The 2018 Chrysler 300S is one of the few remaining large domestic sedans based on a rear-drive platform (image: FCA).

What we’re driving: 2018 Chrysler 300 S AWD

"What We’re Driving” is Automotive Engineering's series of quick-strike vehicle reviews.

Selling a car, any kind of car, is tough business in a time when everyone wants crossovers. It’s always seemed particularly difficult for FCA, so in more than one sense you can see the logic of allowing the Chrysler 300 to soldier on without much meaningful investment.

Although its V6 is of the recently—and usefully—upgraded Pentastar family and there have been scores of engineering changes and updates, the 300S’s platform effectively is the same as used for the first modern-era 300 launched in 2005, when Daimler still owned Chrysler (well, it was a “merger of equals”) and the 300 underpinnings were cleverly derived from the then-current Mercedes-Benz E-Class.

At the time, that was a grand bargain for those buying a 300 (and I imagine an export-market 300 fitted up with Mercedes-Benz’s 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder diesel was not bad)—but 13-odd years later, although the 300S still gets down the road rather pleasantly, it all feels its age. Heck, this car’s seven years removed from its last significant restyling.

Not that it’s a stick in the eye. The 300S is palpably quiet and serene in an 80-mph cruise, where the variable-valve-timed 3.6-L V-6 is unstressed and agreeably efficient (the 27-mpg highway rating is even conservative, at least on flat interstate). But this big sedan and the weight of all-wheel-drive don’t make life easy for the 300S’s 300-hp/264-lb·ft (358 N·m) version of the Pentastar when you ask for roll-on acceleration, which elicits a pained engine wail to accompany an uncharacteristically abrupt kickdown from the 8-speed automatic transmission.

For not much more money, fit the 300 with FCA’s Hemi 5.7-L V-8 and its jovial 394 lb·ft (534 N·m) makes this all go away.

And what about the money? This car came exhaustively equipped, including FCA’s always-excellent 8.4-in. Uconnect touchscreen interface and a host of convenience and safety features. There’s the stretch-out length and wide anybody would relish, but the door skins and other large interior trim pieces are of boisterously cheap graining and detail. The general cabin impression is that the bill of materials just isn’t where it ought to be for a $50,000 sedan. Which led me to wonder what the street price is these days for a long-in-the-tooth, fullsize domestic sedan. The 300 will be a lot of car in four years for a fraction of its original MSRP. But for now, with Ford’s Panther platform long gone, aficionados of RWD domestic cars at least have somewhere fundamentally satisfying to go.

 

2018 Chrysler 300S AWD

Base price:      $38,295
As tested:        $49,360
Highs:               Relaxed and quiet cruiser; large-car presence; great touchscreen HMI
Lows:                Some cheapo cabin plastics; V-6 really ain’t enough; good bones, but just plain old
Takeaway:        Still has a certain panache, but needs the Hemi V-8 to be special             

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