YES YES YES: thumping performance, stunning looks, many clever gadgets, sensational ride
Oh Dear Me No: some parts of the interior have suspect quality, manual shifter paddles poorly placed, corner of simulated carbon fibre trim on centre console lifted.
For the price, find me something more in your face, more powerful, and you will win the cigar.
The 300 range changed little since being introduced in 2005 as the 300 C. I was one of those who thought the new car had lost some of the raw gangster oomph that made the first model look so sexy. It has grown on me since and I now find it much nicer than the first generation. Indeed I now find the first 300 C a bit on the plain side.
It is still built on Chrysler’s 2005 LX platform which was developed when Chrysler and Daimler (makers of Mercedes Benz) were besties. This platform can be used for All Wheel Drive and Rear Wheel Drive models models and includes various Mercedes Benz components like the “Mercedes-Benz W220 S-class control arm front suspension, the Mercedes-Benz W211 E-Class 5-link rear suspension, the firewall and floor pan, the W5A580 5-speed automatic, the rear differential, and the ESP system.” As a result of the ties with Mercedes Benz, interiors reflect many of the odd Merc traits such as the light switches being from the old Mercedes ML. The 5 speed auto feels a trifle old hat and desperately needs at least 3 extra cogs to be considered truly 21st century. As useful as the manual shift paddles are, they are so close to the back side of the steering wheel that it is easy to press them by mistake. This puts the old girl into “manual” mode so you have to hold the “up” paddle to make it return to “auto” mode. It’s not a problem as long as you realise you have done it. The car has 3 selectable driving modes: nanna, insane and Armageddon. Only select the latter if you have lost the will to live. The “sport” (insane) mode makes the suspension too hard and my old bones prefer the softer luxury ride of nanna mode these days.
The stunning low roof and chunky retro styling have had a lashings of pixie dust and now has HID headlights and full-bling LED auxiliary lighting front and back. The headlights adapt to the driving situation to provide optimum lighting depending on road conditions. The SRT 8 is the top model so also scores enormous 20” wheels which make the car look even lower and meaner. The angry black (plastic) grille is also unique to the SRT 8. It has the sort of look that is bound to attract attention, and believe me people do notice you.
Chrysler has thoughtfully included a basket-load of goodies, most of which you have to be in the cabin to appreciate. Gently touch the inside of the door exterior handle and the system unlocks allowing you to pull the door open. Once inside, the cabin feels cosy and luxurious in an American kind of way. There are swathes of leather and chrome as far as the eye can see but we could do without the simulated wood on the dash and doors. If it is not real, there is no appeal.
The U-Connect infotainment system and its huge LCD is the hub of the 300. It is where all of its programming is done as well as being able to see live status updates. For some strange reason the auto locking doors are only programmable by a dealer unlike many other brands. It seems a strange omission given the complexity of what is included, so I’d highly recommend having it activated when you collect your shiny new toy. There is nothing worse than having to refer to the user guide to use simple things but this system feels intuitive and most functions are no more than a few quick stabs of the LCD away. The menus are clearly displayed and the navigation through them does not require a degree in advanced physics. The system is fast and responds quickly to commands. The sound is amazing. There are 19 Harmon Kardon speakers making anything you listen to sound live. The highs are crisp, the midrange is crystal clear and has bass you feel in the pit of your stomach.
The Steering wheel is festooned with buttons but annoyingly the sound controls are on the rear surface of the wheel. The front buttons control various functions but in the SRT menu you will find a 0-100 timer. How useful to time your 0-100 sprint of 4.2 seconds!
If the Americans do one thing well, it is gadgets. The power adjustable steering wheel is heated, as are the seats, but at the press of a button lightly chilled air wafts up your nether regions. There are a few cars with chilled seats but it’s always a joy to find. On top of all that, the cup holders are heated and cooled. Put a Coke in and it stays chilled, but put a coffee in and it stays warm and tasty. The radar assistance for the cruise control is brilliant.
This week I collected a couple of friends staying in Bowral to accompany me on the usual run. It’s nice to have the chaps along for the ride. The girls, and by girls I mean actual girls, are both into cars. I pulled into the resort (yes there is a resort in Bowral, who knew?) where they appeared through the shrubbery to give the 300 a thorough once over. One of the girls is ex-military, and a driver at that, so she knows how many beans make 5. Uncharacteristically this pair of lesbians came over all girlie and squealed and squawked and caressed the bodywork of the SRT. Somehow it wasn’t quite right and I told them they should get a room! Coffee ingested, we set our Satnav and off we went. We needed fuel so kept an eye out for an open petrol station. Setting the Satnav was the first mistake as she proved to be a little moody and got us quite distracted, but I’ve gotten rather ahead of myself.
