Chrysler 300 is showing its age in some areas, especially under the hood

“It’s been a while,” I thought, firing up the Chrysler 300S’s 5.7L HEMI V8 before a four-hour cruise back home to Sudbury, Ontario.

You got heaps of horsepower and torque, forward thrust largely unmatched for the dollar, and Detroit-inspired exhaust noises that made chest hair sprout from anything within earshot.

When Chrysler started stuffing earlier versions of this engine into cars like the 300, Charger and Magnum, it was the last decade. You got heaps of horsepower and torque, forward thrust largely unmatched for the dollar, and Detroit-inspired exhaust noises that made chest hair sprout from anything within earshot.

Today, the 5.7L HEMI is still alive and well, albeit revised, more efficient and more powerful. Downsizing and turbocharging haven’t been invited to the party under the Chrysler 300’s hood (yet) and the big HEMI remains firmly planted on the options list.

It’s been years since I drove a HEMI-powered sedan. And just a few minutes into my drive, I noticed that the familiar engine is feeling a little different.

The HEMI is getting old. But let me explain.

I’m an all-motor guy. I prefer more and larger cylinders than fewer, smaller, turbocharged ones. I like displacement very much. But, having driven all forms and types of downsized turbo engines in the recent past, including the excellent TFSI engine in the new Audi A4 as little as an hour before getting into this 300S, the HEMI is feeling more old-school than ever.

Is that a bad thing? Maybe so, maybe no.

In the 300, the HEMI is relatively quiet until opened up. There’s a little rumble and shake upon achieving ignition, a dull hum seeps in when you accelerate gently, and it gets up and goes something fierce when you put the throttle pedal on a speed-date with the carpet. But get onto the highway and the big HEMI doesn’t feel quite as excessively potent as it once did, since the smaller turbo engines proliferating in the marketplace are nipping at its heels.

Hop on the throttle, and the HEMI needs more revs and makes more noise, to achieve the same initial level of forward thrust you’ll find instantly, and in more abundance, from the new A4’s turbo four-pot. Or the BMW 340i’s boosted straight-six. Or, maybe even more so, the Infiniti Q50, with a 400 hp twin-turbo V6 which sets off plowing you into your seat before the tachometer hits 2,500 revs, and before the engine is even audible.

Make no mistake: According to the seat of my trousers, the 300S would eat that A4 for lunch in a drag race, keep up with the 340i nicely, and be right on the Q50’s tail. But all of these boosted luxury cars, even the four-cylinder Audi, have more response, more torque, and more noiseless thrust on offer the instant you squeeze on the throttle. And that’s from as few as half the cylinders and nearly a third of the displacement, in some examples.

The HEMI often feels and sounds like it’s working harder. It’s not as effortless and quiet and restrained. Of course, for some, that’s not bad news: If you like your luxury sedan loud, proud, spewing gloriously pulsating Hollywood-car-chase exhaust noises, and feeling like it’s been shot out of a cannon at full throttle, the 300 nails it. This is still a compelling engine where the performance and feel and the muscle of the thing are concerned.

And the 300S with HEMI power, as a package, remains highly compelling to the right shopper too.

Provide your dealer with $52,720, and you get buckets of power, gobs of torque, and baller-status looks that go sporty, athletic and upscale, courtesy of the unique 300S styling treatment. Heaps of space too: The 300 features a big-ass cabin, complete with monster door openings large enough to accept your heftiest pals, even after an uncomfortably bloating sushi binge.

Here’s a machine that acts the part of a world-class achievement accessory – but without an appendage-severing price tag. And, with that ever-present whiff of Bentley-inspired styling (and a Beats by Dr. Dre stereo), it’ll be a popular pick with pop-artist hopefuls.

There’s a sport-tuned suspension, bolted to a set of striking dark wheels that seem perfectly set against the tester’s glistening blood-red paint. A rear decklid spoiler looks tuner-luxury, big rectangle exhausts are slickly integrated to the bumper, and the black painted roof lends this 300 a look that’s targeted at a young, affluent shopper, not one who buys Fixodent by the case and wears crocks and socks and a golf shirt from Costco with fish on it.

You sit behind a mile of dash and another mile of hood. The cabin spreads out around you, and the shape, layout and proportions of the interior are conducive to relaxation and socialization on the move. There isn’t even a gearshift lever to chew up space between front-seat occupants, since there’s a little gearshift dial instead. This dial is the man-bun of the gearshift world – questionable and dainty – but it results in added space.

