Can this reworked exec saloon take the fight to Europe’s finest?

Find Used Chrysler 300C 2012-2015 review deals
Offers from our trusted partners on this car and its predecessors...
Sell your car
In partnership with
Powered by

Remember the ill-fated ‘merger of equals’ between Daimler and Chrysler in the late 1990s? In the end it was a merger of disaster and broke down a decade later, but you’re looking at what is one of the few success stories to come from it.

At the turn of the millennium, Chrysler’s US-specific entrants in the large executive sector were dreadful front-driven spudders like the Concorde and 300M. Chrysler engineers, though, speak fondly of travelling to Germany and having access at that time to the latest Mercedes technology and architecture.

Trim-wise, it's a straight choice between a better ride on the entry-level car’s 18-inch wheels and the equipment list on the range-topper.

The result was the 300C, which turned up at the New York motor show in 2003, before going on sale in the US in 2004 and then in the UK at the turn of 2005.

Sharing some mechanical components with Mercedes’ contemporary ‘W211’ E-Class, it's a car that has brought Chrysler considerable success over the past decade. It did quite well in pre-financial-crisis Britain, plying Yankee charm and plenty of space for the money.

And now we have a replacement that, in its styling, has had the ‘Audi TT’ treatment: it’s modernised and updated but is clearly a continuation of Chrysler’s best recent model. The mostly new 300C is still badged as a Chrysler in the UK (and the US and most other markets) but has become the Lancia Thema throughout most of mainland Europe. Whatever the badge, though, the question remains: is it any good?

Back to top



Chrysler 300C rear lights

The 300C plays somewhat fast and loose with executive class norms. Initially created almost a decade ago out of what Chrysler majority shareholder Fiat would probably sell to you as American blue-sky thinking, the car has grown a little for this second generation but, on the face of it, hasn’t changed a great deal.

Classified by familiar European terms, you might say that it was sized like a BMW 7 Series, positioned like a 5 Series but priced at considerably less, even, than an equivalent handsomely fitted-out 330d. At 3052mm, the car’s wheelbase is within 2mm of the last version’s and still more generous than that of a standard 730d, Jaguar XJ or Audi A8. But 300C prices start around £36,000 – in a country where a full-sized executive saloon can’t be bought for much less than £60k.

The rear of the 300C is pretty clean, so it’s hard to find somewhere to hide the reversing camera; thus, it has been popped into the high rear brake light

The 300C doesn’t exactly represent the state of the executive car art as far as its construction or powertrain is concerned but, positioned like it is, few would expect it to. In a segment where aluminium is commonly used to save weight and boost rigidity, its underbody is made almost exclusively of steel of varying tensile strengths and thicknesses, with nylon-polymer reinforcements in places. Gains in structural stiffness are claimed, but the car isn’t light: 2040kg with a full tank of fuel. The last V6-engined mid-sized exec we tested, the Lexus GS250, was just under 1700kg.

Chrysler also claims improvements in body and wheel control thanks to a new suspension system with multi-links at both ends, negative camber on the front wheels and fluid-filled hydraulic bushes on the front axle.

Only one engine is available: a common-rail 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel, built by VM Motori, that is also currently serving in the Jeep Grand Cherokee. It drives the rear wheels through one of the last five-speed automatic gearboxes you’ll find anywhere in the new car market. So no prizes for emissions-saving technological sophistication there, either.


Chrysler 300C interior

Continually citing Chrysler for not meeting a European standard of upmarket interiors seems like a rather weary criticism but, to our eyes, there remains a fair distance between the quality expounded over there and the one on view over here. Happily, the size of that gap appears to have gently eroded a little each time we come to address it.

Consequently, the latest 300C feels like a dainty step forward for the US brand. Tactility and general appearance have both taken an upswing. The cabin seems better put together, and even if swathes of faux leather aren’t going to upset BMW’s apple cart, it has a cohesive appeal. The dashboard’s metallic highlights are generally well chosen, too.

One area where Chrysler still lags behind the best: the variety of seating positions. It’s hard to set the seat low enough for our testers

Its size, of course, is beyond question. The considerable length and boxy profile ensure that the 300C is capable of competing with (if not eclipsing) any of its competitors in a contest of knee and elbow room.

Taste is a thornier issue. A cheap imitation wood finish, a 1990s transmission gate and strip-joint-blue instrumentation are likely to leave a flat fizzy drink taste in a British mouth used to the German way of cold carbonating premium products.

Nevertheless, the centre console switchgear is conveniently sized, sensibly placed and logical, and there’s now an 8.4-inch infotainment screen front and centre to play with. ‘Play’ is the operative word, because the Garmin-sponsored system can appear as visually hectic as a pub fruit machine when glanced at for a particular function mid-roundabout.

Get to know it, though, and everything proves to be well located, especially given that the 300C is festooned with a generous bounty of toys, each of which requires a button. Heated and cooled cupholders, heated and ventilated seats, a heated steering wheel, sat-nav, Bluetooth connectivity, dual-pane sunroof and auxiliary connections are all thrown into the cockpit gratis.


