2013 Chrysler 300S - A Review and Travel Story

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2013 Chrysler 300C

Touring the Mountains in an Unpretentious, Classically-American Sedan
A Review and Travel Story
Photos and Text By Steve Purdy
Michigan Bureau

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Fall colors at home are a bit late this year just beginning to glow with maples and sumac in full red, the Virginia creeper turning orange and oaks transitioning to a rich golden brown. New England is even better known for fall colors than Michigan so we’re off to the Berkshires in western Massachusetts in our Chrysler 300S test car for some leaf peeping and road testing. My pretty wife’s brother and sister-in-law, Rick and Kim, travel with us frequently and share our passion for exploration and discovery so will accompany us on this jaunt. My pretty wife and I visited this area about 8 years ago so we know our way around, but Rick and Kim will be first-timers in the Berkshires.

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This second-generation redesign of Chrysler’s full-size sedan (based on a Mercedes rear-wheel drive platform developed during the ill-fated Daimler-Chrysler merger) is just about two years old now. In that time much of the competition – Impala and Avalon most importantly – modernized as well. The big difference is that the Chrysler 300 remains rear-wheel drive with all-wheel drive available. Most in this sedan class are front-wheel drive without an all wheel drive option. The other big difference is that Chrysler confidently continues the distinctive boxy, masculine design instead of following the trend of swoopy, aerodynamic styling like the others – a good decision in our view. You can also get a couple of powerful V8 engines in the 300, but we’re happy with the V6.

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We requested the Chrysler 300 for this road trip because it is roomy enough for us four frequent travelers and it claims 31-mpg on the highway with the base powertrain. Besides, I’ve not had the opportunity to review this new 300, so what better opportunity than a good road trip. Our 300S test car shows a base price of just over $33,000. That includes the leather, 20-inch aluminum wheels, and plenty of included content. With a variety of options the sticker adds up to $38,000. Options include a full-function navigation system, blind spot indicator, adaptive cruise control, rain sensitive wipers, forward collision warning, and lots of premium lighting, but no sunroof.

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The 16.3 cubic-feet of trunk space swallowed our luggage easily with a few cubes to spare. The car’s styling and design result in a rather small trunk opening and high lift-over, which will be a problem for anyone wanting the haul a wheel chair or other large or awkward cargo. In addition to our suitcases we have a cooler and a couple bags of groceries since we’ll be staying in a condo with full kitchen at Jiminy’s Ski Resort near Pittsfield, MA.

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The four of us fit easily into the cabin as well. I had to move the power driver’s seat to its lowest spot so I wouldn’t bump my head getting in. The low roofline enhances the iconic design that took the world by storm when first introduced but does not make for easy ingress/egress for tall or large folks. The rear seat is generous though not biggest in class and the rear seat backs fold down for a bit of versatility.

In this reviewer’s view this classic design has lost none of its charm or appeal with this latest update. With minimal styling and design updates it is still capable of turning heads, particularly with the massive 20-inch, ten split-spoke alloy wheels adorning this one.

Our route takes us across Ontario (where the Chrysler 300 is assembled) from Sarnia to Niagara. The first leg on the 402 is closed so we take the two-lane nearly to London. The girls are chatting away in the rear seat occasionally engaging the guys up front in the conversation. The 300S is so quiet inside that a four-way conversation is easy. The 401 and the 403 moved quickly without a hint of the often-oppressive Canadian speed enforcement and border crossings at either end are as easy as we’ve ever experienced.

As we crossed back into the U.S. we’d spent our first tank of fuel and the car’s on-board computer says we’ve gotten 29.5 mpg. With the base 3.6-liter V6 mated to the new 8-speed automatic transmission we nearly matched the EPA rating referenced above. If we had more closely held to the conservative Canadian speed limit we may have matched it.

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The Berkshire Mountains rise between 1,000 and 3,500 feet and emerge along a north/south axis through western Massachusetts and Connecticut just east of the mighty Hudson River. We arrived with the sun shining and temps in the 60s, though that lasted only a couple days after which temps took a dive into the 40s by day and low 30s overnight. It appears the fall colors are nearly spent here though areas of waning colors hold on. We are in the center of hundreds of miles of rural two-lanes punctuated by historic and artsy small towns. We’ll shunpike our way around the area anticipating plenty of discoveries.

