It’s been 12 years since the then Daimler Chrysler unveiled its then 300C concept at the 2003 New York motor show, and for over a decade production versions of the large limo have endured name changes, freshen ups and a major gen-two overhaul to maintain relevancy and appeal. And throughout this legacy the 300 range has been trying to shake off the ‘gangsta’ stigma and build an acceptance as a world-class luxury player, albeit one never shy of offering big character for little outlay.
The 2015 Chrysler 300 essentially face-lifts the major second-generation overhaul, which emerged in 2011. And this latest version not only promises to shake off the last of the gen-one 300’s once strong DNA ties with circa late-’90s Mercedes-Benz E Class, but a wholesale polish inside and out goes some way to maintaining some lustre to the low-slung sedan that continues to age somewhat gracefully.
The latest range has just launched with two luxury-focused variants, the base 300C at $49,000 and the high-spec 300C Luxury, priced from $54,000 plus on-roads. These will be complimented by two SRT-branded performance variants in the cheap and cheerful SRT Core and more lavish SRT Premium, expected to fetch between $60K-$70K.
Read the 2015 Chrysler 300 pricing and specifications story here.
As reported in November last year, both SRT versions will carryover the evergreen 6.4-litre Hemi V8 – a coup for Australian muscle car fans given that the US range will ‘make do’ with the 5.7 litre V8, an upshot of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles moves to drive a larger wedge between positioning, brand wise, Dodge as performance and Chrysler as luxury.
So the 300C Luxury, the only variant available to sample at the local launch, ought to be indicative of the 300 range at its brightest and best.
There’s certainly a freshness to the revised front and rear fascia treatments, perhaps as much by association as by inspiration. Blind Freddy could spot more than a hint of Bentley in the grille, while in the “Mobius strip” alloy look accent trim housing the LED front fog lights and the newly smoothed rear fascia’s ‘exhaust slit’ tips look Audi-certified.
The adaptive bi-xenon headlights, C-shaped LED daytime running lights and smoothed LED tail lights, framed in red ‘halo’ illumination, are all suitably techy jewellery befitting The Look. None-more-chrome 20-inch wheels – the base car gets 18s – and satin alloy mirror caps, among various exterior trim bright work, complete what’s more a subtle exterior massage than comprehensive overhaul of exterior styling.
The cabin space gets a more ostentatious treatment, though much of the effect is in mixing and matching fresh-look materials – in a choice of styling themes Chrysler describes as “inspired by American cities” – applied to what is otherwise a familiar, carried over gen-two interior design.
Our Luxury-spec test car’s interior was drowned in perforated cream-coloured Nappa leather on the seats and door trims, French stitched Foligno Italian leather on the dash fascia and centre console and accented with half-a-forest’s worth of hand-sanded, open-pore wood trim in, well, the most conspicuous areas possible. It’s a no-cost option (an all-black treatment is standard), is utterly over the top and yet avoids being gauche. Just.
One key change is the new steering wheel: thick rimmed, fat-spoked, huge in diameter and dressed in oversized multifunction buttons. Leather and wood trimmed in base spec, the Luxury’s version is both hand-stitched, heated and has die-cast paddle shifters. Kitchy Americana perhaps, but perfectly befitting the 300C’s character.
Another new feature is the more-than-a-bit-Jaguar rotary ‘E-shift’ transmission selector for the across-the-range TorqueFlite eight-speed automatic, replacing the outgoing by-wire selector and saw-tooth mechanical design of the now thankfully defunct five-speed autos. The final notable spec change inside is the seven-inch colour instrument display between the blue-lit 3D-look analogue speedo and tacho.
For all the razzmatazz and big-dollar materials, the Canadian-built 300C, even in high-end Luxury spec, just lacks for properly premium fit and finish, providing German luxury car-making rivals little cause for concern.
Seating typifies the 300C’s shortcomings. Even in base trim the fully electric front pews are heated and cooled, the rear bench is heated in the outboard positions (which also get individual USB ports and air vents), and presentation is superb. Any yet they’re uncomfortably firm and flat, even after patient adjustment, and offer nothing in the way of lateral support. A lot of form, not much function, then.
