Can the Chrysler 300 be more than just a fad car?
That’s the challenge facing the US brand’s most important model as it arrives in Australia in new-generation form.
Chrysler has a history of producing cars with huge novelty appeal that have struggled for market durability. Think Prowler, PT Cruiser and Crossfire coupe.
They all caused a salesroom stampede thanks to awesome styling but then sank without trace when the styling aged and became passé.
The Chrysler 300C – there’s less emphasis on the capital C this time around - had such an incredible visual impact in 2005 that it was an instant hit (in salesrooms and in music videos) before sales started to fade away.
Chrysler is fighting hard to ensure the 300C doesn’t follow the other fad cars into oblivion, building a second-generation model that is a significant improvement on the original car.
It is still based on the original platform, which can be traced back to the mid-1990s Mercedes-Benz E-Class, though Chrysler says only 23 per cent of it remains.
Significant work has been made on the body, with new high-tensile steel, fresh panels, different windscreen rake, taller windows, and far more attention has been paid to reducing cabin noise. The interior is all-new and none of the engines has been carried over.
The model line-up has changed, with the introduction of a more basic entry-level car for $43,000 (some $10,000 less than the original cheapest 300C).
Then there is the styling.
Chrysler was never going to have the same impact with this car as it did the first 300C. It just wasn’t going to happen. So, it decided to move the design on a little, give it sleek new headlights (making the most of LEDs for a wedge shape), alter the grille, play with the proportions a little, but produce what looks like an evolution of the last model.
Like the last one, the new Chrysler 300 has real presence. It looks a little more upmarket but retains the trademark muscular stance.
The SRT version looks particularly mean and sounds monstrous, too.
Its 6.4-litre V8 is a fantastic engine and delivers the kind of large-displacement thunder akin to the Mercedes AMG 6.2-litre V8, which is being phased out.
It also has all the mumbo you could ever require with 347kW of power and 631Nm of torque at your disposal.
We tested the SRT8 300C in the worst possible conditions, in the wet at Phillip Island, and were told to leave the electronic stability control on. Even worse, there was a nanny pace car in front to make sure we didn’t end up in the barriers.
Chrysler’s concern was fair enough. The SRT8 weighs about 2000kg and it feels like it is never going to stop once it gets up to speed.
We’ll have to wait to test it in the dry, but first impressions suggest this is more of a straight-line hero with a great big engine than a handling special. No surprise there really given the nature of the last car and not really a big deal given that most owners will probably just enjoy the straight-line fun that comes with such a cracking engine.
The other Chrysler 300 models we drove on a road loop didn’t inspire cornering enthusiasm, either.
You can really feel the vehicle’s heft, especially in greasy conditions, and it feels generally cumbersome.
The car does give you a little more feel through the steering than the last-generation model, which also had overly light power steering.
It does ride better than before but is still not as composed on bumpy roads as a Ford Falcon or Holden Commodore. Despite the revisions, the 300 feels like it’s riding on an old chassis.
Chrysler has hit the mark with the 300’s engine range at least.
The SRT 6.4 V8 is stunning, and one member of the motoring media managed to record a 0-100km/h sprint of 5 seconds flat in the wet. It is a seriously sweet engine, although that grunt is wasted in the wet.
The other engine that stands out is the base V6 petrol unit, the 3.6-litre they call the Pentastar, which generates a handy 210kW and 340Nm. This is a strong powerplant that spins quickly and propels this bus at an impressive rate. It is remarkably smooth and quiet, too.
If anything it could do with a touch more torque given the weight of the Chrysler 300. The automatic is generally excellent, although it does have to work to keep the engine singing when pressed.
In most conditions you just don’t notice that it’s there, which is the mark of a good automatic transmission.
The 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel, from VM Motori, is also a competent engine and makes 176kW and 550Nm. There are no issues with torque here and it pulls hard when you get stuck in. The diesel is well suited to a big heavy car like this and it is generally smooth and quiet in most conditions.
However, it was a little coarse in our car at idle and low speed. While it only has five gears, the automatic works well, possibly because it doesn’t need to hunt around given the vast over-supply of torque.
Some diesel converts will want to pick this engine, which is also the most efficient, but it does cost a hefty $5000 more than the petrol V6 that is perfectly good.
Chrysler spent a fair amount of time and effort working to improve the cabin serenity of the 300 and it has paid off. The changes, which included the automotive equivalent of expanding foam to fill cavities, have reduced wind and road noise to a level you expect from a premium large sedan.
The interior quality has been improved and the general impression far superior to the last car. We found a couple of quality glitches, but the fit, finish and feel of the surfaces is very good if still a little off BMW and Audi.
The base 300 Limited does give the impression of cheapness due to its cloth seats that really stand out given that the doors and centre console lid are lined in what looks like leather. These entry-level cars don’t miss out on much, but the lack of leather in a car like this is so jarring that most customers will likely try and stretch to the 300C, which costs $3500 more.
Apart from this omission, the base 300 has all the comfort gear you need and is fully loaded with safety gear including seven airbags, stability control and (importantly) a rear view camera as well as parking sensors.
We like the multi-function centre screen, although at 8.4-inches it actually looks a bit too big and dominates the dashboard.
There is enough room in back, with adequate legroom, although there is not as much space as you might expect given the external dimensions.
It is the same with the boot, which should be cavernous but is actually quite narrow given the space taken up by the wheel guards, which have to be tall and wide given the big wheels (20 inches on some models) that fill them.
One nice touch is the way the boot pops up slowly. And generally there is a lot to like about the new Chrysler 300 range.
It’s a bit of a barge when it comes to corners and the ride is disappointingly busy, but strong engines, high equipment levels and stand-out styling means the 300 has a good chance of avoiding Chrysler’s long list of one-hit wonders.