What is it?
This is the ‘all new’ Chrysler 300C, which goes on sale in the UK on 14 June. The company says the 300C has been rethought from the ground up. The structure is new (it is longer, wider and lower than the outgoing version) and 67 per cent of the underbody and 53 per cent of the upper body is made from super-strong types of steel.
This is reflected in last year’s EuroNCAP crash test results which saw the 300C’s Lancia Thema sister car awarded five stars. It rides on a five-link rear suspension system and uses sophisticated wishbone-type suspension at the front. The suspension geometry is new, better-quality suspension bushes are used front and rear and the steering is a neat hybrid system that uses an electric pump to drive the hydraulic assistance.
The styling has not strayed far from the original 300C, with deep sides, small windows and a large grille. The wheel arches are more pronounced on the new model and the headlamps and large grille are subtler. Chrysler says the extra-stiff structure is part of the reason why this is one of the quietest cars in this class. The company also says it went to town on acoustic insulation, sound-deadening glass and wheel well liners.
The UK line-up of the new 300C is very straightforward. There’s just one engine – a 236bhp 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel – hooked up to a five-speed automatic gearbox with optional paddle shifters. The engine is made by VM Motori but has been developed by Fiat Powertrain and fitted with the company’s new Multijet 2 direct injection system.
There are two trim levels: Limited (£35,995) and Executive (£39,995). The Limited spec includes everything from full leather and sat-nav to heated and cooled seats. The Executive adds 20in alloys, blind spot monitoring, active cruise control, collision warning, leather wrapping on the dash, a double-size glass sunroof and paddle shifters.
Options are limited to pearl-effect paint and a Harmon Kardon hi-fi. There will be no estate version this time, however, and there are no plans for a four-cylinder CO2 special.
What is it like?
Actually, surprisingly good. Primarily, the 300C has a very impressive turn of speed from an impressively refined engine. It also has a pretty impressive combination of damping, ride and body control, especially for a car that was on 20in wheels.
The peak horsepower figure is ‘only’ 236bhp but the engine’s peak torque is an impressive 399lb ft from just 1600rpm. While it doesn’t snap away from standstill (though a 0-62mph time of 7.4sec is hardly laggardly), the 300C has mighty in-gear pace. On the open roads of Cambridgeshire, the 300C demolished long stretches of open road with ease.
More unexpectedly, the 300C also proved to have the damping and body control to allow the driver to carry higher speeds while feeling fully in control and well within the chassis’ limits. While there’s a good weight at the wheel rim, the actual sense of feedback when making directional adjustments is too distant, though it betters many Audis.
However, that doesn’t stop the driver from being able to place the car accurately on winding switchbacks. Even at high speeds there’s a sense of calm and control in the cabin.
The five-speed auto is especially slick and well integrated once beyond 10mph and it never feels lacking in ratios thanks to the engine’s muscle. Braking power is also impressive and easily modulated.
At other times, however, the 300C does feel like a traditional, big rear-drive car. It is firmly planted but does not react quickly to sudden driver inputs. While the sense of stability is welcome at high speeds, this is translated into a certain indolence at low speeds.
The combination of long-distance effortlessness, large cabin, 40mpg potential and extensive spec list makes the 300C look like a strong contender in the executive class. However, despite the improvement in the quality of the cabin materials and the undeniable impression of solidity, the detail interior design (such as the door pull surrounds and centre console detailing) doesn’t match Europe’s best.
Should I buy one?
If you do, you’ll be in a fairly exclusive club. Chrysler UK expects to shift 450 300Cs this year and 750 in the whole of 2013. Truth is, this is not a car you will buy by accident. The 300C’s distinctive styling inside and out and its US origins make this a car for individualists who are happy to ignore the mainstream premium brands.
But they will be rewarded with a refined car that has impressive pace and unexpected back-road verve, though it could hardly be classed as a sporting saloon. If you cover long distances across the UK, especially off the motorway network, the 300C has much to offer.
Chrysler 300C Executive
Price: £39,995; 0-62mph: 7.4sec; Top speed: 144mph; Economy: 39.2mpg; CO2: 191g/km; Kerb weight: 2177kg; Engine: V6, 2987cc, turbodiesel; Power: 236bhp; Torque: 399lb ft; Gearbox: 5-spd automatic