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How important are a car’s looks? If you’re interested in the 2015 Chrysler 300, there’s a solid chance the answer lies somewhere between ‘very’ and ‘entirely’.
This is not to impugn the luxury sedan in other areas, but the key to the long, low and proudly North American Chrysler 300 securing primacy in the eye of a prospective buyer has always been its positioning as a style statement.
All this was true of the first-generation version launched locally in 2006, and remains very much the case in its second-generation guise, which launched in 2012 but last month received a traditional mid-life update that saw some moderate styling tweaks, and the base versions axed in addition to the overpriced diesel option.
On another level, the Chrysler 300 has for years served as a nice counterpoint to the local heroes, the Holden Commodore/Caprice and Ford Falcon. All three cars are rear-wheel-drive, large sedans with big engines, after all. But as those cars near their end, that market is shrinking.
Now, the Chrysler 300 is targeted as much at something smaller and German like a Mercedes-Benz C200, or the equally gargantuan Hyundai Genesis from Korea — fast becoming a favourite among airport chauffeurs.
These comparisons are especially true of the range-topping, and confusingly named, 300C Luxury variant tested here (the dropped 'C' returns), which retails for $54,000 plus on-road costs — $3000 more than before — but which comes positively loaded to the gills with standard equipment.
How loaded? Try 20-inch aluminium wheels, quilted Nappa leather seats and door inserts like an S-Class Benz, French stitched Foligno Italian leather on the dash fascia and centre console, satellite navigation, automatic high-beam lights, heated seats both front and rear (and ventilated up front), a powered rear sunshade, heated/cooled cupholders, a heated steering wheel, and a pair of USB points for rear seat occupants.
There’s also a good array of active and preventative safety technology alongside the standard seven airbags, including adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic detection, lane-departure warning and forward collision warning. Importantly, it all actually works properly too.
Read our full breakdown of the 2015 Chrysler 300's pricing and specifications here.
The Chrysler 300C’s cabin is a thoroughly nice place to spend time. The seats are vast and comfy and trimmed in butter-soft leather, the 8.4-inch touchscreen with FCA’s UConnect system is intuitive to operate — and has some nice shortcuts when loading on startup that allow you to get those heated seats cranking.
One notable cabin highlight was the blue ambient lighting that lent the car an almost futuristic vibe at night, while the 7.0-inch digital instrument cluster (including digital speedo) is one of the more informative and simple-to-scroll systems out there.
The layout is simple to figure out and reasonably ergonomic — particularly worth a nod is the rotary dial (E-Shift in FCA parlance) that replaces a conventional gear shifter, and reminds one of the Jaguar XF — though the oversized steering wheel, foot-operated parking brake and huge C-pillars diluted things to a degree.
Many of the materials are also high-end — the die-cast paddleshifters, and the leather inserts on many contact points, for instance. That said, some of the fake wood and plastics on the fascia feel cheap, and not quite as well screwed together as you’d want in a premium car.
As the photos will no doubt show you, our Luxury-spec test car’s interior was… polarising. Colleague Curt worded it best with phrases such as “half-a-forest’s worth of hand-sanded, open-pore wood trim in, well, the most conspicuous areas possible”.
This finish, alongside the cream-coloured Nappa leather, is merely a no-cost option (an all-black treatment is standard), and kudos to Chrysler for offering it, really. Curt felt it was utterly over the top and yet avoided being gauche — just. This is a point with which I must respectfully disagree. It looks like a 1970s' porn star’s couch. Black for me, please.
Our test car had a few options, which proved to be a mixed bag. The standard nine-speaker Alpine system with a sub and 506-watt amp is pretty excellent, but true audiophiles will want to drop $2000 on the Harman Kardon 19-speaker/900W unit that our car had. Tame Impala’s new album has rarely sounded as layered and complex as it did in our 300C.
Our car also had the $2000 dual-pane sunroof, which is usually a worthy addition, but which in the case of the Chrysler 300 watered-down already limited rear headroom. I’m 194cm, and was scraping my hair on the roof even from the driver’s seat — not ideal.
In fact, for a car that measures a shade over five metres in length (5066mm), rear space in general is quite limited. The packaging, as we see with a number of American cars, really could be better. But you sense the engineers were tethered to the design this time around.
