Chrysler 300 VS Lexus IS
- 6.4 litres of scream
- Well equipped
- Standard safety
- Thirst like a dredger
- So-so dynamics
- Poor ownership package
- Smooth powertrain
- Bulletproof quality
- Individual looks
- Feels heavy
- Odd-bod interior
- Some ergonomic failures
You may be sensing an increasing level of hype around hybrid and full battery-electric vehicles. In fact, it feels like the automotive world has gone full-fat bananas over ‘electro-mobility’.
At least car manufacturers have, with Tesla’s entertaining antics disrupting the status quo, and causing virtually every mainstream brand to get on board the zero-emissions express.
But of course, the other side of that equation is demand. The rush to meet ever tightening emissions regulations (and save the planet in the process) fails to recognise the fact that not everybody wants a ZEV… yet.
The days of big-bore, more is good, internal combustion propulsion aren’t over yet, and Chrysler, like the rest of the ‘Murican Big Three’ is keeping traditional muscle car enthusiasts happy.
In fact, we’re in the midst of a US horsepower arms race not seen since the late 1960s and early ‘70s, and Chrysler’s SRT (Street & Racing Technology) performance subsidiary is leading from the front with a variety of over-the-top Hellcats, Demons and Red Eyes.
Australia has recently picked up a whiff of that action with the utterly mad 522kW Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, but the only slightly unhinged SRT version, and this car, the Chrysler 300 SRT, have been around for some time.
Launched here in 2012, the second-generation version of the 6.4-litre naturally aspirated sedan was discontinued in the USA in 2014. But sensing a large sedan-sized opportunity as local manufacturing from Ford, Holden and Toyota went the way of the Dodo, the local FCA team negotiated a continuation deal.
Think of the 300 SRT as America’s M5 or E63. A full-size performance sedan with a thick layer of luxury laid over the top, but at around one third the price.
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Peter Anderson road tests and reviews the Lexus IS350 Sport Luxury with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.
The Lexus IS has carved out a niche in the executive sedan market - some owners would require dynamite to shift them to another brand. With an unparalleled commitment to post-sales service and a reputation for absolutely bulletproof reliability, Lexus hasn't exactly beaten the Germans into submission here in Australia, but it has given them a good fright. If you want to take on Audi, BMW and Mercedes, you've got to bring what Americans call 'your A-game.'
Explore the 2016-2017 Lexus IS Range
Lexus IS 2016 review | first drive video
Lexus IS300h 2016 review | snapshot
Lexus IS350 2016 review | snapshot
Lexus IS200t Luxury 2017 review | road test
Lexus IS200t F Sport 2017 review | road test
The IS350 is a niche within a niche, though. At this level, the Germans have convinced their customers that forced induction fours or sixes are the go, while Lexus soldiers on with a naturally aspirated V6 and a specification list as long as your arm.
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The Chrysler 300 SRT is a big, fast, well-equipped and super-comfortable point-to-point tourer that’s also able to soak up the stresses of a city commute with ease. It’s also showing its age in terms of design, obscenely thirsty, dynamically flawed, and offered with a bottom-of-the-class ownership package. A fun place to visit but make sure you’re ready for permanent residency.
Thinking about some muscle gain? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
The IS350 is a fine car and is edging ever closer to the truly European feel the marque seems to crave. It's also different enough for those who don't want to be a part of the German triad and want to do something different while getting an after-sales experience that's hard to beat.
The thing about the IS is that it feels a little old - the interior tech and naturally-aspirated V6 are a bit 2009. That's not to criticise the car itself because it's beautifully made and if past IS generations are anything to go by, will outlast humanity. The 350 feels, and is heavy. It's a bit thirsty and doesn't quite tick all the boxes many in the sector are looking for. But wow, is it getting closer.
Is the Lexus IS in the running for you? Or does your wallet only speak German?
The NSW Highway Patrol has adopted the 300 SRT as its weapon of choice, and psychologically I reckon they’re onto a winner.
A high waistline, small glasshouse and big 20-inch rims combine to give the 300 a chunky, take-no-prisoners stance. And this intimidating beast filling the mirrors is enough to make even the most determined speedster drop their bundle.
