Chrysler 300C - First Drive

Out on the road, the new 300C is smooth, quick and quiet

Engine: 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Power: 236 bhp at 4,000 rpm
Torque: 540 Nm at between 1,600 and 2,800 rpm
Fuel consumption (combined cycle): 39.8 mpg
CO2 emissions: 185 g/km
Top speed: 144 mph
Acceleration (0-62 mph): 7.4 seconds
Price: £35,995 (Limited), £39,995 (Executive)
* 300C Limited. Higher figures apply for Executive models and cars fitted with optional larger wheels

At first sight, the new 300C looks quite like the last one – and there's a good reason for that. Chrysler's research shows that lots of buyers went for the old car because of its imposing appearance, which recalls the swaggering style of the extravagantly designed 300 models the company made when Detroit was at its most confident in the Fifties and Sixties.

But the similarity in appearance between the new 300C and its immediate predecessor conceals far-reaching changes that have produced a drastically improved car, changes that also reflect a radical shift in ownership and approach for Chrysler. Back in 2005, the company was controlled by Germany's Daimler and the last 300C leant heavily on Mercedes technology, but since then Chrysler has been through the wringer and ended up under the wing of Fiat. One alteration is a switch from a Mercedes V6 diesel engine to one using Fiat Multijet 2 technology; another is the replacement of the previously slightly crude interior with something much more sophisticated - and there's a story to that as well. Because while the 300C is being sold as a Chrysler in North America and the UK, Continental customers will know it as the Lancia Thema; that's the outcome of a grand plan to mesh Chrysler's and Fiat's brands and development in the most efficient way that has already seen the smaller Lancia Ypsilon and Delta come to the UK badged as Chryslers.

At first sight, combining Chrysler and Lancia seems like an odd idea, but so far it appears to be working fairly well. The outcome, in the case of the 300C, is a car that looks American on the outside but somewhat Italian on the inside, a slightly unlikely but actually highly appealing combination that makes this model feel a lot more sophisticated than the old one.

Out on the road, the new 300C is smooth, quick and quiet. The switch in diesel engine supplier has meant no loss of shove or refinement, and while the five-speed automatic gearbox gives away a ratio or two to those of some competitors, it works well enough. Ride comfort is pretty good too, even on the huge optional twenty-inch wheels.

Chrysler has greatly simplified the 300C line-up with the introduction of the new car. For the time being, there's just one engine option, that V6 with a capacity of three litres, and two (generous) trim levels Limited and Executive. The Limited starts at £35,995 and includes such high value items as cruise control, DAB radio, bi-xenon headlamps, leather upholstery and a reversing camera. The Executive, at £39,995 adds those twenty-inch wheels, adaptive cruise control, a large glass sunroof, a leather-wrapped dashboard and a host of other luxury features. The prices of the new car represent quite a step up from those of the old one; that's probably a fair reflection of the improvements it embodies in sophistication and equipment but also gives this 300C less of an edge, if still a significant one, against the established German competitors.

With its large engine and high spec levels, the 300C is a niche, rather than mainstream choice, and there's no sign of Chrysler introducing a smaller four-cylinder diesel to match the big-selling low-CO2 models in the BMW 5-Series and Mercedes E-Class ranges, which might not suit the 300C's suave character anyway. But like the last one, the new 300C should find plenty of buyers who want to stand out from the crowd.