After more than a year on the missing list, the Chrysler 300C is finally back. It arrives by June with more finesse and refinement, an expanded five- car lineup, and a price line starting from around $45,000.
The new C-car retains the Detroit gangsta style that make the previous model a surprise hit in Australia, but there are refinements in most areas. It is fitted with the latest 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 engine already seen in the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the cabin has a huge makeover, and there is an SRT8 hotrod with a 6.4-litre V8 to rattle its rivals at FPV and HSV. Eventually there will be five models of the 300C with a broad spread of prices and equipment.
Explore the 2012 Chrysler 300C Range
And the body? Yes, smoother but still tough. Australia got short-changed on the switch to the new C-car, as left- hand production took priority over exports from America, but Chrysler Jeep Australia is still forecasting half-year sales of around 2000 cars once it gets moving with the new model. Who knows about 2013.
Chrysler is also confident that it won't be hurt by the large-car slide that has seen so many people bailing out of Commodores and Falcons.
"I think the package we're bringing, and the car's value, will bring a lot of people back to that segment," says Clyde Campbell, managing director of Chrysler Jeep Australia.
The new C is looking like a winner, as the awesome Aussie dollar allows Chrysler Jeep to go very, very sharp on the price. Campbell won't be specific on the bottom line, but the car is going to be a cheaper - a lot cheaper - than the old model with a lot of standard equipment.
"If you look at what we've done with the Grand Cherokee we'll follow a similar path," he says.
The Jeep dropped by around $15,000 and that sort of percentage drop on the 300C will be great for customers.
"It will be north of $40,000, south of $50,000," Campbell says.
The lineup starts with a regular 300C petrol V6, moves through a similarly-equipped 3.0-litre diesel model and then on to the revamped SRT8 with a big-bore 6.4-litre V8. But that's not all, as Campbell wants two extra cars, including a mid-range V6.
Assessing the value is hard without knowing the final specification, but the 300C is available in the USA with all sorts of trick stuff including adaptive cruise control, a giant colour display panel and even a sound system from doof-door brand Dr Dre.
Looking for rivals takes you straight to the homegrown Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore, at least for size, but it's important to look at the bottom line. The 300C is not just a starter car, but more premium and more likely to be shopped against a Calais or even a Statesman - especially by hire car drivers.
The biggest single improvement on the 300C is an eight-speed automatic, a first for any American car, with the V6 engine. Other models only get a carryover five, but it will be a big selling point on the starter car in combination with a new V6 that's way better than in the past in everything from smoothness to 218 kiloWatts and 353 Newton-metres.
Using Mercedes-Benz technology gives the C-car an edge on things like adaptive cruise control and even lane-departure warning, and there is Garmin satellite navigation on the touch screen.
But the basics are basic - a big engine in the nose, seats for five adults, with rear-wheel drive - and the technology is icing and not the cake.
The chunky, threatening gangsta look is carried into the new 300C, but the car has been softened. The edges are more rounded, there is more finesse, and - really - more style in the body.
The giant changes are inside, where Chrysler finally gets serious on quality. That means everything from soft-touch plastics, and less individual parts to squeak and rattle, to great looking soft blue lighting on the dials. The front buckets are reshaped, there is more space in the back seat, and the look is more Euro luxury than 'she'll be right' American.
The standard 300C rolls on 17-inch wheels but the car looks even better on optional 20s and the SRT8 gets all the good stuff - giant wheels, six-piston front brake calipers, hunkered-down suspension and spoilers.
"The style of the 300C is still unique. The first 300 was a polarizing car, but this one has appeal for a wider section of the market," trumpets Campbell.
Chrysler is aiming for a five-star rating with the 300C and that means a full house of airbags, including one for the driver's knees, as well as the usual ESP and ABS package. Ask them and you'll hear about 70 safety ands security systems, from a push-start button to brakes that get ready alert and rain brake protection.
The new 300C is a very impressive car. It's much more refined than before, nicely quiet at highway speeds, roomy in the cabin and boot, and you can see and feel the added cabin quality. But the Carsguide preview drive is not ideal. It's just a few hours in Detroit and the only car available is a 300C S with a 5.7-litre V8 that's not coming to Australia.
But the basics are the same, and that's enough to get a good feel for how it will go in Australia.
The new C-car still looks big and strong - especially when we line it up alongside a Commodore badged as a Pontiac G8 for the USA - but it's softer in the detailing, and especially in the cabin. If the base car rides as well as the S on its 20-inch rims it will be great down under, and we cannot wait to try the smoother Pentastar V6 with the eight-speed on home roads.
The steering is still a bit vague, and some of the plastics are not as smooth as Chrysler claims, but there is a lot to like and the chunky Chrysler definitely ticks a lot of boxes. Now we have to wait for the price and features to see just how well the 300C will go, and if it's really been worth the wait.