The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

7 September 2003

The return of American iron

Peter M. DeLorenzo, the original Autoextremist, has his hopes up:

After the domestic manufacturers succeeded in brainwashing the American public over the last 25 years that front-wheel-drive offered superior traction and handling and that we'd all die without it (even though it was simply a convenient engineering packaging decision for getting larger interiors into "downsized" cars), the mavericks at DaimlerChrysler have basically decided to "Go Big or Go Home" and build substantial, roomy cars, with Hemi V8 power and rear-wheel drive — offering the kind of balanced handling and overall performance that Europeans have been selling here in BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes for years. A lot of people in the business view the move as being a huge risk, because it may alienate drivers in the Northeast part of the U.S. and in other snowbelt states. But I happen to believe that people will be clamoring for something different, and a lot of people — even in the snowbelt states — will embrace these new cars for what they are: Big, bold, American statement cars with power, performance and style (even though they share some underpinnings with the previous generation E Class Mercedes). Sometimes in this business, you have to just go for it, and the Chrysler Group, by going in directions that the other car companies can't — or won't — will have a couple of big-time hits on their hands by next spring.

I don't have a problem with the Benz bits; Chrysler didn't have any suitable (which is to say, "non-truck") RWD platform of its own, and really, if you're going to dip into someone's parts bin, the Mercedes parts bin is generally a pretty nice place to rummage around.

I've seen photos of these cars, and while the Dodge Magnum, which will be issued first as a wagon, looks too much like an armored vehicle for Middle East arms dealers, the Chrysler 300C comes off as a solid, traditional American sedan, with all of that legendary genre's virtues (incredible amounts of room, the ability to consume vast numbers of highway miles in short periods) and vices (gawd, but that's a lot of brightwork in its mouth). Considering what we've been getting in the way of American sedans — have you looked at Ford lately? — the prospects for these Mopars look good, and I've tentatively added the 300C to my short list of Vehicles To Consider next time around. For me, this is a sea change, since normally I shop for a modicum of performance within the context of minimum visibility, but as the man says, sometimes you have to go big or go home.

Posted at 9:35 AM to Driver's Seat