Last man standing. With the Ford Taurus and Chevrolet Impala having been retired at the end of the 2019 model year, the Chrysler 300 – and its sibling, the Dodge Charger – stand alone as the last examples of traditional full-size American motoring.
The formula with the 2020 Chrysler 300 remains largely undiluted from the days of yore: rear-wheel drive, V8 power, and an upright profile with a distinctive trunk. No hatchback, electrification, or other modern meddling has found its way into this well-aged concoction.
Though the base 300 is rather sparsely appointed, more than enough luxury can be had in the higher trims. You'll never mistake it for a Mercedes, but you'll also never mistake it for anything else on the road. The 300 is a unique offering in a market becoming largely homogeneous – and for some niche full-size buyers. this is the only viable option left.
V8 goodness. You can't talk about the Chrysler 300 without bringing up the available 5.7-liter Hemi V8 engine. This engine represents a very rare thing in today's age of turbocharged four-cylinders: eight cylinders in a non-sporting sedan. The 300 uses its Hemi for smoothness rather than for thrills, and it succeeds.
But that doesn't mean its 363 horsepower and 394 pound-feet of torque aren't there at the ready, patiently waiting for you to bury the throttle. Succumb to the temptation and the car drops a gear or two while taking off with a mild but pleasing growl. It was something we never grew sick of doing during our testing.
If you can't stomach the fuel economy of the V8 – 16 miles per gallon city, 25 mpg highway, and 19 combined, according to the EPA – the 3.6-liter V6 that comes standard is fine engine in its own right. The 292 hp it produces is enough to confidently motivate this big Chrysler. Like the Hemi, the V6 mates up with an eight-speed automatic. It's a gearbox that does a fine job of choosing what gear to pick and when. This powertrain is the only one that can be paired with the available all-wheel drive.
The V6 is a competent and pragmatic choice, and we certainly won't fault anyone for not upgrading to the V8. But the Hemi has a character all its own. It endows the 300 with smoothness, power, and response. The old-school nature of this V8 is also refreshing: it doesn't constantly below or snort, and it doesn't suggest juvenile antics in an empty parking lot. There's not enough power and bravado here for that – and that's something we appreciate.
Make no mistake: Even with the V8, this is no budget BMW M5 or Mercedes-Benz AMG E 63. Try to hustle the 300 on a back road and you'll quickly find its limits. Handling is marginally better with the 300S trim, which gets a sport-tuned suspension, but those options steal away from the 300's mission of being comfortable and mildly indulgent.
Trim choice is key. The 300 occupies a unique strata in the automotive realm. It's not a genuine luxury car and doesn't profess to be, and yet it isn't quite as workaday as the Charger. This leaves occupying a vague middle ground, with the base trims disappointingly cheap and the top trims suggesting the opulence of pricier cars with more highfalutin nameplates.
From our time with the various 300 models, we'd leave the base Touring model to the rental-car fleets; it's dark and dowdy and uninspiring. The Touring L trim that slots above it is also a value-oriented model, but it features some, well, features that make it the best deal of the lineup. With heated seats, dual-zone climate control, a heated steering wheel, and leather upholstery, it makes a fine impression of a luxury car without the corresponding luxury price tag.
Despite the value proposition of the 300 Touring L, you don't really get a chance to see the 300's character until you step up to the 300S or higher. The 300S is the fashion-monger of the lineup, with its stylish 20-inch wheels, Beats audio system, and dark trim.
On the flip side of that is the V8-powered 300C, which embraces its old-school heritage. Chrome practically drips off the slab-sided body, and the interior boasts open-pore wood and supple premium leather. It rivals cars costing a good bit more.
None of these trims come standard with active safety features, but Chrysler does offer adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, automatic emergency braking, and blind-spot monitors for extra cost on most trims.
Details, details, details. Where the 300 can fall short is in the details. The switchgear and knobs don't have the solid, well-defined action that bespeaks proper luxury. Spin the tuner for the radio or twist the switch for the lights – the tactile reward is negligible, especially if you've spent time in higher-end cars. On the low end of the lineup, this isn't as much an issue, but it's a bit of a letdown on a loaded $47,000 300C.
That's not the case with the infotainment system. The standard 8.4-inch touchscreen runs Chrysler's Uconnect software that remains one of the best in the business. It's fast, intuitive, and comprehensive. After a few passes through the menu, the system becomes second nature. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard if you'd still rather use your phone's software.
As for spaciousness, we were left with mixed feelings. There's plenty of room for the driver and front passenger, and the view out is surprisingly good, though hampered by the large pillars all around. The rear seat, however, is a bit shy of legroom considering the lengthy 120-inch wheelbase. Other sedans have more room, and those also don't have the 300's massive driveline hump that steals all the legroom from the rear-middle passenger.
Final thoughts. The 2020 Chrysler 300 is our kind of anachronism. Like the great American sedans of yesteryear, it's big, imposing, and formal. It isn't sporty, but it has an attitude. It is just shy of 200 inches long, yet sitting in the back seat recalls squishing into the back seat of a Ford Crown Victoria taxicab.
This leaves it in a tricky spot. The 300 is the lone remaining heir of a great tradition that has since passed from relevance. When it comes time to be replaced, what will become of the nameplate? Will it be downsized and get power from some turbocharged four-cylinder? Will it continue to offer a V8 option? Will it even exist at all?
Nobody knows for sure what its fate might be. But this much is certain: the 300 is the last of its kind. If the era of the full-sized, V8-powered American sedan still speaks to you, the Chrysler 300 is the only car that'll suffice.
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