Jaguar has, up to now, been a bit player in this, but hopes to gain a greater presence with the S-type diesel.
The Swedes provide credible alternatives to the Germans with the Volvo V70 and S80 and the Saab 9-5.
The French have skirted around the edges of the executive sector with cars like the Peugeot 607 and the Renault Vel Satis, while Vauxhall’s Omega once had a strong presence but was squeezed out of existence by the lure of a premium badge.
Volume manufacturers have suffered in recent times and the Japanese – think Nissan QX, Honda Legend and Mazda Xedos9 – have tried and failed. Toyota had to invent and establish a completely new brand, Lexus, before its executive cars were taken seriously.
This time next year the Americans will have a presence in the executive sector, and while not expecting to tempt BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz drivers away from their uber-saloons, the company thinks the rest of the sector is fair game.
Chrysler is committed to introduce the 300C to the UK in the second half of 2005, following its launch in North America and Europe last spring and has confirmed a second production line for the US-built saloon in Austria (alongside the Chrysler Voyager and Jeep Grand Cherokee) to satisfy markets outside North America.
The car went on sale in mainland Europe in the summer and we drove versions of the car with a 5.7-litre V8 earlier this year (Fleet News May 13).
However, while 340bhp and 387lb-ft of torque might be appealing to drivers, fuel consumption barely reaching the mid-20s mpg and 35% BIK rates might bring them back down to earth. Chrysler will have a three-model range by the time the car reaches the UK, with right-hand drive models in the form of a V6 petrol engine and a V6 common rail turbodiesel.
It will be a while before we get to try the diesel, but we managed to get hold of the next best thing – the V6 petrol, perhaps a more realistic indication of what more people will be buying in the UK.
So, what can Chrysler do to prevent the 300C going the way of other large American saloons in the UK – limited awareness and heart-stopping residuals? Well, the group’s UK managing director Simon Elliott has said there will be no oversupply. The company plans to sell 1,000 units in a full year with capacity to take 2,000 if the demand is there.
The diesel engine will be a hi-tech unit also used by Mercedes-Benz to replace engines in its existing line-up, so it will have been designed from the outset to be a class-leading motor.
The car is also based on a Mercedes-Benz – it shares many of its components with the Mercedes-Benz E-class that was discontinued in 2002, which was still a good executive car at the time.
It means the Chrysler’s ride and handling have a European bias and shouldn’t feel alien to European drivers, not least those who normally drive a premium car.
The North Americans are already lapping them up and so far this year 105,000 examples of the Chrysler 300s and Dodge Magnums (its Dodge-badged sister car) have been sold. The Chrysler commands a 40% share of the Canadian luxury full-size vehicle segment and more than 30% of the US luxury full-size car segment.
Whether it succeeds in the UK is something that history will judge and at this early stage and prediction will be at best an educated guess.
Behind the wheel
‘Hop in my Chrysler, it’s as big as a whale and it’s about to set sail!
‘I got me a car, it seats about 20
‘So come on and bring your jukebox money.’
SO bellowed Fred Schneider in the 1989 B52s’ hit ‘Love Shack’. For some reason the lyrics were running through my head after about 15 minutes behind the wheel, and it isn’t difficult to see why.
It is big. To put this into context, one of the reasons the new Audi A6 has been a welcome addition to the premium sector is because of its generous proportions resulting in a vast boot and plenty of space in the rear.
It measures 4,916mm long, 1,855mm wide and has a wheelbase of 2,843mm. The 300C is 4,999mm long, 1,881mm wide and it has a gargantuan wheelbase of 3,048mm.
The liberal use of chrome around the front end, particularly the Rolls-Royce-sized radiator grille fuel will lead to accusations of brashness and this isn’t helped by the ‘tortoiseshell accents’ in the interior. In place of wood on the steering wheel and the grab handles on the doors. It is possible to choose a transparent brown plastic that is more commonly used for spectacle frames.
Thankfully, these will not be mandatory in the UK. But this is just a minor aberration in a cabin that, overall, creates the right impression: the leather is soft, the dashboard has an upmarket appearance and everything is well screwed together.
By virtue of its immense dimensions, the 300C has a vast interior, perhaps closer in size to cars like the Jaguar XJ and Audi A8 than its obvious rivals. As well as the roomy rear compartment the boot will swallow luggage totalling more than 500 litres.
The 3.5-litre V6 is about 90bhp and 130lb-ft shy of its V8 brother, and performance is far more subdued. It will accelerate quickly if required, but feels more comfortable gaining pace gently with its V6 purring away in the background building up enough momentum to span the gaps in the ratios of the four-speed automatic gearbox.
With the long bonnet stretching into the distance in front of you, you are always aware of the 300C’s considerable size. It never really gives you the confidence to throw it around on narrow twisty roads, but the car is generally well behaved away from the main roads.
In the V6, there is never really enough power to overcome the weight of the body and the grip of the rear tyres, but it handles neatly for a car of this size.
Final specification on UK cars is to be confirmed but expect the cars to be well equipped. Our test car had leather seats with heating at the front along with lumbar support, a leather steering wheel with audio, phone, navigation, and trip computer controls, power tilt-telescoping steering wheel with memory, an eight-way power driver’s seat and dual-zone climate control.
ESP, xenon headlamps, rear parking sensors, satellite navigation, an in-dash six-CD autochanger, also featured. It’s a long list and Chrysler will have to offer many of these as standard if it is to drag customers away from the European competition.
THE forthcoming diesel will surely be the best fleet option for anyone brave enough to take the plunge and ‘go large’ with the 300C, but the V6 proves a steady and soothing companion in the big Chrysler. Question marks will remain over running costs, but Chrysler is bound to offset any residual values worries by offering a lot of car for the money.
Model: Chrysler 300C 3.5 V6
Engine (cc): 3,518
Max power (bhp/rpm): 250/6,400
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 250/4,000
Max speed (mph): 155
0-62mph (sec): 9.2
Fuel consumption (estimated mpg): 25.4
CO2 emissions (estimated g/km): 266
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 68/14.9
Transmission: 4-sp auto
Service interval (miles): TBA
On sale: September 2005
Price (estimated): £26,000