2014 Chrysler 300C 3.6 AWD (USA)

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There are not many all-American cars that have successfully made the transition to Europe in recent years. In fact, you can probably delete the word “recent” out of that sentence. Tastes and market conditions in the New World are sufficiently different from those in Europe that cars designed to appeal to the American buyer rarely hit the spot at all in export markets. At one point, the era of the Land Yacht, the first problem (and there were many more, in the eyes of the European consumer) was simply that the cars were too big, making them more than a challenge in our narrow streets and confined parking places, and with huge and thirsty engines, something that struggled to deliver a double digit fuel consumption was also going to be expensive to run. Even now, elements of both of these different characteristics remain in the cars that America builds for itself, but with what until recently was the largest car market in the world, who can blame them for confining their product considerations to the domestic consumer. In 2004, though Chrysler launched a new large saloon, the 300C, which proved an immediate success on the home market, with a completely different look to what had gone (recently) before it, and it was not long before the bosses at Chrysler Europe decided to try to sell it to Europeans, as they thought that with a Mercedes sourced diesel engine under the bonnet, it could just tempt a small but significant enough number of buyers out of their 5 Series type car, and that a few would love the chance to buy a true US V8 muscle car, with the Hemi V8 engine under the bonnet. European market cars were built in Graz in Austria and they went on sale in 2005, with an Estate version, based on the Dodge Magnum, following a few months later. Those Execs were right that this car did have some appeal, though sadly it seemed that the “customise and bling” brigade were among its biggest fans, which was perhaps not a complete surprise given the popularity of the 300C for such after market treatment in the US as well. That notwithstanding, the base car was, in my opinion, one of the best looking US designed cars of its time, and with the help of more than a few Mercedes components under its skin, by all accounts, it drove pretty well, too. It went to a fairly high position on my list of cars that I wanted to drive, but somehow always eluded me. In 2011, a heavily revised version appeared, with an all new body but sharing much of the same styling cues, with an altered front and rear end , and fresh detailing to give it a different look. This version is also marketed in Europe, with Lancia branding as a Thema on the mainland, and as the Chrysler 300 in the UK. It does not sell in significant quantities, though. My best chance of getting to drive one was clearly going to be in America, but in the ensuing couple of years since launch, although I’ve seen the odd one in the Hertz fleet, I had not managed to source one. Then, as is the way of things in rental car land, just a couple of days after getting behind the wheel of the closely related Dodge Charger, I arrived at the Phoenix Sky Harbor Hertz location to find that they had quite a number, registered in different States, so they were not all part of a new batch of cars, all available for rent. From the array of available colours, I selected one in Deep Cherry Red Crystal Pearl.

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Although everyone refers to this car as the Chrysler 300C, that is not, and never has been strictly accurate. On the first generation model, the V6 engined cars were simply called 300, it was only the V8 models that were 300Cs. Chrysler have changed things a bit more with the second generation car. The base model is still a 300. There is still a 300C, but, as I was to discover when I looked under the bonnet of my test car, the 300C is available with the V6 engine. A new model launched at the 2011 New York Auto Show is the 300S, and there is a top of the range 300 SRT8 with the full fat 6.4 litre 470 bhp Hemi under the bonnet. V6 cars are offered with a choice of rear or all wheel drive. Very helpfully, two small badges on the boot of my rental car told me that I had a 300C and that it was an All Wheel Drive model. With the PentaStar 3.6 litre engine that puts out 292 bhp under the bonnet, that meant that this car had the same unit as had been in the Charger, and which had impressed me for its smoothness as well as its power delivery. As this was a 2014 model, it also came with the welcome and impressive 8 speed automatic gearbox, so I was pretty sure that this car was going to be feel very similar to the Charger from behind the wheel. And so it proved. Although this is a large and heavy car, 292 bhp turns out to be more than plenty to endow the 300C with a god turn of speed. Moreover, it remains very refined at all times. This is a nice smooth engine, so it goes about it business without any particular fuss. The 8 speed auto is a triumph, too, as it means that when cruising, there are some really nice high gear ratios, which bring the revs and hence the noise right down, but the moment you flex your right foot, the ‘box shifts down to a more appropriate ratio for some instant acceleration. It is so smooth that you really cannot tell when it is changing gear for you. The same slightly unusual gear lever as features in the Charger is in here. A small stubby lever on the console, you press the button on the top, and flick it back one position for reverse, or a couple more for Drive, but it returns to the same central position once you have indicated your preferred direction of travel. An indicator display on the dashboard confirms which gear you have selected. Overall fuel consumption was remarkably similar to that which I achieved with the Charger. Over a test distance of 313 miles, I averaged 27.2mpg US, or 32.5 mpg Imperial, and the Charger delivered 27.12 mpg.

