First drive: Chrysler 300C
Key features: New but still in-your-face look, safer, more efficient
Our view: Chrysler’s former UK PR head, now moved on to elsewhere in the industry, liked to tell the story of when CarandVanNews first tried out the Chrysler 300C. It was in left-hand-drive form back in around 2005, and we absolutely hated it, dubbing the car too big and brash for a UK audience.
Once we got some serious time in the 300C right-hooker, however, we completely changed our view and it became a favourite. It was superb value – at one time boasting the kind of exclusivity that saw used versions changing hands for more than new. And it boasted very American brash, bulbous styling that stood out a mile from the then generally bland executive transport coming out of Germany.
So now we have an all-new 300C, from a very different Chrysler. The brand is now fully settled within the cosseting embrace of the Fiat Group, and, as things stand, successfully rebuilding its position in the market after almost going bankrupt before the men from Italy stepped in.
The new 300C is very different too. Early previews and photos described the newcomer as not quite so brutal as its predecessor, instead more “tailored”.
For those who love what the 300C has always represented, this is a worrying development, especially when combined with a price tag mushrooming by up to £10 grand and a confirmation that there won’t be an estate – this was always the best version of the previous car, many still popular today particularly with more upmarket taxi/chauffeur firms.
Looks first, and yes, they are a little toned down, as Chrysler says, “tailored.” But in the metal the car still looks purposeful, still has a massive front end and chiseled rear flanks, will still very much turn heads in the office car park and stand out over rivals from the likes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes.
It’s a safer body too – Chrysler tells us that a much greater amount of high-strength steel has been used in the construction, the stiffness adding to refinement and noise suppression as I’ll detail shortly.
According to the 300C’s creators the design watchwords were quality and luxury, with targeted executive rivals studied closely. Which makes it all the more of a letdown when you slip inside.
To many the old 300C’s Achilles heel was its low-rent interior, so it’s a shame that the designers appear to have taken a day off when finalising the inside of this one. The dash is nicely thought-out, boasting sensibly-placed instruments with a cool blue lighting, but the trim finish feels cheap, especially the reputedly real wood in a deep chocolate brown colour – a sunny day will have you fearing it will peel off…
Awkward areas for the driver include a foot-activated handbrake that is located at a less than ideal angle, while passengers with any more than average height will find themselves rapidly running out of headroom whether sat in front or back. This appears to be a legacy of the high belt line/small glass area that contributes greatly to the 300C’s statement-making visual presence.
Power choice for the 300C is easy as for the foreseeable future as you only have one option – a 3-litre V6 diesel of 236bhp. Chrysler UK has been offered the 2-litre petrol engine used in the USA, but the UK’s penchant for oil burners, turned it down.
There will be no small diesel option either – popular in the previous model. Chrysler’s UK boss Nigel Land did look a little wistful when explaining how the brand had benchmarked its car against rival 3-litre diesels, and those makes had then started pushing their smaller 2-litre versions…
But what about the monstrous V8 SRT-8 engine, a power-packing range-topping desirable in the 300C’s previous incarnation? Officially the men from Chrysler UK say no, though they admit to having had the conversation. Talk to them unofficially, and you soon become confident that the big motor will be in UK showrooms before too long…
For now, however, we have the 3-litre turbo V6, which bears no relationship to the old car’s unit of Mercedes provenance, being instead a Fiat Powertrain-developed unit first seen in the Jeep Grand Cherokee.
This is in many ways a more than adequate powerplant. It is reasonably swift – 62mph comes up in 7.4 seconds which when you consider how big this car is… And it is torquey, the overtaking of slower traffic a rapidly accomplished task.
Above all it is very, very quiet. Apart from the engine’s own refinement, the stiffer shell and further measures including composite underbody panels, wheel well liners and triple seals around the doors drown out almost all extraneous noise – this really is one of the car’s stand-out features.
There’s no manual gearbox option, the standard a five-speed auto (just five) with selectable shifts – on the Executive version including paddles on the steering wheel. It’s a perfectly competent box but the economy and emissions provided by the combination are nothing to write home about in today’s market, at under 40mpg and over 185g/km respectively.
The 300C is, as we’ve said, a big car, but it handles highly impressively on the road and you seldom feel that you are hauling around a giant. Chrysler claims a near 50-50 weight distribution front to rear, and again the high-strength steel together with new-design suspension geometry ensure few complaints in this area.
The cheapest 300C is the £35,995 Limited. Now that appears expensive compared to the old car which sat firmly below the 30K marker. Chrysler counters that argument with its view that this is a completely new car with much new equipment over its predecessor, and priced to compete with its rivals.
That equipment includes an impressive safety package, earning the 300C a raft of five-star awards in the Euro-NCAP crash tests. Seven airbags, electronic stability control, traction control, a rear parking camera with sensors, active pedestrian protection and hill start assist all come as standard. The Executive adds such niceties as a blind spot monitoring system and a radar-operated forward-collision warning system.
As for other equipment, topping the standard list are keyless entry and start, automatic wipers and auto headlights with Adaptive Forward Lighting, cruise control, Daytime Running Lights, auto temperature control and climate control, Bluertooth and a touchscreen display.
Executive buyers will find among their extras 20-inch alloy wheels (compared to the stock 18), plenty of chrome and leather, adaptive cruise control, a power sunroof, and a nine-speaker hi-fi with 506 watt amplifier.
Summing up, the new Chrysler 300C is a good car – but only in parts. Its refinement in terms of noise and motion is impeccable, but the interior team have let the side down. The price may also dissuade previous buyers, despite the valid argument that the two cars are hardly comparable.
Chrysler is, admittedly, setting itself very modest UK targets for the 300C – 450 sales in 2012, closer to 1,000 in a full year, and such figures are easily achievable. And remember, it took us a couple of attempts to fall in love with the old one…
Model Tested: Chrysler 300C Executive
On Sale: 14th June 2012
Price: £39,996 (Limited model £35,995)
Engine: 2987cc V6 diesel
Power (bhp): 236
Torque (lb/ft): 399
0-62mph (sec): 7.4
Fuel economy (combined, mpg): 39.2 (Limited 39.8*)
CO2 emissions (g/km): 191 (Limited 185*)
Key rivals: Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Merecedes E-Class, Jaguar XF
Test date: 31st May 2012
(*Limited figures with 18-inch wheels)
Words by: Andrew Charman