Except for the SRT badge at the back, the exterior is a chrome-free zone, with black finish on the big honeycomb grille, window frames, and dark chrome wheels dialing up the overall air of menace.
The rear view is similarly imposing, with a large slab of almost right-angular boot lid topped by a pronounced body-colour spoiler.
At this point, we have to call out less than perfect panel fit. On our test car for example the intersection of the bonnet and front clip above the headlights was messy with inconsistent shut lines and poor alignment.
Inside not much has changed over the current 300’s seven years on sale, and the design lacks the integrated approach of more modern competitors.
An 8.4-inch colour media touchscreen sits in the centre of a squared oval panel between the central air vents and under an analogue clock, that shape bearing no resemblance to the form of the heating and ventilation control panel below it or the instrument binnacle alongside.
A mass of buttons confronts the driver across the centre stack, steering wheel and door, while genuine carbon fibre inserts add a racy if slightly ironic touch in a close to 2.0-tonne car.
Leather and suede sports front seats look (and feel) the business, and the strongly illuminated gauges are divided by a 7.0-inch multifunction display including a clear digital speed read-out. Which is just as well, because the fussy increments on the analogue dial are hard to read.
This third-generation IS is, at last, a distinctive looker. The first car was a clean design that aged reasonably well (as did the car - there's still a ton of them kicking around) but the second one seemed a bit timid, a sort of slimmed version of the first car's styling ideas in a bigger body. Things weren't quite right and that car's look has not aged well at all.
The third generation, though, is much more aggressive, more individualistic. The mid-life refresh made the front end look a bit frowny, but the Lexus spindle grille really looks the business even if the headlights appear awkwardly finished. In profile it fits in well with the pack and then it all gets a bit aggro again at the back, with that extravagant downward sweep of the taillights. Pretty, no, memorable, yep.
Inside is less adventurous and, annoyingly, not ageing as well as Lexus might have hoped. The two-storey dash feels a little heavy-handed with its double chin rolls. I can see what the designers were going for, but they missed.
And that chintzy analogue clock in the centre stack. Please. Stop.
There are also too many Toyota-style buttons littering the dash. Having said all of that, the obvious Lexus bits are terrific to touch and use, apart from the entertainment system's click mouse thing. That's a bit of a mess and the screen's software actively works against precise operation.
All is mostly well on the instrument pack except when the sun is coming over your shoulder. The reflections obliterate both of the traditional dials and if you'd already driven, say, an IS200t with the digital dash, you would be asking tough questions about why that instrument set isn't in the top-of-the-range machine.
At just under 5.1m long, 1.9m wide and close to 1.5m tall the 300 SRT is a sizeable machine, so it’s no surprise there’s plenty of room inside.
Those up front are provided with a pair of cupholders in the centre console (complete with heating or cooling at the press of a button), storage bins and medium-size bottle holders in the doors, a long oddments tray and a small storage cubby (with 12-volt outlet) near the gear shifter, as well as a sunglasses holder in the overhead console and a big glove box.
There’s also a lidded storage box between the seats, complete with sliding tray, two USB ports, an ‘aux-in’ jack and a 12-volt outlet. Even old school nicotine enthusiasts are catered for with an ashtray insert ready to slip into one of the cupholders and a cigarette lighter to drop into the main 12-volt socket.
Rear seat passengers pick up a fold-down centre armrest with two cupholders and a lidded oddments box, decent door bins with bottle holders, as well adjustable vents at the back of the centre console, two USB ports, and switches for the standard heated rear seats.
Sitting behind the driver’s seat set for my 183cm position I had ample legroom but only adequate headroom. There’s enough shoulder room for three adults across the rear, but the broad transmission tunnel throws a spanner in the works when it comes to centre foot room.
The fully-lined boot is nicely trimmed, with a pair of flip-out bag hooks (22kg capacity), load tie-down anchors, and useful lighting included.
