FIRST DRIVE: Chrysler 300

FIRST DRIVE: Chrysler 300

After an absence of a couple of years the big Chrysler is back on New Zealand shores. It’s lost a C and most of its gangster looks, but it has gained a whole bunch of kit and a seriously upgraded interior. We head to Taupo to see if the 300 can still pop a cap in our asses…

What is it?

According to the Chrysler people in New Zealand, it’s an all new 300. According to reality and every fraction of common sense in your body, it is somewhat closer to an extreme facelift; a new body sitting on the same platform as the previous model.

Chrysler’s big and bold answer to the Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon in these parts of the world has had its gangster looks toned down and its levels of refinement cranked up for the new model, and the words “passion”, “quality” and “European” were thrown around a lot at the launch.

The new 300 has now had its “C” relegated to essentially a model level designation and now comes in three models; the 300 Limited, 300C and 300C Luxury.

In all three model levels, the 300 is impressively specced, with the top of the range 300C Luxury being particularly packed with gear.

Two engines will be available under the sleeker nose of the new 300 – the impressive 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 petrol or a VM Motori 3.0-litre turbo diesel V6. The petrol V6 puts out 210kW of power at 6,350rpm and 340Nm of torque at 4,650rpm, while the diesel pumps out 177kW and a big 550Nm.

The petrol engine is only available with an 8-speed ZF automatic transmission, while the diesel is only available with Chrysler’s old 5-speed auto. Torque is apparently the issue here and an alternative for the aging 5-speeder is expected soon…

And don’t despair V8 fans! Well… actually, DO despair, because there ain’t gonna be a standard V8 300 here. The only V8-powered 300 will be the brutal SRT-8 model, which is almost sold out already – as of this writing, there were 26 coming and 25 have already been sold.

What’s it like?

Well, it looks great! Toning down the gangster looks has produced a far more modern-looking car, with a sleek, quietly menacing demeanor. It works far better in the metal than in photographs, but fans of the gangster/drug dealer look need not despair, because with big wheels and the right accessories (and especially in white) the 300-look of old is never that far away…

Inside the quality has been hugely improved, but still lags behind the Europeans. It gives a good hiding to the Australians though, if only in quality, rather than in terms of design.

Unlike the recently released Jeep Grand Cherokee, there are still quite a few examples of cheap, hard plastics on display inside the 300, but the improvement over the old model is massive and the interior of the 300 is generally a likable and pleasant place to be.

The 300 is still very much an American car and brings with it pretty much everything that entails, good and bad. The seats are comfortable, but extraordinarily lacking in support (made for larger American arses, etc…) and the transition to right hand drive has left the driver’s footwell somewhat cramped and skewed to the right, while the foot-operated parking brake is positioned directly above the foot rest, meaning you are constantly hitting your shin on it.

Oh, and the American insistence of having the brake and accelerator as far away from each other as possible, lest some idiot confuse the two, rears its head here as well, meaning the brake pedal is significantly higher than the throttle…

On the up side, the 300 is extremely comfortable and well-appointed. Eight upholders are scattered around the cabin and the ride (especially on the 18” wheels) is comfortable, if slightly unsophisticated over some surfaces.

Then we get to the handling and this is where the platform starts to show its age. Badly.

The 300 is big and floppy, with steering that simply has no feel whatsoever. Guiding the car through a corner is an imprecise exercise in guesswork, because it sure doesn’t give you any clue as to what it is doing. The steering is utterly mute and massively light and there is generally no precision or sharpness about the car in the slightest…

What’s good about it?

The interior is hugely better than it was, and the exterior styling is far classier. The level of spec is impressive, even in the entry level model and it is extremely comfortable.

The 300 is a supremely good cruiser, that you quickly find yourself driving like an American in – one hand on the wheel, arm propped on the window (summer) or centre console (winter) and the stereo thumping.

It is also remarkably quiet, refined and smooth, particularly the petrol equipped with the super-slick 8-speed auto.

What’s not so good?

The dismal steering and floppy handling. The 300 isn’t made for anything other than cruising, which it does do well. Maybe the SRT-8 is, but the standard versions are cruisers and should never try to keep up with a Falcon or a Commodore through a corner, lest something very unpleasant happen that could cause a stain…

There is a tendency towards the tasteless is some places inside (the chrome ring around the steering wheel in the 300C Luxury, for example) and the bling factor is still uncomfortably high.

First Impressions?

Great looking but dynamically disappointing.

The 300 does look great, has been massively improved in terms of quality over the old car and is well-priced, especially for the amount of kit that comes standard.

But the awful steering and imprecise handling let it down drastically. It is a very comfortable car, that still represents a convincing and viable alternative to a high-spec Falcon or Commodore, but only if you don’t want to go around corners much.

Around town, the 300 would be a wonderful, distinctive and different car to own. Comfortable, remarkably quiet and smooth, it would impress the neighbours and provide a very satisfactory ownership experience.

Just don’t point it at a typical New Zealand back road with any enthusiasm, because then you will wish you had bought that big Aussie instead…

Specifications

Models/prices

300 Limited (petrol) – $57,990

300 Limited (diesel) – $62,990

300C (petrol) – $61,990

300C (diesel) – $67,990

300C Luxury (petrol) – $67,990

300C Luxury (diesel) – $73,990

Powertrain

3.6-litre six-cylinder petrol producing 210kW/340Nm or 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo diesel producing 177kW/550Nm; 8-speed automatic transmission (petrol), 5-speed automatic transmission (diesel); rear-wheel drive

Fuel consumption: 9.7L/100km (petrol), 7.2L/100km (diesel)
CO2 emissions: n/a

Safety

ANCAP/EuroNCAP rating: Not tested yet

Air bags: 6

Stability control: Yes

Lap/diagonal belts: 5

Share This