Much of the mostly carryover equipment, too, is more adequate than exceptional in operation. The UConnect infotainment system, with its large 8.4-inch touchscreen, is hardly a benchmark of usability and slickness, even though it works fine. The climate control has a habit of refusing to circulate airflow once left to its automated devices. And both the single old-Benz-style control stalk and footbrake are charming merely because they now feel so dated. That said, the nine-speaker 508-watt Alpine audio is a fine quality system and all 300s come with digital radio as standard.
Both base and Luxury 300Cs get parking sensors front and rear as well as large, clear rear-view camera, but it’s the range-topper only that bolsters the driver convenience and safety ranks with standard-fit gear such as adaptive cruise control with full-stop functionality, automatic high beam, rain-sensing wipers, Advanced Brake Assist (which increases braking force automatically if a collision is detected), blind spot monitoring, and both lane departure and forward collision warning systems. Seven air bags are standard fitment across the range.
The 300C does compensate for a lack of premium sheen with impressive solidity. This is primarily what provides 300C its requite sense of quality. So it’s less about providing fine tolerances, more about a satisfying ‘thunk’ of a closing door, then. True to form, the 2015 version, like its forebears, is built like a bank vault.
That rock solidity is the 300C Luxury highlight on the move. In this, the older versions were always a rung or two above locally made rivals and a match for Europe’s finest and priciest. But some subtle polishing in the refinement stakes enhances the new 300 further. Specifically, the so-called “acoustically tuned interior” treatment of dual-pane windshield and front-side glass, foam filling of body cavities, triple door seals and wheel well liners conspire to impressive isolation from extraneous environmental and road noise.
There are no prizes for guessing that the big Chrysler is at its finest at a cruise. The 3.6-litre petrol V6 is carryover, offering an adequate 210kW (at 6350rpm) and 340Nm (at 4300rpm) for hauling around a formidable 1937kg. It’s smooth, quiet and amply tractable at low rpm with light throttle applications and keenly responsive in the mid-range when tasked with lunging for gap in traffic. Even treated to liberal doses of the right foot enthusiasm, our test car came close to achieving its 9.7L/100km combined fuel consumption claim, which improves to 9.4L in the base 300C. Our urban test cycle returned a far better 10.8L figure than its maker’s 14.3L claim, too.
The eight-speed transmission, too, kicks down urgently and intuitively on command, though it does lack the finesse and seamless operation of German ZF autos as used in rivals ranging from Falcon to 5 Series.
Where the powertrain sweats is when it's called to battle. New for 300C – though not the SRT models – is a switchable Sport function, either as an engine/transmission drive mode via a button or as a separate transmission calibration via the console dial. However, dig in and the V6 does get gruff and strained as revs close in on the redline, while the auto’s upshifts thump and, in self-shifting mode, hold on to ratios unnecessarily well after you’ve lifted off the right pedal. Shift times do quicken, though, from 400 to 250 milliseconds.
Annoying, too, is the exaggerated stagger between the throttle and high-set brake pedal, which can cause your right leg to ache during long-haul driving. That said, the braking power itself feels extremely robust. As it would want to be – the 300C can be a big, wieldy thing to punt along with a good head of steam.
The Sport mode, once engaged, also retunes the new electric-assist power steering system for “precise performance-handling feel”. In theory, at least. While the moderate increase in steering weight is evident the system remains accurate if a little numb. That said, the benefits are noticeable in normal driving and low-speed manoeuvring, where the electric system is friendlier and less laborious and cumbersome than the hydromechanical set-up it replaces.
Given this variant’s luxurious promise, favourable ride comfort is crucial and, on balance, it’s a fairly positive affair. There’s no discernable thumping or crashing over large or square-edged road irregularities and even sat on low-profile 20-inch tyres it’s generally a quite compliant chassis, if a little fidgety in primary ride. The damper’s compression stroke could be a touch softer, but it’s a minor quibble.
Grip? Plenty. And its chassis will still be hanging on through corners well after your body has been flung around the cabin because of those flat seats. That said, this is largely a moot point – if you want corner-carving dynamics, you’ll have to wait for the SRT-badged versions.
Roominess, comfort, exceptional touring manners, loads of feel-good factor and High Street shtick with a blue collared price tag, there’s a lot to like about the 300C Luxury. It remains a lot of car for the money. But if there’s one main criticism it’s that the 2015 updates are essentially little more than a new lick of paint on what’s more or less the same old canvas.
The 2015 updates do inject a sense of occasion and vibrancy to separate the new crop from the hired limo stigma. And that’ll be enough of a win in many buyers’ eyes.