What It Is
Chrysler's biggest and most extravagant luxury sedan.
Presence aplenty and high-quality interior materials.
Flat seats, overrated Beats stereo.
This in-betweener luxury car straddles some tough ground with a style all its own.
Two months ago, my delusions of grandeur and patriotic tunnel vision led me to believe that I could get together the best American luxury sedans sold by the Big Three today for a comparison. Cadillac would be represented by the XTS; the CTS is a sports sedan with leather seats. Lincoln's best luxury sedan is the MKZ?the tarted-up Fusion; not the tarted-up Taurus that is the slightly larger MKS. And the Chrysler 300C John Varvatos Luxury Edition you see here.
Well, for unbeknownst reasons, Chrysler was the only automaker that stepped up to the plate. While we're still hoping the other automakers can show us what they have eventually, at least we know that Chrysler sent us one heck of an effort to vie for the top spot. Let's take a look at the car and why its name stretches almost as long as its body.
What We DroveBy now, you probably know what a Chrysler 300 is. Since 2005, Chrysler has been stunting with its Bentley?and Virgil Exner-design?inspired full-size sedan. The more luxurious counterpart to the Dodge Charger, the 300 is now in its second generation in a bid to move further upscale. Starting at $32,760, including $995 for destination and handling, the Chrysler 300 is modestly priced for a huge car that comes standard with leather, an 8.4-inch Uconnect infotainment screen, and 292 horsepower of American muscle, courtesy of a 3.6-liter V-6 engine.
Because we were requesting the car to be as opulent as Chrysler Imperials of yore, Chrysler gave us a John Varvatos Luxury Edition, priced at a healthy $48,170. First thing you're asking is "Who's John Varvatos?" The answer: He's a fashion designer based in Detroit, the spiritual home of the Italian-American automaker that makes the 300C in Canada. Secondly, you're probably wondering just what more a car already equipped with leather could have to jack up its price some $16,000 without so much as having the optional 5.7-liter Hemi V-8.
The second answer: Auto-dimming mirrors, remote starter, fog lamps, auto-adjust reverse mirrors, heated second-row seats, a rear power sunshade, and navigation in the 300C upgrade. The Varvatos edition kicks that up further with 20-inch wheels, a blinding amount of chrome, mocha brown open-pore wood, Nappa leather, and a leather-wrapped dash. Other options include Phantom Black paint ($500), a Dr. Dre Beats audio system ($995), blind spot and cross-traffic alert in the SafetyTec package ($1,995), xenon headlights, and a dual-pane panoramic sunroof ($1,595).
The CommuteYou can tell a fashion designer graced this car with its interior materials, as they are, indeed, unique and haute couture for such a relatively mainstream sedan. Swathed in leather from the dashboard to the seats, the 300C oozes opulence?at least superficially. Where some competitors have you sink into their seats, bolstered on either side by seats that almost seem tailored for your love handles, the 300's thrones are flat, unsupportive, and lack thigh support. We didn't notice much fatigue during our trip, but the seats could be longer.
Also lacking was the aural experience. The 2014 Chrysler 300C comes with three optional stereo systems?the standard unit, $1,995 Harman Kardon system, or the $995 Beats by Dr. Dre. Ours had the latter, which is supposed to provide that extra thump in your chest while listening. When we played louder music or hip-hop, we felt the music resonate throughout the car. But for everyday listening at normal levels, we were left wanting more. We'd go with a more balanced audio system, like the Harman system, as Beats just didn't do it for us.
Otherwise, we were left with a relatively smooth, serene, full-size luxury sedan that carried a small learning curve with its Uconnect infotainment system but provided an all-encompassing experience for its radio, climate control functions, heated seats, and even power rear sunshade at just the touch of an occasionally glare-washed-out screen. If smooth operating is what you want, the 300C delivers it in excess.
The Grocery RunBecause this is a car that Suge Knight would drive, it has to have plenty of trunk space for subwoofers, bodies, or even a weekend's worth of groceries. Yes, at 16.1 cubic feet of cargo capacity, it can hold quite a bit of stuff. That compares quite favorably to the Buick LaCrosse's 13.3 cubic-foot capacity, but it lags behind the Chevrolet Impala's 18.8 cubes and the Ford Taurus' 20.1. We should note that it takes plenty more to measure a full-size car than the size of its trunk, as the rest of the Taurus is kind of lousy.
The Chrysler 300 makes the most of its plus-sized dimensions, but it's surprisingly nimble to maneuver in tight parking lots thanks to its rear cross-traffic alert, giant backup monitor, and rear-wheel-drive layout that allows for a relatively small 38.9-foot turning circle. If all that weren't enough, front and rear parking sensors only make the process that much easier.
The Weekend FunAt more than two tons of fun with just shy of 300 horsepower, one might think that the 2014 Chrysler 300 might not even be too quick. But thanks to an excellent eight-speed automatic transmission and a ready and willing 3.6-liter V-6, the 300 provided plenty of punch to reach highway speeds in a breeze. In mixed driving, recorded just around 22 mpg, falling well within the 300's 19 mpg city/31 mpg highway fuel economy rating. Despite the brick-like shape of the car, we probably could have edged much closer to that 31 mpg figure if we drove more on the highway.
What we enjoyed more?simultaneously with curiosity and fright?was the Chrysler's active cruise control, which was able to slow the car down to a standstill in all but the most extreme stopping conditions without our input. On SoCal's 405 freeway, traffic can oftentimes be erratic, but the active cruise control held its own.
Along the way, the 300C glided miles by with grace. This isn't a sports sedan?even if it can be prompted to go sideways at high rates of speed. It's a cruiser, a tourer, in the grandest sense. And it makes miles disappear with luxury and presence?but without the pretentiousness one might expect of a car for the bourgeoisie.
SummarySo we didn't have our Chrysler 300C Varvatos square up against the Lincoln and Cadillac. We may never have that opportunity, lest we find ourselves some lesser-optioned cars on L.A.'s many rental lots. We're hoping that the other two members of the Big Three step up to the plate, but, obviously, we can't force them. That makes it a little more difficult to figure out just how this Chrysler, which starts at right around $32,000, would compare to those vehicles.
However, given just how surprised?and impressed?we were by the 2014 Chrysler 300C Varvatos edition, we wouldn't doubt its abilities to make a run for the podium, even if its two-year-old design is already starting to show some age against the latest and greatest sedans out there. It's smooth, comfortable, and has an abundance of presence on the road. It offers nearly all of the amenities of its more premium rivals for a lot less. A comparably equipped XTS would cost just under $54,000, while the MKZ and larger MKS would come in right around $47,000. If we had it our way, we think the Chrysler 300C could fit the American luxury car bill just fine, even if it doesn't quite have the badge cachet anymore. Even if the 300 has gotten a reputation as a gangsta car with big rims and tinted windows rather than understated, classic luxury.
We'd consider ourselves fans. We'd just get rid of that lousy Beats audio system for the more sophisticated Harman equipment. Otherwise, consider us smitten.
Spec BoxPrice-as-tested: $48,170
EPA City: 19 mpg
EPA Highway: 31 mpg
EPA Combined: 23 mpg
Cargo Space: 16.1 cubic feet
Estimated Combined Range: 439.3 miles
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: Average