By on June 9, 2004

 Every now and then a car comes along that turns convention on its head. Cadillac's CTS-V is a perfect example. Who would have thought that the foremost proponent of the floaty-drifty school of handling would produce a sports sedan with sharper reflexes than a BMW 5-Series? The Chrysler 300C is another case in point. The last thing you'd expect from Daimler Chrysler, a traditional Detroit automaker with German masters, is a bad-ass gangsta-mobile.

The 300C was built for a drive-by shooter. Its narrow, high-set windows look more like gun slits than casements. Its gigantic "egg crate" prow projects a distinct air of physical menace. Slab sides, sharp creases and sheer bulk complete the "urban assault vehicle" design theme. Not to put too fine a point on it, what player wouldn't want to roll up in a car with such stylish malevolence?

 The C's gang-banger demeanor may shock delicate sensibilities, but its appearance shouldn't come as a surprise. Blacks have long been the engine of US culture; the extension of their influence into the automotive arena is both logical and welcome. Drawing on hot rod and street culture, Haitian-born designer Ralph Gilles has introduced vitality to a sector stultified by the inexorable rise of the SUV. Older buyers won't get it, but Gen Y will tell you straight up: the 300C is all that. Props to Gilles. Props to Chrysler for letting the man do his thing. But what's really amazing is that the 300C isn't an empty style statement like the ridiculously under-engined Prowler or the minivan-in-drag PT Cruiser. It's a complete package, with all the space, power and price it needs to win a wider audience. Let's start with the final frontier…

While tree huggers continue their holy quest to yank drivers from their gas-guzzling SUVs and shoehorn them into smaller, more fuel-efficient cars, Americans aren't buying it. Literally. The vast majority of US consumers (who are vast in and of themselves) equate interior volume with safety, luxury, class and comfort. They're not wrong and they're not afraid to buy vehicles that reflect their aspirations. The 300C's massive crib will delight the masses. Super-sized drivers have a new place to call home. Backseat passengers get 40.2" of legroom, 38" of head space and 57.7" shoulder sprawl. For the math-aversive, that's more lebensraum than a BMW 7-Series.

 Better yet, the C's cavernous cabin continues the glorious Audification of US car interiors. Gilles' crew has blended chrome, mock tortoise shell and leather to create an understated yet elegant chill-out room. The dash's four central dials – complete with polished metal bezels, tapered needles and classic typography – are Breitling bling. The switchgear is tactile, functional and discreet. Taken as a whole, the 300C is a deeply funky neo-retro masterpiece.

This particular piece of automotive art weighs in at 4046lbs. That's a lot of art. Good thing the C's got a lot of power. More specifically, there's a 5.7-liter HEMI V8 lurking in the engine bay. With 340hp and 390ft.-lbs. of torque on tap, and a Mercedes E-Class autobox swapping cogs, the C is an effortless cruiser. Better yet, the HEMI's trick MDS (Multi-Displacement System) helps the fab four-door realize over 20 mpg– provided you baby the go pedal. If you don't… Chrysler claims the C blasts from zero to sixty in 6.3 seconds. That would be sufficiently rapid to keep pace with a Porsche Boxster. Wrong. My stopwatch clocked the C doing the sprint in 5.6. That's faster than a Boxster S. The company reckons the C can crack the ¼ mile in 14.1 seconds. If so, the 300C is quicker than a 350Z (14.3 secs.). Word!

Needless to say, the S and Z would crucify the C in a corner. Any corner. But hey, Chrysler's HEMI-powered beast is a luxury leviathan, not a sports car. Nor could you call it a sports sedan. Truth be told, the C is a squealing pig around bends. Although its rear multi-link suspension was lifted from its German cousin, the 4150lbs. C has none of the E's poise or flair through the twisties. Even worse, Chrysler's engineers have de-tuned the system to produce the same sloppy, bouncy, squishy ride as a Lincoln Town car. It's sick – and not in a good way. Strangely, the C's remote control ride fails to smooth-away lumps and bumps; making it the worst of both worlds.

Potential customers won't notice a thing. They'll be seduced by the big Chrysler's style, speed and space. Anyway, the 300C costs $33k. At that price, you can take the car to a tuner and get the ride tweaked to your liking. Of course, 300C buyers are far more likely to spring for low profile tires, killer dubs, TV, refrigerator-sized sub-woofers and a custom paint job. And you know what? It's the right thing to do.

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