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 2004 Luxury Buyer's Guide
2004 Luxury Car Buyer's Guide by Martha Hindes

2005 Chrysler 300C

Anyone who hasn't seen the ads by now probably hasn't been watching television: Where the vehicle performance-minded dad teaches his infant son the importance of the four-letter word, "HEMI."

No matter which Chrysler Group vehicle is involved, the HEMI engine has become a touchstone for "desirable" when it comes to top-of-the-line performance. Chrysler's new flagship 300C prestige sedan for '05 is no different. This assumption translates into fact as HEMI-powered versions already on sale continue to grab luxury-level Chrysler customers' attention.

The longer, wider 300C (replacing last year's front-drive 300M) has a can't-miss presence among its luxury competitors. A broad, bold face anchored by a dominant grille plus upright windshield and raised seating add to its road presence. And 18-inch wheels rule on the HEMI-powered, high-performance version. Chrysler calls it elegant, confident, powerful, and even "incredible." While the 300C's 340-horsepower HEMI has grabbed top attention, a 2.7-liter V-6 and 3.5-liter V-6 round out engine options for other models.

As rear-wheel-drive continues to make gains after a long absence from American roads, a rear-drive, ground-up 300C was a natural choice. All-wheel-drive, an option on three of four trim levels excluding the base, enhances stability systems for more responsive performance, a claim we agreed with after a short test drive.

Part of the HEMI fascination has to be from its fuel-saving ability to cruise on only four cylinders when they're not needed to accelerate. An industry-leading deactivator is the source. AutoStick, a five-speed automatic with manual shift option adds to the appeal.

Other options include side curtain airbags, adjustable pedals and SIRIUS satellite radio. The telescoping tilt steering wheel, great for those smaller drivers, comes standard. Safety features include auto-reverse windows that reopen with resistance, such as a child's hand, self-sealing tires, high intensity XENON lighting and rear park assist.

Prices from the mid-$20,000 to high-$30,000 range are modest by most luxury car standards. But this is the finest sedan Chrysler has to offer in the shadow of its ultra-luxury Mercedes-Benz cousins. Could the terms affordable and luxury be synonymous? Chrysler seems to be betting they can.

Acura RL Luxury SedanJaguar XJ Long Wheelbase
BMW 645 CiLexus LS 430
Cadillac STSLincoln Town Car
Chrysler 300CMercedes-Benz S-Class
Infiniti Q45Volkswagen Phaeton