What we have here is proof positive that “they” (Chrysler and Dodge) still make “them” (mainstream front-engine/rear-wheel-drive sedans) like “they” (every American automaker) used to. But this 2021 Chrysler 300 S, and its Dodge Charger cousin, are getting rather long in the grille teeth. Should you hurry to grab one while they last, or wistfully wave them off into the sunset? To find out, we channeled our inner Don Draper, ordered up a nicely loaded top-shelf 300 S, commuted to and from the office in it, and contemplated its relative merits over stiff cocktails on the divan.
Elder Statesman in a Shrinking Class
The 2021 Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger rank as the Sumatran rhinos of the full-size American sedanscape—last of their breed, being severely threatened by SUV poaching and other market forces. Significantly redesigned for 2011, this pair has no remaining rear-drive competition, and continuing sedan attrition leaves only the Nissan Maxima (new in 2015) and the Toyota Avalon (2018)—both of which ride on front-wheel-drive architecture. It should also go without saying that neither offers a V-8 as the 300 and Charger do.
Conceived in the Daimler days, these sedans started out with great bones—strong unibodies and sophisticated suspensions. The addition of an all-wheel-drive option for the second-generation models in 2011 plus the gradual rollout of ZF’s great eight-speed transmission have kept the powertrains viable. But without constant, major improvement, the relentless march of time eventually takes its toll. Crash tests evolve over time, so an unchanged body structure eventually ends up with lower ratings. To wit: These cars were not designed for the IIHS small-overlap test, so they rank Marginal in it, with lower leg/foot injuries measuring Poor. Similarly, the NHTSA awards the 300 just four out of five stars in all categories except side-impact, where it gets the full five.
The 2021 Chrysler 300 S electrical architecture has been sufficiently updated to support advanced driver-assist features such as lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control, although these are optional. There is no auto stop/start system. The instrument-cluster info display has been updated and looks fresh, but the 8.4-inch infotainment screen is looking puny by modern standards, and the backup camera seems to feed it a low-res VGA image. The basic shape of the instrument panel, its blue lighting, and the curious graining of the soft-touch dash and upper door surfaces all seem a bit dated and downscale for the class. Happily, Chrysler upgraded the 300 to capless fuel filling, but there’s still an inside remote release for the fuel door instead of the more modern push-to-release.
How Does the 2021 Chrysler 300 S Perform?
On paper, its powertrain appears competitive, the 3.6-liter V-6’s 300 hp and 264 lb-ft essentially matching the output of the Maxima (300 hp, 261 lb-ft, premium recommended) and Avalon (301 hp, 267 lb-ft). Trouble is, the 300 measures several inches bigger than those cars in every dimension, and our test car weighed in 400 to 600 pounds heavier than the quickest Avalon and Maxima we’ve measured.
It’s no surprise, then, that the Chrysler, with 6.7-second sprint to 60 mph and a quarter-mile run of 15.1 seconds at 95.5 mph, trails those two by 0.7-1.0 second to 60 and through the quarter-mile by 0.5 and 0.9 second and 3.0-5.3 mph. Of course, Chrysler also offers a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, which drops those times to 5.3 seconds 0-60 and 13.8 seconds and 101.3 mph in the quarter-mile; Dodge further adds the 392 and the supercharged Hellcat V-8s.
In terms of handling, we generally prefer rear-drive, which frees the front tires to concentrate on steering. Indeed, this 300S feels considerably sportier than any Avalon or Maxima from the helm, partially belying its greater mass. Where newer cars like the Avalon take a commanding lead, chassis-wise, is in the way they absorb bad pavement. Toyota’s spanking-new TNGA GA-K platform just feels more solid. Bumps reverberate through the 300’s bodywork a bit, and the way the car handled certain sharp cross-car bumps seemed borderline acceptable. To be fair, Chrysler does offer a more comfort-oriented state of chassis tune, and the base 18-inch tires will provide more cushioning than our car’s 20s did.
Budget for Gas Money…
Larger, heavier cars drink more gas, but not as much as you might expect. Despite that 600-pound difference relative to the Nissan Maxima (which also uses an even more efficient continuously variable transmission), the Chrysler’s 19/20/23 mpg EPA city/highway/combined ratings trail the Maxima by just 1 mpg city and combined. Front-drive, non-hybrid Avalon estimates are 22 city, 31-32 highway, and 25-26 combined. Opting for the Hemi drops the 300’s figures to 16/25/19 mpg.
Should You Consider a 2021 Chrysler 300 S?
The 300 still exudes a gangster-style swagger that few other cars in any class can match. It’s the automotive embodiment of downtown Detroit’s iconic Joe Louis fist sculpture. Nobody else could pull off the Chrysler 300 S, and it probably won’t be long before regulations and/or market forces consign it to the history books. If you’ve reached a station in life where the fuel expense and the 8.4-inch screen size don’t dissuade you, you’ve probably also learned to drive defensively enough—perhaps having dodged your share of mad men weaving home from three-martini lunches in the ’60s—to avoid a small-overlap crash. In that case, we unequivocally say: Go for it!
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