BACK IN 2005, Chrysler, empowered by its then partnership with Daimler-Benz, unleashed a courageous reinterpretation of a flagship sedan. The 300C was a block of bold Detroit steel that bludgeoned opinion like a smouldering mallet through butter. Subtle it was not, and that’s okay: you either hated it or sold a kidney to get one on your drive. A lot can change in seven years though. Chrysler now has a new partner in Fiat, and it also has a brand new 300C flagship range, including one that drinks diesel.
The name and the silhouette may be familiar, but the old car’s bounteous bling has been replaced by equally copious dollops of satin chrome. Parked up alongside each other, it’s obvious they’re closely related, but where the older kid got schooled by Billy Bob in Tennessee, the younger sibling went to Harvard. Yip, new 300C is definitely slicker, with an added executive edge most evident from the front where a horizontally slatted grille, LED-laden headlamps and a new interpretation of Chrysler’s be-winged badge convey increased affluence.
In profile, additional rake to the windscreen angle officially aids aerodynamics but, crucially, also makes America’s overhead traffic lights less of a middle-aged neck strain. Don’t be fooled though, the 300C hasn’t gone all soft. Standard 20-inch rims leave you in no doubt that this is classic American heavy rolling stock. The side glass-to-bodywork ratio is still heavily biased in favour of metal, which is sheer and substantial in that familiar locomotive meets lead-sled style that made the last 300C a borderline design icon.
Most unfamiliar though, is the new cabin. Clearly tired of playing last fiddle in the segment, Chrysler has cranked up both quality and design in an attempt to close the chasm that separates it from the Germans. Has it succeeded? Well, a beautifully lit instrument cluster with a glassy blue glow reminiscent of recent Aston Martin efforts, strips of real wood veneer, a double-stitched leather-covered facia and liberal splashes of satin chrome would seem to indicate as much. If you’re an American car repeat buyer, you’ll be overwhelmed at the genuine progress.
But hang on: before you get swept up in quasi-patriotic euphoria, some of the plastics on offer haven’t made the same leap, specifically the glove box lid and lower door panels, the 8.4-inch touch-screen display could be less gaudily-coloured in daytime sat-nav mode, and the panel housing the gear shifter is a tad floaty. That aside, the interior has loads to recommend it, from thick, sumptuously-padded chairs and all the powered comforts you can imagine, to the brave choice of low sheen real wood inserts that fly in the face of all the glossy faux wood that passes for luxury these days. How easily it scratches and how long it’ll look its best is up for long-term trial.
Remnants of the Daimler tie-up include the door window switches, foot-operated parking brake and a single stalk for both turn signal indication and wiper control that isn’t hindered by a secondary cruise control stalk a la Mercedes-Benz. Buttons for cruising are on the thick-rim, heated steering wheel opposite other buttons that control voice activation and the instrument cluster’s info display screen. Yet more switches behind the wheel’s spokes operate the audio system. Despite how this sounds, it’s all logically laid out and intuitively easy to use, while permanent main menu icons make light of mastering the touch-screen interface.
Head on down to your local Chrysler dealer and have a look inside a 300C. Everything you see is standard: dual-zone climate control, park sensors, reversing camera, powered, heated and ventilated seats, steering wheel-mounted paddle-shifters, nine-speaker Alpine surround sound, keyless comfort access, rear seat heating, powered rear sun blind, tyre pressure monitoring, touch-screen sat-nav and a dual-pane sunroof are the pick of a lengthy list. The only real option is what Chrysler calls the Driver Confidence Group package, which basically is a set of driver aids that adds adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning and blind spot monitoring.
Beneath the bonnet you’ll find a VM Motori-sourced, Fiat Powertrain Technologies-fettled 3.0-litre turbodiesel good for 176kW allied to an old-school five-speed auto turning the rear wheels. Despite being short of a cog or two or three, depending on the opposition, gear changes are acceptably quick and treacle smooth. Having up to 550Nm of torque on hand is always useful when pulling out from the station. Go hard at the throttle and the motor picks up revs cleanly and consistently until around 4000rpm, where power peaks. In that distinctively diesel way, it is counter-productive to push on much after that, so tug on the right paddle and repeat.
Under full throttle, the motor sounds gruff and powerful and rewards with a sprightly acceleration figure of 7.8 seconds despite its near two-tonne mass. All this while returning a claimed 7.2ℓ/100km on the combined cycle. Our own fuel test route delivered an 8.4ℓ/100km result which equates to a cruising range of 860km from its 72-litre tank. Negatives? Engine noise, while mostly really well supressed, is too intrusive during gentle pull-aways, denying a stealthy launch.
Once up to speed however, occupants will appreciate Chrysler’s detailed NVH efforts that include things like noise absorbing wheelarch liners, laminated glass in the doors and an acoustic windscreen. The effect is most apparent at freeway speeds where the 300C proves to be a crushingly competent cruiser. I wonder how much quieter still it might be on smaller wheels, but I have no doubts about the ride, which feels genuinely adept over just about everything SA’s roads can throw at you.
The new 300C is pretty handy dynamically too, despite its mass. Keen drivers would no doubt like a touch less body roll and more weight to – and feedback from – the electro-hydraulic steering, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that this is a five-metre-long executive family car, not a track day special. Besides, at 2.75 turns lock to lock, the rack itself is quick. Whip the nose into a sharpish bend and the body will roll a little before settling down and biting into the blacktop. The news is much the same during hard acceleration and fierce braking with mere hints of the dive and squat reactions typical of older American cars. There’s good braking feel too, with an even pedal pressure build-up that keeps you well informed of the rate of retardation. Treat the throttle with impunity on a damp road and the 300C momentarily lets you know which end is driven, before the traction control tames your exuberance.
Yes, the new Chrysler 300C is still a brash statement of OTT Americana that may be too much for some. For everyone else, it’s a properly spacious luxury sedan packed with presence, poise and appeal. While not perfect, it’s been blessed with a greater measure of ability this time round. That alone should make it worthy of studious consideration. Then you factor in a R539990 price tag and you realise that yet another major USP is value. Seriously, it’s like paying economy but riding business. If I owned a train yard, I’d be downright pleased to have one on my track.