The year was 2005 when Chrysler first re-introduced the 300. With its bold design that bears more than a passing resemblance to Bentleys and Rolls-Royces, the full-size sedan was an instant hit. Now almost 20 years after the introduction of the original, the 300 has been relegated to mostly fleet and livery duties. What gives? Join us as we roll in our rental of the week, a bright white 2018 Chrysler 300S AWD.
For 2018, the 300 comes with two engine choices. Most models on the rental lot are equipped with a 3.6L Pentastar V6 producing between 292 and 300 horsepower (depending on trim) and 260lb ft of torque. Power from the V6 is adequate, especially in sport mode, but it can feel herky jerky in stop and go traffic owing to the overly sensitive throttle. If you are really lucky, you may find one with the 5.7L Hemi V8 that produces 363 horsepower and 394lb ft of torque. All engines are mated to a 8-speed automatic transmission. Unlike the 9-speeds which have caused a multitude of problems in other FCA vehicles, the ZF 8-speed makes imperceptible shifts with the only drawback being the un-intuitive rotary shifter.
Over our time with the vehicle, we averaged 10.8L/100km in a mix of highway and city driving, which is right in line with the posted combined ratings. Those looking for better fuel economy can look for the rear-wheel-drive models, which are identified by the lack of ‘AWD’ badges.
On the move, the 300 constantly reminds you of its size. In the city, the large sedan can feel cumbersome but we appreciate the feeling of security when passing tractor-trailers knowing that there is all that metal around you. Given the 19-inch wheels and sports-tuned suspension in our S rental, we are not expecting a pillowy ride but what we experienced was something on another level. The suspension can deal with occasional bumps just fine but any continuous strip of uneven pavement will result in a jittery ride that permeates through the entire cabin, which makes for an uncomfortable time traversing the streets of Toronto. Other trims with smaller wheels and higher profile tires will likely yield a more comfortable ride.
Given the boxy design, the 300 suffers from poor visibility in all directions. With a high belt-line, thick pillars and relatively small side-view mirrors, simple maneuvers like lane changes requires extra effort. Fortunately, a back-up camera is standard on every model.
Comfort and Convenience
FCA’s trim structure can be best described as convoluted. Not only does the 300 have 4 trim levels (7 if you count all-wheel drive versions as a trim), there are a multitude of option packages available in each trim. Thankfully, most rental 300s come in one of a few flavours. In our case, we have a 300S (the sporty one) with all-wheel drive, panoramic sunroof and navigation. Other standard features on the S trim include a 8.4-inch Uconnect infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and 4 USB ports, Alpine premium sound, dual-zone automatic climate control, proximity key with push-button start, leather front heated seats, 12-way power front seats and back-up camera.
At first glance, the interior appears to have stood the test of time. Up front and centre is the Uconnect 4 infotainment screen with Garmin navigation that we loved in other FCA products. The rest of the dashboard controls and instrument panel are also typical FCA. While some of the buttons and displays are showing their age, they work well enough and we can overlook that given the excellent touchscreen. What we cannot overlook is however, is the level of fit and finish. Wide, inconsistent panel gaps and mysterious rattles are all present, belying its image as a premium vehicle.
Leather seats are standard on all 300 in rental fleets. The front seats are clearly designed for someone of a much bigger stature, given how big and wide they are. However, seat comfort left much to be desired. Despite the size and numerous ways of adjustability, we were never able to find a comfortable driving position. While the seats are not the main concern, the way the all-wheel drive system is positioned under the vehicle meant that our legs are shafted to one side (left for the driver and right for the front passenger). This made for an offset driving position, so much so that my right became sore after just an hour of driving.
Ease of Use
FCA’s Uconnect system is one of the best in the business. Period. With a large, high resolution screen and snappy touch responses, navigating the different functions of the car can never be easier. We especially love the string of customizable shortcut buttons along bottom of the screen, which allows one-touch access to music, navigation and other functions. The only gripe that we have is that the controls for the heated seats and steering wheel (if equipped) are located in a sub-menu, which can be a hassle in the winter. For renters who prefer the use of buttons, there are a number of redundant buttons below the touchscreen that replicate most functions of the touch screen including the volume, turning and climate control.