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After a scenic hike on nearby Mount Greylock, the tallest mountain in Massachusetts at about 3,600 feet, we spent the week visiting a variety of attractions in the area and exploring these back roads. Perhaps the most dramatic little town in the area is Williamstown about 20 miles north of our base, home of Williams College founded in 1793, where we found dozens of ornate old stone buildings and a premier art museum as well. The Clark is the repository of an impressive variety of works from Monet to Remmington.

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Each time we climb into the Chrysler 300S we again appreciate its luxurious but simple and unpretentious interior. The leather seats with contrasting stitching, piano-black trim, admirable fit and finish and simple controls make it easy to like. We know it’s a luxury car because it sports a classy-looking analog clock in the center of the dash. The Garmin navigation system and most of the car’s functions are controlled via the large touch screen in the center of the dash. It’s not the most intuitive system we’ve used, but not the least either. We acknowledge there is usually a learning curve associated with any new system and this is no exception.

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A few more miles further north we visited Bennington, home of one of the most important battles of the Revolutionary War and home of the “bible” for old car buffs, Hemmings Motor News. Hemmings has a small but fun museum full of old cars and other antiques and a gas station where they still wash your windshield. Atop the hill at the west edge of town the first church to break away from the Pilgrim societies is surrounded by a beautiful old cemetery containing monuments dating back to the 1700s as well as being the resting place of Robert Frost.

While the others rode patiently I got to do all the driving. This is a sweet powertrain, by the way. As we challenge these great roads through the low mountains we continue to gain an appreciation of its virtues. With just about 300 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque we do not lack for power or acceleration. The only time it feels the least tepid is on gentle acceleration when at speed. The 8-speed automatic transmission is eager and willing to downshift when we need it to and it accommodates my every whim. Paddle shifters add some fun on some of the twisty and steep bits of road but this charming transmission does fine without them as well. I’m not fond, however, of the electric shifter. I often bumped it into the wrong position or missed the slot I wanted.

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While I’m not an avid user of automobile navigation systems I have occasion to use them often enough to be reasonably proficient with most. We found this Garmin-based system able to guide us around this unfamiliar area of winding roads fairly well although it suffers from the limitations of most of these systems. The major one is that as you zoom out to get a broader view of the geography you loose too much detail. The lesser roads – the ones we are usually on – go away. Another annoyance I found with this one is its tendency to zoom in and out without my asking it to. I don’t know if that function can be overridden but I’ve found that on other systems as well. We also had a hard time finding the command to cancel a destination we had entered. That’s part of the learning curve, I guess.

Within short drives of our condo we found the Norman Rockwell Museum and Arboretum of the Berkshires in Stockbridge, three diverse sculpture parks, antique sellers and farm markets along just about every road and that first-rate fine art museum in Williamstown. It appears our fuel mileage driving around the small towns and mountain roads has dropped only slightly to around 25.5 mpg. That’s still impressive for a two-ton luxury sedan. With a 19.1-gallon fuel tank we don’t have to fill often with a range of well over 400 miles.

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One of the reasons we love shunpiking (taking the back road instead of the highway) is the thrill of discovery. Each little town in this part of the country offers unexpectedly beautiful examples of old architecture, some of it dating back to the 1700s. One of our favorite discoveries, though, was along highway 43 near Stephentown, very near the New York/Massachusetts state line. Adler’s Antique Autos covers perhaps 40 acres of meadow along a small creek where a couple hundred old cars and trucks are being saved for posterity. Close to a quarter of the rusty old vehicles are Chevy and GMC trucks, large and small. But, the variety of other old stuff is mindboggling. As a photographer I find few things more photogenic than a rusty old truck in the soft light of a cloudy day.

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The straight-through drive home – exactly 11 hours including frequent stops along the way – revealed waning fall colors for most of the route. While our rear seat passengers were comfortable for long periods on the road we found the front seats a bit tedious. No amount of squirming could get me an entirely comfortable position and by the time we got home my backside was in pain. That was the only drawback I found with this car and that would probably not be the case for someone with a more conventionally sized tush.

Thanks to Chrysler for this classy ride and we hope you get a chance to tour the Berkshires as we did.

© Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved

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