Review and road test of the Chrysler 300C (2012 - 2015)
By Jonathan Crouch
Choosing Chrysler's second generation 300C rather than a conventional BMW 5 Series, Audi A6 or Mercedes E-Class will be a bold choice to make in the segment for used full-sized executive saloons. But it's one that makes a rather unique statement - and a car that's hard not to like.
(4dr saloon 3.5 V6 diesel)
British executives don't often think outside the box. If they did, our country's company carparks wouldn't be stuffed almost exclusively with Audis, Mercedes and BMWs. With the exception of Jaguar, no other brand has threatened the German domination here and even strong names like Lexus, Volvo and Volkswagen have floundered. Chrysler's second generation 300C did too - but as a used car proposition, it's individualistic and different if you're seeking something a little out of the ordinary in this segment.
The styling might well sell you on this car. As with the first generation version sold between 2004 and 2011, the looks recall the swaggering stance of the extravagantly designed 300 series model that characterised Chrysler back in the Fifties. By the time of the launch of this second generation version n 2012, Chrysler was owned by Fiat, which meant a different approach was needed. Though the look of the car remained an evolution of what had been offered before, under the skin lay the underpinnings of a Lancia Thema. And the Mercedes-sourced V6s that had previously been used were swapped for a Fiat Group 3.5-litre V6 diesel - the only powerplant offered in the UK.
It all meant a rather appealing combination of brash Americana on the outside and plush emotively Latin sophistication within. In a model priced like a top diesel BMW 3 Series-style compact executive saloon, positioned against executive four-doors in the BMW 5 Series class and sized against luxury saloons in the bigger 7 Series sector. Sounds appealing? Then let's introduce you to the MK2 model 300C.
What You Get
You can see why the design of this car was so similar to that of its predecessor. After all, the look of the original was the main reason why people bought the thing, with its menacing presence and Chicago gangster-style vibe. All of which will still shock the neighbours and your fellow sober-suited executives. Just here in a more sophisticated way.
Instead of the previous 'borrowed-from-a-Bentley' headlamp clusters, this MK2 model's powerful bi-xenons are of a more confident 'key slot' shape and sit either side of a confident chrome grille topped with a winged Chrysler badge. Marked wing lines sit proud of the sculptured bonnet that leads into a more steeply-raked windscreen, but from the side, there are fewer changes over the original, with the same sporty low-to-the-ground appearance. At the rear, vertical LED tail lamps are connected by a chrome strip. Above it, there's an integrated spoiler while below, twin oval tailpipes hint at the supposed performance potential of your gangster getaway car.
It's easy to get carried away by all the aesthetics and forget that what this car really represents is a sizeable hulk of Latin-American real estate. Thanks to its use of old fashioned steel rather than more fashionable aluminium underpinnings, the 300C weighs in at well over two tonnes, which makes it not only much heavier than the BMW 5 Series-style executive saloons it's pitched against but also heftier than a boardroom barge like a Mercedes S-Class from the next class up. It's also wider and taller than an S-Class - and it's nearly as long too thanks to a lengthy wheelbase that's also bigger than that of other top luxury class contenders like BMW's 7 Series, Jaguar's XJ or Audi's A8.
To be fair, it doesn't feel limousine-like from a place at the rear but there's certainly significantly more elbow, leg and headroom than you'll find in the Executive contenders from the 2012 to 2015-era ranging around this Chrysler's price point, notably not only BMW's 530d but also the Mercedes E350 CDI, the Audi A6 3.0 TDI and the Jaguar XF 3.0D. Knee room is particularly good, with 20cm more of it than was on offer in the first generation 300C, despite that car's near identical dimensions. Heated rear seats are also a novel - and welcome - feature.
Where this Chrysler's substantial exterior size hasn't given it an advantage is where it comes to bootspace. The offered 481-litres is less than you'll find in the rivals we've just mentioned and isn't helped by its odd wheelarch-impinged shape and Chrysler's refusal to develop the estate derivative that buyers of the original version of this car were offered. Still, the rear backrests fold if you really do need to carry more and (rather curiously for a saloon car) there's load-levelling suspension should the packages in question be heavy. But in any case, we can't really imagine trunkspace being a deal-breaker for someone seduced by the styling and expecting to have to make a few compromises in order to make such a statement.
What kind of statement the cockpit makes will be viewed differently by different people. If you're used to the cool pared-down reservidity of the German brands, the strip-blue lighting, faux leather, Seventies-style auto gearbox gate and bright wood trim may jar a little. But it is different - and of far better quality than was offered on the first generation model, even if a few pieces of down-market plastic trim still remain. Adjust to this New World and the news from then on is mostly all good. The seats are brilliantly comfortable and most of what you use and feel is lovely to the touch, from the real walnut and leather-stitched steering wheel to the hide-like finish of the instrument panel. The chrome-ringed instruments are simply lovely and are separated by a useful information display for key driving information at a glance.
