Car reviews - Chrysler - 300 - 300C Luxury
Strong visual character, cabin presentation, value, features, diesel economy, diesel torque, large boot, sheer personality
Room for improvement
Foot-operated park brake, cumbersome steering at parking speeds, dynamic slothfulness, occasional cabin rattle, fixed rear headrests
14 Sep 2012
BARACK OBAMA drove the original 300C, and that’s one bona fide Presidential stamp of approval.
It speaks volumes of the Chrysler’s wide-ranging appeal, because in the United States this car is comparable to a Commodore or Falcon.
While Mercedes-Benz underpinnings lurk beneath, it’s the styling rather than any brilliant engineering feat that draws so many disparate admirers.
Unashamedly macho, the Canadian-built Chrysler is somewhat a caricature of Americana – a post-modern pastiche of Motown’s mid-20th Century Greatest Hits compilation. Yet it avoids being grotesque.
No surprises then that the company repeated the design process for the revamped LX-series 300 (the ‘C’ now denotes the mid-spec variant) launched here in July.
In addition, this new model also gets some 1930s Art Deco sassiness in the cabin that struts the fine line between traditional and modern - gone are plastics so horrifyingly downgrade they could start their own mini Depression.
In the 300C Luxury version (as tested), double-stitched leather swathes most surfaces, matched to a smart matt-finish wood appliqué complete with an aged patina, giving the Chrysler the appropriate upmarket ambience its predecessor so sorely lacked.
The cabin is best experienced at night, when the glassy Deco-like analogue instrumentation illuminates with an eerie pale blue metallic glow that’s an absolute joy to behold, contrasting beautifully with the large centre touch screen that’s very 21st Century in design and execution.
Suddenly, Chrysler seems to understand the luxury of elegant aesthetics. It’s not all about stuffing a car with gadgets.
Yet the 300C Luxury is almost obscenely equipped for the money, with features that go far beyond the usual accoutrements like heated front seats, sat-nav, rear-camera, Bluetooth phone and (high-end) audio streaming tech, and keyless entry and go functionality.
For your $56K plus on-roads, this Chrysler also includes a lovely partly wood-rimmed steering wheel that automatically lifts and retracts for bigger-bellied drivers headlights with an auto high-beam function that automatically dips the intensity so oncoming traffic won’t be dazzled by the brightness two memory settings for the heated and cooled driver’s seat cushion heating and air-con for the rear-seat passengers and centre cupholders with cooling as well as warming elements.
Oh, and the steering wheel has a heated rim. Just like in $200K Jaguars. In fact, you need to spend well in excess of six figures to score similar levels of equipment in a car of this size.
Also available as part of a safety pack is a cruise control system with radar guidance to slow and then speed you up again a blind-spot warning system and a ‘rear cross path detection system’ that alerts the driver if somebody/something is heading into harm’s way while reversing.
Using elements of the 2003-2009 Mercedes E-Class under-structure (like the original 300C, a corollary of Chrysler’s doomed “partnership of equals” with Daimler) certainly pays dividends for the front-seat occupants – especially taller ones. Sitting low and wide, shoulder and legroom are exceptional, while the driver is well positioned ahead of the blocky but logically laid out dashboard.
If you squint you’ll think you’re driving a Benz, for the thick indicator stalk is (over) loaded with wiper functionality, the gear lever action is pure Three Pointed Star, the steering wheel is large in that German way and – oh look – there’s that horrid throwback foot-operated park brake that requires gymnastics levels of left knee articulation.
Also, while the 300C’s cabin quality has made big strides forward, the headlining around the optional double sunroof fitted to our car rattled incessantly, to the point of distraction.
We should add that the adaptive cruise control is of the old-school variety (archaeologists might guess, say, AD 2003 to 2009), which disengages below 20km/h. Newer systems in albeit more expensive vehicles will remain activated even when temporarily stationary, and will then accelerate again automatically when traffic starts moving.
For a sedan as long as the 300, interior space utilisation could be better. As is stands it’s cosy without actually being cramped. Blame the slammed-down styling, thick pillars, shallow glasshouse, and sumptuously fat seats.
Consequently, taller occupants may ask why there isn’t more rear legroom, while the sunroof restricts headroom. Maybe that’s why the 300’s back headrests are integrated into the seat cushion – drivers have a hard-enough time peering out of that shallow rear glass while reversing.
