The Chrysler 300C is proof that Americans can build big sedans that handle.
Forget about the image of the lurching, softly-sprung, land yacht Yank tank: this rear-drive American two-tonner is as nimble as many cars half its size. It’s not quite as sharp as, say, the new Ford Falcon BF XR8, but there’s not a lot in it. In the $69,990 300C the top-end Falcons and Holden Commodores at last have a real rival, a car that is driven by the proper set of wheels.
And nor is handling finesse achieved at the expense of ride comfort. The suspension is reasonably firm yet supple. The only quibble about the ride was a tendency for the car to get a little floaty on sections of road where there were lots of small bumps.
New Zealand car buyers have taken the 300C to heart: the waiting list for the V8 version is months long. After driving it for more than 1200 kilometres, it’s easy to see why: this is a car that goes, stops and handles as well as it looks, and which will return good fuel economy if driven with some sensitivity (see below). A surefire factor of the car’s success is its sticker price: for $70,000 you can buy a car that looks as if it would retail at far more than $100,000.
The 300C is big – it’s 4999mm long and rides on a 3048mm wheelbase – with macho, imposing styling. Yet there’s an athleticism to the lines, too – a tautness that sends a clear message that here is a car to be reckoned with. The 5.7-litre Hemi V8 produces 250kW at 5000rpm, and a massive 525Nm of peak torque at 4000rpm, giving the 1931kg four-door the ability to accelerate to 100km/h in 6.4 seconds.
The V8 is silky smooth, its torque creamy and seamless, the exhaust note an exhilarating shriek at high revs. The five-speed automatic gearbox has AutoStick – a sequential manual function.
Knocking the gear lever to the left changes to a lower gear; knocking to the right goes back up a cog. The manual changes are instant and smooth, even when you go down to first gear for the tightest hairpin corners. The only black mark was the width of the windscreen pillar and the driver’s side exterior mirror which, together, can hamper your view of the apex on right-hand corners. The chassis has high grip and is beautifully-sorted, which make it one of the best momentum-technique cars we’ve ever driven. There’s little need to brake for any but the sharpest corners: most can be tackled with ease, poise and minimal bodyroll at or near the 100km/h speed limit.
The year is still young, but I don’t think I’ll drive many cars in 2006 that will put the Chrysler 300C in the shade. In fact, it’s one of the best cars I have ever driven in nigh-on 30 years of road testing, and lingers in the memory in the same way as Alfa Romeo’s timeless 1750 GTV of the early 1970s, or Fiat’s cheeky and still gorgeous 850 Coupe of the same era.
I can think of few better things to do than to be driving through the NZ countryside in a 300C with Mick Jagger singing “You can’t always get what you want”. And there’s the rub: any Chrysler 300C I might buy will be well-used and several years away, unless Lotto lends a helping hand.
What you get
Standard equipment levels are all that you’d expect in an executive car. Creature comforts include leather upholstery, restrained woodgrain and chrome accents and fashionable alloy-look dashboard and centre console. Then there are power windows, heated and power-operated exterior mirrors, dual-zone, individually-adjustable climate-control air-conditioning, trip computer, a superb-sounding premium six-stacker Boston Sound Compact Disc sound system with sub-woofer, and chromed alloy wheels. There is a comprehensive trip computer.
Safety equipment includes ABS anti-lock braking, electronic stability aids, and dual front, side and curtain airbags.
The 300C has five lap/sash seatbelts. The rear cabin space came in for some criticism from passengers for being too narrow. We travelled three-up, and had complaints that there wasn’t enough room for three adults to be completely comfortable – and that with three across the car, the seatbelts were difficult to do up. Noise levels are low, although the Pirellis make quite a bit of noise on chip-surfaced roads.
The fuel economy story
Fuel economy? Yes, fuel economy in a car that weighs a shade under two tonnes and has as much power and torque – not to mention sheer bulk – as the 300C has. When I announced I’d be driving the Chrysler 300C to Palmerston North and back for the mid-February Paul Kelly motor racing series meeting at Manfeild, friends guffawed and asked me whether I was ready to refuel at Taupo at the latest. Got plenty of money in your cheque account? Well, I gassed up at Taihape and would easily have reached Feilding on the first tank of BP Ultimate.
That tank included around 100km of Auckland city running, including an hour-plus crawl from the city to the Bombay Hills. The average was a not unrespectable 12 litres per 100 kilometres, or roughly 23.5mpg. I was certain better was achievable – and it was.
The overall homeward-bound consumption, including some city running and some spirited driving on demanding back roads was 11 litres/100km, or 25.6mpg. And for a long period on relatively flat going, the car was returning 8.9 litres/100km (near enough to 30mpg). From Tokoroa to Auckland, running at an average speed of more than 95km/h and keeping the car at the 100km/h limit, with braking and accelerating at a minimum and exploiting the car’s fine handling and ability to corner at or near straightline speed, the Chrysler averaged 9.5 litres/100km, or 29.7mpg.
So you see, big cars can be economical in sustained open road running, even if you maintain a brisk pace. It’s all in the way you use the brake and throttle pedals. Sceptics say they don’t believe the system which cuts four of the eight cylinders on a light throttle works. They complain they can’t feel it happening, which is as it should be, shouldn’t it? Well it does. On the long, sustained climb out of Wairakei heading north, at a steady 100km/h, the 300C averaged 14 litres/100km (20.17mpg); on the run down the other side, also maintaining 100km/h but with just a whisper of pressure on the accelerator, the average was 7.2 litres/100km, a shade under 40mpg.
To me that’s proof-positive that the engine switches from an eight to a four when duties are light.