In between the glitzy (if not slightly gaudy) blue backlit gauges lie a 7-inch colour info screen with a (you guessed it) blue background. It provides the speed, trip and audio information, vehicle diagnostics and limited settings. Navigation through the various menus are done using buttons on the chunky steering wheel, which also houses buttons for the cruise controls. Volume and tuning controls however, are identical switches on each side behind the steering wheel and it’s a guessing game as to which is which.
The aforementioned rotary knob controls the 8-speed automatic transmission. While the gears are simple and clearly labelled (P, R, N, D and L or S), using it for the first time can be slightly unnerving. More than once we found ourselves in park when trying to get into reverse.
Stretching over 5 metres bumper to bumper, there is no denying that the 300 is a large car. However, for how big it is on the outside, the 300 does not offer that much more space that the average mid-size sedan. When we have the front seats adjusted comfortably for a 6ft tall driver, there is barely enough legroom to fit an average sized adult in the rear. Part of the problem can be attributed to the low roofline, which necessitates a more reclined driving position. Definitely test out the space before driving off the lot, you may more comfortable with a mid size sedan.
Trunk space on the other hand, is on par with other full size sedans, measuring 16.3 cubic feet. That is more than enough space for four people’s week worth of luggage. Furthermore, the rear seats can be folded down in a 60/40 split to create more space. Unfortunately, no ski pass through is available.
Despite being the staple of rental fleets, the 300 still manages to stand out from the crowd with its decidedly brash American design and rear-wheel drive proportions. Add the unique trim and blacked-out rims on the S trim and we have a sinister looking sedan that screams badass. While never going to draw double takes from other road users, the 300 does stand out from other vehicles in its class such as the Ford Taurus, Nissan Maxima and Buick LaCrosse. For someone looking for more than a vanilla rental, the 300 is a worthy contender.
Avis/Budget: As the cover car for both the premium and luxury categories, Avis/Budget rents multiple trim levels of the 300. Limited and C trims are classified as premium while the S trim is classified as luxury. From our observations, most 300s on rental lots are rear-wheel drive Limited and S trims, with only a sprinkling of all-wheel drive and C trims. Given the minor differences between each trim, we are baffled by the classification choice. Specifically, the 300C has more standard features than the 300S, yet they are only classified as premium. Unless you are hoping for an upgrade to a Signature series vehicle or absolutely must have the S trim, save some money and book a premium.
Enterprise/National/Alamo: In line with their more complicated classification system, the 300 is considered as a premium elite vehicle, although you should have no problem getting one on a premium reservation. Most 300s are of the S trim with either rear- or all-wheel drive. Be aware though, as not all models come with the panoramic sunroof.
Hertz/Dollar/Thrifty: Similar to Avis/Budget, different 300 models are classified as either premium (Limited trim) or luxury (C and S trims). We have seen a relatively equal mix of all three trims on the lots with both rear- and all-wheel drive.
Avis/Budget: The only alternative, albeit in very small numbers is the Ford Taurus in Limited trim. With more than 20 cubic feet of trunk space, the Taurus is the go to choice for if you have lots of luggage. However, passenger space falls short.
Enterprise/National/Alamo: Alternatives are a bit more varied with renters getting a choice the aforementioned Ford Taurus, Nissan Maxima and in rare instances, Buick Regal. Both the Maxima and Regal are more recent designs and offer a more contemporary design, efficient packaging and greater number of active safety features.
Hertz/Dollar/Thrifty: Other vehicles in the premium and luxury category include the Volvo S60 (premium), Cadillac CTS, ATS, Infiniti Q50, Lexus ES350, Volvo S90, V90 (all luxury). These are only available in limited numbers and may require an upgrade fee on top of the base rental rate. That being said, most of them represent a significant all-around upgrade from the 300, especially if you can score one of the Volvo sedans.
There is a reason behind the 300’s popularity, it is reasonably cheap to acquire for rental agencies, offer a wide range of models and a long list of standard comfort and convenience features to satisfy most unseasoned renters. If you are a renter looking for the quintessential American car, the 300 represents a decent choice. However, if you value space and the latest gadgets, other vehicles in the premium and even full-size categories may be a better choice.