2012 Chrysler 300S AWD Road Test Review

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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If you've only got four models in your entire lineup, you'd better make sure that your flagship sedan is extremely good. Such is the case for Chrysler and it's completely reworked 300.

Chrysler gave the 300 a ground up redesign for 2011, but it didn't exactly let the car sit idling for 2012. While wonderfully rich new styling remains identical this year, and the upgraded interior so good it can now directly compete with premium brands, Chrysler went and added a class-leading eight-speed automatic transmission to complement the already award-winning Pentastar V6 engine.

Talk about impressive. The 300's new just-above-base powertrain is silky smooth yet powerful enough to get my 1,900+kilo 300S AWD tester up and running with V8-like performance. OK, maybe not Hemi V8-like performance, but the 3.6-litre mill's 292-horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque offers power aplenty. Best-in-class, says Chrysler, not to mention best-in-class V6 fuel economy at a claimed 10.9 city and 6.4 highway, and when mated to this new generation eight-speed automatic transmission, it swaps cogs in as efficient a manner as could be hoped for, once you find the chosen gear.

Pull the "monostatic" electronic selector towards Drive mode and you might be cursing while it somehow loses its way only to find Neutral, or vise versa, Park when you're trying to select Reverse. Chrysler will want to tweak the transmission's inner electronics to work more effectively or owner complaints will skyrocket. I found the same problem with a Dodge Charger we tested last year, so the issue seems inherent to the design. Still, it's an impressive piece of machinery once Drive is finally found, and I think worth the extra money needed to upgrade. Consumer Reports magazine certainly thinks it's worth it, having given the new 300 with the V6 and eight-speed its second highest rating in the large car class.

To get the optional eight-speed you'll need to add it to the base 300 Touring that comes standard with the old five-speed automatic, a variation of which is also used for the Hemi V8-powered 300C and SRT8. Alternatively Chrysler's Brampton, Ontario production team will build the eight-speed in right from the start if you order a more luxuriously equipped 300 Limited or the new sportier 300S, my tester being the latter and, I believe, most enticing of all the V6-powered options.

The 300S, which can also be had with the Hemi V8, boasts a sportier looking monochromatic exterior paint scheme complemented by unique black chrome detailing and a gorgeous set of 20-inch alloy rims on the same P245/45R20 all-season performance rubber as Chrysler's top-line 300 SRT8. Inside it ups the performance criteria with steering wheel-mounted paddles, while heated seats join Chrysler's upgraded Uconnect Touch media centre for a higher tech user experience. That interface allows hands-free phone connectivity as well as display access to the superb 552-watt, 12-channel Beats by Dr. Dre audio system that flaunts 10 high-grade speakers including three that measure 3.5 apiece on the instrument panel, two 3.5-inch ones integrated into the rear doors, two 6x9-inch front door woofers for upping bass, two more 6x9s in back, and a centre-mounted 8-inch speaker under the rear shelf. My old Public Enemy tracks never sounded so good.

All of these goodies are added to a nice menu of standard 300 Touring features, such as elegant Black Comodo Elm interior trim, proximity sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, powered and heated mirrors, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 12-way powered driver's seat, auto-dimming rearview mirror, leather-clad tilt and telescopic steering wheel with cruise and audio controls, touchscreen infotainment with Uconnect device connectivity, an auxiliary input, USB port and Sirius satellite radio, plus an electronic vehicle information centre, illuminated front cupholders, 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks that open up to a decent sized 461-litre trunk, fog lamps, seven airbags, electronic traction and stability control, and more.

My 300S tester had its stock cloth seats with piano black inserts replaced with stunning red leather hides embroidered with a stylized "S" on each front seatback, steaming hot and part of the $2,500 Luxury Group that also adds power to the steering column, a powered passenger seat including lumbar adjustment, a heated steering wheel, an auto-dimming exterior driver-side mirror and reverse-tilting driver- and passenger-side mirrors, powered pedals with memory, memory for the radio, driver's seat, steering wheel and mirrors, heated rear seats, heated and cooled front console cupholders, LED interior lighting, door sill scuff plates, a powered rear sunshade, power-folding mirrors, and more. My loaner also had the ultra user-friendly and highly accurate Garmin navigation system, while a powered tilt and slide glass sunroof up front was joined by a large panoramic glass panel in back for more exterior light throughout the interior, a $1,495 option.

In case you were wondering whether the 300S was capable of playing in the premium big leagues where the likes of Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Infiniti, Lexus, etcetera wow consumers with top-tier safety and convenience technologies, it is. Just take a look at some of the features available as part of its $2,800 Safetytec package, including adaptive bi-xenon HID headlamps with SmartBeam and automatic leveling, adaptive speed control, blind spot and cross path detection, forward collision warning, Parksense front and rear parking sensors, a ParkView back-up camera, and more.

In total, $7,245 worth of options was added to the 300S base price of $37,595 for a loaded price of $44,840. And yes, as mentioned you can get the 300S with Chrysler's ultra-powerful V8, too, so feel free to go big and go home if you want.

If all of the aforementioned features were added to some other full-size sedans from rival mainstream brands it would be notable, but the overall refinement of the 300S makes this offering truly unique and a superb value. The refinement includes the two powertrains, the V6 being wonderfully quiet unless right foot hits the floorboard at which point a mellifluous engine growl accompanies a decidedly sporty exhaust note, while the 300S suspension and wheel package combination is even more agile than the already adept base 300 Touring and Limited models. The car in any trim level feels more Teutonic in nature than the majority of its mainstream competitors, so those that want a full-size rear-wheel or all-wheel drive premium sedan yet may not have Mitt Romney's residual income (let alone Obama's) should be more than satisfied with what Chrysler has in store.

I certainly was impressed, and only wish that my photos weren't stolen along with my laptop so that I could show you a gallery that does it justice. Unfortunately Chrysler didn't feel the car was a big enough deal to pay a photographer a couple of grand to shoot a decent number of photos. There's not even a single shot of the car's entire front end or side view, so the photos associated with this review only include a full shot of the rear, a single shot of the "S" badge at the rear and one of its red leather seatbacks with a particularly lovely woman enjoying herself immensely in the driver's seat. With my own photos gone and only a hapless few available to download from Chrysler's media site, I would have washed my hands of this car and say, sorry Chrysler, if you're not going to support your car with even a single usable front photo I'm not going to be able to cover it, but the 300S is such a great ride for such good value, and my time spent in it so enjoyable that I felt you needed to hear about it.

If your curiosity is piqued, I recommend a trip down to your local Chrysler dealer to see the front end styling for yourself.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Luxury Sedan, Chrysler, 2012, 300S, $30,000 - $39,999, $40,000 - $49,999,

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