The upshot, of course, is more of that luxury saloon feeling.
Sink into the soft yet inviting cushion, and you’re amply supported by the nicely angled backrest. Along with the usual array of air vents, armrests, and map pockets, there are heated elements to warm cold posteriors, a motorised rear blind, and more double stitched cowhide.
Chrysler also obviously knows its market, because chauffeurs will appreciate the wide-opening rear doors that allow for easy entry and egress and the 462-litre boot is big and boxy and a cinch to load and unload.
Plus, unlike in a Commodore or Caprice, the rear seats fold so longer items can be loaded into the cabin (here is where we make the joke about dead bodies and gangster 300 owners).
From a driving point of view, the CRD diesel is perhaps the most Mercedes-like of the whole 300 range – even though the engine is by Fiat/GM co-op engineering firm VM Motori rather than Daimler.
A modern 3.0-litre common-rail double-overhead cam unit brandishing 176 kW of power, it idles so quietly from inside the car one must conclude that Chrysler vacuum seals it inside an impenetrable lead box.
Anyway, this V6 has no trouble moving the 300C off the mark, lunging forward eagerly in a most un-diesel-like way, accompanied by a throaty, almost five-pot growl. A few passengers were surprised this wasn’t a petrol-powered engine.
Chrysler quotes 7.8 seconds for the 0-100km standing-start sprint, but subjectively it feels faster.
Turbo lag does exist, of course, but it is really only noticeable if you’re burning for a flying start – and even then a healthy 550Nm of torque at just 1800rpm ensures the traction control software is having a hard time quelling rear-wheel spin.
Similarly, overtaking at speed is easy – in fact dangerous to licence points, since the whole drivetrain is smothered in a lush creamy refinement, while a wet road will elicit a controllable sideways motion if you’re in an ASBO mood.
It may only have five forward speeds, but the Mercedes-sourced automatic partners up with the V6 superbly, effortlessly swapping through the intelligently spaced ratios.
The downside, however, is higher fuel consumption than one might expect from a diesel. Or maybe we should blame our efforts to unstick the grippy rear end.
Anyway, around town, we struggled to keep it all below 11.0L/100km, though highway cruising did see a 7.2L/100km reading. The economy potential is there, anyhow. Roll on the eight-speed auto as fitted to other 300 variants.
At parking speeds the newly electo-hydraulic power steering feels heavy, artificial, and slow-witted, even though the turning circle is a tight 11.5m.
And when it comes to changing direction, there is no point hurrying the 300C around corners.
Yes, the standard 20-inch rubber certainly looks the part and will stick to the road like gum. But the steering feels low geared, not particularly sharp, and quite disconnected to the road.
Tear along a bumpy uphill corner, and the 300C diesel becomes a heavy handful, blundering through like a tipsy statesman, feeling ragged and not too happy about being hurried along so inelegantly.
The fact it remains stable and flat at speed is probably the biggest dynamic saving grace here. But any modern Falcon or Caprice would blow the doors off this cumbersome Chrysler when it comes to handling.
It’s far better to set the radar-controlled cruise control, sit back, and just relax as the 300C eats up the highway miles (and brakes almost instantly on the proverbial dime) instead.
Note, however, that on wet, slippery, or gravelly surfaces the traction nannies are a bit lazy themselves, letting the tail slide quite sideways before reeling it all back in. This adds an unexpected ‘adjustability’ to the Chrysler we just weren’t expecting.
Finally, there’s the pliant ride quality. How can bumps both big and small be soaked up so ably on massive 245/45 R20 tyres? We understand the rear suspension is derived from the S-Class, and we’re quite impressed by its ability to cushion on such low-profile rubber.
So, you know what? We don’t even care that the 300C is a bit of a barge, because it excels in making the people inside feel more comfortable and special than many so-called luxury sedans costing thrice as much. Using Mercedes tech from yesterday has its rewards.
In Luxury CRD guise it can glamour with a value-charged razzle-dazzle quite unique in the sub-$60K price point.
More importantly, the 300C serves as a timely reminder that America is a mighty industrial nation as full of visionaries and innovators as it is of five-second internet celebrities.
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