Volume is 462 litres, enough to fit our three-piece hard suitcase set (35, 68 and 105 litres) lying flat on the floor, or the CarsGuide pram, with heaps of room to spare. A 60/40 split-folding rear seat adds extra space and flexibility.
In the case of a flat tyre your only option is a repair/inflator kit, and it’s worth noting towing capacity for the SRT is the same 450kg for a braked or unbraked trailer, where the standard V6-powered 300C can tow a 1724kg braked trailer.
This is probably the weakest part of the Lexus equation. While front and rear seat passengers enjoy a pair of cupholders per row, there's little in the way of storage for our ubiquitous phones. A centre console bin is provided (from which your USB cable must sprout), but the dash and console are bereft of a good place to stow your phone. Each front door will carry a small bottle but rear seat passengers miss out. The glovebox is a good size and cooled for your convenience.
Price and features
A list price of $74,950 (before on-road costs) buys a whole lot of car, equipment, and performance, with that figure only gaining entry to a pack of next-size-down options from Europe and Japan.
A $5k spread from $71-76,000 covers the Alfa Giulia Veloce ($72,900), Audi A4 45 TFSI Quattro ($73,300), BMW330i M-Sport ($70,900), Infiniti Q50 Red Sport ($74,900), Jaguar XE P300 HSE R Dynamic ($71,940), Lexus GS300 Luxury ($75,931), and Merc C 300 ($71,800).
And aside from the extra cubic inches under the hood and sheetmetal in the body, the 300 SRT’s standard features list is long, including dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start (plus remote start), heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, heated leather-trimmed SRT flat-bottom steering wheel, heated/cooled front cupholders, power boot lid release, electric steering column adjust (height and reach), plus eight-way electrically-adjustable driver and front passenger seats (with four-way power lumbar adjust on both and radio/seat/mirror memory on the driver’s side).
Also standard are auto headlights (with auto level and auto high beam), rain-sensing wipers, power-folding exterior mirrors (with defrost), nappa leather and suede seat trim, 825-watt, 19-speaker harman/kardon audio (including digital radio), sat nav, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, a 7.0-inch instrument cluster display, the 8.4-inch colour media touchscreen, and 20-inch forged alloy wheels.
There are plenty of other safety and performance features, which we’ll cover in later sections, wrapping into an impressive standard package at this price point. And ‘our’ test car featured the ‘SRT Luxury Package’ ($4750) adding a monster dual-pane glass sunroof, premium leather trim on the instrument panel, centre console and door trims, as well as premium floor mats front and rear.
The standard colour choice is black and white… ‘Gloss Black’ or ‘Bright White’, with ‘Silver Mist’, ‘Ceramic Grey’, ‘Granite Crystal’, ‘Maximum Steel’ and ‘Velvet Red’ optional, and ‘Ocean Blue’ available to specific customer order.
The IS range kicks off at $59,340 for the base IS200t but it's not until you're spending $65,390 that you'll find yourself in a V6-powered IS350. Another twenty large will see you in the Sports Luxury we had for the week, at a not inconsiderable $84,160 (although that's $4000 less than a BMW 340i). What do you get for that? Quite a bit, as it happens.
A 15-speaker stereo (with Mark Levinson branding, whoever that is), 18-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, a hefty safety package, active cruise control, LED headlights and daytime running lights, auto headlights and wipers, heated, cooled and electrically-adjustable front seats with three memory settings on the driver's side, sat nav, lots of leather, park assist and power everything including sunroof.
Metallic paint is a breathtaking $1500.
The stereo, sat nav and various functions are controlled from a rectangular click-mouse arrangement reminiscent of a '90s laptop. It isn't great and my impression of the software is that the designers need to go out and buy some Apple and Android devices and learn how modern things work. Or at least have a look at iDrive and MMI. Having said that, the sound is epic, although the radio's insistence on switching to KIIS FM on start-up, no matter which device or station was last used, was irritating.
The sat nav also has some annoying functions that are, mercifully, switchable. The speed camera warnings are helpful and insistent while the incessant school zone warnings were hugely annoying. That's hardly Lexus' fault given there are so many of the things, but the constant 'ding-dong' in urban areas is infuriating and sounds like you're trapped in an airport.
