Think of all those platitudes about failure – and how it is the stepping stone to success. For the Chrysler Group, the prospect of outright failure seems to have been a big motivation.
From the brink of bankruptcy, to posting a figure of $436 million in its 2012 second quarter earnings, the American automaker has upped its game.
In all its divisions - Dodge, Jeep and the Chrysler marque, there has been a shift in the way things are done. There is a distinct improvement in overall quality, global relevance and emotional appeal, in comparison to those iffy products from bygone days.
The 2012 Chrysler 300C has arrived on the scene and at first glance, you are probably going to dismiss it as having gone soft, losing the mean essence that characterised the first one. But we think there is a good reason for this - more on that later.
A one-finger salute to the Germans
Picking a car in the large luxury car segment is an easy choice, when there are three main offerings to consider.
You could go for the driver-orientated BMW 5-Series, the Audi A6 with its dynamic design, or the Mercedes-Benz E-Class if you have just retired. This trio of refined, solidly-built German saloons has dominated the luxury car ranks for decades.
Chrysler has positioned the new 300C as a unique alternative for a successful, well-heeled executive who wants to break away from the herd. More enticing is the level of standard equipment in the new model – lest we forget how the Germans love to bend buyers over the proverbial barrel, charging exorbitant amounts for optional extras.
Satellite navigation, park distance control, a reverse camera, heated seats, a heated steering wheel and a colour-display interface system are some of the features that are included in the price. There is only one trim level; the Luxury Series. True to the name, it features all the bells and whistles.
The previous generation Chrysler 300C garnered much criticism for its putrid interior. It is no secret that American cars are not the best when it comes to interior decorating.
But when we stepped into the new model at launch, we saw that things have changed – and we saw that it was good.
While it might not be on the lofty standards of Audi, but the Chrysler 300C’s lounge is undoubtedly a pleasant place to sit and will keep its executive buyers happy. There is the positive sense that the designers have put effort into crafting the 300C’s insides; rather than doing a slap-dash job of juxtaposing fake wood with big surfaces to create a façade of luxury.
No, the attention to detail and aesthetic value is there. The dashboard is wrapped in leather, real wood trim has been employed, with a rustic finish giving the impression that it had just been applied from a freshly-harvested piece of tree.
The leather is supple and as soft as a lover’s bosom, with quality stitching that would make a shoemaker blush. We love the intricate design of the instrument binnacle, with gauges that look like the face of an expensive watch.
The UConnect system which features in other Chrysler Group vehicles has a simple, easy-to-use touch-screen interface, although the display’s resolution is not as high as some of the other colour screens out there.
Don’t bend it like Beckham
If immense handling prowess was what you are after, typically, cars from the land of the Star-Spangled Banner were not your first choice.
And we will not beat around the bush: if you are a purist driver who likes edge-of-the-seat thrills, the BMW or the Audi is likely to reward you in this segment.
The Chrysler 300C is much happier when you put it to the task of leisurely cruising. It settles down and cossets its passengers in a cocoon of tranquility, at any speed. We achieved some fair speedometer digits on our test and found that the comfortable Chrysler is never perturbed, or imparts a sense of uneasiness when one is whooshing forward.
Knysna’s roads are akin to Kim Kardashian’s curvy physique; and the 300C loathed this. Throw it into a bend with aggression and immediately, you feel the sedan’s heft throwing itself around, leaning into a corner like an overweight athlete.
It is better to approach corners delicately, guiding the heavy American in gently and gracefully, to avoid the sense of unwieldiness.
Powerful Pentastar, delicious diesel and a new ‘box
There are three engine options available. The 3.6-litre V6 Pentastar engine marks the starting point into the range, followed by the 3-litre V6 diesel derivative and at the top of the range is the eye-watering 6.4-litre V8 Hemi powerplant in the SRT8 version.
The 5.7-litre Hemi model has been done away with. According to Chrysler’s marketing team, buyers in South Africa rarely opt for the V8 model below the high-performance derivative in the luxury car ranges – they either want the most potent version, or the model geared toward efficiency.
Chrysler Group’s Pentastar churns out an ample 210kW and 340Nm of torque, producing a satisfying growl when you hit the power pedal.
But the biggest surprise is the V6 diesel – it runs without the characteristic, unpleasant grumble of an oil-burner and it operates with the refinement and responsiveness of a petrol engine.
With 177kW and a full-figured 550Nm of torque, it does not hang around either: punch the pedal and it goes, no protest, no lag.
Also new is an eight-speed automatic transmission, standard on both V6 engines. Quick downshifts in “Sport” mode are executed swiftly, with no unnerving shudder or clunk – it serves up the engine’s power effortlessly, and works seamlessly in normal driving.
Here’s looking at you
Now, let us address the white elephant – Chrysler’s decidedly softer approach to the 300C’s styling. Of course, everybody is going to cast the new model in the shadow of its predecessor, which looked totally unique and firmly etched itself in our minds.
Rarely is the sequel as good as the original. But the latest iteration of the Chrysler 300C has grown up and changed for the better: it is not only a car for gangsters seeking to look “bad-ass”, but tasteful buyers with a keen eye for style too.
Cues from the 1950s 300 feature strongly at the rear, with slim tail-lights, subtly integrated fins and a slightly protruding tail-gate spoiler. From the side, the distinctively square profile remains, infused with softer edges and curves that have been described by Chrysler’s press machine as more “sensual.”
The 300C’s lines seem to flow in a natural, stream-like way, it is easy on the eye – and certainly stands out from the usual German offerings which are attractive, albeit an all too common sight.
The “bad-ass” has grown into something a little more beautiful.
Prices start at 479 990 for the 3.6-litre V6, while the diesel model is much dearer, at R539 990. The high-performance SRT8 derivative is R629 990.
The 2012 300C represents the change that has occurred in the way Chrysler is doing things. Here you have a product that breaks many of the stereotypes that stigmatise American cars.
It is well-built and has on-road dynamics that are more than acceptable. It undercuts its rivals significantly when it comes to price, and offers more features, exclusivity and character too.
Time will tell if buyers cast aside their brand allegiances and consider this seriously competent luxury saloon underdog.
Perhaps this endorsement from Dr. Dre will help?