Peter Savage tests the Chrysler

It's got American quantities of chrome and shiny wood inside, but Limey drivers shouldn't let that put them off Chrysler's 300C, says David Wilkins

Price: £27,275
Engine: 3.0 litre diesel
Performance: 0-62 mph in 8.6 seconds, 34.9 mpg
CO2: 215g/km
Worth considering: BMW 5-Series estate, Mercedes E-class estate, Saab 9-5 estate

I hadn't driven a 300C before we got hold of this new estate version for The Verdict, and yet, initially at least, it felt strangely familiar. The large expanses of light-grey trim, along with the presence of a bit more chrome and shiny wood than most Europeans would consider decent, rang a bell. So did the smoothly shifting automatic gearbox and agreeably gruff diesel- engine note, as well as the need to take extra care when negotiating narrow streets or parking spaces because of the car's bulk.

And then, in the form of the foot-operated parking brake, direct evidence of something that the feel of the gearbox and engine had hinted at - the presence, under the skin, of some Mercedes engineering.

After about five minutes, I'd worked it out. Daft as it may seem, at low speeds around town, the 300C reminded me just a bit of the SsangYong Rodius.

Chrysler and Mercedes live under the same corporate roof these days, and just how much Mercedes lurks beneath the 300C's all-American styling is a complicated subject. I was under the distinct impression that the 300C was based broadly on the last- generation Mercedes E-class, but according to the crib sheet that Chrysler sent out with the car, it's not as simple as that.

If I can summarise: while the 300C is not based on a particular Mercedes model, Mercedes had at least a part in the engine, the transmission and the running gear. I suppose what Chrysler is trying to suggest is that the 300C has enough of the latest Mercedes technology to give it an edge over most competitors, but not so much that you should buy a Chrysler instead of a Merc.

Anyway, once you get this car out on the road, any faint echoes of the Rodius are dispelled by its convincing performance. Even with the Touring's estate bodywork to haul around, the 3.0-litre diesel engine gives the 300C a good turn of speed. Two petrol engines are also available. I haven't tried either of these yet but I'd be staggered if they turned out to be better in UK conditions than the diesel, which Chrysler expects to account for 75 per cent of sales.

The large body provides plenty of room for passengers, but the load area is a bit shallow. And in case you were wondering, the rather small side windows, which contribute so effectively to the 300C's menacing low-roofed look, don't really make the cabin feel particularly dark or confined - perhaps all that light grey helps here.

Overall, the Chrysler 300C offers drivers an appealing dash of American flash without too many of the traditional drawbacks.

Geoff and Robert Nickolds, committee chairman, Environment Agency, Kimberley, Nottingham
USUAL CARS: FORD GALAXY GHIA, FORD FOCUS GHIA

I've a soft spot for these cars because the styling reminds me of the Rover P5. First impression is of a seriously big, luxurious car, with sumptuous leather seats and an impressive collection of (as my father would have put it) nifty gadgets. The V6 diesel was smooth, with power just where it was needed and economy figures that wouldn't overly prick even my green conscience. It drove really well, with little roll on cornering, and felt like a much smaller car. But it's no Tardis: 4in of legroom behind my seat, and Robert couldn't fit his fishing gear in the boot. Very nice, but not for us.

Rob Barlow, consultant, Newark, Nottinghamshire
USUAL CAR: MINI COOPER

At first sight, this car is a monster, filling the length of a parking slot. From the front it has a real purpose about it, but it seems to run out of style as you move to the back. Inside, there's an enormous amount of space, both for passengers and in the large load area. The cabin, although comfortable, is let down by a random selection of switches, finishes, old-fashioned dials and walnut. The drive is a big plus and it handles country lanes without wallowing around. A surprisingly good fuel-consumption figure, real power, and a good automatic gearbox. So, for me, this car was a real surprise: a value-for-money big, meaty load-mover. Nice legs, shame about the face, though!

Peter Savage, retired, Bingham, Nottinghamshire
USUAL CARS: VAUXHALL VECTRA, CITROEN PLURIEL

If ever a car should be supplied with gold chains, medallions and a chest wig for the driver to wear, this is it! In black, with the "in your face" front, slab sides and narrow windows, it looks threatening. No wonder Chrysler says it will get you noticed. The back end is neat and subdued, but a bit hearse-like. The load section is large, but extra seating for kids would widen its appeal. On the road, it is imposing, commodious, easy to drive and position, has adequate power without being a "road burner" and is quiet. It seems well screwed together and I didn't realise it was a diesel. I expected a floaty, vomit-inducing ride, but it was just plain comfortable.

THE VERDICT

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