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Car reviews - Chrysler - 300 - range

Our Opinion

We like
Quiet, better-made and well-equipped cabin, petrol variants good value, more refined exterior styling, eight-speed auto on V6, SRT8 performance
Room for improvement
Expensive diesel engine, cabin quality niggles, five-speed auto on diesel and SRT8 could use an extra ratio, foot-operated parking brake

Chrysler logo11 Jul 2012

By MIKE COSTELLO

THINGS are about to get even tougher for the Australian-made Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon – as if they weren’t tough enough already.

At a time of dwindling sales for both models, Chrysler has declared war by launching a more affordable and slightly less-polarising second-generation 300 sedan designed to tempt away buyers still loyal to the rear-drive large sedan layout.

On top of that, a resurgent Chrysler/Jeep Australia is equally intent on stealing some thunder from Ford and Holden’s performance divisions – FPV and HSV – with an even more hairy-chested SRT8 powered by an enormous 6.4-litre Hemi V8.

For all its cheesy retro charm, the previous 300C was a flawed beast, the two notable bugbears being interior refinement and dynamic prowess. With the new model, Chrysler has fundamentally addressed these concerns.

The cabin is a big leap forward, with soft-touch surfaces and a well thought-out fascia dominated by a massive 8.4-inch screen. Higher-specified variants get real wood and carbon-fibre inserts, while the blue-lit dials available across the range could have been lifted from a car twice the price.

The graphics on the screen are simple to use and the navigation system – standard on all but the base Limited model – is a cinch, as are the steering wheel-mounted buttons and the Bluetooth set-up.

The leather seats on most variants are soft and comfortable, while front/rear legroom and cabin ambience is excellent, courtesy of an acoustic windscreen and heavier use of sound-deadening foam.

Not all is perfect, though. Headroom is limited in the rear for anyone over 180cm, and the back-lighting on the giant central display goes frustratingly dim when the automatic headlights switch themselves on during the day.

We noticed some quality niggles inside as well, most notably an annoying door rattle from an SRT8 and the occasional uneven panel gap around the gear-shifter.

The archaic foot-operated parking brake is also as unwelcome and contrary to good ergonomics as ever.

While the exterior styling hasn’t strayed too far from the original formula – it’s still all square lines, big arches and small windows – the new take appears smoother and less garish, especially the classy new rear tail-light design.

We especially like the Bentley-inspired mesh grille on the SRT8, which cuts a much finer figure than the slightly cheesy number on the others, and the 20-inch wheels on most variants certainly fill out those massive arches better than the 18s on the entry-level Limited.

An added bonus is the ride quality, which is excellent considering the super low-profile tyres. We would expect it to be even more cosseting on the 18s, although we did not get a chance to test them.

On road and even track, the new 300 feels surprisingly capable. It’s still not quite a match for a Falcon, but it has closed the gap substantially. The electro-hydraulic steering on all bar the SRT lacks the feedback of the Ford’s fully-hydraulic system and is a bit light off-centre, but at least loads up effectively at speed.

And, while the big American sedan may lack the ability of its German rivals for making their more dynamic large sedans ‘shrink’ around the driver, the stiffer chassis and 51:49 weight distribution give the 1800kg-plus sedan a more nimble feel than before.

We spent most of our time in the flagship SRT8, the first half of the day devoted to track time on a rainy Phillip Island circuit and the latter to the twisty roads around South Gippsland.

The wet conditions meant the (fairly forgiving) stability control system remained firmly switched on, but time spent behind the wheel with a professional racing driver gave us a good look at the big car’s penchant for oversteer.

The big V8 gives a nice and linear wallop and will let out a barrel-chested growl with a firm push of the throttle. Maybe it’s the larrikin in us, but we think Chrysler could tweak the exhaust to make it even louder and rough around the edges at idle.

The standard five-speed Mercedes automatic is swift when changing up, but can be tentative on downshifts, even in its designated Sports mode, and while the paddle shifters are slick between the gears it could use another ratio.

Only the Hemi’s mountain of torque saves it, and we would love to see Chrysler introduce the ZF eight-speed unit used in the smaller petrol option. We understand this unit will be added to the diesel and SRT in time, though it’s unclear exactly when.

Inside, the SRT is loaded with high-end features including a fantastic 19-speaker, 900W sound system, while the leather seats and carbon-fibre finish give it a premium feel. We love the heated and cooled cupholders, too.

The V6 diesel may take the chocolates for fuel economy – crucially addressing one of the chief concerns surrounding large cars – but its $5000 price premium over the Pentastar V6 petrol makes it awfully hard to justify.

The engine itself is swift and exceedingly quiet courtesy of the extensive deadening of the bodyshell and cabin, but peak torque is available across a very narrow rev band, so it lacks the immediacy of some rival units.

Our time behind the wheel of the Pentastar V6 was limited, but we liked the beefy exhaust note and the seamless changing of gears from the eight-speeder (with its stylish and unique gearlever).

Our time behind the 300’s big steering wheel may have been brief, but we came away tentatively impressed. Chrysler has certainly made a big leap in its interior design, while it looks as distinctive as ever.

The car won’t appeal to everyone, but it makes a viable American alternative to garden-variety Falcons and Commodores at the lower end of the large-car segment, is substantially larger than its price-point rivals from Germany, and the SRT8 flagship is a formidable muscle car to rival the best that the local boys can muster.

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