Factory hot rod 300C SRT8
Fancy a Chrysler 300C but want more zing? Chrysler has just the thing for you, a factory hot rod version of the macho-chic four door, the SRT8. The Chrysler 300C SRT8 (Street and Racing Technology 8) runs a 6.1-litre version of the standard 300C’s 5.7-litre Hemi V8. It has 85 more horsepower – a 25 percent increase – than the 5.7-litre Hemi. Maximum power is now 425bhp (317kW), and peak torque is an equally impressive 569Nm.
The Chrysler 300C SRT8’s 317kW Hemi has the highest output for its size of any naturally aspirated V8 engine ever offered by the Chrysler Group. Its 69.8 horsepower-per-litre rating exceeds even that of the legendary 1966 “Street Hemi”. Although the Chrysler Hemi was born in the 1950s and entered into legend in the 1960s and 1970s, today’s version took much of its inspiration from the original-particularly the namesake hemispherical combustion chambers that provide power and efficiency.
When SRT powertrain engineers set out to develop a more powerful Hemi for the 300C SRT8, they were mindful of the engine’s heritage, which led to adopting traditional Hemi engine cues including an orange-painted cylinder block and black valve covers.
SRT engineers who developed the Chrysler 300C SRT8’s engine achieved more horsepower by adding more cubic inches, increasing the compression ratio, and redesigning the cylinder head, intake and exhaust systems for better flow and increased engine speed. For more displacement, SRT engineers bored out the diameter of the cylinders by 3.5mm each to increase the total displacement to 6.1 litres.
Compression ratio was also increased to 10.3:1 from 9.6:1, increasing engine efficiency and power.
Engine breathing was increased with new higher-flow cylinder heads, a specially designed intake manifold, and exhaust headers with individual tubes encased in a stainless steel shell, all unique to the 6.1-litre engine. Larger-diameter valves and reshaped ports in the heads allow for maximised air flow. The intake manifold was designed with larger-diameter and shorter runners for higher-speed tuning. Exhaust is routed through a large-diameter (2.75-inch rather than 2.5-inch) exhaust system with 3.5-inch chrome tips.
To further increase horsepower, performance-oriented camshaft profiles were developed to allow more air in and out of the cylinders, as well as manage a higher engine speed. SRT engineers increased the Hemi’s peak power output engine speed by nearly 20 percent to 6000rpm (from 5000rpm). Intake and exhaust valve stems are hollow, and the exhaust valve stems are filled with sodium to help dissipate heat more efficiently.
The high-performance SRT 6.1-litre Hemi is strengthened with redesigned components, including a reinforced engine block, forged steel crankshaft, high-strength powdered-metal connecting rods, floating-pin pistons (cooled by oil squirters), and an oilpan modified to manage oil return to the sump at high engine speeds.
Power for the SRT 6.1-litre Hemi is channelled through a five-speed automatic transmission with specially calibrated driver-selectable AutoStick, which offers fully automatic or manual shifting selection. A heavy-duty four-flange propshaft sends the torque from the transmission to an upgraded differential and axles. Chassis set-up is aimed at all-round performance with enhancements that include tuned dampers, specially tailored spring rates and suspension bushings and larger diameter anti-sway bars.
New front and rear suspension knuckles contribute to a lowered ride height.
The Electronic Stability Program (ESP) has been specially tuned for the 300C SRT8’s handling characteristics. The 20-inch forged aluminium wheels are shod with high-performance Goodyear F1 tyres measuring a beefy 245/45 20 in the front and 255/45 20 in the rear.
The braking system was specially designed to slow and stop the car predictably. All four wheels feature stout performance callipers developed by Brembo, with four pistons for even clamping performance. Up front, the Chrysler 300C SRT8 has 360mm by 32mm vented rotors, with 350mm by 28mm vented rotors in the rear. This braking system contributes to a 96km/h to 0 performance in about 110 feet, and a 0-160-0 km/h time in the mid-16-second range.
The 300C SRT8 has power-adjustable sport seats up front that are fitted with performance suede inserts (matched in the rear seats) which hold the occupants during spirited driving. Seats are also equipped with heat and memory functions that, when paired with the adjustable pedal cluster, are adjustable for every driver.
Steering wheel, gear shifter and door pulls are covered with “technical” leather trim for positive grip. Other SRT-only trim includes special finishing on the steering wheel, door pulls, door trim and centre stack. Full instrumentation, including a 300km/h speedometer, tachometer and temperature gauges ensure that the driver can monitor crucial functions. A tyre pressure monitoring display within the instrument panel display is standard for 2006.
Premium cabin equipment includes a standard AM/FM stereo radio with six-disc CD changer powering a six-speaker Boston Acoustics speaker system, with steering wheel-mounted controls. A new-for-2006 option is a 13-speaker Kicker audio system with a 322-watt amplifier and 100-watt subwoofer.
Heating and cooling adjustments are made with an automatic temperature control system with dual-zone controls and infrared temperature sensing. Other standard features of the 2006 Chrysler 300C SRT8 include an electronic vehicle information centre with 128 customer-programmable features.
The 2006 Chrysler 300C SRT8 interior is offered in a Light Graystone/Dark Slate colour scheme. Modified front and rear fascias direct airflow through unique ducts that cool the brakes. In addition, a specially designed bootlid spoiler increases rear axle downforce by 39 percent without increasing drag.
Other unique touches to the Chrysler 300C SRT8’s exterior include body-colour front and rear bumper inserts, body-colour mirrors and door handles, and SRT badging. Three exterior colours are available: Bright Silver, Brilliant Black and, new for 2006, Silver Steel.
The 2006 Chrysler 300C SRT8, like the standard 300C, is built at the Brampton Assembly Plant in Ontario, Canada.