EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 17, 2013

Chrysler 300 makes luxury look bold

Motor Mouth
Jeffrey Zygmont

---- — In gutsy promotions that make no apologies, Chrysler presents its big 300 sedan as America’s answer to softer, more tender luxury cars. Those would be imported luxury cars, of course, which pinpoints Chrysler’s cross hairs on some big names in lush autos. Think BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus.

In fact, those are very big names in luxury cars. Making them targets makes Chrysler’s campaign seem like Don Quixote’s tilt at a windmill: fanciful and impossible to win. After all, those four big brands are the names that come to mind when most people think about luxury autos. The brand Chrysler doesn’t pop into the minds of nearly as many.

What’s more, at least two of those manufacturers, Audi and BMW, aren’t regarded as soft and wimpy, as Chrysler suggests. Their cars are widely considered just the opposite. People buy them because they emit an aura of power.

But the 300 has some big assets that make Chrysler’s bold boasting seem not so fanciful after all. The 300 is a smart, stylish car, loaded with attractive features and built with the attributes that grab drivers of large and commanding luxury cars. And for all that it offers, Chrysler lets the model go for a very alluring price.

That explains why Kevin Bihl at Bill DeLuca Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram, Haverhill, sees drivers leaving big-name luxury cars from Europe and Asia as trade-ins for a Chrysler 300.

“We get a lot of people who are trading in Lexuses, BMWs, Audis and Cadillacs and going into that vehicle,” said Bihl, who is internet sales manager for the DeLuca dealership group, which also includes Haverhill’s Bill DeLuca Chevrolet Buick GMC and Woodworth Chevrolet Cadillac in Andover.

Chrysler 300 buyers tend to fit the luxury-shopper profile squarely, he noted. They’re usually age 40 and up, when a person has accumulated some buying power.

“They’re upper-income professionals,” Bihl said. “We’ve had a few young people who have a great job buy one, but most of them don’t have the income level.”

The large-size, four-door 300 sedan starts at a list price just under $31,000. It comes with a spirited and suitably strong, 292-horsepower V6 engine and a smooth eight-speed automatic transmission. It includes leather upholstery and heated front seats, 12-way power driver’s seat, voice-operated communication system, two-zone automatic climate control, automatic headlights, 17-inch alloy wheels, and thoughtful details like satin-chrome interior door handles.

From that standard version, the 300 line adds features as it steps up in price through four additional levels, culminating in the $41,490, John Varvatos Luxury Edition. Detailed by Varvatos, a Detroit-born fashion designer with rock-and-roll sensibilities, the special model adds such flourishes as pearl-white gauges trimmed in charcoal black, 20-inch titanium wheels, gray and black raised stitching on seats, and a specialty leather called Poltrona Frau that wraps the interior. Who even knew that leather has names? The Varvatos model uses a 363-horsepower V8 engine that is optional on other, upper trim levels of the Chrysler 300.

The company also sells an ultra-juiced version called the 300 SRT8, with a 470-horsepower V8 engine and lots of other go-fast gear. But Chrysler gives the SRT8 a list price close to $50,000 and treats it as a distinct model, promoting it apart from the standard 300 line.

The style of the 300 stands apart, which is a good attribute in a field where drivers want extra distinction in their autos. While so many other luxury-class cars today appear wavy and sinuous, the 300 is more boldly upright. It’s attitude is less like a pointing arrow, more like a jabbing fist. But for all its assertiveness, the car is finely finished, with a solid and finely trimmed, high-gloss exterior surrounding a cabin tastefully finished with premium materials.

All 300 variants are rear-wheel drive, with all-wheel drive available as an option that can increase the price by up to $4,850. While all variations are well powered, they also harness smart technology to maximize fuel efficiency. A two-wheel-drive 300 with the standard V6 engine earns a government fuel-economy rating of 19 miles per gallon in city driving, and 31 mpg on the highway. The addition of all-wheel drive drops that to 18 mpg city, 27 mpg highway. Chrysler promotes the 31 mpg highway mark as the highest mileage available in the 300’s class.

The rear-drive platform of the 300 adds authenticity to its claim of luxury status. Front-wheel drive reigns in most of the automotive kingdom today, in part because it can provide more stable traction on snow and slippery pavement. But rear drive remains a well accepted staple in big, powerful luxury cars. Drivers of that ilk like the athletic, in-control image that rear drive imparts with its quick steering and road-hopping forward dynamics.

BMW, the most popular seller of luxury sedans in America, sticks with rear-wheel drive and wears the feature like a badge of distinction. The same holds for the Chrysler 300, said Kevin Bihl of DeLuca.

“The people who want it know that it’s rear wheel drive and they’re not intimidated by that fact,” he noted. “They love it.”

Of course, the availability of all-wheel-drive also helps. At DeLuca, about two thirds of the drivers who buy the 300 choose that feature, said Bihl.

It’s the same for BMW, which sells a good share of its sedans in our area equipped with x-drive, BMW’s label for its four-wheel traction.

While the 300 gains some converts, Bihl conceded that not every BMW owner – or Audi, Mercedes, Lexus or Cadillac owner – who compares his brand to the top-line Chrysler model will choose the 300. After all, loyalty in the luxury-car class runs very high. Companies work hard to keep their fans happy, and a lot of people stay with the car maker that already won them.

But with the 300, Chrysler shows it can fly at the same altitude as those top names in lux autos.

“When people put the 300 against a BMW or an Audi, they see it’s fair comparison between the Chrysler and these other wonderful cars that are out there,” he said. “That’s a compliment in itself..”

Jeffrey Zygmont is an author of fiction and nonfiction books, and a long-time auto writer. Contact him at www.jeffreyzygmont.com.

2013 Chrysler 300 Vehicle type: 4-door, 5-passenger, rear- and all-wheel-drive full-size luxury sedan Price range: $30,990 to $41,490 (plus options) Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles basic warranty; 5 years/100,000 miles powertrain warranty; 5 years/unlimited miles corrosion warranty; 5 years/100 miles roadside assistance Engine: 3.6-liter V6 Power: 292 horsepower at 6,350 rpm; 260 lb.-ft. torque at 4,800 rpm Transmission: 8-speed automatic Fuel economy: 19 mpg city; 31 mpg highway (with RWD) Wheelbase: 120 inches Length: 199 inches Width: 75 inches Height: 58 inches Weight: 4,029 pounds Fuel capacity: 19.1 gallons Turning circle: 38.9 feet