The 300C might look like the automotive equivalent of a mob enforcer, but this is far more than big-engined butt-kicker. Plentiful performance was a given but with Mercedes-Benz design input below and behind, it’s a attention-grabbing shape.
The big Chrysler steered, stopped and rode with greater competence than anyone expected. From the moment it appeared on North American roads, accolades began to flow and keen pricing ensured success in the Australian market.
Life for the 300C began in 2003 as a ‘design exercise’ doing the rounds of US motorshows. Reaction to the distinctive shape convinced product planners that a throwback to the 1950s was worth a punt.
Two years later and with a modern version of Chrysler’s famous ‘Hemi’ V8 thumping out the power, a brand new ‘letter series’ 300 was born.
The shape was the most interesting thing to come out of a US car factory in years and reviewers reacted by showering the big Chrysler with awards including Motor Trend magazine’s ‘Car of the Year’.
First stocks of the 300C arrived here in late 2005, delighting motoring writers and fleet operators alike. The journos loved its distinctive looks, rumbling V8 and surprisingly competent chassis. People who ran fleets of limos liked the 3.5-litre version that saved a bit on fuel and registration costs while losing none of the kerb-side presence.
At $53,900 the 300C 3.5 was $2000 cheaper than a V6 Statesman and came loaded with gear including 18-inch alloys, electrically-adjustable seats, air-bags everywhere, leather trim, a parking distance sensor and ghostly Xenon headlights. Stepping up to the 5.7-litre cost $6000 extra but power soared from 183kW to a healthy 250kW.
During its first full year of Australian sales, more than 1800 300Cs were registered, capturing 30.4 per cent of the Upper Large market segment for 2006.
With fuel costs climbing and sales of large rear-wheel drive cars contracting, that performance is unlikely to repeated. However, the market is well-supplied with used 300Cs and excellent cars aren’t expensive.
The year 2006 brought major advances for the 300C range. Lovers of brutish performance were entranced by the SRT8 with even bigger wheels and 6.1 litres beneath the bonnet. Those with frugality on their minds could enjoy the smaller carbon footprinit of a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel.
Also in the mix was the meanest-looking station wagon on the planet, named with nary a nod in the direction of BMW, the Touring.
Packing 317kW, the SRT8 engine was available in both the sedan and wagon. Standard stuff included four-pot Brembo brakes that barely fitted behind monstrous 20-inch alloys and a front lip for improved down-force. Inside were monogrammed seats and a 300km/h speedo but the most obvious difference between the SRT8 and others in the range was a mesh grille with unashamed overtones of Bentley. A sedan cost $71,990 with the Touring only $3000 dearer.
Diesel versions developed just 160kW but matched the V8 in torque delivery, providing effortless performance and the ability to cover massive distances between fuel stops.
ON THE ROAD
Walk around a 300C and the word that might come to mind is ‘intimidating’. Climb aboard though and the mood changes immediately.
Inside are big, inviting leather seats, a dash with huge, olde-worlde dials and the masses of scattered gadgets. The build quality of RHD cars coming from Chrysler’s Austrian factory was extremely good.
Nobody who can find themselves a seat inside a 300C will feel disadvantaged. While the rear bench is tailored for two, the centre perch provides reasonable comfort and the armchairs up front are simply decadent.
Even without investing in a more spacious Touring, the 300C accepts lots of luggage – or bodies – and the rear seat splits and folds if needed. The
Touring load area is quite narrow due to intrusive wheel arches but compensation comes via some useful storage areas that stop small items floating around in the rear.
Of course, it’s the performance that encourages you to spend increasing amounts of time behind the wheel of a 300C.
At low engine speeds the basic V8 is barely audible but with some revs registering on the clock-sized tacho, it begins rumbling with plenty of purpose.
The five-speed transmission is well-suited to the engine’s torque spread and manual shifting really can’t improve on the transmission’s own response times.
Despite a rear-axle ratio attuned to economy, the 5.7-litre car launches to 100km/h in 6.7 seconds, with the SRT8 a full second faster. Once above 60km/h it moves air like a bare-knuckled fist; brute power compensating for brick-wall aerodynamics.
A 0-400 metre time of 13.8 seconds makes many high-priced sports cars look silly and 3.2 seconds for the 80-120km/h overtaking bracket is sensational for a hefty car. All 300Cs come with traction control which can be disarmed if required but even the 3.5 will need it in slippery conditions.
Deference to US ‘gas-guzzler’ taxes obliged Chrysler to employ Multiple Displacement technology in the 5.7-litre engine, allowing up to half of the cylinders to be shut down when not needed.
The SRT8 didn’t bother with MDS and also demands 98 Octane fuel where the other 300C petrol engines will function on 91 RON.
Local tests didn’t quite match the frugality managed in US trials, so expect 15-16L/100km from the 5.7-litre and around 18L/100km from the SRT8.
Diesels driven without any special regard for economy should see single figures.
These are among the few cars that can get away with 20-inch diameter rims without looking ridiculously pretentious. The down-side to voluminous,
Z-rated rubber is a significant bill every time tyre-replacement day rolls around. With its wider rears, the SRT8’s tyres can’t be rotated to manage wear and skinny sidewalls provide minimal protection against rim damage.
>> Despite massive performance, 300Cs aren’t a complex car so servicing costs are reasonable. Be cautious if the brakes look worn or grooved as new rotors and pads will be costly. Spark plugs need to be replaced every 100,000 kilometres.
>> Providing they have been properly serviced, all 300C engines should easily see 250,000 kilometres before needing major work. Electrical issues have been reported; manifesting in stuttering under acceleration and irregular idling.
>> Ensure that the transmission selector releases easily from the Park slot. A shift interlock bar can break and has left drivers stranded with the car locked in Park. This should have been fixed under warranty. A similar problem can be caused by failure of the brake-light switch which must activate before the shifter will release.
>> In addition to fixing the gear-shift issue, Australian-spec 300Cs were subject to several other recall notices. They related to side air-bag wiring, loose front hubs and ABS programming that could allow the rear wheels to lock on some models. Check the service book for stickers noting this work has been done or contact Chrysler quoting the VIN to ensure previous owners have responded to recall notices.
>> Look carefully at the grille and front panels for damage or misalignment. Without a bumper for protection the grille will suffer from any knocks that come its way and more severe impacts can deform the front panel.
>> Test the air-conditioner for several minutes to ensure that the air entering the car is consistently cold. Power window switches, especially the rears, need to be tested.
USED VEHICLE GRADING
Design & Function: 14/20
Value for Money: 17/20
Wow Factor 16/20 (SRT8)
TOTAL SCORE: 73/100
ALSO CONSIDER: Holden Statesman, Nissan Maxima Ti, Ford G6E Turbo