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The one significant difference with this car was that it came with the optional All Wheel Drive. This is a permanent mode of operation, so there are no controls or switches inside the car to allow you to select or deselect it, and to be honest, in the dry and hot conditions of my test on public roads, the only way I know that it featured on the car was because there was a badge telling me it was there. In the snow States, I can imagine that this is a very worthwhile option, as we all know what rear wheel drive can be like once the roads get just a tiny bit of snow or ice, or wet grass, but for the Pacific South West, I suspect that it is not really that necessary. What I experienced was a large saloon car with nicely judged steering, well weighted and with plenty of feel, and good handling characteristics, with no trace of understeer, and no body roll to speak of on the corners which I tackled with modest gusto (these were public roads, don’t forget!). Whilst it is not a sports car, it is a surprisingly agile machine for such a large saloon. The 300C rides very nicely, too, smoothing out the few surface imperfections of Arizona’s streets. It stops readily, too, with brakes that inspire confidence, and which have an apposite level of feel in the system. There is a foot operated parking brake. From the outside, the relatively high waistline and shallow windows might lead you to think that visibility out of the 300C would be a challenge, but in reality it is not, with a good field of vision from the door mirrors helping matters, and a backup camera giving you a very clear view of what exactly is behind you, making manoeuvering the Chrysler not the ordeal you might fear.

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At first glance, the interior of the 300C looks completely different to that of the Charger, but look more closely, and you will quickly realise that all the same componentry is used, it is just presented in a sufficiently different way for it to look like it is not the same. What is the same is the standard of fit and finish, which has gone, as it has with the Dodge, from pretty well bottom of the class, to top of the US domestics. Nicely grained plastics, that are soft touch and cohesively designed to fit together dominate the cabin, and there are some very dark grey wood finished inlays on the door casings and around the centre console which do not look anything like as cheap as some wood inlays do. The overall design is neat and well presented, and looks rich and luxurious in a way that you probably would not have expected from any American car, let alone a Chrysler. I got in the 300C in the evening, so the lighting came on as soon as I started the 300C up, and whereas the Dodge uses red around the instruments, the Chrysler glows blue, and very upscale it looks, too. The same dials are present, which means two, which are grouped together under a binnacle which just covers the instruments, not extending further along the dashboard. A large rev counter and speedometer also house smaller water temperature and fuel level dials in their lower portions. All are clearly marked and easy to read. Between the dials is a digital display area for functions ranging from trip records of mileage and fuel consumption, to vehicle status information, and a digital repeater for the speedometer. You cycle through these choices with a series of buttons on the left hand steering wheel spoke. The centre of the dash contains a large display screen, which in the case of the test car was the big 8.4″ uConnect unit, so larger than the standard one in the Charger, and with more features available on it. This touch sensitive screen is used not just for audio unit functions, but also many of the climate control settings, some vehicle info and for bluetooth connectivity, as well as the satellite navigation system. The graphics are very crisp, and the unit is very easy to use. Far easier than the awkward iDrive in the BMW I had been driving the previous day, in fact. Above this unit is a traditional analogue clock. Below it are the vastly reduced number of dials and buttons for the audio and climate control systems, but the important ones – on/off for the audio and temperature for the climate are here. A single column stalk is on the left of the wheel, operating the wipers by twisting the end. Lights are controlled by a rotary dial on the dash to the left of the wheel. As well the buttons for the digital info display, the steering wheel spokes contain repeater buttons for some of the audio and bluetooth functions.