Engine & trans
Forget hybrid, forget turbos, the Chrysler 300 SRT is powered by 392 cubic-inches of Detroit iron… although the 6.4-litre ‘Apache’ V8 is actually built in Mexico.
The engine’s block is indeed cast iron although the heads are aluminium, with the ‘Hemi’ name derived from its hemispherical combustion chamber design.
It’s naturally aspirated, direct fuel-injected and produces 350kW (470hp) at 6150rpm and no less than 637Nm of torque at 4250rpm.
Drive goes through an eight-speed automatic transmission to the rear wheels with a limited-slip diff standard.
The IS350's power comes from a 3.5-litre 60-degree V6 producing 233kW and 378Nm. Zero to 100km/h for the 1685kg sedan is dispatched in 5.9 seconds with the aid of an eight-speed automatic transmission driving the rear wheels.
Towing capacity is rated at 750kg unbraked and 1500kg braked.
A model of fuel efficiency this car is not. Claimed economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 13.0L/100km, the 300 SRT emitting 303g/km of CO2 in the process.
Over roughly 300km of city, suburban and freeway running we recorded 18.5L/100km (at the bowser), and the on-board computer threw up some horrifying short-term numbers as we explored the car’s performance potential.
Minimum fuel requirement is 95 RON premium unleaded and you’ll need 70 litres of it to fill the tank… regularly.
Roll onto a smooth, dry surface, engage the SRT’s standard launch control function and you’ve dialled in the ability to storm from 0-100km/h in a ludicrously rapid 4.5sec.
Unlike smaller capacity turbo engines, the big atmo Hemi takes a while to develop maximum torque (637Nm), hitting peak pulling power at 4250rpm. Keep the throttle pinned and full power (350kW) is achieved on the cusp of the rev limiter at 6150rpm.
All this fire and fury is accompanied by a beautifully brutal V8 roar courtesy of an active exhaust which tweaks the pulsing note it produces according to drive mode and throttle position. It’s hard not to love it, complete with rude pops and crackles on the over-run.
Beware though, this car is relatively loud all the time, so you’ve got to hope the love affair is a long-term one.
Suspension is by a short and long arm (SLA) and upper A-arms at the front, with a five-link set-up at the rear, and Bilstein adaptive dampers all around.
The switch between Comfort and Sport is swift and marked, with the latter best kept for billiard tables and race circuits. Around town ride in the more compliant setting is agreeably smooth.
Push the big 300 along your favourite backroad and you know you’re asking two tonnes of metal, rubber and glass to move against its will.
The eight-speed auto responds well in manual mode (with wheel-mounted paddles), and the grippy sports front seats do decent job of keeping their occupants stable and balanced, but the sheer mass of this car means you’re never going to get a corner-carving hot hatch-like experience.
And despite a chunky, leather-trimmed sports wheel, the hydraulically-assisted ‘SRT Tuned’ steering isn’t exactly the last word in road feel or sharp response.
Having said that, the fat 20-inch (245/45) Goodyear Eagle F1 rubber grips hard with minimal impact on ride quality, and in a more relaxed mode the SRT is a stress-free and comfortable tourer.
Big acceleration is balanced by big brakes, with beefy ventilated rotors (360mm fr / 350mm rr) clamped by Brembo four-piston calipers front and rear.
The system’s outright power is impressive but can be abrupt on initial application at around town speeds, until you get used to greasing the pedal pressure in.
‘SRT Performance Pages’ allows you to scroll through multiple real-time data screens (timers, G-force, engine performance, etc), which is fun, with outputs downloadable to a USB stick or SD card. The 19-speaker harman/kardon audio system absolutely cranks, and the active cruise control works intuitively, without the frustrating conservatism (taking forever to pick up the throttle) of some other systems
For some reason, the IS always feels heavy. There's something about the way the car moves that makes it feel chunky. That's not all bad, of course, because it imparts a feeling of solidity and strength, but when you line it up next to a BMW 340i, it tips the scales a further 145kg the wrong way. When you look at it that way, you're always carrying two medium sized people around with you.
