Like a girl who's striking-looking without being what Vogue magazine might describe as beautiful, the 2005 Chrysler 300 had a place in my heart long before I ever drove one. It was defiantly different from the competition and left behind the anonymous 300M/Concorde/LHS shapes that appeared to be unhappy bastardizations of the second-gen Dodge Intrepid (for which I also had a soft spot, incidentally).
The then-new 300, by contrast, looked like a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow for the 21st century, with its straight and high waistline, acres of unblemished metal, tall and imposing grille and stacked tail-lights. Add in the huge wheelarches – which had aftermarket wheel-sellers excited as they accurately anticipated a ton of business from Pimp My Ride fanatics – and you had a car that could never be described as bland.
And, praise the Lord, the 2011 restyle was a logical progression that lost none of the magic of the original. As a result, there's still nothing else like the 300 on sale today. In a car market full of clones (Jaguar should cover its expenses by suing for every car model that is a pastiche of its XF), individuality such as the 300's is welcome.
So there: I'll admit that distinctive looks play a substantial role in a car's appeal to me, but it would be wrong to allow subjectivity to completely dominate one's thinking. The fact is, the 300's shape isn't merely a styling gimmick. Chrysler has fully exploited the car's unique proportions, and despite being less than 200 inches long, it has ample room for heads, elbows, waists and legs. I'm 6ft3in and didn't have to run the seat back as far as it could go and thus could easily fit similarly sized passengers in the back seat. There are large SUVs on sale today that are less commodious than a Chrysler 300.
This being RACER, it was appropriate to grab the fastest model of the bunch, the SRT, powered by the familiar 6.4-liter/392cu.in. V8 Hemi engine which produces 470hp and can pull this 4,000lb car to 175mph. The engine, as in all its applications – SRT's Challenger, Charger and Grand Cherokee – not only feels strong and sounds superb, it's also willing to rev and give those horses free rein. But while the delivery is familiar, the packaging is slightly different, in that the 300's sound insulation feels denser than in any other SRT model and so the emphasis of this car is as much refinement as speed. Think Usain Bolt in an Armani suit.
The suit's been tailor-fitted, too. If you want evidence that the Street and Racing Technology [SRT] brand of Chrysler Group is full of enthusiasts with good taste, look no further than the styling tweaks to the car. Although you'll have grown used to seeing 300s (of all models and engine-size) dripping with aftermarket excess such as chrome trim, raised ride-heights, lowered ride-heights, a variety of paint jobs, grilles and wheel designs that range from awesome to awful, I've seen none that beat the look of a stock 300 SRT. Aside from its slightly excessive “skirt” that extends the rear bumper line, it looks mean (lowered by half an inch), purposeful but reasonably subtle, attracting the attention of those in the know, rather than those you'd rather not know….