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Chrysler's 300C is lower key but higher quality in MK2 guise. Is that a recipe that'll work? Jonathan Crouch drives it.
Choosing Chrysler's second generation 300C rather than a conventional BMW 5 Series, Audi A6 or Mercedes E-Class will be a bold choice to make in the segment for full-sized executive saloons. But it's one that makes a rather unique statement - and a car that's hard not to like.
British executives don't often think outside the box. If they did, our country's company carparks wouldn't be stuffed almost exclusively with Audis, Mercedes and BMWs. With the exception of Jaguar, no other brand has threatened the German domination here and even strong names like Lexus, Volvo and Volkswagen have floundered. Which doesn't sound auspicious for the model we're looking at here, Chrysler's second generation 300C - and wouldn't be if this was just another aspiring executive saloon. This car though, as it needs to be, is rather different. Since Chrysler are now owned by Fiat, who developed this car, what we've ended up with in this Mk2 300C is a rather appealing combination of brash Americana on the outside and plush emotively Latin sophistication within. In a model priced like a top diesel BMW 3 Series-style compact executive saloon, positioned against executive four-doors in the BMW 5 Series class and sized against luxury saloons in the bigger 7 Series sector. Sounds appealing? Then let's introduce you to the 300C.
You can't help wondering just how a car that looks like this might drive. A massive planet-polluting but gloriously emotive petrol V8 should surely sit beneath the bonnet, as indeed it does in the 5.7-litre SRT8 version that Chrysler's UK importers declined to offer at launch. Instead, a request for a test in one of these will see your right foot flexing against the same 236bhp V6 3.0-litre diesel that you'll find in Jeep's Grand Cherokee luxury SUV. Still, it's a willing and very refined motor, putting out a healthy 540Nm of torque, good enough to pull something as hefty as this Chrysler from rest to sixty two mph in 7.4s on the way to a top speed of 144mph. That's slightly behind other class contenders but probably about as quick as most 300C buyers will want to go. You're not likely to be driving this car at the limit very often, too heavy as it is to feel particularly agile through the bends. Not that this the kind of soft squishy Yank tank we got used to from American brand imports of a decade or so back. In fact, the original version of this 300C was one of the models that changed all of that and this one, if anything, is a little too firm, both in ride and steering, to really offer a driving experience deft enough to take on the best of its German rivals.
It's easy to get carried away by all the aesthetics and forget that we're looking at quite a sizeable hulk of Latin-American real estate here. Thanks to its use of old fashioned steel rather than more fashionable aluminium underpinnings, the 300C weighs in at well over two tonnes, which makes it not only much heavier than the BMW 5 Series-style executive saloons it's pitched against but also heftier than a boardroom barge like a Mercedes S-Class from the next class up. It's also wider and taller than an S-Class - and it's nearly as long too thanks to a lengthy wheelbase that's also bigger than that of other top luxury class contenders like BMW's 7 Series, Jaguar's XJ or Audi's A8. You feel that in the spacious rear seat - but find yourself surprised by the relatively small 481-litre boot. What kind of statement the cockpit makes will be viewed differently by different people. If you're used to the cool pared-down reservidity of the German brands, the strip-blue lighting, faux leather, Seventies-style auto gearbox gate and bright wood trim may jar a little. But it is different - and of far better quality than before, even if a few pieces of down-market plastic trim still remain. Adjust to this New World and the news from then on is mostly all good. The seats are brilliantly comfortable and most of what you use and feel is lovely to the touch. My favourite feature? The heated and cooled cupholders. Lovely.