On that note, this update is about evolution not revolution. There’s a redesigned fascia, an even more prominent grille with chrome surround and floating inset badge, new bi-xenon adaptive lighting with LED daytime running lights, revised rear styling with new LED tail lights and new wheel designs.
At least rear occupants get vents and a USB point each, and those heated rear pews look the part even if they’re a little shy on offering support. You can flip-fold the seats to access the boot, which is rated at a small-ish 462 litres. Said boot has a long and somewhat shallow floor that raises near the seats, and hides only a space-saver spare. There are nifty carry hooks back there, though.
As part of the mid-life update, there is currently only one engine option on the 300C — the familiar 3.6-litre Pentastar petrol V6. Nobody - apart from maybe a few hire car companies - bought the fantastic 176kW/550Nm 3.0 TDI diesel, because it was simply too expensive.
(Relax, hi-po heads, because the SRT8 with its massively powerful 350kW/637Nm Hemi V8 will arrive within weeks, with Australia now its main global market. FCA in the US is putting its eggs in the Dodge Charger Hellcat basket instead.)
The Chrysler 300C’s 3.6-litre V6 pumps out a respectable 210kW at 6350rpm and 340Nm at 4300rpm — the Commodore’s 3.6 makes 210kW/350Nm — while torque is sent to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic sourced from German wizards ZF, which explains the rotary E-Shifter.
It’s a sweet and vocal engine that loves to rev and sounds satisfyingly raucous when doing so, though the fact it has to lug about 1937kg of Canadian-made car (that’s quite porky) means you won’t be tearing up the asphalt. That’s what the SRT8 is for.
This is a proper cruiser, really, though it performs well enough in terms of low-speed tractability and has a nice linear, responsive nature under moderate throttle. We also matched Chrysler’s claimed combined-cycle fuel claim of 9.7 litres per 100km, which is commendable (though stop-start traffic will pitch you well into the teens).
The eight-speed auto — which is used to an almost ubiquitous degree in some form across the industry — characteristically kicks down swiftly and intuitively, though it feels a little lacking in finesse compared to the benchmark BMW application, for instance in the way it occasionally thumps when upshifting aggressively.
One new feature is the pair of switchable Sport functions, operated by either the S position on the E-Shifter (this mode heightens throttle sensitivity, holds lower gears longer, and cuts shift times from 400ms to 250ms) or by an actual Sport Mode button, which adds extra steering resistance.
Said electro-assisted steering is typically light and has some play on-centre, and even in Sport mode rarely feels particularly connected to the front wheels.The positive trade-off is the friendly lightness around town. The rack is an acceptable 2.8-turns lock-to-lock.
The 300 has never had the alacrity in corners of the Falcon or Commodore, being more of a straight-line cruiser than a cornering bruiser, and that hasn’t changed here. That said, its chassis balance is certainly serviceable for the role, and the mid-corner grip is sufficient for the occasional letting-off-of-steam. The seats lose grip of your torso before the tyres lose grip on the road.
Our test car was (and is, presumably!) called the 300C Luxury, so clearly the onus is instead on comfort. The all-round independent suspension and cushy dampers give the car a soft, cloud-like ride over sharper corrugations. Any hints of brittleness are down more to those huge 20-inch wheels than any issues with the damper compression.
Impressive also are the brakes, which pull the big sedan up with reassuring ease and robustness, even though the actual pedal feel is a little spongy.
One area where the 300 is far from a star is the cost of servicing. Intervals are 12,000km or six months (whichever comes first). The first six services (in Victoria) are quoted at $326, $384, $326, $569, $326 and $384. That's way more than a Calais or Genesis.
All told, the 300C Luxury strikes the right balance — I don’t much care if the steering is a little vague and the chassis not quite as sharp as a Falcon or 5 Series. This is a car calibrated for comfort, and Chrysler has done that task well.
As ever, the Chrysler 300 is not a car bereft of flaws. But you can’t fault the long list of equipment that — despite the recent price hike — still makes this, the current top-spec variant, pretty sharp value. The cabin packaging, however, could be better, as could some of the presentation.
Nevertheless, in key areas of comfort, road presence and badge cred, the Chrysler 300 belies its advancing years and modest mid-life update, and continues to carve out a viable, valuable niche for its maker. If you liked it before, you'll like it more now.
Click the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser.