You’re a big wheel now

The self- made man who buysy the bling-g mo­bile can be an ac­tive driver, not just a steerer

Herald Sun - Motoring - - News - PAUL GOVER CHIEF RE­PORTER paul.gover@cars­guide.com.au

IN THE past I’ve gone too easy on the Chrysler 300C.

I’ve wanted it to be bet­ter than it was, treated it like a favoured child, and cut it some slack as a re­sult.

I know this be­cause I’ve just driven a 300C that is (mostly) what I wanted from the get-go, with a driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence that’s more about driv­ing than sit­ting pas­sively be­hind the wheel.

Cabin qual­ity is im­proved and it’s qui­eter too. The up­dated car tracks straighter, is more com­posed through dips and pot­holes, has bet­ter cor­ner­ing grip and is more en­joy­able at any speed.

Now, if Chrysler could just or­gan­ise some front seats with bet­ter side sup­port.

The steer­ing and sus­pen­sion changes are the good news in a midlife up­date to the 300C that brings bad news on higher prices. Chrysler says these re­flect ex­tra equip­ment and the re­cent dip in the dol­lar.

So the bot­tom line — with the $45,000 Lim­ited model now dead — is $49,000 for the 300C. The Lux­ury model comes in from $54,000.

Chrysler knows the end of the Fal­con and Com­modore will make things eas­ier for its old-school 300C but it’s ac­tu­ally more fo­cused — as Hyundai is with its Ge­n­e­sis — on peo­ple who want some­thing that’s more “pre­mium” than a fam­ily-first Aussie six.

“We think there is ac­tu­ally a very good op­por­tu­nity for us. There will al­ways be part of the seg­ment that favours large, lux­ury rear-wheel drive ve­hi­cles like the 300C,” says Fiat Chrysler Aus­tralia head of prod­uct strat­egy Alan Swan­son.

“We’re not say­ing it’s pre­mium but there are changes that the cus­tomer can feel.”

On the 2015 ver­sion of the 300C, a midlife up­date of the sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion model, he cites such changes as the big­ger grille and new lamps and, in the cabin, the seven-inch screen for the in­stru­ments, chunkier steer­ing wheel and real wood and Nappa leather trim.

There is also a Jaguar-style ro­tary gear se­lec­tor in the

con­sole, although it’s plas­tic and not me­tal as in the An­gloIn­dian car, and im­proved au­dio.

There is no stop-start for the 3.6-litre Pen­tas­tar V6.

The 6.4-litre SRT V8 ar­rives later with sim­i­lar re­vi­sions, as well as marginally higher en­gine out­puts. There will be launch con­trol for the eight­speed auto as well as adap­tive three-mode sus­pen­sion.

Chrysler claims 80 “avail­able” safety and se­cu­rity items, most of them on the Lux­ury ver­sion, in­clud­ing auto emer­gency brak­ing and im­proved adap­tive cruise con­trol with a “traf­fic fol­low” set­ting for bumper-to-bumper con­di­tions.

But the big­gest changes are the in­tro­duc­tion of elec­tric power steer­ing — which al­lows a new “Sport” mode — and fine tun­ing of the sus­pen­sion. Plenty of work went into min­imis­ing noise, vi­bra­tion and harsh­ness, bring­ing among other items an un­der­body panel to cut drag and re­duce noise.

The sus­pen­sion pack­age is a Euro­pean tune and Swan­son says it’s a re­sponse to buyer feed­back. “We’ve paid a lot of at­ten­tion to the buyer (who is) over­whelm­ingly male, typ­i­cally over 40, some­one that’s more self-made than any­thing else,” he says.

Sus­pen­sion com­po­nents are lighter. “As soon as you take weight out you can change the kine­mat­ics,” Swan­son says — which means finer tol­er­ances, less rub­ber in joints and far less slop­pi­ness over­all.

ON THE ROAD

I’ve barely cov­ered five kilo­me­tres when I be­gin to ap­pre­ci­ate the changes to the steer­ing and sus­pen­sion. The sloppy off-cen­tre re­sponse of the old hy­draulic steer­ing is gone, the car feels more grounded, and it is far less prone to crash­ing on joins or wan­der­ing than pre­vi­ous 300s — even the point-and-shoot SRT with the mega mo­tor.

Up­graded ma­te­ri­als stand out, although the dash­board fin­ish is still not to Euro­pean or even Korean stan­dards. The big­ger new dash­board dis­play is clearer and more ad­justable than I re­mem­ber.

I don’t like the wheel, which is too big in di­am­e­ter and far too thick in the rim.

I’m also dis­ap­pointed in the seats, which are cushy enough in free­way con­di­tions but don’t have nearly enough sup­port for quick-ish cor­ner­ing.

The 300C tracks far bet­ter through turns but I find my­self hold­ing on to the wheel for sup­port.

The Sport pack­age on the Lux­ury vari­ant de­liv­ers snap­pier re­sponse from the en­gine and eight-speed auto but the Pen­tas­tar V6 is still no fire­ball. The ma­chined al­loy pad­dle-shifters feel good and en­able faster man­ual gear changes.

There is less noise from the tyres on the 20-inch al­loys and the ex­haust is qui­eter — that will ob­vi­ously change in the SRT.

VER­DICT

Be­yond a grille that’s some­how even more im­pos­ing than be­fore, I was not sure what to ex­pect in the up­dated 300C. But Chrysler has de­liv­ered a car that is — fi­nally — en­joy­able and en­gag­ing to drive.

It’s still not per­fect and not as taut and sporty as an equiv­a­lent Com­modore or an XR Fal­con — but I won’t be mak­ing ex­cuses now to peo­ple who like the gangsta look and won­der whether the rest of the pack­age mea­sures up.

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