The Chrysler 300 debuted at the 2003 New York Auto Show. Designed by Ralph Gilles, the large rear-drive sedan was a hit right from the start. The formal grille/integrated headlight package came from the sensational 1998 Chronos show car, and a square-rigged body with long hood, high beltline, chopped roof, and exaggerated wheel openings rounded out the sharp-looking package. It oozed muscle. Both the 340-bhp, 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 in the 300C and the 425-bhp, 6.1-liter Hemi in the SRT8 certainly delivered. Despite being an American design on top and under the hood, the 300 owed a lot to the previous Mercedes-Benz E-Class thanks to connections during the Daimler Chrysler days.
Four separate Chrysler 300 models were available, all with the same body shell, like American sedans of the 1950s and 1960s. The base 300 had a 190-bhp, 2.7-liter V-6 with cloth interior, air-conditioning and power windows, seats, mirrors, door locks and optional ABS. The 300 Touring and 300 Limited models sported a 250-bhp 3.5 liter V-6 with optional leather interior and more luxury accessories. Both had a 4-speed automatic transmission with optional ABS and traction control on the base car, standard on the other models.
The Chrysler 300C got the 340-bhp 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 with a 5-speed Mercedes-Benz automatic transmission, and 18-inch wheels. Road testers reported 0-60 mph in 6.4 seconds, while 30-70 came up in in a swift 5.9 seconds. A higher level of trim in the 300C included wood and even faux tortoise shell accents. Advanced front airbags that could detect the size of the passengers were fitted, with multiple side bags optional. Both V-6 and V-8 models were available with Mercedes 4Matic AWD option and the 5-speed auto transmission, with an intuitive manual mode. Curb weight ranged from 3721-4046 pounds, and all-wheel drive added only about 80 pounds.
Top of the line was the SRT8 with a thumping 425-bhp 6.1-liter Hemi engine and 20-inch wheels. With bigger brakes and beefed up suspension the SRT8 was good for 0-60 mph in 4.9 seconds and a top speed of 165 mph. Both the 300C and 300 SRT8 featured Chrysler’s MDS (Multi Displacement System) which shut off four cylinders at cruising speed, turning the engine into a V4 and boosting highway mileage to 25 mpg, respectable for the time.
Chrysler’s 300 LX line had Dodge siblings in the form of the Charger sedan and the handsome Magnum station wagon, with its clever rear hatch that opens into the roof. European, Australian, and Japanese buyers could also purchase a Chrysler 300C wagon, which was never offered in the U.S.
The 300C was voted Car of the Year by Motor Trend and AutomobileCar & Driver’s 10 Best list in 2005 and 2006. Total production for the LX 300 models in U.S. and Canada reached 724,251 units before the model was redesigned for the 2011 model year.