IT’S STRANGE how sometimes the cars that occupy the largest spaces in our minds take up the smallest portions of the sales charts, but then Chrysler prides itself on building cars that make an impact.
The American brand hasn’t yet quite managed to break the market in Europe despite a remarkable resurgence in other parts of the world, leaving the woes of the recession well in the past.
It’s perhaps understandable then that the new 300C is still as much a unique proposition as it ever was, albeit with a few small nods towards the European market. The looks have been softened ever so slightly at the front end, which should broaden its appeal. It’s not quite so brutish and Chrysler hopes more people will find it easier on the eye without it losing the on-road presence and individuality that previous buyers have loved.
The range is simple. There are two trim levels sharing the same 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine in saloon guise only. No estate version will come to the UK, unless lots of customers ask very nicely. Limited is the entry-level trim but the predictions are that around 85% of buyers will go for Executive, mostly because the latter’s kit list will send more than a few pairs of eyebrows skywards.
Aside from 20-inch alloy wheels, chrome exterior trim and adaptive bi-xenon headlights that are all obvious from the outside, Executive models get heated Nappa leather seats all round – yes, for rear passengers as well – while the fronts are also ventilated for keeping a cool back on a summer day. The cupholders are heated and chilled too.
There’s an 8.4-inch colour display, a rear-view camera, a heated steering wheel, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, a dual-pane power sunroof with an electric shade, a leather-wrapped dashboard and centre console, gear change paddles on the steering wheel, an MP3 player input socket, keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors and Thatcham category 1 security.
You’d almost get bored reading a list that long if it didn’t make such impressive reading. Although the 300C is a little caught between two markets in terms of its rivals, there’s nothing out there that offers so much kit for the money. There aren’t many options but the one worth having is the Harman Kardon audio system. The standard Alpine system falls well short of expectations.
Real wood trim is also standard, and although the fit and finish is much improved versus the old 300C there are a few areas that fall behind some other £40,000 cars. It’s up to you as to whether it matters or not.
The dash unit is kept neater than it would otherwise be by the large touch-screen interface, within which are the seat heating and ventilation controls among many other trinkets. It’s a joy to use at a standstill but a bit fiddly on the move over bumpy surfaces.
At more than 1.8 tonnes the 300C is no lightweight, but it’s built for cruising and it does that very well thanks to its smooth, linear diesel engine. The V6 layout is still crucial for the image of the car and it certainly does add a certain charisma over and above a modern four-cylinder. The weight helps improve the ride quality as well, and it’s deceptively good on such large wheels.
It does mean that fuel economy isn’t up there with the best, but the 300C feels tailor-made for the motorway in a way that not all of its rivals do. The only niggle is that the UK models get an old five-speed automatic gearbox while most of the petrol-powered American ones have the superb eight-speed ZF unit found in luxury cars like the Bentley Continental V8. It’s to help keep costs down because Chrysler won’t make that many diesel 300Cs by comparison, but it’s a bit of a shame.
But never mind. The doors shut with a satisfying thunk, it looks great from all angles, there’s a space-saver spare wheel as standard, the electrically-adjustable seats are very comfortable and there’s a big saloon boot. It’s a very good car for a businessman searching for something a bit different, or for a family that likes the idea of so much luxury. Heated leather seats for the kids as well, remember.
Chrysler takes pride in doing things differently and it won’t do it any other way. The 300C is by the company’s own admission an alternative choice rather than part of the mainstream, but it offers levels of character and equipment that just aren’t available anywhere else for the price. It’s no sports car and nor is it an eco-champ, but it’s genuinely interesting – and among its rivals that might just be unique.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Chrysler 300C 3.0 CRD V6 Executive, £39,995 on the road.Engine: 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 diesel producing 233bhp and 398lb.ft.Transmission: 5-speed automatic driving the rear wheels.Performance: Top speed 144mph, 0-62mph in 7.4 seconds.Fuel economy: 39.2mpg.CO2 rating: 191g/km.