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Getting comfortable in the 300C was not hard. As well as electric adjustment for the seat, in every direction, there was an additional switch on the seat side, which when I pressed it altered the position of the pedals, and there is an electric motor to change the reach and range of the steering column, too. The seats are large, and leather clad, and initially, I thought they were a bit too wide and a bit too hard in the small of my back, but of course once I played around the settings, I could make them fit my size and posture better, and had I wanted to, I could have used either the seat heaters or the seat cooler features fitted to the car. There is a fair amount of space for odds and ends in the cabin, with bins on the doors, and a large split-level glovebox which is very deep from front to back. There is a cubby under the central armrest, and the cup holders in the centre console have the ability to direct hot or cold air at them to heat or chill their contents. The 300C is a large car, so you would expect there to be ample space for the rear seat occupants. And there is. For two of them. The biggest issue is the transmission tunnel and the fact that the centre console protrudes back a long way, so a middle occupant would have to sit with their legs astride this obstruction, which might not be that comfortable. Otherwise, there is plenty of space, with lots of leg room even when the front seats are set well back, and headroom is generous, too. Perhaps slightly more so than in the Charger, as the rear roofline does not swoop down so much. There is a drop down centre armrest, which has a pair of cup-holders and a lid over a shallow cubby on its upper face. Rear seat passengers also get bins on the doors and map pockets on both rear seats. The rear face of the console has a pair of air vents and switches to hear the rear seats. The boot is a decent size, too. It is long from front to back, and wide, though not that deep. There is no significant extra space under the boot floor around the spare wheel. The rear seat backrests are asymmetrically split and can be pulled forward for extra loading length. There is no release button on the boot itself. You either need to press the button twice on the key fob, or the button on the dash for access.

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Chrysler position the 300 as the luxury model compared to the more sporting Dodge Charger, and this is reflected in the standard specifications. Even the base model has the new 8 speed automatic gearbox, and it also comes with cruise control, vehicle anti-theft system, a leather steering wheel, heated mirrors, the touch sensitive uConnect system with large 8.4″ display, an AM/FM audio unit with XM Satellite radio, CD, MP3 and Auxiliary output, dual zone fully automated climate control, bluetooth, auto-sensing headlights, leather trimmed electrically adjustable driver’s seat with a heating setting, Starting price for an AWD model is $33,895. The 300S, listing for $36,895 in AWD guise is easy to spot as it features a black radiator grille and the silver trim elsewhere on the model, such as around the rear lights is blacked out as well, and it comes on 20″ polished-face aluminium wheels with black painted pockets. Inside the grained wood is replaced with piano black finishes, and there is a 10-speaker Beats by Dr. Dre sound system, and steering wheel mounted paddle shifters. It gains a number of other features over the base car, including an alarm, back-up camera, keyless start, universal remote garage door opener. an Alpine premium sound system,  power adjustment for the passenger seat,  The 300C costs a further $3000, and adds some further luxury items which include mirror memory position, satellite navigation, cooled front seats, a heated rear seat and seat memory settings and adjustable pedals. The 300S and the 300C can optionally be supplied with the tempting sounding 363 bhp 5.7 litre V8 engine. The top of the range SRT8 model, listing at $48,900 is trimmed in a very similar way to the 300C, adding just a couple of features, including rear parking sensors, and different “synthetic” leather trim. Most of your extra money goes on that stonking 470 bhp engine, which does still only come with the old 5 speed auto box, and it is a rear wheel drive only car. A number of Special Editions have been offered in recent years, including the MoTown Edition and Glacier Editions in 2013, based on the 300S and the John Varvatos Luxury Edition in 2014, based on the 300C.

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I’ve waited a long time to get to drive a 300C, and for all that time, was optimistic that its striking looks from the outside would be matched by pleasure from behind the wheel. Having finally driven one, I have to say that it was worth the anticipation of all these years. And indeed, there is little doubt that the car I drove will have been sufficiently better than an early model, so perhaps it was worth biding my time for quite so long. I really liked this car. It went well, was very comfortable, was quiet when cruising, had lots of toys and yet none of them needed an intense course of self-study to figure out how to use them, it was decently economical, and if I had had passengers with me, they and their luggage would have fitted in it quite easily. It had no serious weak points that I could discern. In Hertz speak, it is classed as Luxury car, so 2 Groups above the Charger, but you do get a far better equipped vehicle, and in this spec, it is very agreeable indeed. In the same Hertz category you will find the Buick LaCrosse and Toyota Avalon, both of  which I have driven, and the Cadillac XTS which I have not. Although the Buick and the Toyota were very pleasant cars, I think that if I had to choose between all the cars, I would take the Chrysler, as it is as luxurious as the others, but that bit more interesting to drive.

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