Driven: 2012 Chrysler 300S

By John Beltz Snyder

February 09, 2012

—Ann Arbor, MI
First things first: the main reason we were excited to drive the 2012 Chrysler 300s was because we were dying to try out its new automatic transmission. We weren’t disappointed. The 300S’s eight-speed gearbox is one of those rare treats that works well on its own or when shifted manually. Left in D, it shifts seamlessly and smoothly, in a way that makes it feel almost nonexistent. Noise from the engine in the 300 doesn’t come into the cabin very much in casual driving, and the transmission readily upshifts to keep the revs low and quiet. When pushed, hard, though, it reacts quickly by downshifting to take full advantage of the power on hand. At speed, revs are low, the cabin is quiet, and fuel is being saved.
With the transmission in manual mode, gears are changed via two paddles mounted on the back of the steering wheel. Hitting the small levers feels a bit like the motion of pulling a trigger, and is best done with the index finger of either hand (right for upshift, left for downshift), and we never found it difficult to reach the levers on the wheel. Response from the gearbox is very quick, at about half a beat faster than we’ve come to expect from even some of the better manual modes we’ve used. It also happens very smoothly, with neither upshifts nor downshifts effecting a palpable shuddering or hesitation in the powertrain. Shifts are, therefore, supremely slick and rewarding when driving with a bit of verve.
The only frustrations we had were in using the gear selector to choose between park, reverse, and drive. After a while, we started to get used to it, but there was a learning curve in using the button and moving the lever to select the correct one. Too often, we ended up in neutral when we wanted drive, or reverse when park was intended. This could theoretically be fixed by having different positions for each drive mode rather than pushing forward and pulling back clumsily from the same position. Or, perhaps a few more days with the car would have helped us master the technique.
Whether it’s the prowess of the eight-speed transmission in operation, or some other Chrysler 300 goodness responsible, we found the S to perhaps make the best use of the Pentastar V-6, compared to other siblings and cousins with the same powerplant. Shove off the line feels a little wan, but only in comparison to the strong, linear flow of power through the rest of the rev range and subsequent gears. In general, the car feels quite quick, and is willing to push hard when asked to surge forth from a corner or pass another vehicle on the highway. In all sorts of driving, output is reliable, and the 300S isn’t shy about digging deep to respond to your right foot.
The ride in the 300S is quite comfortable, with most of the harshness from the road filtered out. There’s still enough communication through the chassis to let the driver know what’s going on, which is nice, while still allowing the occupants to enjoy a calm, comfortable cruise. This is a huge improvement over previous model years, both in terms of stability and driver engagement. Body roll is also kept in check pretty well, and grip levels are easily discerned under hard cornering. Chrysler found a very good balance of sportiness and luxury in the 300S; it’s a crowd-pleaser, to be sure, even if some in the crowd want to have a little fun during their commute.
The interior is very tastefully done, and the leather seating is an excellent place to plant yourself for extended periods of time. The only thing we could have asked for would be a bit more bolstering in the front seats to keep us in place when we decide to take a corner fast. The cabin is quite roomy, and has a lot of visual appeal, too. The gauges and instruments are all very attractive, while still being practical. Nobody will complain of this cabin being overdesigned, nor will they nag about a lack for freshness (save for the plastic on the dash). The aluminum and leather give the car a more youthful spirit than others in the 300 line.
The inclusion of a 10-speaker Beats by Dr. Dre audio system also brings a bit of vivaciousness to the model. Your author is no sound expert, but music coming through the speakers sounds rich and full, with clear sounds at all frequencies and volumes. The large touchscreen in the center makes it easy to set up and customize. That same infotainment system makes it simple to maneuver between navigation and other settings, including activation of the heated seats and steering wheel.

In all, we think the 300S is a great addition to the lineup, whether one is looking for that capable transmission, a nice interior atmosphere, or a visual experience free from excess wood and chrome. It also offers the amenities and creature comforts that we’ve come to expect from the 300, while making it slightly more competent for those of us who like to get our kicks on the open road.
VS. Ford Taurus Limited: The 300S costs a grand more, and both vehicles offer a comfortable interior. Looks are subjective, but we think this version of the Chrysler has a more exciting and youthful visual appeal. We also enjoy Chrysler’s multimedia interface more than Ford Sync. The big difference comes down to drivetrain. Enthusiasts are likely to be more inspired by the 300’s rear-wheel-drive layout than the Taurus’s front-drive system. Also, the Pentastar offers 29 more horsepower (and better fuel economy) than Ford’s 3.5-liter V-6.
VS. Hyundai Genesis 3.8: The Genesis also boasts a V-6, rear-wheel drive, and an eight-speed automatic transmission. It starts at about $1000 more than the 300S, but it’s up 41 horsepower, and you can definitely notice it. If speed is your need, the Genesis will probably win your dollars. The Chrysler has other things going for it, though, including a sportier ride, and a much different look than the Hyundai’s mature interior and conservative exterior. If you’re looking for a good dose of well executed, classy boldness, we think you’ll dig the 300S.
2012 Chrysler 300S
Engine: V-6, 3.6 liters, 24v
Output: 292 hp/260 lb-ft
0-60 MPH: 7.2 sec (est)
Weight: 4029 lb
Fuel Economy, City/Hwy: 19/31 mpg
Base Price: $33,170
Price As Tested: $41,755
On Sale: Now