FIRST INDUSTRY DRIVE: The all-new Chrysler 300C

During my many visits to the United States during the early days of The Chauffeur magazine, The Chrysler 300C was a very popular vehicle out there and was even being stretched into executive LWB and limousine versions – I knew instantly there was a need for this car in the UK!

This was 2003 when the industry didn’t really know other cars existed within the chauffeur industry as any driver falling into the chauffeur category sat behind the wheel of a Mercedes-Benz S-Class. So, when I started writing about the 300C and why it wasn’t available in the UK, readers thought I was mad. Why would I be wanting this gangster looking American monstrosity on these shores?

Even then, I could see the value for money the 300C offered. The U.S price for it back then was something stupid like $25,000, and that was in the good old days of two dollars to the pound. It was a big car, (dwarfing the likes of an E-Class even though it shared many components), and it had a major road presence – you could almost see shop keepers locking their doors as it drove past.

In 2004, I was delighted when the announcement came that the 300C was to be imported into the UK. However, it wasn’t all good news as early models would only be in left-hand drive and would house the thirsty petrol engine which was basically good for nothing.

I remember driving around a sleepy Sussex town in the 300C in 2004 – young and old stopped in the street and pointed thinking the mafia had arrived. Many thought, and still do, it was a Bentley, much to the disgust of prestigious British brand. This is the secret to the success of the 300C – buyers wanted something different, and due to the low price tag, Chrysler couldn’t make enough.

As the year’s flew by, a diesel version arrived in the UK along with a number of design and model improvements. A European factory was announced and examples started to creep into the chauffeur industry. Programmes such as the X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent took on the brand to chauffeur judges which certainly didn’t damage the 300C’s image at all.

Now, things have changed for Chrysler somewhat, as it’s now owned by Italian giant Fiat after buying the brand from the U.S for a reported $500m last year. 2012 brings an all-new Chrysler 300C and I got the opportunity to see the improvements for myself before it officially goes on sale in the UK.

Chrysler has realised that German brands are taking over and wanted a develop a car which would directly compete with the likes of the Audi A6 and BMW 5-Series. This was difficult to imagine as the outgoing 300C suffered a serious lack of refinement inside the cabin. When the aforementioned German saloons offer so much, it almost seems an impossible task to achieve.

My driving partner for the day, long-term reader of TheChauffeur – Trevor Langley, the owner of Pinnacle Chauffeur Transport. Trevor’s fleet is entirely Chrysler Grand Voyager based as Trevor believes the luxury people carrier offers basically everything his clients need. Why have a saloon, when the Voyager offers the same luxury but for more people? A fair point!

The new 300C, has a much friendlier appearance now without loosing it’s impressive road stance. It still turns heads and feels like a complete barge to drive – but in a good way. A lot of thought has gone into the exterior styling, however there are some chrome touches to the rear which look a bit too modified in my opinion.

Inside, is a completely different story. As you sink into the wonderfully crafted soft leather seats, you instantly know that this car has been completely redesigned and bares no resemblance to the previous model. The closest car I can compare it to is the Infiniti M range. There is massive 8.5 inch square new sat nav system – the jury is out on this as I feel Chrysler has made the appearance a little too simple. Although it’s very easy to use, the colours and graphics can appear a bit ‘cbeebies’ – saying that, at least there will never be complaints that it’s difficult to use!

Legroom in the rear is the same as before and more effort has been made to make the rear passenger more comfortable with heated seats and a button for a rear sunshade, standard on the Executive models. A huge double panel sunroof makes the cabin feel even more spacious than before, a smooth, soft suspension makes being in the rear seat a pleasure and the high waistline of the car allows the client to feel secluded from the outside.

Under the bonnet is a 3.0 V6 diesel which is the only version offered on the new 300C – this offers just under 40mpg on a combined cycle and CO2 emissions of 181g/km up to 191g/km depending on the wheel size. Under acceleration, the engine is a lot more refined and quiet as the high-pitched rattle the previous engine suffered with has been abolished.

Overall, the 300C is a lot more competitive than before. It offers a massive range of standard equipment for the starting price of £35,995 than its closest competitors. It drives very well and I’m pleased to report that it still offers an amazing package for the chauffeur trying to offer a premium service.

The previous model sold 10,000 units until it was discontinued, so I wonder, if the 300C is more desirable for the consumer, will it lose its appeal to the chauffeur industry long-term as more versions hit the roads than ever before?

Paul Gibson