Sixty-two years ago, Chrysler kicked off its now famous 300 model line with the introduction of the C-300 coupe. Armed with a 300-hp 5.4-liter V-8 engine, the C-300 became an instant NASCAR icon. By the close of the 1955 NASCAR season, the C-300 had taken home 23 checkered flags—13 more than second-best finisher Oldsmobile.
How times change. Chrysler long ago traded the C-300’s stately two-door styling and racing pedigree for the square-jawed looks and sedan body style that have marked the modern 300 for more than a decade. And whereas the original C-300 was unavailable with luxuries such as air-conditioning, the 2017 Chrysler 300 embraces its role as the brand’s flagship sedan. Even the entry-level 300 Limited comes standard with features such as leather, powered and heated front seats, a proximity key with push-button start, and dual-zone automatic climate control.
S without the RT
Those in search of a 300 with increased driver engagement will need to step up to the $36,770 300S. It’s denoted by a menacing blacked-out grille and lower fascia, black headlamp bezels, and attractive 20-inch wheels, and comes equipped with a firmer suspension and a specially tuned variant of FCA’s 3.6-liter V-6 engine that makes 300 horsepower and 264 lb-ft of torque (gains of 8 horses and 4 lb-ft over other V-6 300s). A standard eight-speed automatic transmission with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters channels the 300S’s output to the rear wheels. All-wheel-drive is a $2500 option, and $3000 buys an upgrade to the 363-hp 5.7-liter V-8—but you can’t combine the two.
Although the V-6 in the 300S won’t win this big brick any drag races, the 300-hp engine offers enough grunt to move the two-ton-plus sedan off the line with confidence. Our 4089-pound test car charged to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds and through the quarter-mile in 15.0 flat at 96 mph, besting a 300 with the 292-hp V-6 by 0.2 and 0.1 second.
While the eight-speed automatic swapped cogs with the alacrity of an old-time switchboard operator, the transmission’s eagerness to reach top gear hurt the 300S’s passing performance. The Chrysler needed 4.9 seconds to accelerate from 50 to 70 mph—a full second longer than the Nissan Maxima. Push the dashboard-mounted Sport button and the transmission holds gears longer; it also cuts shift times from a claimed 400 milliseconds to a snappy 250 milliseconds. Additionally, Sport mode firms up the steering and quickens the throttle.
Even in Sport mode, though,…