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Chrysler 300

 

The Chrysler 300 is the big kid who was a bit of a bully at school. Back in the day he was just that bit more bold and aggressive than everybody else in the class; intimidating enough to be able to push others around.

Fast-forward a few years and he doesn't look threatening any more. You might even say there's some delight in finding that he's mellowed substantially with age. Gone a bit soft. So who looks lame now?

I think it's fair to say that critics have delighted in the second-generation 300's change of fortunes, and not in a good way. The latest model is not as aggressive looking as the old, and certainly a lot less sharp in terms of steering and handling.

Despite the all-American style, the old 300 was quite European in the way it drove: unsurprising, since it was based on the previous-generation Mercedes-Benz E-class platform.

There's a fair bit of that old platform still underneath the new 300, but the styling now reflects Fiat's controlling interest in Chrysler: it's softer and more self-conscious, because it has to be. The 300 is also sold as a Lancia in Europe.

But ironically, the driving experience is more American than ever. The steering is very light, and while the car rides extremely well, the chassis is now tailored more towards motorway comfort than cornering prowess.

Know what? I don't mind that at all. I wasn't impressed with the 300 at all on Chrysler's media launch event, for the reasons above. But after a week on home turf in the entry-level 300 Limited, with the new Pentastar 3.6-litre V6 and eight-speed automatic transmission, I have come to really appreciate this new Chrysler.

No, it's not as sporty as a Holden Commodore or Ford Falcon. Not by a long shot. But let the Aussies have their driver-focused credentials. The Chrysler beats both on comfort, refinement and build quality. By a long shot.

Perhaps that's as it should be, for Chrysler 300 pricing starts at the upper end of the Aussie segment. The entry-level Limited is $57,990 in petrol form or $61,990 as a diesel. The mid-range 300C (only at this level does the ‘C' badge now kick in) starts at $61,990, while the top 300C Luxury opens at $67,990.

In many respects the basic 300 Limited might be the pick of the range. For a start, it's not that basic: 18-inch alloys (which still look a little small on this monster of a car), bi-Xenon headlights and an 8.4-inch touch screen for the information centre. It certainly looks the part.

Motoring writers tend to enthuse over diesels, but this time around the slick new 210kW/340 Pentastar petrol V6 is the main attraction for the 300 range. It's smooth and well-matched to the new eight-speed gearbox, even if the transmission does not have offer any manual gear selection whatsoever: no paddles, no pseudo-manual gate.

You can have paddles on the diesel, but you only get a five-speed gearbox, which rather negates the performance advantage of that torque-laden engine. Especially as it also carries a $4000 premium.

The Pentastar V6 is astonishingly smooth and quiet (as is the rest of the car) and thus equipped the 300 does a pretty decent impression of a pseudo-luxury sedan.

There are plenty of soft plastics, although the textures are not entirely consistent in some areas, and even this entry car goes big on bling: there's chrome everywhere and lurid illumination for the instrument graphics.

No, it's not a car to hustle along on a backroad. It's too big and too soft. But it is a car to sit back and enjoy. And if you can't enjoy the cheesy style and all-American image, you obviously have never heard of ironic consumption.

I like this car and I'm not ashamed to admit it. Most of the time.


Auto Trader New Zealand