Motoring: Chrysler’s rich pickings

People who feel important or want to become seen as such can get the Limited version of the Chrysler 300C for about �36,000
People who feel important or want to become seen as such can get the Limited version of the Chrysler 300C for about �36,000
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The 300C was, and once again is, a lot of car for the money. Frederic Manby enjoys a thousand miles in a real head-turner

SO WHAT do we make of Chrysler’s latest 300C? The last one was a ­belter if you like big shouldered Yank tanks and a face which made you think a Bentley was approaching. Of course it did not have a Bentley’s internal beauty nor an Audi 12-cylinder engine but then it cost a quarter of the price and was much cheaper to run. It also dissuaded unwanted attention whereas a Bentley says “here I am and ain’t I rich” – albeit in a nouveau riche way.

The Chrysler 300C was, and once again is, a lot of car for the money. I liked the estate version with its long roof and shallow windows and did not care that it did not corner like an Audi because it was not an Audi and did not cost as much as an Audi, or any other prestige German estate car.

It’s not hard to criticise the 300C if you do not care for the shape and compare it with posh German rivals. It is six inches longer than an Audi A6 and while it lacks the grace of the A6 it has a value for money component.

The 2011 model, made alongside the Grand Voyager in Ontario and known as the Lancia Thema elsewhere, gets a new skin, thinner screen pillars, a full length sunroof opening at the front, and in Europe a mighty 3-litre­ turbo diesel from Fiat, which rescued the Chrysler empire. There are no plans for an estate car this time. Britain has a choice of two models, at £35,995 and, tested here, the Executive at £39,995.

Scene: a filling station. I go to pay. “What’s that?” asks the cashier. I tell him. He says he was thinking of getting one in place of “the Landy” but it would have to be the old model. “I’m not as minted as you,” he adds. He also offered that it looked more conservative, but sportier. I think I followed.

As always, I ’fess up, not mine, just borrowed, innit. Slang jive drools off the tongue at the end of a week and a thousand miles with the 300C, painted in hire-car white, and as easily spotted as any big, brash limo. The longest journey was seven hours, mostly on motorway and dual carriageway, covering 400 miles, two drivers, no back ache, no bum ache, no ear ache either from the back seat. Sorry, mum.

The 300C has an interesting feature – rear wheel drive, plus traction control and spin inhibition which you can feel if you give the diesel too much pleasure. The handling is ponderous in slow traffic, with heavier steering effort than normal.

As well as parking sensors, the Executive has a rear-view camera to take most of the guess work out of parking and reversing in tight spots. Paradoxically, it did not feel unduly large – despite being not far short of a red carpet Audi A8.

The 300C would serve as back-up. It has an important manner and people who feel important or want to become seen as such can get the Limited version for around £36,000. It has the same engine power and (old school) five speed automatic gearbox and around 40 miles a gallon overall on the official test cycle. The Exec model brings navigation, 20-inchers, a big sunroof, leather, digital radio, voice command, adaptive cruise control with collision warning, adaptive xenon headlamps, keyless ignition, a powered sunscreen on the rear window, a pedestrian-friendly bonnet.

So, fuel economy? Well, the 300C got nearer expectations than many do. On the long journeys it recorded 39mpg and 41.5mpg. On local stuff it averaged 31.5mpg, which is better than its official 29.4mpg rating. I dare say with a lighter throttle I could have got near its official extra urban average of 47.9mpg.

This is one of those cars which will either repel you or attract you – depending on what you think about its exterior. The interior was well put together, with filets of dark wood (or more likely a good imitation) to add interest. There is a real clock with a bezel which matches the shape of the radiator grille. The console is commendably uncluttered with switches – many of which have been transplanted to the steering wheel.

The navigation display is a bit toy-town but it was accurate. Not so the speed limits displayed, which were often wrong. The navigation address could not be keyed in when the car is moving – presumably as a safety initiative. Instead, there is voice control. Obtusely, it accepted a strange street name but could not identify others which seemed simpler. «

Verdict: I liked it.