First DriveThe new Chrysler 300C is the sister car of the Lancia Thema, and continues to offer a unique charm, even if its detailing fails to match the class best
First DriveStill lacks a little polish next to the established rivals, but seriously competitive and likeable nonetheless
What is it?
Originally introduced in 2004, the Chrysler 300C was – and remains – among the most distinctive saloons on the road.
Sadly, the interior betrayed that bold vision, with its jumble of cheap plastic parts. The drive was acceptable, if uninspiring, and quality was a distinct problem.
So imagine the challenges product developers faced in redesigning the icon: they had to maintain its bravado, add a world-class interior, upgrade ride and handling, improve quality – and do it all as Chrysler was facing financial ruin.
What's it like?
For the most part, they have succeeded. The new 300C is decidedly more refined, if a little less distinctive than before, with a more rounded exterior accented by Audi-like LED running lamps.
The battleship grey interior has been replaced by more upscale materials; the instrument panel, accented by soft blue lighting, is especially appealing. However, the seats, while comfortable, don’t provide the support you’d like – although an all-new 300S model, due later in the year, promises to resolve that issue.
Chrysler and Italian partner Fiat plan to introduce the 300C in Europe as the next Lancia Thema (though it will still wear a Chrysler badge in the UK), and you can sense where their ‘best of both worlds’ mindset influenced ride and handling.
Yes, it has the classic American muscle, especially with the 358bhp 5.7-litre Hemi V8, but as we discovered on the mountain switchbacks outside San Diego, the new 300C delivers more European-style road manners.
In addition to the Hemi, there’s also a 3.7-litre V6. Both engines are paired with a five-speed automatic, but an all-new ZF eight-speed is coming and should bump highway fuel economy with the V6 up to more than 35mpg. Four-wheel drive is offered too, but only on the Hemi.
Should I buy one?
It’ll take some time for Chrysler to rebuild its quality reputation, but it hopes to win over sceptics by delivering plenty of value for money with a surprisingly well equipped base car, including seat heaters, keyless ignition, dual-zone climate control and more for around £25k.
Yes, there are still flaws, but for the money the 300C could get Chrysler back on plenty of shopping lists.
Paul A Eisentein
Chrysler 300C 5.7 Hemi
Price: £35,000 (est); Top speed: 155mph (limited); 0-62mph: 5.9sec; Economy: 25.0mpg (est); CO2: na; Kerb weight: 1937kg; Engine: V8, 5654cc, petrol; Power: 358bhp at 5200rpm; Torque: 394lb ft at 4200rpm; Gearbox: 5-spd automatic