Chrysler 300C (2012) review
by David Finlay (7 June 2012)
The second Chrysler 300C, on sale in the UK this month, gives the same impression of being all-American as the first one did, but the hidden international aspect under the skin has changed to match the company's own shifting allegiance with foreign powers. While the previous model, conceived in the days of DaimlerChrysler, owed a lot to Mercedes-Benz, this one, developed under Fiat ownership, is not short of Italian technology. And we'll pass lightly over the fact that it's actually built in Canada.
A very American 470bhp 6.4-litre Hemi V8 engine is available in some 300Cs, but at the time of writing no decision has yet been made as to whether it will be imported to the UK. For now, the only engine we have access to is a 236bhp three-litre turbo diesel which could hardly be more Italian.
It's largely the work of VM Motori, though Fiat Powertrain has added its MultiJet 2 injection system, and it may just be the best thing about the 300C. Chrysler's association with VM predates the Fiat connection by many years, but the results have not always been impressive - the VM-powered Jeep Grand Cherokee of the 1990s, for example, was intolerably noisy. But those days are past, and the unit fitted to the 300C is so smooth and quiet that if you told a not particularly motoring-oriented passenger that it actually ran on petrol they would have little reason to doubt you.
The styling of the new car is quite mild compared with that of its predecessor, but I must say I like it. There are still few cars in this class which have anything like the presence of this one.
Many, on the other hand, have sharper handling, and if you want to have some fun on quiet country roads you might prefer to investigate the German opposition. But the Chrysler corners well enough, and its suspension has been set up to give a very smooth ride, spoiled only in the case of the more expensive Executive model by the 20" wheels and low-profile tyres. (The entry-level Limited runs on 18s and is probably better, but since Chrysler UK hasn't offered any of these to the media yet I can't be entirely sure. I bet I'm right, though.)
The interior is very comfortable and far more interesting to look at than those of any equivalent Audi, BMW or Mercedes-Benz. The 8.4" satellite navigation screen is usefully large and has very clear graphics, perhaps with a bit too much clutter, and the radio is, I think, the first I've ever seen in any car with the ability to listen to short wave. No, I don't know why either.
Rear passenger space isn't outstanding, and that's matched by a relatively small luggage capacity of 481 litres with the rear seats in place, which doesn't compare well with the 530 (give or take ten) of the A6, 5-Series and E-Class.
The Chrysler fails to match up to the opposition in several other ways too. If you like manual transmission, tough - it's automatic or nothing, and you have only five ratios to choose from. Rivals offer seven or eight, allowing their engines to stay as close as possible to the optimum speed for a given situation.
The foot-operated parking brake has been set at a very odd angle which means you only ever apply pressure to the lower part of the pedal (no surprise, then, that this was already looking badly worn on a very low-mileage car) and the wood trim which is supposed to add an extra feeling of premiumness does exactly the opposite, at least for me.
It's at its most objectionable on the lid of the storage compartment of the centre console, where it's applied in strips. The temptation to start picking at these tested me almost beyond endurance, and I have a suspicion that they might start peeling off anyway if the car were left in bright sunshine for long periods.
For all that, I quite like this 300C, though it doesn't make me any less fond of its predecessor. One of the great benefits of that car was that it was far cheaper than it looked as if it should be. Not so this time round. The least you can pay for the new model is £35,995, that being the price of the Limited without options, and while you can spend more than that merely on options for an Audi A6 (yes you can - I drove one like that last year) it still seems a little on the steep side.
The Executive costs £39,995, and a fiver short of forty grand really does stretch credibility. The 300C just doesn't feel special enough to cost that much. Then again, you can't pay a great deal more than that, as the optional extras for this version amount to nothing more than a 19-speaker Harman Kardon audio at £950 and special paint at £685. Audi, BMW and Mercedes policy is, as we know, rather different.
Pricing concerns aside, the 300C is pretty well-equipped in both forms. The Executive is fitted as standard with the satellite navigation mentioned above, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, DAB digital radio, front and rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera, seats which are heated in the rear and both heated and ventilated in the front, a heated steering wheel, Bluetooth connectivity with voice command and an "active" bonnet which lifts up if a pedestrian should be unfortunate to land on it, thereby helping to prevent him or her from hitting something really solid beneath.
The extra £4000 required for the Executive buys you various fripperies such as better floor mats and what not, plus steering wheel-mounted paddles for gearshifting purposes. More importantly, you also get adaptive cruise control, a blind spot monitoring system and forward collision warning, along with the larger wheels.
Mechanically, there are no differences, so every 300C has a top speed of 144mph and a 0-62mph time of 7.4 seconds. A standard Limited has combined fuel economy of 39.8mpg and CO2 emissions of 185g/km, but the 20" wheels of the Executive (also available as an extra-cost option for the Limited) bring the economy down to 39.2mpg and, slightly more significantly, raise the CO2 rating to 191g/km, a small change which lifts the car into a higher VED bracket and mean you'll have to pay £250 rather than £215 per year to tax it.