This time round, 300C ownership is based around one saloon bodystyle, with the range based around a 236bhp 3.0-litre V6 diesel with automatic transmission. You do at least get a choice of trim levels, either the 'Limited' model at around £36,000 and the plusher 'Executive' variant that I've been trying here pitched in at around the £40,000 mark. Both 300C variants are extremely well equipped, with even the Limited including smart alloy wheels, auto headlamps and wipers, heated front and rear seats, an auto-dimming rear view mirror, automatic dual-zone climate control, satellite navigation, Bluetooth 'phone compatibility, hill start assist to stop you from drifting backwards on an uphill junction, an electrically adjustable steering column - even adjustable pedals so you can get the positioning exactly right (which is just as well as without this feature, the foot-mounted stop brake might rather get in the way). Plus of course there's the Uconnect colour touchscreen DVD infotainment system with its voice commands and USB, iPod and SD card-compatibility. Via this, you can control a six-speaker sound system, which is upgraded to a 9-speaker 11-channel system on this Executive variant, with the tempting option of a full-house 19-speaker 900-watt 12-channnel Harmon Kardon set-up. Standard Executive version features include larger 20-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry, a powered rear sunshade and heated and ventilated Nappa leather seats among its many standard features.
You might think that a combined cycle fuel return of around 40mpg from something this big, powerful and heavy isn't a bad result - and in many ways you'd be right. But that's to ignore the huge step forward that rival German brands have made in this area in recent times, mainly thanks to copious use of weight-saving aluminium technology. So it is that a car that on the drawing board a few years back must have looked as if it would be right up there in terms of running cost efficiency is now relegated to a place near the back of the chasing pack. That'll have an impact on whole life running costs of course, as will the 185g/km CO2 emissions return (which rises to 191g/km in this top Executive model with its larger 20-inch wheels). And residuals won't be as good as rival German brands either, though probably (helped by this Chrysler's relative rarity) not much worse than you'd achieve with bit-part executive market players like the Volvo S80 or the Lexus GS. Having said all of that, from a whole life costs perspective, you can balance out much of that with the better up-front deal you're likely to get in the first place when buying this 300C. And with the fact that you won't have to spend lots of extra cash (which won't be returned at resale time) in buying all the costly extras that aren't included as standard on the German models but are inclusive with this one.
You might have to buy an executive saloon, but that doesn't mean you have to buy a boring one. Is this the most efficient, the most dynamic or the lowest-depreciating car of that kind you could choose? No. But will you care about that when one is scaring passers-by from your driveway, causing dawdlers to scuttle away from your path in the outside lane or frightening children and small animals when you park outside the dry cleaners? Also no. True, you need a certain personal chutzpah to be able to carry off a car like this. And probably, given the likely running costs, a certain amount of influence with your company accountant. But given those two things, a 300C would make a very pleasant purchase. Just practical enough to be the car you really need. But also just wild enough, at least in part perhaps, to be the kind of hero car that life and circumstance always denied you a chance to drive, to own and to lust over. Do it now. Be one of the tiny handful of British executives who'll do something different this year with their day-to-day automotive lives. Choosing one of these might not ultimately number amongst your most sensible decisions. But it'll be one of the ones you'll remember most.
The Chrysler 300C is a substantial presence on the road. It is an all-American full fat luxury executives car with power under the hood and plenty of space inside. The second generation has now rolled in as just a saloon with the tourer discontinued. The Chrysler 300C is a good alternative to the 5-series et al and it demands your attention.
The second generation brought with it some tech to bring it closer to the competition which includes LED lights on its aggressive grille. On the inside Chrysler have brought in softer interiors and an 8.4" multimedia screen. The 3.0 V6 brings with it over 200 bhp, which it needs considering the gargantuan size the 300C is. This is the same engine which can be found in a Maserati Ghibli if you needed any convincing of its pedigree.
If you want a bit of American muscle then lease a Chrysler 300C. It is bigger than its competitors and offers a bit more executive luxury on the inside for yourself and the passengers. Price wise the 300C sits in the middle of its competitors and can be seen as a bargain considering the 300C offers more than a low range 5-series or an Audi A6. There's no denying that the 300C is an acquired taste but if you give the 300C a chance you'll see it's a blast.
To conclude, have a look at our review and you'll see that the Chrysler 300C is well worth a punt if a full fat executive car is what you're after. We've also got an interactive high definition video for you to watch and get an even better insight.
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