January 20, 2005 By Kevin C. Limjoco

CHRYSLER 300C & DODGE MAGNUM RT

 

Only true muscle car fanatics know the significance of a Chrysler Hemispherical engine. For a little historical prospective,  in 1958, Chrysler had already produced a Hemi engine found in the Fire Power 392 which produced 345 Hp @ 4600 rpm and 450 lb- ft of torque @ 2800 rpm! Last experienced new in 1971 at still it’s most potent on the Chrysler Street Hemi 426 which developed 425 Hp @ 5000 rpm and 490 lb- ft @ 400rpm of torque, the Hemi has made its triumphant full blitz comeback 32 years later in the Chrysler 300C and Dodge Magnum RT.

What is the big deal with the Hemi? To many, the engine technology of the Hemi is regarded as the very best configuration for a V8. Easy enough; it’s an engine with hemispherically shaped combustion chambers. A typical car engine uses flat or angled chambers .Owing to it’s shape, think of a half basketball, the head of a Hemi engine has chambers that can house larger valves than traditional engine chambers. These larger valves allow fuel and air to travel more quickly and in greater volume, thus producing more powerful explosions, which actually improving fuel efficiency. Chrysler may not be the first company to deploy the mechanical strategy; Renault and Fiat have that distinction, however, they did perfect and take ownership of the design and mass produced it for passenger car use from 1951 onward. The key reason why the Hemi stood out from other engine designs were that the valves placed directly across from each other, as opposed to side-by-side, to allow better intake and exhaust gas flow. The spark plug are better positioned to provide maximum ignition combustion. Lastly, the hemispherical combustion chambers create better thermal and volumetric efficiency. Thus the engine can create more power without increasing compression, which would entail a higher octane fuel.

Now, all of these technical concept do sound intriguing, but the bottom line is the Hemi engine may have been the heavy weight champion of the world over three decades ago, but how will it stands against the new age of high performance and modern technology? I have two vehicles for over a week each, both showcasing the all-new 5.7 liter Hemi with the Multi-Displacement System (MDS) V8 engine with 340 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 390 lb-ft of torque, the new Chrysler 300C and the Dodge Magnum RT.

 

The MDS system allows the engine to operate on four cylinders when power demands on minimal for an up to 20- percent claimed increase in fuel efficiency. This would provide the power of the V8 with the economy of a large V6. The claimed EPA estimated fuel mileage is an impressive 17 mpg city/ 25 mpg highway. Some of the significant technologies enabling the Chrysler Group MDS are the speed of electronic controls, the sophistication of the algorithms controlling the systems and the use Electronic Throttle Control ETC. The Hemi will be able to transition from eigth cylinders to four in 40 milliseconds (0.40 seconds). During our test I could honestly say that the transitions were imperceptible, an amazing feat, though it did make me wonder whether the system was working at all. Fuel mileage during normal driving, especially on the highway yielded above average results consistent with the claims so my doubts were quelled. However, our drive in the Magnum RT to and from Tahoe back to San Francisco made me thank the capacity of fuel at 19 gallons (72 liters) more than its actual efficiency. The Hemi engine with MDS has completed over 6.5 million customer- equivalent miles through Chrysler Group’s development and durability testing. Chrysler is so confident with its baby that the engine is covered by a 7-Year/70,000 mile Limited Powertrain warranty.

 

The Hemi engine that powers both the Chrysler 300C and Dodge Magnum RT uses aluminum cylinders, dual ignition, and two spark plugs per cylinder. All together they are claimed to increase peak power and torque, reduce exhaust emissions, increase fuel economy, decrease engine weight , and provide a smooth idle-boy, that was a mouthful! They are right. But what they forgot to mention is how lovely it is to feel the gentle tango of the engine on idle, giving hint to the power ready to be unleashed, combined with the burble of the exhaust system. The combustion system has been refined and the engine uses direct-mount accessories for quiet operation for those buyers who simply must have a Lexus.

I found myself regurgitating the same fervor for the HEMI, like it was the only reason why the cars were worth interest, and even pride. ‘Hey guys, it’s got the HEMI engine!’ The older 32+ year olds would respond with ‘awesome, man!’ Everyone else would stare blankly, hesitate a bit, and with high-schoolesque peer pressure, buckle weakly: ’wow, really awesome.’ It’s funny but the situation happened more often than you would believe. The situation then begs to ask several questions: does the HEMI engine represent the last sliver of pure American automotive pride? IT’S A GREATE START! Past the legend and the promise of brilliant miles to come on paper, is the engine really as good as claimed? A RESPONDING YES! Do the younger enthusiast find the HEMI appealing or is it appreciated exclusively by the older folks? FIRST THE OLDIES WILL SWOON, THEN AFTER ONE DRIVE THE YOUTH WILL BECOME WIZER!  And lastly, if the 300C and Magnum were powered by any other engine, will they still be regarded as desirable enthusiast cars? Brace yourself, sadly, NO!

