Car reviews - Chrysler - 300C - V8 HEMI
On-road presence, pricing, comfy, snug and spacious interior, versatile Hemi V8, thumping sound system, split-fold rear seat
Room for improvement
Inconsistent ride, space-saver spare
11 Feb 2006
By CHRIS HARRIS
HOW long since we’ve seen a fair dinkum Chrysler large car in Australia?
If you discount the Chrysler Valiant, which, by American standards was actually a “compact” car that fitted pretty well with our indigenous Holdens and Fords, then the last big one from the company was the Dodge Phoenix that was available here between 1960 and 1972.
Before that was the Royal sedan – a finned, gape-mouthed 1957 re-style of the Plymouths and Dodges that were front-line Chryslers at the time.
So it’s been a long time since we last had the chance to wander into the showroom and check out a current-model, full-size Chrysler. At 33 years, too long, bearing in mind the company’s once-prominent stance as an alternative to the big cars from Ford (Galaxie) and General Motors (Pontiac, Chevrolet).
The new Chrysler 300C really plays two roles: As well as being the biggest Chrysler we’ve seen for years, it’s also the only large US car currently being sold in Australia. Holden may have plans for Cadillac, but for the time being if you want some genuine American iron, Chrysler is the only place to go.
And it’s not a bad place at that.
Rather than being a largely cosmetic re-work of some Mercedes already existing in the DaimlerChrysler lineup, the 300C proudly bears its American stamp of identity – right down to the 5.7-litre pushrod Hemi V8 that powers the premium version.
There seems very little about this bold, confidently styled Chrysler (one of the 300C’s stylists once worked in Australia, on the iconic Charger and the VH Valiant) that shows evidence of Benz links, apart from the five-speed automatic transmission.
The 300C has no real Mercedes equivalents and has its own platform supporting the chunky, deceptively massive body. Sensibly it does take up some Benz elements such as the rack-and-pinion steering and the short and long arm front end and the independent five-link rear suspension, but the execution is clearly American.
To put the 300C into perspective, it has a longer wheelbase (comfortably) than either of the local big cars and is wider, taller and heavier. Only the body length, cropped back by the ultra-short front and rear overhangs, falls behind the Ford Fairlane/LTD and Holden Statesman/Caprice.
The Chrysler 300C is an unashamedly large car, even if its size is hard to judge due to the entirely unusual proportioning of bonnet, boot and cab.
It really brings nothing else to mind from past or present except, maybe, vestiges of the chunkiness of the mid-fifties Chryslers – minus the kerb-snagging rear overhangs (although, strangely, one car bearing some resemblance is the British Rover P5 3.0-litre sedan from the late-1950s, early 1960s.
It had – once again without the 300C’s snub rear end – a similar, narrow-windowed side profile, as well as a dominant rectangular grille. Others have also suggested the 300C is an American Bentley).
The 300C is a car that attracts attention, simply because it looks so different. Reassuringly, the attention always seems positive.
With its long bonnet, high sides, gaping wheel arches and chopped roofline the squared-off Chrysler looks as solid as a bank vault – which in some ways it is because it scored a five-star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the USA.
It packs in all the usual safety technology covering primary and secondary disciplines, including stability control, ABS with brake assist, Xenon lights, impact-absorbing body design and an interesting array of airbags that includes “curtain” bags spanning front and rear seats but does without door or seat-mounted thorax sidebags.
Local Chrysler people suggest the 300C’s oversize curtain bags play a dual role in protecting occupants against both head and bodily injuries in a side impact.
To view the Chrysler for the first time is to be impressed by its seeming solidity and out-there proportions. The rounded-brick shape and the large grille suggest it might be lacking some aerodynamic grace, but it’s actually not bad, with a drag coefficient of 0.32.
The heavily latticed grille is very Chrysler, very massive, and the cavernous wheel arches imbue it with a boldness suggesting the wheels are bigger than their actual 18 inches - accentuated by the relatively high profile 225/60 Pirelli P7 tyres.
Inside, the differences continue.
This is a car you sit in, not on top of. The view through the narrowish side windows and the beetle-browed windscreen is not the sort of thing you expect in a modern sedan. The dash looms at you with its simple, solid shapes and continues the beefy line of the bonnet into the interior.
The steering wheel, unashamedly bearing the Chrysler logo, is probably the biggest you’re likely to see in anything other than a Kenworth, or maybe something from P&O, and the creamy faces of the instrument dials recall American cars of the distant past. The overall effect, however, is completely charming, warm and welcoming.
What is particularly pleasant is the interior’s combination of restraint and confidence. Although everything seems to be on a slightly larger scale than usual, there’s an appealing, comfortable tastefulness about it.
The seats are amply proportioned, leather-trimmed and softly padded to underline the fact this hunk of a car comes from nowhere else but the USA.
Points of interest are to be found in the touches of fake wood on the door pulls, gearshift and the top half of the steering wheel, plus slashes of chrome on the upper edges of the doors.
Practical touches include a large storage bin between the front seats, reasonably big door pockets and a rear fold-down armrest with cupholders.
Surprisingly, there are no storage nets behind the front seats.
But what is really appealing is that, despite its sedan configuration, the 300C gives you a full, split-fold rear seat that enormously increases the capacity of the big, 504-litre boot – which cribs extra space through the use of a space-saver spare
As you’d expect with such an enormous wheelbase and a wider body than anything else on the local large-car market, the 300C has no trouble providing for full-size passengers front and rear. Rear-seat legroom may not extend to the same lengths as a Statesman, but there’s ample room for even large-framed people.
