The excellence of Chrysler’s 300C is widely accepted but less well understood is the choice on offer within the range. Not only is there a choice between sedan and Touring versions (the rakish styling of which doubtless influenced the Commodore Sportwagon), but there are no fewer than four engines on offer – the 5.7-litre Hemi V8, the 3.5-litre (Mercedes-Benz) V6, the 3.0-litre (Mercedes-Benz) diesel V6 and the 6.0-litre SRT V8.
The iconic Hemi accounts for about half of all 300C volume and there is a lack of public perception when it comes to the 3.0-litre V6 diesel. Of all the sedans on the market this one perhaps comes closest to offering the best of both worlds – the road presence of a US muscle car with twenty-first century green credentials.
Perhaps the issue is that the CRD costs about the same as the Hemi and that most 300C buyers want the deep V8 soundtrack to accompany the classic American styling.
The CRD particularly reminds us that the 300C program owes its existence to the ill-fated merger between Daimler-Benz and the now embattled Chrysler. Beneath its sexy styling, the 300C is essentially the previous generation (W210, 1996) Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Buyers can choose between six-cylinder Mercedes engines and Chrysler V8s. The five-speed automatic transmission is also pure Mercedes.
Good as the diesel unit is, it obviously cannot supply the level of performance you get from the Hemi 5.7 or the flabbergastingly fast 6.0-litre SRT variants, but it goes plenty well enough for most prestige sedan buyers. As with all modern turbocharged common-rail diesels, the answer is torque. In this case there is an imposing 510 Nm of it, on tap all the way from 1600 to 2800 rpm. Compare this output with the SRT’s 569 Nm (at 4600 rpm) or the Falcon XR8’s 520 Nm (at 4750 rpm)!
Additionally, with 160 kW at 4000 rpm, this engine has more power than you tend to expect from a diesel. Overtaking is effortless and even quite steep highway hills are dispatched without a downchange, while the trip computer is typically indicating an average fuel consumption of 7.5 litres per 100 kilometres or less. As little as 6.5 litres per 100 kilometres should be achievable on a gentle interstate run.
In other respects the CRD sedan drives much like its siblings. Because there is a lighter engine, the balance front to rear is better and all six-cylinder models turn into corners more eagerly. There is some weight at the rim, but not as much feel in the steering as the enthusiast might like. The ride is supple but firm without a hint of float. And even though the steering feels less than intimately connected with the front wheels, the handling itself is very good. Rough roads are taken with ease.
Chrysler executives concede that interior execution has been a weakness of the marque but the 300C’s is quite appealing, despite a few minor letdowns such as the garish tortoise-shell highlights on the six-cylinder models. It is a spacious cabin with plenty of room across the split-fold rear seat for three adults. The leather upholstery looks, smells and feels very luxurious. There is a sense of pride about the cars with lovely details such as the Chrysler emblem set into scuff plates on the door sills.
More attention needs to be paid to the ergonomics, however. Despite having driven several 300Cs over the past few years, I still had to refer to the owner’s handbook again not once but twice to master the trip computer readout, which is accessed by a strange mix of buttons.
At about $55K driveaway, the 300C CRD constitutes one of the great automotive bargains in these difficult economic times. You can have your Chrysler cake and eat it too!
Distinctive and charismatic American character, brilliant Mercedes-Benz diesel engine, split-fold rear seat
User-unfriendly trip computer, garish tortoise-shell details