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First Drive: 2011 Chrysler 300

Rolling sculpture, Part II.

by on Feb.02, 2011

The look of the new Chrysler 300 is more refined, if a little less in-your-face.

Sure, safety sells, and fuel economy has certainly become a critical consideration for many American buyers.  Performance matters, and there are plenty of folks influenced by the latest high-tech gadgets.  But few things draw your attention as effectively as a good design.

And few cars in recent memory have been more effective at turning heads than the Chrysler 300, which made its show-stopping debut at the 2003 New York Auto Show – reaching production barely a year later.  Starting from the bold, upright grille, the big sedan had an almost comic book presence that underscored Chrysler’s history of rolling out in-your-face designs.

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Even today, the Chrysler 300 catches your eye.  The exterior design, anyway.  Unfortunately, the interior never matched that bold vision, with its jumble of cheap plastic bits and pieces.  The 300 delivered an acceptable, if uninspiring, drive, and quality was a distinct problem, according to the likes of J.D. Power and Associates and Consumer Reports.

So, imagine the challenges faced by the Chrysler product development team assigned the task of redesigning this icon.  They not only had to maintain its benchmark bravado but match that inside and out.  They had to enhance the 300’s driving dynamics, improve fuel economy, enhance performance, fix endemic quality problems – and, oh, did we mention they had to do it all while Chrysler was in the midst of a financial collapse?