The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

Chrysler's Rear-Drive 300 and Dodge Magnum Change the Game

March 9, 2004

“Roomy and attractive, fast and affordable, the 300 and Magnum recall the best of Detroit's past: the days when an average family could afford a big, powerful car to carry its members in style and comfort,” wrote Mark Phelan, auto critic of the Detroit Free Press newspaper in an article published March 4.

The 300 and Magnum are much more than a nostalgia trip, Phelan noted, thanks to advanced systems that provide a combination of performance and all-weather practicality once undreamed of. The new rear-wheel-drive sedan and station wagon are also Chrysler Group's biggest gamble in memory.

The 300 and Magnum also fly in the face of two decades and hundreds of millions of advertising dollars Detroit automakers spent convincing American drivers that front-wheel-drive cars are safer and more advanced than rear-drive.

Chrysler, Ford and GM began building front-drive cars in response to soaring fuel prices in the 1970s and '80s. Front-wheel-drive allowed them to offer reasonable passenger and luggage space in smaller cars. Front-wheel drive works best in small cars and minivans where neither power nor performance is paramount. So the automakers tried to make a virtue of necessity by telling customers front-wheel drive was safer because it provides better traction in snow. A couple of generations of engineering advances have erased any advantage, but the campaign was so successful that Chrysler's biggest challenge might be convincing buyers just how safe and practical the 300 and Magnum are, the Free Press article added.

Despite that, Chrysler's management team had decided to return to rear drive before the merger with Daimler-Benz six years ago.

The 300 and Magnum share the same platform, with minor differences in suspension tuning. The 300 is a four-door sedan, the Magnum a five-door hatchback.

“I've lost track,” Phelan said, “of how many people have told me the 300 looks like a Bentley. I don't see the resemblance myself, but I have to tip my hat to a $23,595 sedan that folks compare favorably to the rides of royalty and rappers.”

He noted that the 300 looks distinguished with its big, upright grille and searchlight-size headlamps. “It also has plenty of room,” he said, “packing 106.6 cubic feet of interior space into a car that measures just 196.8 inches long.”

As for the Dodge Magnum, Phelan wrote that the suspension absorbed bumps well, and the brakes were excellent, with the optional anti-lock system and emergency assist features intervening unobtrusively when needed.

“The Magnum's traction control and electronic stability programs are among the best I've experienced, preventing wheel spin and fishtailing seamlessly,” wrote Phelan. His article in the Detroit Free Press concluded, “The Chrysler 300 and Dodge Magnum are a lot of car for the money. With an exceptional combination of style, performance and utility, they’re winners."

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