Fleet News

Chrysler 300C

Review

Perhaps the most recent example of an unfulfilled American dream was the unsuccessful introduction of Cadillac and Chevrolet to the UK through a limited number of Vauxhall dealers, with the Chevrolet Blazer SUV, Camaro and Corvette coupes and the Cadillac Seville STS luxury saloon. The cars hardly featured on the radar and felt cheap compared with European rivals.

However, the exceptions to the rule have been Chrysler and Jeep. When they were first introduced to the UK in the 1990s through official imports, Jeep already had a long heritage in producing 4x4s, the Chrysler Voyager was a classy alternative to the Renault Espace and Ford Galaxy and the Neon seemed to offer more value than any other small saloon on the market.

Now part of the DaimlerChrysler alliance, the Chrysler group of companies (Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge) are on the verge of a full-scale attack on the UK car market with one eye fixed firmly on the corporate customer.

Chrysler hopes the new 300C saloon, launched in Europe this month and on its way to the UK in 2005, will join the Voyager, PT Cruiser and Crossfire as part of a range of eye-catching and distinctive vehicles with strong appeal to European drivers.

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The 300C, while new to the UK, is part of a long line of saloons stretching back half a century.

But the starting point for this latest model was the underpinnings of the previous Mercedes-Benz E-class.

And the reason why the UK has to wait so long for the 300C is the availability of a state-of-the-art common rail turbodiesel engine to supplement the two petrol engines available.

The new engine will be a 3.0-litre six-cylinder unit that will also appear in the Mercedes-Benz range.

Simon Elliott, managing director of Chrysler in the UK, said: 'We wanted to wait in the UK until we had diesel so we could launch petrol and diesel at the same time.

'The 300C will be predominantly a car for the corporate market, either as a true company car or for user-choosers buying with money from a cash-for-car scheme.'

Petrol engines offered in the UK include a 252bhp 3.5-litre V6 offered with a four-speed automatic transmission, as well as a 340bhp 5.7-litre V8 'Hemi' (so-called because of the hemisphere-shaped combustion chambers).

While fleet executives might instantly dismiss this unit as a costly and unnecessary extravagance, it offers a 'multi-displacement system' which shuts off four of the cylinders when cruising or under light loads, and the official fuel consumption figure is expected to be very close to that of the V6.

Meanwhile, all UK models will have steering, damping and wheel/tyre combinations specific to European markets designed to improve the car's high-speed handling.

Elliott added: 'We are expecting sales to reach 2,000 units in a full year, but we have set our targets at 1,000, with the capacity to sell more if there is sufficient demand.

'We will not have so many cars to sell that we have to start discounting them.'

Chrysler sees the 300C firmly in the executive saloon sector, competing with cars like the Saab 9-5, Volvo S80 and Jaguar S-type, while acknowledging the German premium brands – Mercedes, BMW and Audi – have seen their combined sales in the sector increase from a 40% market share to a 50% market share over the past five years.

A Touring version will also be offered in left-hand drive markets later this year, although right-hand drive has not been confirmed for the UK.

Chrysler will be keen to offer better value for money than its main rivals and is still a long way from announcing prices, as negotiations are ongoing.

However, it would not be a surprise to see the range start from about £25,000, with the 5.7-litre V8 coming in at just under £30,000.

Behind the wheel

FEW cars on the road today have as much presence as the new Chrysler 300C. With a dramatic radiator grille, headlamps staring ahead, chrome trim and its sheer size, you could park it alongside the rarest and most beautiful piece of Italian exotica and all eyes would be fixed on the Chrysler.

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Its profile is no less imposing, with a relatively narrow glass area that takes up about one-third of the height of the car, compared to two-thirds for the rest of the bodywork.

The rear, however, is less distinctive. Perhaps the light clusters could have been narrowed and LED used to continue the impressive appearance. It is still relatively neat, but has none of the impact of the front end.

Inside, the 300C is also rather inviting. A clear centre console layout and ivory-faced instruments lend the Chrysler an upmarket ambience, and most of the materials coming into direct contact with the driver and passengers are typical of a premium car.

Some of the components are shared with Mercedes-Benz, like the foot-operated parking brake and the single steering-column stalk containing functions for indicators, main beam and windscreen wash/wipe.

Look closer, however, and you begin to spot where costs have been minimised. The inner panel of the front seat bases – next to the transmission tunnel – is cloth, while the seat facings are leather and the rest of the seat base certainly creates a good impression of being leather.

The interior of the A-pillar is covered in a fabric-effect plastic when it is now the norm to cover the plastic in fabric, preferably the same as used elsewhere in the cabin. And there are some ill-fitting edges on the interior door panels and other areas where plastic meets plastic.

But the 300C is exceptionally roomy and comfortable.

Only the 5.7-litre V8 versions were available for testing on a challenging route in the south of France. With 340bhp and a Tarmac-rippling 387lb-ft of torque, this car has every chance of offering more power per pound than any other.

There is no dramatic rumble from the outside and the engine is barely audible inside. Performance, however, leaves the driver in no doubt, as squeezing the throttle results in relentless acceleration.

The 300C feels rather unlike an American car to drive. You are always aware of its size, but the steering is precise and only very slightly over-assisted. The ride is firmer than expected but still comfortable enough to shrug off most imperfections in the road surface and it also does a good job of weaving around complex corners.

It is no BMW 5-series, Audi A6 or even Merecdes-Benz E-class, but it remains composed when pressed hard and its rear-wheel drive layout and near 50/50 weight distribution means the 300C is always rewarding to drive.

It would be even better if it were offered with a true sequential manual option on the auto transmission and the brake pedal offered less resistance to being pushed.

Driving verdict

THE Chrysler 300C is a remarkably good car to drive and has the looks, if not quite the quality, to compete with the best executive saloons. But the right price might be enough to influence most people's decisions.

The V8 is a great way to showcase the 300C, but we eagerly await the diesel versions, which will make the most financial sense for fleet operators.

Fact file
Model: 3.5 V6 5.7 V8
Engine (cc): 3,518 5,654
Max power (bhp/rpm): 253/6,400 340/5,000
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 250/4,000 387/4,000
Max speed (mph): 155 155
0-62mph (sec): 9.2 6.4
Fuel consumption (mpg): 25.4 24.8 (estimated)
CO2 emissions (g/km): 266 274
Transmission: 4-sp auto 5-sp auto
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 68/14.9 71/15.6
Prices (estimated): £25,000-£30,000

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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