Chrysler 300c – Imported from Detroit

The above is the tagline from Chrysler’s successful advert that was screened during this years Superbowl extravaganza. Featuring Detroit’s most famous son, Marshal Mathers III driving through what is left of the once great ‘Motor City’, this was to be the showcase for the car the beleaguered automaker felt could take on luxury imports from Germany and Japan. And Chrysler could certainly do with it – having been firstly sold off by Daimler, then bailed out by the U.S. government before emerging as the latest piece in the FIAT jigsaw. Unfortunately for Chrysler the advert was better than the car as the 200s is little more than a reskinned Sebring which I know from experience to be akin to my sons Little Tikes pick up truck when it comes to vehicle dynamics.

Other than the 200 things appear to be on the way up for Chrysler though. The tie up with FIAT means that some of the parent company’s diverse portfolio will now carry the American name with the prime example being the Ypsilon. Throughout the rest of Europe this model will continue to carry the Lancia badge, as it has done since first launched in the mid nineties. Once it hits the UK and Ireland however it will wear the Chrysler badge. Likewise the replacement for the 300c, we shall get a second generation 300c while our European neighbours will get an all new Lancia Thema. While purists may scream for a chance to drive a Lancia Thema, I for one welcome the return of the 300c. It’s the car that Tony Soprano would be driving now if he had not been killed in the diner while listening to Journey’s ‘Don’t stop believing’.

The Chrysler has an ominous road presence that is in stark contrast to its Teutonic rivals and when it arrived on our shores it brought with it a fellow invader in the form of the Cadillac CTS. On paper the Caddy should have wiped the floor with the Chrysler. While the CTS was seen as a proper assault on the European market, even going so far as tuning the suspension on the Nordschleife, the 300c relied on its connection with Daimler by essentially plonking the all American body onto a lengthened Mercedes E Class platform. Yet the mongrel trounced its purebred competitor when it came to sales. It wasn’t even a close contest. While the 300c managed to rack up sale of 334, miniscule in comparison to Zee Germans, all the CTS could muster was 8! No that’s not a typo – that really says eight. A figure so low that SIMI didn’t actually publish it in their yearly sales reports. So how did Chrysler manage to beat Cadillac so resoundingly? While both manufacturers offered full fat V8’s Cadillac’s decision not to offer a diesel variant  was  frankly a suicidal one for this market.

So it was the 3.0 V6 CRD engined 300c that I found myself behind the wheel of recently and I still feel like ‘whacking’ somebody. The first thing that strikes you upon approaching the car is the sheer size of the thing. It is a full 200mm longer than the Mercedes E Class but the deep flanks and shallow windows combine to create a visual illusion that makes it appear even longer, while with the 20’ wheels on the car I drove pushed out to the extremities it actually has  a longer wheelbase than the BMW 7 series. The chopped roof harks back to the days of Hot Rodding and while styling wise it is too lairy and in your face for some it is exactly this kind of individualism which will appeal to others. Let’s face it you are hardly likely to lose it in a car park full of Audi’s and Mercedes. You may struggle to find a parking space big enough to accommodate its near five metre length but thankfully front and rear parking sensors are included as standard. And that is where the Yank trumps its rivals. A lot of the kit that is fitted as standard to this car would be an (expensive) option on anything coming out of Germany. However there is a down side.

While you sit in a heated, memory controlled leather seats with dual zone climate control some of the interior plastics are of a somewhat questionable quality. I’m not getting into the whole Top Gear ‘wheelie bin plastic’ thing but the choice of materials does jar against what is otherwise a very well appointed interior. Everything is very well screwed together and despite my test car having over 100,000km on the clock there was no discernible squeaks and rattles. All the switchgear is logically laid out and has a reassuringly solid feel to it. This is in no part helped by access to the Mercedes Benz parts bin. This bin was extensively raided for the drivetrain with both the engine and the five speed gearbox coming straight out of Stuttgart. The three litre V6 engine produces a useful 215bhp backed up by a tidal wave of torque with 510Nm on tap from as low down as 1,500 rpm. This power is fed to the tarmac via the very slick gearbox that is perfectly suited to the characteristics of the engine meaning you just waft along in comfort. The torque does mean that the near two tonne behemoth is no slouch when it comes to overtaking and if you are so inclined the 300 can accelerate from 0-100kmh in 7.4 seconds before running out of puff at 230kmh.

The suspension has also been borrowed from Mercedes but unfortunately Chrysler saw fit to fettle with the settings resulting in less than perfect handling. On the motorway it is ideal – soft enough to soak up the miles with just enough feel to keep you confident. Show it a corner and it’s not too bad either, it tracks well and minimal body role certainly belies its large size. It’s when you come across an uneven stretch of road that things fall down and this being Ireland that tends to happen quite a lot. The softness that cosseted on the motorway no gives way to a somewhat dim witted rebound that sees the car doing its best low-rider impression once you come across an Irish spec pothole. This is particularly annoying when you are on the way to your favourite dump site with three dead bodies in the gargantuan 504 litre boot!