Added to the Chrysler 300 line-up in November last year, the sharp looking Chrysler 300S does its best to take it to the luxury European limousines and the remaining large Australian car, albeit with more than a touch of Americanness.
That sticker price also places it $7490 below its most direct rival in the upper large executive sedan (read: hire car) class, the Holden Caprice. And that’s compared with the big Holden’s LPG-only 180kW/320Nm six-cylinder entry point, with the gap growing to $12,990 when compared to the 260kW/517Nm 6.0-litre V8 petrol-powered Caprice V.
Equipped with the same 3.6-litre V6 petrol engine and eight-speed automatic transmission as the entry-level 300 Limited, the 300S outputs 210kW at 6350rpm and 340Nm at 4650rpm.
Down 137kW and 291Nm on the 6.4-litre V8 lump residing in the $66,000 flagship 300 SRT8, the V6’s claimed fuel consumption of 9.4 litres per 100 kilometres is far more palatable then its bigger brother's 13.0L/100km figure – particularly if many a trip between the city and airport is on the cards.
If you are already a fan of the boxy proportions and ‘gangsta' styling of the five metre-plus Chrysler 300, then the 300S’s sporty additions will likely appeal.
The 300S comes standard with a black chrome grille, black headlight bezels, a black bootlid spoiler and dual chrome exhaust tips. If you're wondering about the colour, it's called Granite Crystal.
Factory tinted windows and gloss black 20-inch alloy wheels encased in Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tyres – the rubber borrowed from higher specced SRT8 models – top off the exterior ‘pimp’-ness.
Inside, the Chrysler 300S features sports pedals, carbon-look interior accents and lashings of gloss black on the centre console, air vents, doors and leather-wrapped and heated steering wheel. Heated black Nappa leather sport seats are also standard – the Radar Red with embroidered ‘S’ logos and white stitching pictured is a no-cost option for bolder buyers.
Automatic bi-xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights, rain-sensing wipers, automatic dual-zone climate control, an 8.4-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation and a nine-speaker stereo with Bluetooth connectivity and audio streaming, and tyre pressure monitoring round out a comprehensive list of standard goodies.
Options are few, but include a panoramic sunroof ($2000), a black painted roof ($2300) and a 19-speaker premium audio system ($1800). A $1900 Safety Tec package is also available comprising blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-path detection, forward collision warning and adaptive cruise control.
Sitting high up in the wide, heavily bolstered and very comfortable front seats, outward vision out is good despite thick B- and C-pillars. There’s also no mistaking the US sedan for anything remotely tame, boring or, dare we say it, Germanic.
The black headlining, chrome and leather gear shifter, three chrome-ringed and rubber-topped rotary dials (for volume, tune and climate control) and large brushed aluminium door handles, which are solid in feel and operation, all help give the 300S a genuinely luxurious feel. Heated and cooled cup holders are a nice touch too as is the large and cleverly compartmentalised centre console bin.
The catch is they are offset by tacky inclusions that scream of trying that bit too hard. These include ‘Alpine’ badging on the inside of the wing mirrors, blue ambient lighting, blue-backlit central instruments and a central analogue clock that falls short of looking properly high-end.
Interior quality is further let down by the use of a soft touch, but still scratchy, material on the doors, dash tops and centre console flanks that shows early signs of sun damage less than 2000km in.
With the second-generation Chrysler 300 introduced into its home market in 2011 and locally in 2012, in-car tech also feels dated.
The colour touchscreen works reasonably well, but its presentation and operation are far from cutting edge (the screen also goes dark if the auto lights turn on during daylight hours).
Bluetooth functionality too suffers with audio streaming capability tied to a two-step process requiring connectivity first of a phone solely as a phone, then again as an audio device. Once synced, the media play screen also generically displays the name of the device rather than more commonly seen track information.
But whether driving or being driven, the Chrysler 300S makes sense as a baby limousine, providing high levels of passenger comfort.
Like the front pews, the rear seats are supportive and heavily bolstered and there is enough acreage in the back to easily accommodate two large blokes (or perhaps three slimmer folk). Its 60:40 split-fold rear bench is also accompanied by seat heaters, rear air vents and a centre armrest with twin cup holders.
Measuring 71mm shorter than its locally built Holden competitor (at 5066mm) but weighing 81 kilograms more, the 300S offers up to 1019mm of rear legroom and 1465mm of rear shoulder room – 78mm and 32mm shy of the Caprice respectively.
The 300S’s 462-litre boot is cavernous enough to ingest a couple of large suitcases but can’t beat the Holden’s 531-litre rear end for capacity. It is, however, home to a cargo net, four cargo hooks and an under-floor space saver spare.
While the six-cylinder engine is unable to deliver the same tyre-decimating performance as the small block Hemi-powered SRT8, the Chrysler 300S still picks up smoothly off the line with linear but deceptively brisk acceleration to its 6400rpm shift point.
Sadly, though engaging ‘Sport’ mode makes gear changes more aggressive, adjusts the lock of the torque converter and sharpens throttle response, it doesn’t improve the lacklustre exhaust note or up its volume.
And while there is no specifically selectable ‘Eco’ mode, an ‘Eco’ display does flash up on the dash during light throttle applications and when off throttle entirely. Clearly not seen frequently enough during our week with the car, we average 14.6 litres per 100km.
Steering is consistent and nicely weighted with off-centre response sharp enough to pick up minor steering adjustments. Clearly targeting luxury over performance, feedback through the wheel feels intentionally dialled down, while a slower steering rack means more turning is required when tackling tighter low-speed roundabouts and the like.
Parking sensors and a reversing camera – the latter stealthily located alongside the boot-mounted brake light – make squeezing the 300S into parking spots easier, though, the Chrysler does miss out on the dearer Caprice’s standard auto-parking function.
The biggest cause of brain explosions when parking, however, and notably one of the biggest negatives of the car as a whole, is the gear lever. Identical to that used in the new Jeep Grand Cherokee, our test car’s unit proved the most finicky we’ve experienced yet with the gearbox struggling to smoothly and accurately select and engage gears.
Routinely skipping over gears and sliding into the wrong gear, the system is not helped by its small and touchy side-mounted trigger switch. A far better user interface are the stubby half-paddles located just inside the rim of the steering wheel. Finished in aluminium, the shift paddles engage cleanly with a sound ‘thud’ accompanying every requested ratio change.
The brakes too are positive with natural and progressive stopping power teamed well with a firm pedal. Allowing for a clutter free transmission tunnel and additional storage, the 300S’s foot-operated park brake is another reminder of older thinking and can occasionally encroach on the driver’s dormant left leg.
Impressively, given its large diameter wheels and 45-profile Goodyear rubber, the Chrysler 300S rides very well.
It handles most bumps with suppleness and composure and even copes exceptionally well on unsealed roads. And, particularly in wet weather, the Eagle F1’s are amply grippy.
Some road noise is present at cruising speeds, however, the cabin remains rattle and shudder free even when faced with imperfect Melbourne backstreets.
Given its size and price positioning in its niche market segment, the Chrysler 300S offers buyers not after your premium European fair – the Audi A8, BMW 7 Series and Jaguar XJ – something different but no less worthy of the luxury title.
Not quite as refined or polished as others in its class, the 300S is a big, heavy ‘yank tank’ that competently combines high comfort and compliance levels with legitimate dynamic ability.
Starting to show its age in some areas – the Chrysler also misses out on capped-price servicing but does come with a three-year/100,000km warranty and three years roadside assist – the large US sedan still has enough ‘bling’ to tempt. It just comes down to a question of style and class.
Images by James Ward.