Chrysler 300C - First Drive

A 10-gallon hat of a car - are you brave enough?
  • @christian_b

Price: from £29,995
Engine capacity: 3.0-litre V6 diesel
Power output (BHP @ rpm): 236 @ 4,000
Top speed (mph): 144
0-62mph (seconds): 7.8
Fuel economy (mpg): 39.8
CO2 emissions (g/km): 191

Everyone you know will love it if you buy a Chrysler 300. After all, everyone likes a laugh. “I know there’s a Dallas revival but is that actually JR’s car?” “Whose is the pimp mobile?” None were especially funny, but I heard a few jokes in the week I drove The Beast.

So let’s cut to the chase with a sobering thought for those famously witty Audi, BMW and Mercedes owners who snorted in derision at the arrival of my big, brash, white (OK, the colour didn’t help to deflect attention) American sedan. The top-of-the-range (“Executive”, no less) model of Michigan’s finest costs £39,995. And for that you’ll get every toy you could possibly fiddle with, and a pretty decent discount if you haggle. Head to a Mercedes dealership and start trying to match up an E Class with the extras and you’ll soon get to £55,000 (and beyond).

Of course, given the choice, and if money were no object, you’d probably go for the German counterpart. You’d probably even have decided that without looking at the Chrysler. After all, you’ve been in a yellow cab, or hired an American car on your travels, and it was wallowy, badly made, with switches that worked only when you pushed them in just the right way. But the new 300C isn’t as American as its slightly finned boot suggests. Since the mighty American giant hit the skids (something to do with wallowy rides and dodgy switches), Fiat now calls the shots in Michigan, and the relaunched 300C is from this new era. You can smell the difference a bit of European breeding makes as soon as you open the door. Proper leather on the seats. No rattles. Solid clunks. And nice dials instead of digital read-outs.

OK, about those dials. They do have curvy chrome bits, which do remind you of those oh-so-European yet slightly ridiculous Philippe Starck juicers, but they are admittedly lit in a sort of Miami Vice nightclub shade of pale blue. And though you’ll secretly love the fact that you can select your drink holder to either warm or chill your drink (much as you can choose to warm or chill your derriere in your oversized heated and ventilated armchair of a driving seat), you might feel a bit self-conscious when the accompanying red or blue strip lights up to advertise that fact. And you might love the 506 watt stereo that does sound magnificent, but you might also find yourself wondering whether the engineers at BMW would be totally happy with the glass in the wing mirrors visibly trembling when the bassy bits come on.

And that’s the boring answer: this car is now spectacularly smooth and quiet on the motorways, cruises effortlessly with a huge touch-screen for all your fiddling/rear parking camera/climate-controlled posterior comfort needs. But you know that the screws and suspension and all that stuff probably wouldn’t go down well with engineering types in Bavaria. Yes, the Chrysler’s V6 diesel is rear-wheel-drive, and pretty good fun, but it does also weigh more than two tons, and the back does kick out in a way that would horrify its the R&D teams at its German rivals. And those JR credentials extend to guzzling gas in supreme American style: though admittedly it’s improved by the Italians, a similar BMW will take you 25 per cent further per litre, and still get you to 60mph a second quicker.

But then buying this Chrysler’s not going to be a decision made for boring reasons. Walk around an Audi and you'll struggle to find fault, but you might also struggle to find things to love. The opposite is true of the Chrysler. Get it in black (NOT white) and people with be too scared that Tony Soprano’s in the back to crack the jokes. It makes big, manly German cars look like Tonka toys - this is five metres long, almost two metres wide and has a grill the size of a Bentley’s (I’m reliably informed that wannabe Premier League dodgy geezers swap the Chrysler badge for the Bentley wings and get away with it - ish), and did I mention hot and cold cup-holders? Come on, you may now need a Stetson and boots, but where’s your sense of fun? And there’s nothing boring about having an extra £15,000 in your pocket to spend on... well, not just diesel.