Test Driven: 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT (Grade: C)

Chrysler’s SRT lineup screams for attention these days.  The Challenger SRT appeals to the little kid inside of us, even if it’s not as dynamically capable as the competition.  The SRT Viper has the bedroom poster market cornered for the company (even if sales aren’t great right now) and the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT is a screaming deal.  Meanwhile, the sole Chrysler product to wear the badge, the 300, sits in the corner of the showroom and doesn’t seem to get a lot of attention.  At Pebble Beach, the first car I took out on the Seventeen-Mile Drive was this icy black 300 SRT.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but after a lot of thinking, I believe I have an answer.

The Looks:

Chrysler has some seriously good looking cars and a number of heinously ugly ones.  Luckily, the 300 series is in the former category.  The SRT model adds a great ground-effects package to an already-elegant body and offers up a lot of good angles.  The big sedan has great lines for its size.  It’s eye-catching, but not so good that I’m tripping over my shoes to get to it.  The extras that SRT puts on offer a lot of smoke and mirrors–the good kind.  The ground effects add depth, while the black rims and grille turn the 300 into a big and sinister ride.

The interior styling is all there.  Chrysler made big strides a few years ago after redesigning their full-size lineup and the 300 got the right treatment.  The gauges look slick in the bezels and the red interior finish lights up the inside of the car nicely.  Chrysler even adds carbon fiber for a more upscale feel.  The interior as a whole looks a lot better than what Chrysler usually offers up, but for the price of entry, I’m happy with the combination.

Score: 3.0/4.0

By the Numbers:

Chrysler has made good strides in quality inside and out since Fiat took over some of their operations in 2009.  The exterior paint finish is beautiful, even for the price–the black is deep and the pearl finish radiates and reflects like a pro.  My example had a package which blacked out the headlights and grille, and it all looks nicely put together.  The shut lines and join points on the body look good, with no huge gaps–something Chrysler used to have some issues with in the past.

On the inside, the quality is excellent.  The seats are comfortable and thickly padded, while the dashboard finish has a lot of good materials.  I’ll knock off some marks for the cheap touch-screen surround and the outdated gearshift but that’s about it.  The leather finish is nicely prepared and the stitching is surprisingly tidy, while the Alcantara inserts in the seats are a very welcome touch.  When combined with the carbon fiber finish on the console and dashboard, it makes the 300 SRT look befitting of the Street and Racing Technology label.  Interior room and visibility is good, with great sight lines and very supportive seats loaded with enough padding to make a mental hospital look bad.  There’s plenty of room up front and out back (expected in a car this vast).

Score: 3.0/4.0

At the Helm:

The Chrysler 300 SRT is quite a big car.  As a result, I was expecting a muscle car with better brakes.  That’s a bit of an overstatement.  Sitting under the hood of this behemoth is a 6.4L HEMI V8, standard thoroughfare for the entire SRT line save for the Viper.  It punches out 470hp and 470 lbs-ft of torque, and is only hooked up to a 5-speed automatic transmission out to the rear wheels.  With that sort of resume, I expected to get plenty of punch off the line, and that’s exactly what I got.  The big Chrysler gets off the line well, but the transmission lets this car down all the time.  The gearbox is one of the few holdovers from the previous SRT-8, and it’s the one biggest thing I’d rather that they didn’t take from the old model.  It’s now almost a decade out of date, This car would be a lot more effective with the 8-speed automatic out of the Grand Cherokee, and I believe that the 300 is slated to get that transmission soon, which will make the car a bit less lazy at midrange RPMs.  The gearbox hunts between gears and causes the engine to jump out of the powerband.

For as big as this car is, the handling isn’t bad at all.  The steering seems to be well-weighted and the big brakes (Brembo is responsible for the brakes on SRT’s sedans) are excellent for the two-ton tank of a car.  I never felt like I was about to lose control of the 300 even on the very tight little roads in the Pebble Beach complex.  The car leans in corners, which I expected, but leans just enough to warn the driver, not so much to scare the driver into submission.   The ride quality is good–the tires aren’t too noisy and the shocks are nice and firm, but my fear of the car riding like a boat was unfounded.  Unfortunately, the fun factor in corners is again ruined by the nasty transmission, which, despite the paddle shifters and manual function, has ratios that don’t fit the car’s power curve.  Because of that, I could never find the correct gear in tight turns in order to enjoy the road better.

Score: 2.0/4.0

The Bottom Line:

The car I tested ringed the cash register at $56,580 including delivery.  For that, you get GPS navigation, standard leather (mine was equipped with Alcantara), 20 inch wheels, and a solid standard audio system.  Options on this car included a harmon/kardon audio system with 14 speakers and a subwoofer, the Black Vapor Chrome Group (blacked-out grille, dark wheels, blackout exterior trim), and the Leather Interior Group (including the Alcantara upholstery).  That’s not a bad price to pay for all the equipment, but I find that there’s a lot to be desired at this price point.  For this kind of price, I can also wait for the Chevrolet SS to hit the market in a few weeks’ time.  The Cadillac CTS has just hit the market too, complicating matters for the Chrysler.  It may have 480hp, but I’d be willing to sacrifice some of the power for something that’s more dynamic and fun to drive.  For that reason, I’d be close to going after the new CTS or waiting for the Chevy SS sedan.  However, it’s still cheaper than the BMW 5-Series, which is one car that Chrysler was trying to go after for a while–it’s down on price, which is fantastic, but it’s much more of a cruiser than, say, a BMW 550i.  Overall though, I’m not totally sold at nearly 57 thousand.

Score: 2.0/4.0

In the end, I like the 300, but I’m not that willing to keep one.  The car is hampered too much by a bad transmission and an awkward place in the market.  It’s quite a nice car to drive, but with that one serious mechanical problem of an outdated transmission, it doesn’t feel as modern to drive as it does to look at.

Total: 3.0+3.0+2.0+2.0 = 10.0 out of 16.

GRADE: C

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