First off, the Chrysler 300C is absolutely fabulous to seen in the flesh, pictures alone aren’t enough. You can actually see impressions change in the minds of people look at it. Folks who would never consider an American alternative to a Japanese, let alone European car, stop, stare, and ponder. I am one of these guys. Except for the muscles cars available before I was born, the Viper and the new Corvette, I really couldn’t be bothered. Then again Cadillac to has made a comeback with some pretty attractive alternatives themselves. Our test units didn’t have the optional projector HID head lamps nor a  moonroof, which were missed, but had everything else. The 300C truly is the best thing to come out of Chrysler since Daimler-Benz started  signing the checks in 1998. Until the 300C, the benefits from the relationship between the two companies have never been passed on to the consumers.

The 300C and its fraternal twin wagon brother the Magnum RT are the best modern Chrysler product ever. Furthermore, both vehicles are also easily and instantly the best American sedan and wagon in years. These cars are exactly what enthusiasts have been urging Detroit to build for years, with rear drive, big power, and distinctive styling. The American Car Renaissance has begun, and just in time too as all historic strengths of the Big Three has fallen vastly into consumer disfavor. After driving both major vehicle variants, and without the knowledge of what is beneath the skin, a couple of our EVO test drivers quickly noticed more than a touch of something different. Forget the origins of the cars, they both drive exceptionally well!

But something is amiss with the Magnum RT; it is definitely not its abilities as I can attest to.   Accelerator mashed to the floor, the RT accelerates with massive authority, and the chassis harnesses the power brilliantly.  Even braking and handling are above the norm. Its limitations begin with a porky 4,150 lb. (1,886 kg.) curb weight, but in fairness, it is a huge car at 197.7”, the RT is 8.1”! Incidentally, the RT can be had with an AWD system, effectively for the macho man who intends not to go off-road but drive like a snow mobile in the Sierras. I wish I had The AWD version going up to the Tahoe, but then again I wouldn’t have had the excitement and thrill of driving in after a snow storm on a rear wheel drive muscle car without snow chains on all weather tires!  The limits to prove my manhood are boundless. I know. I did get up there but the RT threw in the towel as soon a I got to the garage of our rented house, only to emerge three days later when the sun have done enough melting to allow me some traction to bust out and start lugeing back down to California. Then you have the very low rear roofline that leaves passengers feeling a bit claustrophobic. That line progressively narrows all the way to the tail. For aerodynamics and design, I say kudos, but for practicality, as it is marketed, I say change the angle.

The RT is for the family guy who is willing to compromise with his wife to a very narrow degree, almost by technicality on its own. For a station wagon to be useful, it needs height as well as width, what the RT has is depth. Yes, a 60” plasma screen will fit like a glove with the rear seats folded down to the floor, but the biggest regular tube-type TV you can put in it is 27’. It doesn’t help matters that the same rear glass that looks real cool in the parking lot doesn’t allow you to see out of it from the driver’s seat effectively. The RT would win for most blind spots in a station wagon, a Lamborghini Countach owner would feel right at home, and pherhaps the RT was designed for that niche all along. The final guillotine has to be its love its love it or hate it looks, unlike the 300C which has even the staunchest of critics tipping their hats. Chrysler and Dodge obviously wanted to make their cars distinctively different. The 300C is the more elegant muscle alternative, while the Magnum RT on the other hand is for the burly man with a house to build with his bare hands quickly! People think the RT reminds them of a hearse! Good ford, I’m driving a hearse, and I’m enjoying it! Still I admire the courage and conviction to try to bridge the gap between middle age and youth.

The 300C and RT share much under their rakish skin with their more esteemed corporate relation, most notably the sophisticated independent front five-link independent rear suspension and chassis, however considerably lengthened, derived from the Mercedes Benz E-class. Mercedes drivers will also find themselves familiar with many of the 300C’s and RT’s components, fittings, and switches. For this and many other reasons they may end up wondering why anyone would spend so much more for any Mercedes except for an AMG variant. More so, there is the fact that the 300C’s HEMI, mated to a slick Mercedes- issue five-speed automatic, will propel it from rest to 60 mph (96 km/h) in 5.9 seconds, while the also HEMI powered RT will do the same exercise in 6.1 seconds!