It doesn't seem to blunt the performance too much, reaching 100km/h in 5.9 seconds, about eight tenths slower than Beemer with the same number of gears and a torque deficit of almost 70Nm.
Another reason it feels heavy is that the sprint itself is one of the most drama-free acceleration events you'll ever experience. The 3.5 V6 is as silky as they come, as smooth as any in-line six, which have the advantage of not having pistons punching away from each other throwing the engine about.
It's not as sharp on the throttle as the 340i or A4, even when in Sport+ mode, so the Sports bit of the Sports Luxury tag is about thirty percent of the equation.
It does steer and brake with great accomplishment, but there's no life in the chassis, really, so it's best regarded as a luxury car rather than a sporting sedan. The IS has always been thus but with the sad demise of the IS F, there's nothing to really go after the quicker Audis, BMWs or Mercs. You have to lose two doors and move on to the RC F for that.
Ride quality is superb and the cabin is seriously quiet. Rough roads with huge expansion joints and zingy concrete surfaces fade into the background, conversation remains easy with just the stereo to push what little wind noise penetrates the cabin into the background. The adaptive damping must take a lot of the credit for the ride and handling refinement - it's unobtrusive and doesn't suddenly pour concrete into the dampers when you switch things up.
The 300 SRT hasn’t been assessed by ANCAP or Euro NCAP, but the NHTSA in North America has given the 2019 Chrysler 300 a four-star safety rating (from a possible five).
In terms of active tech a lot of major boxes are ticked, with AEB a notable exception.
Standard features include, ABS, ‘Ready Alert Braking’ (primes system when driver lifts off the brake pedal quickly), ESC, ‘Electronic Roll Mitigation’, traction control, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, rear cross path detection, and advanced brake assist.
A ‘Rain Brake Support’ function is triggered by the rain-sensing wiper system to periodically ‘wipe off’ the brake rotors with the brake pads, keeping them as dry as possible in the wet. And Chrysler has cleverly piggy-backed ‘Knock Back Mitigation’ into the arrangement.
In aggressive cornering front wheel assemblies can flex, pushing the brake rotor against the brake pads and ‘knocking’ them back into the caliper, potentially leading to an alarmingly long pedal the next time the brakes are applied. Not a factor in the 300 SRT, with the pads automatically pushed up into their optimum position.
If, despite all that, a crash is unavoidable, the airbag count runs to seven (dual front, dual front side, dual curtain and driver’s knee), and the front head restraints are active.
There are three child seat/baby capsule top tether points across the back seat, with ISOFIX anchors on the two outer rear positions.
Eight airbags (including knee bags for front seat occupants), ABS, stability and traction controls, blind spot sensor, lane departure warning, rear cross traffic alert, auto emergency braking, forward collision detection, brake assist and driver attention detection.
The IS scored five ANCAP stars, the highest available.
The only complaint here is that both lane departure warning and rear cross traffic alert are too polite - a little more information as to what's going on would be helpful.
The warranty world has moved significantly in recent months, and the 300 SRT’s three year/100,000km warranty is now well off the pace.
Kia moved to seven years/unlimited km in 2014, and there are whispers of the Korean brand shifting to 10 years sooner rather than later.
Service is required every 12 months/12,000km, and no capped price servicing program is currently offered.
With the caveat that labour rates will inevitably vary between dealerships, Chrysler Australia estimates five year standard servicing cost at $2590 (including GST).
The Lexus range comes with a four year/100,000km warranty with roadside assist for the duration. Servicing is every 15,000km or twelve months, whichever comes first.
The ownership experience only loses marks because of the lack of capped or fixed price servicing. Service intervals are well-spaced at 12 months/15,000km but Lexus will only commit to "indicative" pricing after the first service (which is, to be fair, a freebie).
The Lexus experience is legendary - owners with cars well over a decade old still have them collected from their homes come service time. Technically, you may never have to visit a dealer again, just pay the nice person when they comes back with your freshly washed, and serviced car. Or they'll give you a loan car to drive yourself around in for the day.