The driver, comfy in the big, power-adjusted seat (with dual memories and manual lumbar adjustment), is confronted by that oversize steering wheel and a visual feast of pale-faced dials.
The transmission shifter, surrounded by gleaming chrome, reveals some Benz heritage with its laterally activated sequential mode.
Unfortunately the wheel adjusts for height only and it’s no real surprise that the parking brake is operated by the left foot, Benz-style.
And, not atypically American, the bulging transmission tunnel fights for space, cramping the driver’s left foot.
The pushrod 16-valve Hemi engine comes to life with surprising silence, called to duty by a regular key-twist ignition rather than a push-button or card-key insert. It’s delightfully smooth, if a little audibly disappointing - and more Benz sneaks through in the accelerator pedal, which is a firmly resistant, short-travel arrangement once something of a bugbear in Mercedes cars but less so these days.
This means the 300C is a little tricky to inch into or out of parking spots because with a little too much pressure it will leap forward more than you anticipated. You get used to it though.
With 250kW and 525Nm on tap, the 1873kg 300C Hemi is never likely to feel undernourished.
Rather than being a barking, snarling animal, it moves off the mark with authority and cruises smoothly with a casual, relaxed gait.
The basic valve gear doesn’t mean the engine is primitive. Sure it’s cast-iron, with just a single camshaft in the centre of the 90-degree V8 block, and only 16 pushrod-operated valves, but the combustion chambers are efficiently hemispherical in shape, and there are two spark plugs per cylinder as well as electronic throttle control. The 5000rpm at which maximum power is developed tells us something though.
But the most intriguing feature of the V8 is the Multi-Displacement System (MDS) that deactivates four of the cylinders when full power is not needed, saving as much as 20 pere cent of the fuel you’d normally expect to consume in a big-displacement V8.
Chrysler claims an impressive 12.1L/100km for the Hemi - and it will certainly do this, or even better – but it’s one of those engines that varies wildly depending on how it’s used.
In a few days of driving one of our more enthusiastic drivers had the 300C sitting on an average of 19.1L/100km, which is the sort of thing you’d expect of a particularly greedy full-size 4WD.
Subsequently, more frugally minded GoAuto drivers brought the Chrysler down to 14L/100km and would have undoubtedly improved on that over more kilometres (Chrysler tells us that a proud new 300C Hemi owner had his car comfortably below 11L/100km in a day spent in the Blue Mountains).
Like we said, it all depends how you drive it. And it’s all done on regular unleaded.
You wonder why MDS is not more common. It’s not rocket science – merely a matter of shutting down the fuel supply to half the cylinders when not needed - and, used appropriately, seems to work.
None of the time 500km or so spent driving the 300C could we detect anything aberrant about the engine’s mannerisms. Maybe the closest thing was a noticeable surge as the rest of the cylinders came to life when the throttle was squeezed at middling speeds on the open road.
Used forcefully, the Hemi is a potent performer, capable of reaching 100km/h in 6.4 seconds – a lot quicker than the 3.5-litre V6 version’s 9.2 seconds. No real V8 sound intrudes until the engine is working hard, and even then it’s a pretty damped rumble.
Despite its weight and bulk, the 300C Hemi handles pretty well via quite-quick steering that goes from lock-to-lock in two and three-quarter turns and uses the Pirelli P7 tyres to change direction accurately. But a fair bit of shock is transmitted through the big wheel (the size proves no impediment) on patchy surfaces.
The ride is a bit of a mixed bag too.
Generally it’s quite absorbent, with enough compliance to handle very small bumps quietly and competently, but once it reaches a certain point things aren’t quite so calm and controlled.
The 300C struggles with larger bumps ands undulations, joggling and pitching in a way that belies its heaviness and its super-long wheelbase. It never gets really noisy down there but, in terms of composure, the Chrysler certainly is no Mercedes-Benz.
Given a relatively decent road though, the 300C is an easy, loping cruiser, quiet and comfortable and able to do justice to the enormously powerful seven-speaker (plus woofer) Boston Acoustic sound system. The bass, boosted by 368 Watts, emits a subterranean rumble felt, more than heard.
A very, very welcome addition to the Australian market, the Chrysler 300C.
The company tells us that its first sales burst has seen it sprinting ahead of Ford and Holden competitors and, really, so it should with surprisingly sharp pricing and no real compromises in equipment.
Both V6 and Hemi 300Cs get electronic stability control, all-speed traction control, Xenon lights with washers, rear park-assist, climate-control, monster sound systems (slightly less powerful in the V6), heated front seats, leather trim, rain-sensing wipers, auto rearview mirror and a battery saver that turns off the headlights with the ignition, as well as all the interior lights.
Satellite navigation is a no-go at the moment, but Chrysler is working on it. The only options for the Hemi are a power sunroof and “Premium” metallic paint.
The 300C looks at its meanest in darker colours of course (Brilliant Black, Magnesium, Midnight Blue and Mineral Grey), but also looks surprisingly good in the only non-metallic colour and one that doesn’t add to the price, Stone White. Bright Sliver, the colour of our test car, is probably the least dramatic hue.
Visual drama, really, is what this impressive big Chrysler is all about. Its on-road abilities, interior space and general quality (it’s built in Graz, Austria, alongside the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the Chrysler Grand Voyager) provide no grounds for complaint.
At a tad under $60,000, the Chrysler 300C Hemi is a dazzling alternative to the long-wheelbase locals. And it’s certainly worth the $6000 premium over the 183kW V6.
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