The performance figures make the RT and especially the 300C very compelling as they have so much to offer for a reasonable price, a well loaded RT will cost you $31,000.00 and a 300C with partically all the bells and whistles would run you $34,000.00, while both use mid-grade pump 89 octane fuel! For one that wants more, as we all do, there is the 300C SRT8 which has a 6.1 liter HEMI that produces 425 Hp, with the proportioned upgrades to suspension, braking , 20” wheels, and aesthetic differences to the body! I for one love the 18” rims that are packaged stock on both the RT and 300C; they’re different but exude the same strength look, and ability. Their Continental ContiTouringContact ECOPlus 235/60R 18 99H tires performed much better than expected. They were comfortable and quiet, ironically, road traction was just satisfactory giving up very early in fast turns, but did allow me to travel over a 100 miles in the snow (I got lost!)

Neither the 300C and more so the RT will out handle an equivalent Mercedes E-Class, and that is fine by me. Both cars understeer heavily, the RT even more. Remember that these are cars for grown men with places to go fast and not sprint to the grocery store. So, yes the car are not lithe and quick steering like a BMW M5, and again, that is cool. The 300C and  RT are meant to be driven in the US primarily and the world, if they can build enough, secondary. The other places where these cars would do great is here in the Philippines, not in Europe. The suspension setup is clearly best suited for cruising along at either slow and medium speeds In Europe , particularly the Autostrada and Autobahn cruising speeds are in excess of a 100 mph (160 km/h) through high speed passes and tight mountain roads, definitely not the kind of environment for these big boys. The’re quick off the line and go straight like the best of them but throw in some tight turns and they won’t like it. Besides, both cars have strict speed governors at 126 mph (202 km/h). In the US and the Philippines the cruising speeds are the reverse, obviously still vastly faster than the US at 70 mph (112 km/h) than here at 65 mph (105 km/h) but I do hope you get my point. You buy these cars because of how they look and how they make you and others feel. Not because they will replace a Mercedes Benz55 AMG.

The 300C is very comfortable and vastly appointed with all the toys to make a grown man happy like a 6 year old in a Toys R’ Us. The navigational system tripled as a satellite radio, and in-dash 6 CD Changer with MP3 capability, you can’t ask for more! All the switchgear and functions were all within reach. The ‘turtle shell’ look wood accents, which are clearly plastic, looks good at a distance, but do leave you with a sense that some big wig loved the idea at the head office and no one had the stones to oppose him in fear of losing their jobs. Other than the missing moonroof  and HID lights, I love the 300C drove on a daily basis. I felt great driving it. The 300C didn’t  wallow as much as the RT, but there were some complaints that the rebound settings should be adjusted to be able to absorb road irregularities better. The 300C would take a bad rut on the road well coming in but kick you back coming out. I do agree that it was odd that the taunt car felt planted and confidence inspiring when driven fast, but it could get bent out of shape embarrassingly with a simple road reflector.

 

Both cars have excellent brake system, a huge surprises for US cars that are not known for their ability and longevity. Both sport 13.6” vented rotors with twin calipers up front and 12.6” vented rotors with single sliders in the rear. The brakes didn’t feel like Brembos, but they did do their jobs admirably with good feel and control. The leather surfaces were of good stock no doubt with just enough support in the seats, again bias is for comfort rather than sport. Whereas the 300C was elegant inside and out. Dodge had a different strategy for the Magnum RT, if the name wasn’t enough. Its architecture and proportions convey a bold, powerful image that is youthful, masculine, and aggressive. The door handle in both cars have a new ‘pull style’ design which look substantial, feel good in the hand, and add to the overall solid appearance of the cars. Both cars sport dual exhausts with chrome rolled lips, which look and sound the part. The Magnum RT’s interior is not as nice as than the 300C , still comfortable and similar, but clearly designed more for sport than luxury.

Going back to a previous question whether these cars should be had by an enthusiast without the HEMI engine, I have to reinforce my answer. In the Magnum RT, which supposed to be a sport wagon, the emission of the engine  to the base model V6 would be foolish; without the HEMI one should look to a practical utility vehicle with more capacity. The 300C on the other hand is a real gem. Even with the V6 engine pumping a more plebian 250Hp, it still has the looks and comfort to woo me into its warm embrace; It may not have the acceleration, but it would have all else intact. Moreover,  when this car hit the new Chrysler dealerships it can be purchased at a savings that would allow you to buy almost two of the for the price of a BMW 530i.

 

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