Everything else you need to know is found on the huge 8.4-inch Uconnect infotainment colour touchscreen, the largest in the class, that dominates the centre of the dash, controlling audio, climate, communications, navigation and various other vehicle functions - everything from the heated seats to the rear electric sunblind. Which is just as well. So many gadgets are there that if all had been granted a button on the dash, it would have been cluttered beyond belief. Even as it is, finding out how everything works is not the matter of a moment and some of the Uconnect screen menus can be confusing until you adjust to their workings. Once you do and find that many of them can be voice-activated, it becomes much easier. Our favourite feature? The heated and cooled cupholders. Lovely.
What to Look For
The MK2 model 300C is a far more reliable prospect than its first generation predecessor. Underneath that radical body shape this time round is a car that relies on tried and tested Fiat Group mechanicals. The 3.5-litre V6 diesel engine from the Jeep Grand Cherokee is a tough beast and the suspension is similarly rugged. There have been a few cases of electrical gremlins, squeaky steering and a handful of reported engine issues but all will have been fixed under warranty. Some of the plastics in the cabin aren't the most hardwearing and soon betray scratch marks from jewellery, coins and keys. Check for a fully stamped-up service book and ideally purchase from a franchised dealer.
(approx based on a 2014 300C) Parts aren't as cheap as you might hope for. Front brake pads are around £60, a full exhaust about £700 (with the catalyst) and an alternator around £350.
On the Road
You can't help wondering just how a car that looks like this might drive. A massive planet-polluting but gloriously emotive petrol V8 should surely sit beneath the bonnet, as indeed it does in the 5.7-litre SRT8 version that Chrysler's UK importers declined to offer here. Instead, a request for a test in a MK2 model 300C will see your right foot flexing against the same 236bhp V6 3.0-litre diesel that you'll find in Jeep's Grand Cherokee luxury SUV. Still, it's a willing and very refined motor, putting out a healthy 540Nm of torque, good enough to pull something as hefty as this Chrysler from rest to sixty two mph in 7.4s on the way to a top speed of 144mph. That's slightly behind other class contenders but probably about as quick as most 300C buyers will want to go.
It was a pity that the quick, slick 8-speed gearbox developed for this Chrysler wasn't included from the start on this MK2 model, original 2012 model year cars fitted with a much older five-speed unit. The 8-speeder made to the car later in the production run though, so make sure you know what you're getting. Whatever auto transmission you end up with, you'll need to find a car that was specified in top 'Executive' trim if you're to get the steering wheel-mounted paddle-shifters that give you proper control of it. Not that you're likely to be driving this car at the limit very often, too heavy as it is to feel particularly agile through the bends. Not that this the kind of soft squishy Yank tank we got used to from American brand imports of a decade or so back. In fact, the original version of this 300C was one of the models that changed all of that and this one, if anything, is a little too firm, both in ride and steering, to really offer a driving experience deft enough to take on the best of its German rivals.
Grip is good though - and the brakes are great. And, of course, once you get it onto the highway, this thing really comes into its own, a pleasantly unruffled long distance companion, almost in the Lexus way, though with the advantage of the kind of diesel engine that Japanese brand can't offer. What we think you'll really remember though after a drive in this car are the little touches. The headlamps that dip themselves at night and swivel round corners to light your way. The Automatic Temperature Control system that measures the humidity inside the cabin and automatically demists the screen before you realise it needs doing. The driver's side door mirror that darkens when reflecting dazzling headlamps from behind. The rear sunblind that buzzes up automatically when you select reverse to aid visibility. Some of these things you might have experienced on other executive cars, but only as pricey extras that most owners couldn't justify. Here, they're part and parcel of the whole 300C experience - which makes you enjoy them all the more.
You might be looking for a used BMW 5 Series / Mercedes E-Class-sized Executive saloon, but that doesn't mean you have to buy a BMW or a Mercedes. It doesn't mean you have to make a predictably boring choice. Is this the most efficient, the most dynamic or the lowest-depreciating car of that kind you could choose? No. But will you care about that when one is scaring passers-by from your driveway, causing dawdlers to scuttle away from your path in the outside lane or frightening children and small animals when you park outside the dry cleaners? Also no.
True, you need a certain personal chutzpah to be able to carry off a car like this. And probably, given the likely running costs, a certain amount of influence with your company accountant. But given those two things, a used MK2 model 300C would make a very pleasant purchase. Just practical enough to be the car you really need. But also just wild enough, at least in part perhaps, to be the kind of hero car that life and circumstance always denied you a chance to drive, to own and to lust over.
Do it now. Be one of the tiny handful of British buyers in this segment who'll do something different this year with their day-to-day automotive lives. Choosing one of these might not ultimately number amongst your most sensible decisions. But it'll be one of the ones you'll remember most.
Chrysler 300C (2012 - 2015) review by Jonathan Crouch