When it comes to the Chrysler 300, we’ve all heard the put-downs – Yank tank; Mafia staff car and so on. Yet the new model doesn’t deserve any of these jokes. Driving the two larger-than-life vehicles back to back illustrated a breadth of appeal rarely found in a big sedan.
Now owned by Italian automobile giant Fiat, Chrysler is aiming to make a bigger dent downunder than before and the new 300 series large sedan was the first product range to burst out of brand new Melbourne headquarters onto the Australian market a couple of months ago.
The cars are an eclectic lot, coming in versions from the 300 Limited, to the 300C, the 300C Luxury and the range-topping SRT8. Prices start at $43,000 for the petrol Limited, the diesel adds $5000, and top out at $66,000 for the Hemi V8 SRT 8.
We experienced the 300C Luxury 3.0-litre V6 diesel and 300 SRT8 6.4-litre Hemi V8, fine examples from either end of the product spectrum.
Thanks to advanced automotive technology, both models tested behaved like much smaller cars, making for a relaxed driving experience. For example, when parking, a reversing camera with guidelines and a park distance alarm system are on hand to take the measurements and tailor the right approach.
The diesel takes advantage of Chrysler’s link to Fiat and comes from VM Motori in Cento, Italy, while the SRT 8 (for Street and Race Technology V8) pays homage to the US company’s well-documented Hemi history.
The new V6 diesel has lost weight over its predecessor by means of aluminium cylinder heads, while twin overhead chain-driven camshafts have increased torque to 550 Nm between 1800 and 2000 rpm, and power to 176 kW at 4000rpm.
The all-new 6.4-litre Hemi V8, one of the world’s most powerful naturally-aspirated V8s, punches out 347 kW at 6100 rpm. That’s 500 horsepower in muscle car terms, and this is most certainly a machine with muscle. It has 631 Nm of torque at a rather high 4150 rpm. Both engines are mated with a five-speed automatic transmission.
An upgraded version of Chrysler’s multiple-displacement system now deactivates half the V8 engine’s cylinders over a wider range of operation, lowering fuel consumption from five to 20 per cent depending on driving conditions.
As for fuel consumption, at the lower end of the scale the diesel got down to 7.5 litres per 100 kilometres on bouts of motorway driving, while the big petrol job slurped anything up to 29 litres per 100 kilometres in serious stop/start city travel. Oh, dear...
A new electro-hydraulic power steering system on the 300C Luxury helps provide improved fuel efficiency and better steering capability. The SRT 8 calls on a fully hydraulic steering system.
At night, HID Bi-xenon headlamps project three times the brightness of conventional headlights, while an adaptive system moves the beam from left to right in line with vehicle speed and steering wheel input, and is self levelling in keeping with crests and dips in the road.
Inside the passenger cabin, under city-style driving conditions, it was hard to distinguish between the two motors, both producing quick-sharp response to pedal pressure accompanied by little more than a sweet engine hum.
More light is let into the cabin by the addition of a quarter-light in the rear doors that, along with a lower belt line and thinner pillars, increases visibility by 15 per cent. The upper windscreen edge is 76mm higher providing improved visibility at traffic lights.
The feel and grip of the four-spoke thick-rimmed steering wheel have been enhanced and comes standard with tilt/telescope adjustment for driving comfort. The wheel incorporates cruise control and adaptive cruise control buttons on the front, audio controls on the rear.
Information such as satellite navigation, with the one of the clearest 3-D maps around, and vehicle and audio systems, is projected onto a 8.4-inch touch screen on the central dashboard. Of automotive Imax proportions, it is the largest in the market segment. However, the whole thing is let down badly by reflection all but wiping this info out in bright sunlight.
Luxury by name, luxury by nature, expansive seats are aimed at carrying wide-backed corpulent corporates comfortably. There are also acres of legroom back and front, which make the 300s highly attractive to the limo business, and a boot big enough to take several sets of golf clubs, or a generous load of luggage.
On the other hand, The Chrysler SRT 8 is fitted with body hugging sports seats, a boon during spirited driving, and sports a discreet boot.-mounted spoiler to hint at the car’s character, while twin exhaust tailpipes make no bones about the potential power under the bonnet.
There’s no ignoring the fact you’re in the SRT 8, with ‘Chrysler’ being etched into the door sills and SRT on the tacho dial and seat backs. The analogue clock, mounted at the centre of the dashboard, a la Bentley, also carries the maker’s name and is a classy cap doff to the past.
The Chrysler 300 already has the top rating from the US Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in front, side, rollover and rear crash tests safely tucked under its arm.
As well as Electronic Stability Control and Traction Control, standard safety features include full-length side curtain airbags, seat mounted side thorax airbags, driver’s knee airbag duel front seat belt pretensioners, front reactive head restraints.
Disc brakes all round have ABS and are augmented by Brake Assist, Ready Alert Braking and Rain Brake Support, the last gently applying brakes to dry out the discs when the wipers are working.
Hill Start Assist automatically applies the brakes on inclines to prevent the vehicle rolling backwards. Keyless entry to the car is gained by the holder of the fob merely tugging the door handle. Starting the engine is by means of a dash-mounted button when the foot brake is applied.
On the launch of the 300 a couple of months ago the media got to drive the cars on Phillip Island on a sodden racetrack. I recall the rear-wheel drive V8 showed its potential particularly when powering out of corners, wheels spinning freely, the tail wagging enthusiastically.
Easing off, the electronic stability control was quick to bring things back in order. It’s just as impressive in day-to-day motoring.
Plant the foot and the hemi piped up with a fine deep-throated note perfectly attuned to the car’s sporting nature.
Suspension bushes and a rear stabiliser bar help iron out some road harshness over bumps but 20-inch aluminium wheels, fitted with low profile tyres, pick up even minor blemishes in the bitumen.
Like the wide expanse of the American Mid-West, the new 300 series brings a breadth of appeal rare in the mid-range luxury car market.
Chrysler 300C Luxury diesel and STR8
Price: from $56,000 (300C Luxury diesel), from $66,000 (STR8)
Engine: 3.0-litre V6 diesel 176kW/550Nm, 6.4-litre V8 petrol 347kW/631Nm
Transmission: 5-speed automatic, RWD
Thirst: 7.1 litres/100km (diesel), 13.0 litres/100km (STR8)