Hot Wheels: Chrysler's 'Poor Man's Bentley'

Once Howard Sucher saw the audacious Chrysler 300 on the Internet, he had to have it. But the Chrysler dealer near his home in Boca Raton, Fla., told him he'd have to wait five months. So Sucher and his wife traveled 180 miles to get a $38,000 satin-jade 300C, the model with a steroidal 340-horsepower Hemi engine. Sherrie Sucher is giddy about a car that "looks like a Bentley" and gives her a break from the hulking family SUV. "I'm tired of driving around with all the drink boxes and diapers," she says. "I'll feel renewed in this car."

Detroit has come out with plenty of hot SUVs and pickups in the past few years. But Chrysler is doing something Detroit hasn't managed in decades: generating buzz for a traditional car. You remember those things--they have four doors but no four-wheel drive. GM is also rediscovering cars, with models like the tasteful Pontiac G6. But in a culture that's big on the brash statement, car buyers like Chrysler's wild ride. After only a month on the market, the old-school Chrysler 300 has generated more than 60,000 orders--twice what the PT Cruiser did in its first month. Also burning rubber is the 300's swaggering sibling, the low-rider Dodge Magnum wagon. Some dealers are charging $10,000 above sticker for "inferno red" Magnums. "Mercedes owners are breaking their necks to see what I'm driving," says auto consultant Wes Brown, who has driven both cars in L.A. lately. "These could be the new Escalade."

The 300C is already jumping from the street to the screen. One with 22-inch rims rolls up big in 50 Cent's latest video, "Poppin' Them Thangs." A 300C also starred in "ER's" season finale.

When Chrysler unveiled its radical rides at car shows last year, auto critics found their looks over the top, even vulgar. But Chrysler chief designer Trevor Creed knew he had a hit when his 14-year-old-son got in the Magnum and declared, "This car is the shizzle."

And now with record prices at the pump, Chrysler's cars are a smart alternative to SUVs. Even with the big Hemi V-8, the cars manage 24mpg on the highway, thanks to new technology that shuts off half the engine at cruising speeds. That's a lot better than the 11mpg you get in a Hummer H2. Howard Sucher isn't feeling any pain at the pump in his new 300C--only pride. "When I go to get gas," he says, "people just stare." When's the last time you heard that about a car from Motown?