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Chrysler 300C

 

It didn't take long for Chrysler's 300C to overcome the hefty dollop of cynicism I'd started with.

I've been attracted to brash-looking American cars before, but generally found them flabby and over-soft, not to mention badly built. This one I also expected to be over-priced.

So it came as a bit of a shock to confirm that this thing isn't flabby. Initial build quality impressions are good too, and it's priced alongside or close to Ford's Falcon Fairmont and Holden's Commodore Statesman and Calais. Yet it's got more power, more torque and a better fuel economy claim. As well as a lot more panache.

After several hundred kilometres of sometimes spirited driving I'd hazard a guess that it handles better than Holden's iconic Commodore too, though you'd need a back-to-back battle to confirm it. But that's jumping the gun.

The 300C badge initially appeared in 1955 as a two-door coupe powered by a 224kW engine that took it to 205km/h on Daytona beach. An advertising quote of the time said it had "a grille all its own", and Chrysler is making the most of that visual link to this new 300C, for there are very few others.

This 300C's massive four-door body - it's longer than a standard Commodore, though shorter than a Statesman - has the bluntly handsome lines of a Bentley, a design cue further underlined with the optional mesh grille that'll set you back $2092.50.

It's also got a very roomy cabin thanks to a wheelbase that's been pushed out to the max. At 3048mm it's longer than that Statesman's, indeed it's longer than a BMW 7 Series wheelbase.

Mercedes? Ah no, no platform sharing here. No Mercedes engines either. Instead there's a 3.5-litre V6 offering 183kW at 6400rpm and 340Nm at 3800rpm, to take you from 0-100km/h in 9.2 seconds.

Then there's the 5.7-litre V8 Hemi, basically the same engine as fitted to the Grand Cherokee, with 250kW at 5000rpm and 525Nm at 4000 and a 0-100km/h time of 6.4 seconds. Both motors are matched to a five-speed automatic gearbox.

In normal cruising mode you'll rarely notice the V6 engine's power deficit in what is, at 1824kg, undeniably a heavy car. It gets along smoothly and pulls well enough. Until you floor it, when suddenly the V8 makes sense, despite its 93kg additional weight.

 Need to overtake? The 525Nm of torque scrabbles for control of the 18-inch rear wheels before hurling you past the slower traffic with a muted roar.

Muted it may be, but that roar is particularly noticeable because the car is so quiet - there's surprisingly little road noise, or engine noise when cruising, and wind noise is kept to a minimum. More expensive cars could learn from this one, and combine that with the plushly comfy ride and you raise the question: could the car take bigger wheels and lower profile tyres without making too great a ride and handling compromise?

There are no official larger wheel options, but the hot SRT8 version due next year will come out with 20-inchers.

But back to the plushly comfy warning bells. This car's independent suspension equation offers a plush, compliant ride, but it's also well controlled. Body roll in hard corners, especially, is kept well in check.

Though ultimately the new Honda Legend I drove recently is capable of harder driving, it actually rolls more than the 300C.

The Chrysler was especially impressive on the tight bends along the Far North's eastern coast. No, the 300C is not a nimble dancer around corners, but it showed willing. You were aware such driving isn't the car's natural environment without it actually giving in, responding erratically or putting a foot wrong.

There was a lot of grip, too. The plentiful electronic nannies - ABS, ESP, BAS and TCS - didn't intrude too early, and when they do cut in there's none of the intrusive foot-slapping pedals you encounter from Commodore.

Where Chrysler has been a little too clever is in not providing a means of seeing when the cylinders cut out. For go easy on the throttle, (during motorway cruising, for instance) and four cylinders take a rest to improve economy - though you wouldn't know it by feel.

Chrysler quotes 12.1 litres/100km on the combined cycle for the V8; we saw about 12.9 from admittedly hard driving. People won't buy the car for this alone, but they'll like to have it there.

Why buy a V8 in these days of high petrol prices? Ah, but it cuts cylinders in cruise mode to reduce thirst; it's an environmentally friendly power-meister that lets you have your cake and eat it too.

A light on the dash when cylinders cut, or an instant fuel read-out as a message, would let owners enjoy the fact they have a big, brash, Yankee V8 with a conscience. Not to mention a decent features list.

Quibbles? I'd prefer an extending steering column to ease adjustability for we shorties, and of course you'll have to wait and see whether the promising first impressions of build quality will stand the test of time.

 Who are the buyers?
Who will buy the Chrysler 300C? The answer could prove to be interesting.

For though Nissan Maximas and their ilk will never be bought by dyed-in-the-wool Holden Commodore or Ford Falcon fans, they might bend far enough to consider this car on the strength of its American heritage, and that Hemi engine. Moreover though the Calais may be seen as just a frilled-up Commodore, the 300C is something else - and has the presence to make that clear.

Meanwhile, buyers looking at European cars because they want something a little different and exclusive will also find it here - only 300 Chrysler 300Cs are due here next year - without having to break the bank to get the generously-sized body.

Better yet, drivers who yearn for a V8 but have green-tinted souls can use that more frugal cylinder-cutting tech to make the logical argument to fulfil their desire.

Chrysler dealers could get a lot of increased traffic on their forecourts, just in time for next year's blitz of incoming models. Given that the 300C is pitted against NZ's favourite large cars, we're betting it's this one that'll have you sitting up and taking notice.

Chrysler's busy 2006
Chrysler dealers will have a lot of new procucts, besides the 300C, to sell in 2006. The PT Cruiser cabrio (converyible) is due early in the year, followed by the 300C Touring wagon.

There will also be an SRT8 version of the 300C and a diesel-powered car.

An SRT8 will join the Jeep Cherokee range alongside an Overland and a seven-seat Commander.

The Dodge Caliber will introduce the Dodge car brand in NZ mid-year.

Chrysler 300C Specifications

Engines 3.5-litre 60-degree liquid-cooled V6 developing 183kW at 6400rpm and 340Nm at 3800rpm. 5.7-litre 90-degree Hemi V8, liquid cooled, cuts four cylinders in economy mode. Maximum power, 250kW at 5000rpm; peak torque, 525Nm at 4000rpm.

Transmission Rear-wheel drive, Five speed-automatic gearbox.

Suspension Front, independent short and long arm. Rear, five-link independent.

Brakes Front, 345mm ventilated discs. Rear, 320mm ventilated discs. ABS anti-lock system.

Wheels 18-inch diameter chrome-plated alloy.

Tyres P255/60 R18.

Performance 0-100km/h in 9.2 seconds (V6); 0-100km/h in 6.4 seconds (V8). Turning circle, 11.9 metres.

Fuel economy V6: 11 litres/100km (claimed); 11.9 litres/100km (observed). V8: 12.1 litres/100km (claimed). 12.9 litres/100km (observed).

Dimensions Length 4999mm; Width 1881mm; Height 1483mm; Wheelbase 3048mm; Front track 1600mm; Rear track 1603mm

Kerb weight 1824kg (V6); 1921kg (V8).

Fuel tank capacity 68 litres (V6); 72 litres (V8).

Prices V6 $59,990; V8 $69,990.


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