Considering what has been going on at Chrysler for the last year or so, you can forgive the delayed introduction of the big and bold 300 sedan that was officially unveiled in early January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Since the automaker's takeover by Italy's Fiat organization, the designers and product planners now toiling for the reorganized Chrysler Group LLC have been busily reshaping, reinventing or rebranding just about every model in the company's lineup. And, well, that takes time.
Chrysler's flurry of activity sparked plenty of interest in Detroit, but what's all the hype about? The 300 doesn't look all that different from the 2010 model, does it?
As with the rest of the Chrysler line, the big sedan has been drastically upgraded in several crucial areas, chiefly the interior and under the hood. On the outside, however, is the same basic shape, except that the car has been treated to a new front end, including projector-style headlights and a simplified grille that actually appears less distinctive. For any prospective customers who prefer the original egg-crate design, Chrysler can supply it or an optional mesh-style "Bentley" insert for that custom look.
Elsewhere, the slope of the 300's windshield has been tilted back by 7.5 centimetres at the top and the thickness of the door pillars has been reduced. These changes, Chrysler claims, have increased outward visibility by 15 per cent. Other tweaks include an integrated rear-deck spoiler, twin oval-shaped exhaust tips and a set of fast-acting and very bright light-emitting diode (LED) taillights.
But more about that new interior. The 300 receives all new front seats with adjustable lumbar support and upgraded standard and optional coverings and door-panel materials. As well, the redesigned dashboard and high-contrast blue-white gauges help create a more upscale presence, assisted by genuine wood and aluminum-look trim pieces. The fact is, it's not as much about the materials as it is the smooth and detailed design that really ratchets up the look of it all.
For keeping unwanted noise out of the cabin, additional acoustic insulation and better door seals are in place.
From a driving standpoint, the 300 has always straddled the line between comfort and precision, depending on your definition of either term. The 2011 model receives some fine tuning in both dimensions, actually, with the intension of improving both control and comfort.
The 300's specs now include a brand new 292-horsepower 3.6-litre V6 base engine that replaces he outgoing and weak-by-comparison 250-horse 3.5-litre V6 engine.
For best thrust, Chrysler's 5.7-litre "Hemi" V8 returns for 2011 with 363 horsepower and the ability to run on only four of its eight cylinders under light load conditions, which saves a bit of fuel.
Both engines operate through five-speed automatic transmissions, however Chrysler has announced plans to put an eight-speed automatic into the mix later this year, which will also aid economy as well as performance.
Also helping to save gas, the optional all-wheel-drive system uncouples the front axle when it's not needed, which reduces drag on the engine.
For a base price of $34,400 -- which is unchanged from the 2010 300 (including destination costs) -- the base Touring model includes dual-zone climate control, multi-position power driver's chair, tilt/telescoping steering column, keyless push-button start plus numerous other power features.
The 300 Limited includes leather seats (heated in front), backup camera, premium Alpine-brand audio package and 18-inch wheels (17-inch wheels are standard).
The 300C adds to the Limited's content with fancier interior trim, perforated-leather seats (heated and cooled front and rear), power-adjustable pedals and dual heated and cooled cup holders.
Of course there are numerous extra-cost items available that could boost the 300C's base price well above the $45,000 threshold. That's true luxury-car territory where the new 300 now really and truly belongs.