The torquey Chrysler 300C saloon

In isolation, the figures for the 300C don’t look unimpressive. A 0-60mph time of 7.3sec is the sort of speed that will get you out of trouble in most situations. Accelerate at the start of a slip road and 7.5sec later you’ll be at the legal limit, too. Looks like it does the job, doesn’t it?

Well, look around the market and the 300C’s figures don’t look quite so convincing. The 236bhp it develops on overboost (for 90sec, which makes it barely worth mentioning the ‘standard’ 221bhp) is some way short of the 260bhp or so offered by the BMW 530d and Mercedes-Benz E350 CDI, both of which can be had for under £40k.

The 300C would benefit from more speeds to its automatic gearbox and a reduced kerb weight.

They can hit 62mph in a claimed 6.1 and 6.2sec respectively, return up to 53.3mpg on the combined cycle and have CO2 emissions as low as 139g/km. The 300C, meanwhile, has a combined economy figure of only 39.2mpg, for which its five-speed automatic gearbox doubtless does it few favours.

Still, it is a relatively refined unit. Our noise meter was away being calibrated when we tested the 300C, but at idle it emits a muted rumble that becomes little more vocal as speeds and revs rise. Because of the limited number of ratios, there’s a bigger drop or rise in revs than in most rivals when you change gears but shifts are smooth enough.

Step-off is smooth, too, but there is a general sense of heft and weight to the 300C’s straight-line demeanour. Control weights are consistent, though.

In the dry, the 300C brakes well, taking less than 45m to stop from 70mph. Even in the wet its 245/45 tyres put up strong resistance, hauling its mass to rest from 70mph in less than 50 metres, which is no mean feat.


Chrysler 300C hard rear cornering

The 300C is a curious car to drive, as was its predecessor. Until the 300C arrived, we’d become accustomed to big American cars being hopelessly vague, with light, uncommunicative steering and poor body control that took ages to settle over crests and dips.

The 300C changed much of that; it was tighter, better controlled and more European in its focus, as it needed to be to sell here. And so the latest 300C continues, to a point.

Its 45-profile tyres aren’t that tall, but the 300C displays a fine resistance to kerbed alloy wheels

Its 2040kg kerb weight means it’s a heavy car, and it rides with the sort of heft that is implied by such a porky figure. Across low-frequency lumps, it does take a moment to settle, whereas most of the European competition are more tightly controlled. With it, though, the 300C doesn’t quite have an equivalent compliance over smaller ruts.

It feels like there’s a fair amount of unsprung mass, which perhaps there is on wheels this size, robbing the 300C of the ultimate isolation that you’d hope for. It’s not uncomfortable – far from it – but it has neither the outright control nor the outright absorbency of the best cars in the class.

At nearly three turns lock to lock, the 300C isn’t an agile steer, either.

If anything, we’d like a little less weight to the hydraulically assisted set-up most of the time – there’s no feel to speak of, so it wouldn’t hurt – because it firms up under cornering too much for our tastes. Perhaps if it were equally heavy all the time, we’d have become more used to it.

Nonetheless, although it’s some way short of the deftness, comfort and agility of the best in class, the 300C is a pretty amiable companion.


Chrysler 300C

Even a cursory glance at the competition in the 300C’s £40k price bracket is liable to make Chrysler’s UK sales staff squirm uneasily. The BMW 530d SE, Audi A6 3.0 TDI SE, Jaguar XF 3.0D Premium and Mercedes E350 Avantgarde all rub shoulders with the American interloper, and all are its superior by practically any conventional measure.

There are glimmers of light, though. The 300C’s magnitude and copious free kit earn it some bragging rights.

Adding all of our Executive test model’s standard equipment to any of the above rivals would force their respective prices to spear north at an exponential rate and, for lovers of extra length, the Chrysler’s three-metre wheelbase casts it as a cut-price alternative to cars in the class above.

However, the 300C won’t go as far or as fast on an equivalent fuel load, and with its 191g/km of CO2, business users will pay significantly more for the pleasure of running one.

Private owners, meanwhile, will have to put up with the prospect of a car that contends with the extinct Citroën C6 for the violence with which its depreciation curve drops away.


3 star Chrysler 300C

Look for objective reasons to pick a 300C in preference to the leading cars in this class and you’ll come up short. Yes, it’s relatively brisk and refined, but there are other cars in this segment that do what this Chrysler does with at least as much ability at almost every turn.

But the 300C has always been like that and is not necessarily the worse for it. It’s a car whose fans begin by simply wanting one and then ensuring that the experience matches their expectations.

We judge the 300C, then, by different criteria from those we normally apply: it isn’t a car that we’d suggest to the uninitiated, but one we’d have only a few reservations about recommending to those who really do like the prospect of owning one.

It is wilfully different and in that, at least, there is a lot to commend it.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Chrysler 300C 2012-2015 First drives