Characterful 300C offers an alternative to the norm
Looks are incongruous on English country lanes
Fit and finish have been improved, but still lag behind the Germans
Thirsty V6 performs well, but V8 petrol and V6 diesel offer more
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
Chrysler is hoping that its entry into the European executive car club could move us away from the usual Jag or German dilemma. The 300C will be the American firm’s first attempt to offer a right-hand-drive, rear-wheel-drive saloon in the UK. And it means business, pricing the 3.5-litre V6 under £26k.
At 5015mm long, the 300C is an imposing car, with a vast boot capacity of 630 litres (with rear seats up) and the most rear legroom in its class at 1020mm.
The high waistline, low roofline, squat shoulders and bulldog face give the design brutal, unmissable presence, more suited to the set of Sin City than suburbia.
It’s more mundane inside, but there is no escaping the vast bulk of the machine you are driving. You sit relatively high, with plenty of headroom, looking over the long bonnet through a letterbox-style aperture.
Unfortunately, there’s a downside to the chunky styling– the large A-and D-pillars restrict visibility, but at least rear parking sensors come as standard.
Cabin quality falls short of European contemporaries – the variations in plastic quality are disappointing. While a luxurious soft plastic wraps the main dash, there is a much thinner, cheaper-feeling material around the steering column that vibrates far too easily and lets the side down.
The skittish low-speed ride doesn’t help. Despite European tuning, the 300C finds it difficult to deal with the usual ruptures of British roads. Hit a pothole and the front suspension jolts, feeding the impact directly through the steering.
It’s not all bad, though. We doubt customers will expect the 300C to be as dynamically competent as a 5-series, but this is by no means a soggy yank-tank. It has impressive body control for its bulk and the steering is well-weighted.
The Mercedes-designed automatic gearbox is intuitive, especially on kickdown, and the pedals, although dramatically offset for the right-hand drive conversion, offer good feel with a linear throttle response.
The V6 petrol engine is quiet at idle and sounds sweet at higher revs. It needs working hard to gather speed, but feels refined at all times.
Fuel economy is less impressive. At 25.7mpg, the petrol is 10mpg worse than the Mercedes-derived 3.0-litre diesel CRD and only 3mpg better than the 5.7-litre Hemi, which makes the V6 hard to justify. Even Chrysler expects the diesel model to generate over 75 per cent of all European 300C sales for 2006.