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FIRST DRIVES

Sense and sensibility

QUICK FACTS Price From $40,000 (est) On sale April

Amid financial ruin, Chrysler has smartened up the 300C. But, asks Dimitri Pesin, has the big brute lost its distinctive appeal in the process?

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t’s crunch time for Chrysler. As it begins to gradually get back on its feet, creeping out of bankruptcy and gradually into the black, 2011 looks to be a crucial year for the brand once revered for being one of Detroit’s heavy hitters. The rollercoaster ride of Daimler and Cerberus ownership is over. In its place comes Fiat and a raft of refreshed models. Among the first of these to arrive in the Middle East is the 300C. Coming six years after the original’s 2005 launch, much hoopla has built up after the car’s Detroit unveiling in January. Undoubtedly much of 34 WWW.AUTOCAR.AE MARCH 2011

it is to do with the fact that the old 300 was distinctly idiosyncratic; a brutish oddball with iconic style but more than a few rough edges. Despite borrowing from the mid’90s Mercedes-Benz parts bin, many remember it for its poor quality, where substance never matched the arresting style. So 2011’s 300 has some catching up to do. And, at this first drive in San Diego, California, the 300’s heads of design and engineering promise that this time they’ve got it right; that this time the 300 matches the likes of the BMW 5 Series, Audi A6 and Mercedes E-Class.

Gangsta proportions remain, but new 300C is less brash than predecessor


Chrysler 300C | First Drive

Cabin layout has been subtly updated, and better quality materials are used throughout

Rear quarters are comfortable and spacious, but small glasshouse means visibility isn’t the best

gear, while the cool blues of the dials match the backlighting of all the buttons. The centre console is dominated by a large 8.4in touchscreen that houses a supremely fast and intuitive infotainment system (as well as familiar Garmin sat nav) and the clock that sits atop it adds a touch of modernity. All the panels are more tightly screwed together too, and it feels like a classy place to be. It still lacks the solid quality of a European equivalent with a few evident sharp edges and rough, hard plastics in places (particularly in the doors) – but in terms of overall feel and fit-and-finish, it’s an ◊

FACTFILE CHRYSLER 300C

Engine 5.7-litre V8 Power 358bhp at 5200rpm Torque 534Nm at 4200rpm Transmission Five-speed automatic Kerb weight 1937kg Length 5044mm Width 1902mm Height 1492mm Wheelbase 3052mm 0-100km/h 4.9sec Top speed 250km/h (limited) On sale April Price From $40,000 (est)

MARCH 2011 WWW.AUTOCAR.AE 35

MANUFACTURER’S CLAIMED FIGURES

shaped in a ‘C’ within the headlight cluster, along with the rear lights that are neatly joined by a chrome strip and have a subtle touch of 1950s Americana tail fin about them. Just below, two exhaust pipes that fit flush in the rear bumper finish off the exterior updates. The interior is similarly pleasing on the eye. The feeling of space is retained through a design that carries a perception of width over height through the narrow glasshouse, and a dashboard that’s slanted away from the driver, into the bonnet. Chrome highlights surround the faux wood and soft touch switch-

VITALS

Luckily, that style has remained. It’s now calmer, less brutal looking, yet just as muscular with the signature high-waistline/ long wheelbase/short overhangs combination. It’s still an imposing saloon that wouldn’t look out of place in The Sopranos, making a refreshing distraction from the more sedate Teutons it stands against. It’s now a touch bigger in every dimension, and while the 300’s standout chrome grille is smaller, it’s still prominent, with a shapely, Bentley-like sculpture to it. There are some other neat touches in the LED daytime running lights that are


xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Face has been given a thorough freshen-up, but new 300C isn’t quite as distinctive as the original 36 WWW.AUTOCAR.AE MARCH 2011

∆ improvement on the previous 300. As ever, roominess is the 300’s strong point. Large seats front and rear complement the generous head and legroom that provides occupants with plenty of space, there’s room to move around, the boot is capacious, and the dual-pane sunroof adds an airy feel to the cabin. Despite what the design overhaul seems to suggest, this isn’t a secondgeneration car; it’s more a reworked version of the old one. Underneath is the same architecture as the last 300, but it’s been stiffened, sits lower to the ground and has tweaked suspension and wheel camber settings to improve its road manners. The 5.7-litre Hemi tested here is essentially the same as the last 300C’s – just 3bhp and 7Nm healthier. It delivers its power in a linear and muscular – if muted – way. Chrysler says customers put comfort and refinement high on their priority list, so emphasis was put on NVH this time round. The added insulation means there’s little road noise and even less mechanical intrusion into the cabin, making the new 300 a serene highway cruiser.


Chrysler 300C | First Drive

‘Despite the 300C’s large proportions, it’s easy to place on the road and settles nicely for a two-tonne saloon’

Chrysler’s 5.7-litre Hemi V8 is carried over, but outputs are bumped up slightly

Only the carryover five-speed auto (due to be replaced by an eight-speed ZF auto) lets it down by occasionally fumbling gears. On the open road, once you get over the lack of feedback from the helm, the steering becomes direct and responsive. Despite the 300’s large proportions, it’s easy to place on the road and settles nicely (or at least as nicely as a two-tonne saloon can) once you’ve gone through the initial body roll. It’s a welcome improvement on the soggy, aloof nature of the old car. To achieve a balance between a comfortable and sporting ride, Chrysler benchmarked the 300 against a Lexus LS460 and BMW 5 Series – and the result is well-judged, if leaning more towards ◊


First Drive | Chrysler 300C

∆ the softer, limo side of things. Occasionally it floats as speed builds and the wide seats could do with more support, but in truth, the 300 isn’t aimed at twisting backroads. By now, it’s probably evident that the new 300C isn’t the most complete car in its class. And yet, at the same time, it’s also evident that it’s now a far better car than the one it replaces

– better finished, more refined and more enjoyable to drive. In some ways it’s almost as if the old 300 was just Chrysler’s test run for the new car. Price-wise too, it continues to undercut most of the competition, while retaining its stand-out qualities of style, space and pace. Taken as a whole, the new 300C is now a far more appealing proposition. L

New 300C adds a greater dose of refinement and quality to the recipe 38 WWW.AUTOCAR.AE MARCH 2011

Chrysler 300C  

chrysler 300c san diego