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 familyfirst 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
Base car up by $2500, Luxury by $4500, justified by improved equipment. Capped price servicing at last
Larger instrument display, rotary shifter, improved materials with quilted Nappa leather in Luxury
Massive dynamic improvements including new Sports mode
Finally makes you a driver and not a passenger
Bigger grille, if that’s possible, updated lamps front and rear 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.
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.