Successfully retro styling, excellent blend of performance and economy, menacing exhaust note
Despite the upgrade, some elements of the interior finish are disappointing. Steering is too light
Twenty-First Century Retro Classic
Chrysler’s 300C is one of than a select group of new cars introduced this century that has already achieved iconic status. The most important contributor to this is the car’s unique shape, which is strongly reminiscent of American cars of the mid 1960s and especially Chryslers. The second factor is the ‘Hemi’ V8, which is not fitted to all variants. While the CRD diesel and V6 models are popular, it is undoubtedly the Hemi and the red hot SRT8 that are critical to perceptions about the 300C. Somehow that deep, menacing V8 engine note makes a perfect accompaniment to the aesthetics. This distinctive V8 soundtrack had already been taken advantage of by Hollywood (A History of Violence being the most conspicuous example).
Besides having its unique fame, the Chrysler 300C Hemi is also an excellent car. It is the best fruit of the now failed marriage of Mercedes-Benz and Chrysler. Mercedes engineering combines formidably with Chrysler design. You expect great performance from anything equipped with a 5.7-litre V8, even one that boasts less than the Hemi’s 250 kW of power. What you may not expect though is impressive economy on the open road. In a recent test, which involved plenty of open road driving, I returned a 300C Hemi to its local headquarters with the fuel economy readout at 9.5 litres per 100 kilometres. The automatic cylinder shutdown feature which intervenes (imperceptibly but for the readout on the instrument panel) on light or closed throttle surely contributes.
Despite its bulk, the 300C gets down to business in corners. You are always conscious of the weight of the V8 up front and this sense contrasts somewhat with the lightness of the power steering, but the big Chrysler turns in well with no lurching and mild understeer. The ride is smooth with none of the tendency to float which used to be so common in big American vehicles.
The high specification includes xenon headlights and imposing 18-inch alloys, in addition to features expected in a $59,990 car such as leather upholstery and dual automatic climate control. In February 2008 the 300C received a minor facelift and upgrade. A new bootlid with SRT-inspired spoiler and revised taillights gave it a more purposeful appearance from behind. Inside, a premium entertainment and information system was included along with a new instrument panel.
Chrysler showed great ingenuity in turning back to its famous ‘Letter Cars’ of the 1950s, and particularly the 1955 C-300, for inspiration. These cars made their name by consistently beating the General Motors and Ford competition in NASCAR racing. The significance of the ‘300’ was that this was the first standard American production car with a 300 brake horsepower engine.
So successful has the latterday 300C been in Australia that it contributed to the demise of the Ford Fairlane, while frequently outselling the Holden Statesman. Good cars as both locals were, they could not match that Chrysler charisma.