2012 Chrysler 300 – Close Only Counts in Horseshoes

2012 Chrysler 300 Wins Motor Trend Car of the Year – Almost

Talk about heartbreaks! Chrysler is the redheaded stepchild of American Automakers, only recently recovered from the maw of oblivion by a widely reviled (and ultimately vindicated) government/Fiat rescue. Just think of the Cinderella story if they’d done it – won the Big One, Motor Trend’s Car of the Year Award! But they didn’t.

By one vote in 33, the Volkswagen Passat beat out Chrysler’s 2012 300 for the prestigious prize.

Each of Motor Trend’s 33 judges votes for a first, second, and third choice. In this year’s voting, first place votes showed a tie between the two cars. Second place votes were similarly deadlocked. It was not until the third place votes were counted that the VW came out on top.

Ya pays yer money & takes yer choice.

I already blogged about what a great car I think the Volkswagen Passat TDI is. The other models in the range are certainly worthy candidates for someone looking for a car in that class.

Therein lies the difficulty, though. What class is that? How do you fairly judge two cars whose base and top versions are so dissimilar? For Motor Trend, it’s a challenge. For you it’s easier.

Do you want a big powerful car in the American tradition? It’s a no-brainer. VW’s top engine is a feisty narrow-angle V6 that shleps the 3,446 pound sedan to 60 mph in a respectable 5.7 seconds, but the one-pound-shy-of-two-tons Chysler is available with a big honkin’ Hemi V8 that cuts a meaty chunk of 1.3 seconds off that time. No contest.

Similarly, if you want an economical family car with European flair, the VW TDI’s EPA 40 mpg Highway rating puts the most economical Chrysler, with it’s 27 EPA Highway mpg (31 with the optional 8-speed automatic transmission), on the trailer.

So the two cars compete only in the V6 version of each. That means the top gas engine choice for the VW and the bottom engine choice for the Chrysler.

Here the choices become more a matter of taste.  With the bigger and heavier Chrysler, EPA mileages were only one or two mpg under the VW’s when they tested the cars. That changed when the 8-speed automatic, then only available on the V8 Chryslers, trickled down to the V6 in the “S” and “Limited” models. While still trailing by a single mpg in the city, they leapfog the VW by 3 mpg on the highway.

As I blogged before, the VW is limo-roomy inside, and the Chrysler adds a fraction of an inch here and there, but in reality, it’s basically a wash. Interior materials, fit and finish, were the Achilles’ heel of the previous generation Chryslers, but now it’s pretty much a matter of personal taste which you’d prefer.

The VW does have a 13% advantage in horsepower plus torque per ton of curb weight (my index of potential straight-line performance potential), so it’s a bit spritelier, and being seven inches shorter overall with a ten inch shorter wheelbase, it’s a bit handier in tight places. Some people though, actually like being the bigger guy.

Chrysler 300 on Display 2011 LA Auto Show

When auto racers needed to protect their radiators from flying stones, they weren’t thinking style. They chose the cheapest, lightest expedient – welded wire mesh. Ironically, today the racing connotation means it’s used on the grilles of cars like six-figure Bentleys, to signify their highest performance model. Chrysler used it on the previous generation 300 COTYs, back in the day.

2012 Passat at 2011 LA Auto Show

European flair in a family sedan. Designed to compete against the heavyweights in the class, like the Accord and Camry, VW moved its production to Chattanooga to keep costs insulated from exchange fluctuations.

Rear Cabin 2012 Chrysler 300

Neither car skimps on interior space, which might surprise you if you judged the two by their rooflines. The Chrysler is bigger, but only in tenths of an inch. Handsome leather with contrasting stitching comes with the $3,250 Luxury Package on the $32,170 Limited and $33,170 S V6.

2012 Passat Dash

The leather is only available on the $32,950 V6 Premium Passat. It isn’t as pretty as the stuff in the Chrysler shown above, but at least the VW’s wood is real, and there’s a lot.

A pig of a different pigment 

You don’t need me to tell you that no one is going to be considering a choice between a 177 hp five-cylinder Passat and a 470 hp Chrysler 300 SRT8 Hemi V8.

And although the Base Chrysler 300 and V6 Passat spec out pretty close, it’s unlikely that they’d be cross-shopped either. The broad-shouldered, in-your-face, upright Bentley-on-a-budget Chrysler look is so different from the subtly sculpted anonymity of the Volkswagen that it’s hard to imagine they’d appeal to the same demographic. It’s sort of Budweiser Clydsdale versus Lipizzaner.

Of course, the good news is that it’s pretty difficult to go wrong chosing the V6 version of either one. And for those who refuse to concede the victory based on a mere single vote in 33, there’s the fact that Motor Trend did not have the 8-speed V6 to test. You do.


About carmacarcounselor

I'm one of those people that friends call "that car guy," except I've made it into a profession. Since 1988 when a friend found my help in choosing, finding, and negotiating for a new car was worth a fee, I've helped countless people, listening to their car questions and challenges, and helping with their car purchases, insulating them from the adversarial process that is the new car retail model today. Their word of mouth is my only publicity. My newsletter CARMA won the description "The clear crystal ring of truth" from award-winning automotive journalist Denise McCluggage. Now I'm going global!
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