Exploring Austin’s Hill Country in the Chrysler 300
The Chrysler 300 is a big, fast car. The whole point of the 300 is to be in your face with a full-size, rock-solid slab of powerful and luxurious performance. The Chrysler 300 makes no apologies for what it is. Dating back to 1955, Chrysler’s 300 badge has always stood for performance, style and luxury, and this 60th anniversary model is no exception to the rule. The new 300 brings in almost everything that Chrysler has been developing on the performance side, and delivers the best luxury package in Chrysler history.
So where else could we take this mighty road machine except deep into the heart of Texas to explore the legendary hill country between Austin and San Antonio. This is the part of the world that gave us Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson and beef brisket barbecue. The roads in this part of the world run in big sweeping curves, up through beautiful hills dotted with the traditional Texas ranches that produced generations of authentic cowboys.
The modern Chrysler 300 Series was introduced in 2005 after decades in hiatus. The new car was boldly styled with long, straight lines and a slab-sided look that suggested power and heft. A mid-cycle refresh in 2011 softened the look of the car, which led to increased sales after the recession lows, but did not quite take the 300 back to its initial sales volume. The 2015 update brings back the edgy look of the original modern 300, with a bolder grille and extensive use of LEDs in the lighting clusters. More importantly, the new Chrysler 300 comes to market with the best of Chrysler’s engine and drivetrain lineup.
Riding in the big Chrysler, we made excellent time through the curves and hills. The Hemi engine is mated to Chrysler’s wonderful 8-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission, and this is a key performance enhancer for this car.
The basic Chrysler 300 Limited for 2015 comes with the 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine, rated at 292 bhp and 260 lb.-ft. of torque, or 300 bhp in the 300S model. But the engine you want is the potent 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 engine, rated at 363 bhp and 394 lb.-ft. of torque. Compared with the V-6, all that extra torque changes the new 300 from an enjoyable car to a serious performance choice. V-8 buyers will see fuel economy of 16-mpg city/25-mpg highway, which is quite reasonable for a car that weighs in at over 4300 lb.
We were introduced to the 300 in Austin, at the studio where country music’s greatest artists perform for the “Austin City Limits” TV show. Then we hit the town for a big steak dinner at Sullivan’s Steakhouse, close to the live music and nightclubs on the town’s legendary 6th Street.
Leaving in the morning, we headed west out of Austin on Texas Highway 280, getting out into the country toward Dripping Springs and Johnson City. There are places to stop along the Edwards Plateau where you can see evidence of the ancient seabed in the limestone cliffs. If you chance to make this drive in the spring, you’ll see why this area is known as the Bluebell capital of Texas.
One side trip you might consider if you’ve got an hour or so is the 51-mile loop around the Devil’s Backbone. This curvy country road takes you through the historic town of Wimberly and offers scenic views of the Balcones fault and the Edwards Plateau cliffs.
Along the way, keep your eyes peeled for barbecue and yield to the temptation to stop early for lunch. If you manage it right, you can get four or even five meals in a day to maximize your enjoyment. If you don’t spy barbecue, Tex-Mex is a worthy substitute, and easy to find in the small towns. The road continues west, past Lyndon Johnson State Historic Park, and if you’re lucky, you might see the herd of Texas longhorn cattle that live there.
Riding in the big Chrysler, we made excellent time through the curves and hills. The Hemi engine is mated to Chrysler’s wonderful 8-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission, and this is a key performance enhancer for this car. Because the transmission is fully electronically controlled and in communication with the engine at all times, the Chrysler 300 is always in the right gear to move out smartly. You can choose an all-wheel-drive 300 if you like, but we love the traditional rear-wheel drive.
You know you’re really in the good part of the trip when you’re driving on roads that don’t even rate a proper name.
Every 300 comes with a rotary dial gear selector, but as an option, paddle shifters are available with the V-8 on the 300S and 300C models. All editions of the new 300 come with a Sport mode button, which reduces gear shift times from approximately 400 milliseconds to 250 milliseconds, increases engine and throttle responsiveness, adjusts the electronic stability control settings and firms up the electric power steering system. You’ll want to punch that one up and just leave it there.
By the time you hit the western end of this journey at Farm Road 1120, you’re moving into Texas’ new wine country, where they’re producing some decent vintage these days. But turn south on 1120 and take it down to Farm Road 1050. You know you’re really in the good part of the trip when you’re driving on roads that don’t even rate a proper name. But if you were on the main highway, you’d miss the real Hill Country—like the town of Utopia, a ranching community that dates back to the 1850s. Or maybe you’d prefer Bandera, the “Cowboy Capital of the World.” Don’t sweat the choice, you’ll pass through both on your way to San Antonio.
The entire trip from Austin, including the Devil’s Backbone, is just over 300 miles. In the past, that might have been a tall order to drive in a single day—or you needed a cast-iron butt to stay that long in the saddle. But the Chrysler 300 blends luxury and performance nicely enough that you’ll make it to your destination in time for dinner still feeling ready to hit the town.
In modern cars, luxury and technology are synonymous, so the new 300 features an updated version of Chrysler’s Uconnect Access system controlled through a big touchscreen interface. Uconnect now offers 9-1-1 and roadside assistance, theft-alarm notification, 3-D GPS navigation, voice texting, internet radio streaming and the ability to turn the vehicle into a Wi-Fi hotspot.
The last leg of your trip takes you back eastward on Texas Highway 16, through the beautiful Guadelupe River Valley and right into the heart of San Antonio. This is perhaps the most beautiful city in all of Texas. If you waited for the Tex-Mex, you’ll find it here. Don’t neglect the town’s famous River Walk or The Alamo as well.
The bottom line on the new chrysler 300 is that there’s still a place in this world for a big, fast, comfortable sedan.
Chrysler is serious as a Texas thunderstorm about getting the new 300 into your driveway, so they’ve priced the car attractively, starting at $32,390 (including destination) for the base 300 Limited, and ranging up to $43,390 for the top-level 300C Platinum.
But really, the car you want is the 300S for $35,890. The 300S offers sport-tuned suspension, upgraded brakes, 20-in. hyper black cast-alloy wheels, LED foglamps and blacked-out exterior appointments that include black headlamp and LED taillamp bezels, a black chrome grille surround, gloss black window moldings and the Chrysler wing badge with black accent. Inside, the 300S comes with leather trimmed seats, steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, sport mode and blacked-out interior materials.
The bottom line on the new Chrysler 300 is that there’s still a place in this world for a big, fast, comfortable sedan. The 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 is the sweet spot in Chrysler’s lineup—placed attractively lower in the price range just above the economical V-6. This engine offers most of the performance of the SRT V-8s you can get in the Charger and Challenger, but at a fraction of the ticket price. Plus, you get the serious good looks of the 300 and an honest rear-wheel-drive American sedan in the classic style.
2015 CHRYSLER 300 SPECIFICATIONS
As tested: $35,890
Type: 4-door sedan
Engine: 5.7-liter Hemi V-8
Layout: front-engine, rear- or all-wheel drive
Transmission: 8-speed TorqueFlite automatic
0–60: under 6 seconds
Mpg: 16 city/25 highway