Shoppers coming into a 300S from a sportier compact car will appreciate the added room and ride comfort, but with the stiffened springy bits deployed for 300S duty, there’s an ever-present sharpness and stiffness buried away within the slightly soft edges of the suspension. It calls the first-generation 300SRT8 to mind with a ride that’s more sports sedan than luxurious glob of road-going mayonnaise. Though the 300S is a hefty car not built to light anyone’s face on fire with g-forces, it remains properly sticky and frisky and fun when driven hard. If you’re after a car that cruises comfortably, but not too comfortably, and doesn’t mind being thrown around like lawsuit threats in a Donald Trump speech, you’ll like the setup.

The cabin comes off as a mixed bag when comparing to more modern competition: On most aspects related to space, versatility and functionality, it hits the mark. There’s room galore, pillowy rear seats easily accessed by even mobility-challenged passengers, and though the trunk is narrow, it’s relatively deep and lengthy, and has a reasonably large aperture.

Further, the leather is gorgeous, the ice-blue instrument cluster is beautifully accented and backlit, and the central command system, though lacking in the fancy-pants animations and graphics you’ll find elsewhere, is ultra-easy to use, configure and manipulate. Even folks who sob violently after repeated failures to make a FaceTime call to their grandkids on the iPad will have it down-pat in minutes.

That’s the good news.

The bad? In the same way that modern turbo engines are closing the gap on the 300’s HEMI V8, more modern sedans, even at lower price points, are closing the gap on interior styling, quality and feel.

Other than a few bits of switchgear, some materials and the dial shifter, much of this cabin hasn’t changed in five years. Plus, as cheaper and cheaper cars boast better and better build quality, some of the 300’s panel intersections and lines, which break up the dash and door panels, are looking a bit gappy and rough around the edges in comparison. Even the backup camera output is fuzzy and low-res compared to what you’ll find today as standard in a Corolla or Elantra.

So, here’s a cabin that looks magnificent taken widely, but is beginning to fall short when inspected closely.

Other notes? Your pals with Beats headphones will get a kick out of the cross branding of the 300S’s stereo system, which is potent, bright, vivid and heavy (maybe, a little too heavy) on the bass, but pleasingly powerful nonetheless.

The sport mode is delightful, too. It stiffens the steering and empties a syringe of ephedrine into the throttle system, giving drivers the gift of a hair-trigger throttle and locked-on steering feel to help push thrills and confident high-speed handling notably upward, within the limits of the 300’s size and weight. And you grin, because you’re piloting a big, heavy thing with minimal steering inputs, grip to spare, and great sound effects.

Your writer also appreciated the potent lighting system, with clean white light and good peripheral illumination. Ditto the 300’s ability to cruise with comfort while keeping potent acceleration and pleasing-for-its-size handling on perpetual standby. Here’s a machine that will nicely serve drivers using it as a long-haul cruiser, a high-speed backroads browser or anything in between.

During a highway cruise at a good clip, the HEMI put away 8.9 L/100 km of fuel, respectable for its size, and even better than the rated fuel economy on the window sticker. To compare, the same route driven at the same speed in the new A4 used 7.4. Your results will vary. 

Gripes? Those wide door openings make it easy for even the most buoyant passengers to get in and out, but they can require a lengthy reach back outside to close. Further, should you find occasion to browse the gears manually via the paddles, response and shift speed fail to match the market’s more exciting-to-shift gearboxes. In the 300S, manual swapping of the eight gears happens after a brief delay, and in no particular hurry. Plus, with no redline on the tachometer, you’ll bump into the rev-limiter often and vigorously. Usually, you’re best to just leave the thing in “DRIVE”, or “SPORT”,

Ultimately, the tested 300S is more youthful, more stunning in appearance and still instantly 300 from any angle. It’s getting a little dated in some areas, but if there’s another car in this pricing ballpark that looks or sounds like a bigger deal rolling down the road, I’m still not sure what it is.

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Engine Displacement 5.7L   Model Tested 2016 Chrysler 300S HEMI
Engine Cylinders V8   Base Price $42,695
Peak Horsepower 363 @ 5,200 rpm   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 394 @ 4,200 rpm   Destination Fee $1,795
Fuel Economy 14.8 / 9.3 / 12.3 (L/100 km, city/hwy/comb)   Price as Tested $54,615
Cargo Space 462 L  
Optional Equipment
Redline Paint – $300, Customer Preferred Group – $695, 300S Premium Group – $1,000, Safety Tec Group I – $395, Safety Tec Group II – $995, 5.7L HEMI V8 – $2,950, Dual Pane Moonroof – $1,595, Black Painted Roof – $1,395, UConnect NAV – $700