 18/27/21 City/Highway/Combined miles per gallon.
However, a new 8-speed automatic bumps that to 19/31 City/Highway mpg because it allows easier acceleration and lower engine speed on the highway. With gentle throttle it will get into top gear at 50 mph with the engine running just 1000 rpm, allowing level interstate cruising on minimal fuel. An all-wheel-drive V6 with the 8-speed automatic rates the same 18/27 mpg as a rear-drive 5-speed automatic.
The 8-speed also gets a new shifter. It has four positions (PRND) and a +/- gate to the side for manual operation. The stubby T-handle looks like an inverted putter head and is essentially an electronic switch. As a result the same motion is used for changing from Drive to Sport or Sport to Drive, and it's very easy to get Park when you want Reverse by pushing once too often. If it's your only car you'll grow accustomed; if you drive more than one automatic then acclimation will take longer.
The 300C and 300S V8 come with the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 engine, generating 363 horsepower and 394 foot-pounds of torque at lower rpm than the V6. Paired with a 5-speed automatic it rates 16/25/19 mpg (15/23 with all-wheel drive) and mid-grade gasoline is specified. While the extra 71 horses over the V6 and infectious sound get the headlines, it's the 134 lb-ft of added torque that shows up far more often. Not many $40,000 four-doors will launch as hard as an all-wheel-drive Hemi.
We've sampled everything from the base, cloth upholstered V6 to the hairy-chested (but buttoned up) SRT8, and for most drivers the V6 will be more than adequate. It has adequate power when you need it and uses minimal fuel when you don't, and never makes untoward noise or vibration. We'd opt for the 8-speed automatic both to maximize efficiency and because it improves feel, performance and response.
We exercised, pushed and stressed Chrysler 300s in the hills and valleys, sinewy mountain roads and a racetrack and found them to be wonderful traveling companions. The variable-ratio electro-hydraulic power steering system has a lovely, firm feel to it, as though it's actually connected to and directing something down there on the road surface, and the car turns in with authority and without objectionable body roll. On S models the steering is faster and effort is increased with the V8, dare we say perfectly matching that model's composure.
Ride quality is smooth, comfortable and quiet. The cabin has been quieted down considerably with the addition of an acoustic bellypan under the car, acoustic material in the wheel wells and pillars, laminated front glass, multiple door seals, and an acoustic wrap around the complete interior to block out noise from the mechanical systems, the wind and the tires. Chrysler claims it's quieter than a Lexus LS460, an admirable claim, but we can say only that it is clear enough to hear a trumpet soloist breathe while the car is gliding along at 100 mph.
The anti-lock brake package with electronic brake-force distribution has everything you could ask for in terms of power, pedal modulation, and emergency capabilities, and is the largest component of a very complete safety package that includes traction control, stability control, and front, side, roof and driver knee air bags.
The SRT8 pushes the realm of super sedan. With a 470-hp big-bore V8, solid-shifting 5-speed automatic, adaptive dampers from Bilstein, four-piston Brembo brakes and lighter forged alloy wheels with fairly sticky 20-inch tires the SRT8 adds to every dynamic. It's muted enough to make a fast, comfortable touring machine and amped-up enough to make quick work of any road. The 5-speed auto does what it's told but isn't as advanced as much of the competition's 6-, 7-, and 8-speeds. Fuel economy is respectable only compared to other super-sedans, and it isn't as fast as things like the Cadillac CTS-V or Mercedes E63 AMG. However, using all those cars delivers usually requires a racetrack. Also, the SRT8 costs $15,000-$40,000 less, and a set of replacement tires is about two-thirds that of the other cars.
Stand on the gas and the SRT8 accelerates like a rocket, with truckloads of torque. It feels like a modern muscle car. When cruising, it comes up short in the refinement category. The big-horsepower versions of all of these big, luxury hot rods lack some of the refinement of the less-stressed versions, but this seems particularly true with the Chrysler 300 SRT8. There's a clunky factor here. If we're going to suffer the downsides of a hot rod, we prefer the looks and character of the Dodge Challenger or Charger to the 300 SRT8.