Our course had taken us out of Bowral straight into mountains as it’s the shortest way but no mention was made of the condition of the road. Also, fuel had been forgotten. One of the girls fancied poking her nose in at the Wombeyan Caves though I admit to not sharing her fancy. As with most NSW roads the signage is appalling so once off the main drag you are on your own with only the little lady in the dashboard for company. Worse still there is zero phone reception even for the venerable Telstra. The girls were absolutely no help whatever and I repeated my thoughts on the petrol situation which was becoming direr by the second. Despite our best efforts, babying the massive 6.4L V8 made no difference to her alcoholic-like drinking habits. By now the road had narrowed, and kept narrowing at an alarming rate, but never once did the Chrysler complain. In fact despite the road being little more than a glorified goat track that once had a smear of the poorest quality tar waved at it. Inside it felt rather like riding on a cloud, all the while following the little lady in the dash. I shouldn’t grumble because as it always makes things worse, but I did, and it did. What I laughingly referred to as tarmac had vanished leaving a 3rd world fire trail in its wake. The 300 was still smooth and very very quiet. The sound deadening is extraordinary and even the windows are double-glazed to keep the cabin spookily quiet. By now the track had narrowed even further and was barely a car wide, but just as thoughts of the petrol situation reared its ugly head again, we rounded a corner and in front of us was a perfect tube cut through a narrow sandstone outcrop. It was done long ago but was as precise as if carved by laser. We stopped for a photo op smack in the middle of the Belanglo State Forest, which should need no introduction.
Going through the sandstone cutting was like entering the lost world. The road clung to the side of the mountain with nothing but good luck to prevent a hapless driver from plunging to his death. The girls squealed as we rounded corner after corner as the fuel needle crept inexorably downwards. The road had become badly rutted so the girls joked about their “jubblies” bouncing about. I quipped that their jubblies had gone off like a jelly on springs but the atrocious state of the track kept my mind firmly on the fuel gauge. The girls chuckled and continued to make jubbly jokes though my nervousness was unsettling them too. It was then we spied a four wheel drive making it’s slowly up the mountain. We stopped perilously close to the side of the road to allow him passage but he stopped to peer inside. As I wound the window down he said “Yeah mate there’s another 4 comin. Ya better way ‘ere”. He smiled broadly at the girls but as the Gay Mafia Staff Car was chockers full of same-sex oriented individuals he quickly moved on. It a shame as he was rather cute except for that abominable accent. From that moment on, the Chrysler was known as HM Gay Mafia Staff Car.
After another 4 vehicles trundled past it was time to move on. The road remained appalling for another 30 km of bone juddering awesomeness. it passed through some of the most achingly beautiful scenery one could ever wish for. We stopped for pictures where we could but such places were rare. Finally we crossed a low bridge on a quiet creek where we stopped. We got out as if directed by an unseen hand holding a baton. We looked at each other, then at the car, then up the valley but no words came. After some time, we broke into excited chatter with a flurry of phones and cameras catching a scene you thought could only be in a movie, but here it was. Even more amazingly, a car more at home on a track had brought us here. It looked the worse for wear covered from nose to tail in dust, but somehow she still managed to look elegant and honest.
As we swept around bend after bend one of the girls commented that she felt a bit like Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward in her sexy wheels Parker at the wheel dispensing his own brand of pithy wisdom. She said she felt as if she was in a dream. As we came around the last bend, the dirt road gave way to a more civilised bitumen surface. We entered the reserve where the caves had stood for millennia, but it completely deserted save for a single car at the far end outside the kiosk. We stopped behind them and went in hoping for help. We needed petrol desperately and hadn’t eaten since breakfast so the caretaker microwaved a frozen pie and offered directions to Taralga. The village 30 km away has a produce shop with a bowser. Saints be praised, but get there fast because everything in the country shuts the second you actually need it.
We got to Taralga and fuelled up but by now it was too late to get back to the caves in time. Instead, we repaired to the pub, an ancient stone and brick building from an era long gone. We talked about our adventure and how we would never have found those magical places. We would never have tested the 300 on a dirt road and we would never have known how good she really was.
Sure the 6.4L is great on a race track but many have commented on American cars being lousy on anything but a dead straight paved road, and that just is not so. We all took sips of our rums as we stared across the footpath at the car parked at a jaunty angle. We all loved it and couldn’t stop looking at it. The Satnav knew something we didn’t: this trip was one we had to have despite our misgivings and the somewhat desperate petrol situation. It would have been far more enjoyable had we not been so preoccupied.
Getting up from the table, we decided to take a sensible route home where another 10 km of dirt road worried us not. It was flat and the farmland was brown and sad and unremarkable. We passed through Goulburn then turned onto the highway towards Berrima, a gorgeous little town of a mere 450 souls with Bowral just beyond. We all chatted excitedly about an adventure that would live long in our memories due in no small part to our magnificent track-inspired all American (and German) limo.
I dropped the girls at their digs then headed for the 110km speed limit of the Hume Highway with some vigour and enthusiasm. Once again we were in the Chrysler’s natural habitat, the open road. On the open road she shuts down half her cylinders to keep the fuel consumption down to between 10 and 11 L/100K which is remarkable for a large car with an engine the size of the sun. I was mesmerised by the rhythmic hum which changed tones whenever half the cylinders shut down. It was necessary to mute the music from time to time to make sure she was still running. I rolled back in to Sydney feeling a little downhearted as the highway takes me to within a hundred metres of my driveway. What I really wanted to do was keep driving. How many cars make you feel that way?
Price: $71,824 (range $43,000-$71,824)
Engine: 6.4-litre HEMI® V-8, 347 kW and 631 Nm of torque with limited-slip diff by Getrag
Notable features: engine cylinder shutdown, radar guided cruise control, active head rests, U-Connect infotainment, interactive Performance status, 19 speaker Harmon-Kardon audio, blind spot warning, the true genius of heated/cooled cup holders.
Would I Buy One: DUR!