We’re getting used to Chrysler saving its own skin to the uproarious clash of cymbals. The company stretched a shapely capsule over a huge cabin for the 1993 Chrysler Concorde and Dodge Intrepid, and jaws went rubbery. The Canadian-built Concorde and Intrepid are history, but if science ever revives Al Capone, Chrysler has his car.
The brief on the new 300C Hemi starts with two complex axles yanked almost wholesale from a Mercedes-Benz E-class. They are screwed to the far ends of a retro-ritz cockpit and a chrome-bedecked bunker with gun slits for glass. Optional interior fringe includes a choice of real walnut or faux tortoise-shell trim direct from the Gatsby era.
Eight cylinders hump out the Hemi’s 340 horses and 390 pound-feet of torque, the power slipped under the floor to the rear where, in full fury, it paints the road with 10-foot patches of rubber and shoves the mass to 60 mph in a torrid 5.3 seconds. When not needed for saving time, four of the Hemi’s cylinders switch off seamlessly to save fuel (see sidebar, “Demi Hemi”).
Searching for a rear-driver between the $25,000 Grand Marquis and the $55,000 Lexus LS430? The Chrysler sits east of the moon and west of the sun. A base 300C stripper with a 190-hp, 2.7-liter V-6 and four-speed automatic sells for base Camry V-6 money, or $23,595. The optional $775 anti-lock brakes (standard on the Camry) and $1025 stability control are wanna-haves in the White Christmas states.
A notch up, the 300C Touring model offers more protein for $27,395: a 250-hp, 3.5-liter SOHC V-6, a four-speed auto, leather chairs, 17-inch wheels, and standard ABS and stability control. Even notchier is the 300C pictured here, which opens at $32,995 and delivers the knockout Hemi plus a Mercedes five-speed automatic and niftier trim. Optional all-wheel drive via a planetary-gear differential with a 32/68 front-to-rear torque split (the Mercedes-Benz 4MATIC system, in other words) appears this fall on models with 3.5s and Hemis. Curtain airbags run another $840 and are a part of the Protection Group, along with self-sealing Continental tires. A sound package includes a navigation system and Boston Acoustics speakers for a wallet-slimming $2130.
The risky styling, the pricing, the catalog of engines and options–it all makes the 300C the most interesting sedan to roll out of Detroit since, well, since the original Concorde and Intrepid. Like those cars, the new 300 has size on its side. Stretching 120.0 inches, the 300C’s wheelbase is 7.6 inches longer than an E-class’s, more than a foot longer than a Toyota Avalon’s. Rear-seaters get 40.2 inches of legroom, about the same as in the space-efficient Avalon but 4.6 inches more than in the E-class.
The 300C’s choptop profile is a styling sleight of hand. At 58.4 inches, the 300C is actually 1.3 inches taller than the bulbous-looking Avalon. The 300 just wears its flanks yanked up like oversize trousers. Slinging an arm over the windowsill is a problem. Flattening a Ferrari in the blind spot caused by the high sills and thick C-pillar is a bigger problem.
Otherwise, good thinking abounds in the entire 300C lineup. The compact rear suspension mostly stays out of the trunk, a flat-floored, 16-cubic-foot closet. Its aluminum lid mounts with compound hinges to swing clear of foreheads. The rear seats split 60/40 and fold flat, opening up even more cargo space. We’ve sampled new Kias and Mitsubishis that don’t do that.
When used for sitting, both the front and rear seats coddle the keister with a simple but effective bolster pattern and somewhat firmer foam than the usual domestic custard. The driver gets a dead pedal, and the live pedals can swing on an electric adjuster that is a $175 option. A Mercedes-brand tilting-and-telescoping steering column seals the deal for most body types.
The 300C’s up-lux treatment includes nickel-plated plastic trim, a leather-wrapped wheel, and chrome gauge rings. The vents are delicate louvers that fold flush with one finger. The single flexible skin swathing the upper dash appears clean and squeak-resistant, although the dashboard’s deep-cut grain is out of place. It doesn’t say “opulent” as much as “off-road.” The center bin is deep, the lid is so long that, when opened, it traps your right hand behind it. Regardless of what it’s doing, the left hand has to help.
Nickels were saved on the plain two-tone door panels and rotary-knob climate control, which does have one noteworthy novelty: A “low auto” setting limits the fan speed and thus the noise of fan whoosh; “high auto” restores full bluster for more rapid temperature swings.
If a digital climate-control display and French-stitched-leather door inserts are the castoffs that pay for the 300C’s excellent underbody, we won’t complain. Chrysler’s last rear-drive sedan was the 1989 Dodge Diplomat/Plymouth Gran Fury. Those are small shoes to fill, even without engineering inspiration from Mercedes.