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Published on Wednesday 22 May 2013 15:27
Ten Second Review
The previous Chrysler 300C became something of an iconic car with its bad boy low rider look, but the MK2 model, while retaining some styling cues, opts for a less extreme styling treatment. This big, affordable rear-wheel drive car has to be able to carve out a niche somewhere. And is especially desirable in plush flagship 'Executive' form.
The 300C that Chrysler launched back in 2000 was a car that always raised a smile. Whether it was for its exuberant styling, the fact that some people shamelessly bolted Bentley badges to them, the quality of some of the interior plastics or the random waywardness of the 6.2-litre SRT model, it was one of those cars that enlivened the automotive landscape. Chrysler could have built something bland but chose not to and for that they deserve a nod of respect.
That car was built in a partnership with Mercedes and this relationship ended in one of the messiest divorces imaginable. On the rebound from that dust up, Chrysler jumped into bed with the Fiat group and this latest 300C is badged as a Lancia Thema across Europe. It's no longer a car that will have pedestrians nutting street furniture the first time they see it but it might just be more successful second time round. Most will want the top 'Executive' version we tried.
Power in both 300C variants comes courtesy of a 3.0-litre diesel engine that's good for 236bhp. With a hefty 540Nm of torque on tap, it's never going to feel under-gunned when performing an overtaking manoeuvre, even if it is hauling just over two tonnes of weight. The steering is an electrically-assisted setup as is the norm with most cars looking to pare back their carbon emissions these days, while gear changing duties are marshalled by an eight-speed automatic transmission which is a vast improvement over the clunky old five-speeder on older 300C models.
For all of Chrysler's denials, there was little getting away from the fact that the previous 300C shared a lot of its components with an antediluvian Mercedes E-Class. This time round, the underpinnings are a whole lot fresher and as a result of that, the ride quality is better and refinement has improved immeasurably. A lot of resource has been poured into improving acoustic insulation and the 300C scores well in reducing engine, wind, tyre and suspension noise. With so many premium German cars choosing to adopt a sporty ride quality, there's space for the 300C to capitalise with buyers looking for something extremely unruffled, almost in a Lexus tradition but with the big plus of a diesel engine.
Design and Build
In its basic proportioning, this 300C has changed a little from its predecessor. It's no longer quite so slabby and imposing, and the bonnet that once looked about the dimensions of a ping pong table now seems more manageably sized. The stubby boot is a clever way of balancing the reduction in size of the front end, although the blockhouse superstructure still has echoes of the old car. If you're looking for voluptuous curves, you've come to the wrong place, but the detailing is a little softer than before. The interior is radically improved on the Dixons midi system standard of silver plastics of the old car. There's some stitched leather, a shapely centre stack, some very cool cowled clocks, massive - if rather flat - front seats and a tidy multifunction steering wheel that definitely has some hints of Volvo about it. A huge touchscreen and a massive sunroof proves that things really are bigger in America.
Market and Model
Two trim levels are offered, with the entry level being the 'Limited' model for around £36,000 which slots in above the top 'Executive' variant we tried, priced at around £40,000. With an emphasis on safety and comfort, standard equipment on the Limited version includes heated front and rear seats, load levelling suspension and height control, LED daytime running lamps, electronic stability control (ESC), hill start assist, active head restraints, and curtain, side, front and rear airbags.
Step up to the 'Executive' version, which shades in at just under £40,000, and you'll find features such as adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring system, forward collision warning, keyless entry, powered rear sunshade, and heated and ventilated Nappa leather seats among its many standard features. The value proposition doesn't seem at all bad when one considers that the 300C offers more space, more power and more equipment than many of its equivalently priced peers.
Cost of Ownership
One area where the technically advanced Germans can put clear blue sky between themselves and the 300C is in the disciplines of fuel economy and emissions. For a car of this size with a 236bhp engine, a combined fuel economy figure of 39.2mpg is by no means disastrous, but it's worth bearing in mind that 256bhp worth of BMW 530d automatic will manages 53.3mpg. The BMW also emits 139g/km of carbon dioxide whereas the Chrysler will manage only 191g/km in 'Executive' form. This will, unfortunately, be enough to scrub it from the shortlists of many company car buyers.
The improved build quality and lower key styling might well result in better residual values than those delivered by its predecessor, but it's still worth going into 300C ownership with the realisation that the pence per mile cost of the car will be significantly more over a typical three year ownership period than its premium rivals. Looking at the sub-premium sector in which we find cars like Lexus and Volvo, the Chrysler acquits itself far better.
With a cleaner and more economical engine, the Chrysler 300C would be a ready recommendation. As it stands, it's something that will only really be purchased by private buyers who have fallen for the looks. It's undoubtedly a handsome thing and its stylists have done a very deft job in re-imagining the 300C theme for more modern times. The blend of sharp lines and the odd gentle bulge and curve works really well from front to back and the interior is leagues better than before. Couple this with the excellent dividends paid from efforts to improve refinement and you get a very handsome car that's delightfully composed.
Is that enough? For a modest core of private buyers, yes it is and when the generous equipment levels of the flagship 'Executive' variant are factored into the equation, the 300C more than does enough to justify its existence. Chrysler talks of the quicker SRT model the US market loves but for this car to really hit the big time, it needs more of a top drawer diesel engine. Overall though, while this car may not be as extreme in its appeal as its forebear, it still has the potential to emulate it and be, well, a bit of a sleeper hit.