Three’s a crowd: an odd grouping where someone or something is always going to stick out. Think Holy Ghost. The third wheel. The Sesame Street “which one of these is not the same as the others” object. In our Yank Tank match-up, the Lincoln Town Car fell by the wayside, pilloried for its utter lack of anythingness. Which is also, strangely enough, it’s strength. We’ll get to the Cadillac DTS tomorrow. But as some of our Best and Brightest have already pointed out, the Chrysler 300C is the one that doesn’t fit.
In the four years since its introduction, the 300C has not lost is capacity to impress. The design marks the utter destruction of Chrysler’s cab forward style. And why not? The “Baby Bentley”-meets-gangster-chic look puts all the right bulges in all the right places. Admittedly, the 300C’s rear end is a hair awkward. But the 300C’s dual exhaust pipes ensure that it’s still attractive, in an Ugly Betty kind of way. And seen from any 3/4 angle, the American barge still stirs something primal inside. And why not? Big, bling and brash. Who loves ya baby?
Canadian designer Ralph Gilles’ moment in the sun remains a shining beacon of American sedanery. From its wannabe British grill to the bad ass 20″ rims, this Chrysler exudes the same sort of feel on European roads as a Harley. Everything on the outside of the 300C works, from the chrome mirrors to the low greenhouse and the winged Chrysler badge. But aye, there’s the rub. For this German-American hybrid beauty is but skin deep.
As anyone who’s ever driven a post-Daimler Chrysler is painfully aware, the once and future automaker’s cabins have been the laughing stock of the big 3, 2.8, 2.5, 2.1, 1.5 ever since they were purchased by the Germans. Somehow, in a world where continual progress is lauded and advancement is seen as the only way to compete, Chrysler managed to do the unthinkable and turn the interior quality clock backwards. I hate to beat a dead horse, but honestly, bludgeoning Mr. Ed in the back seat of a 300 would probably improve the scenery. The rear seats look and feel Police Cruiser chic—although the gun slit windows afford the perps/passengers primo privacy.
While none of our troika can hold an electronic candle to the toys provided by their German and Japanese competition, the Yank tank gadget crown must be awarded at some point. And here we are: the 300C bests the DTS and the Town Car by a wide margin—if you’re willing to pay the price of depreciation. Sorry, admission. Options include AWD, LIDAR cruise control, nav system, remote start, Sirius Backseat TV, AutoConnect Web and auto-dimming headlamps. After viewing the feature list, I’m half surprised Billy Mays isn’t a Chrysler spokesperson. [ED: You got that right.]
If there’s one thing that pre-Fiat Chrysler will be remembered for, it’s the rebirth of the Hemi. Okay, so it’s not a “true” hemi. Doesn’t matter. The 5.7L lump of iron under the 300C’s hood cranks out the best numbers in our Yank tank trio: 360hp and 390 lb·ft of torque. A Mercedes five-speed automatic mates the brawny V8 to the rear wheels. It’s the weakest link: the cog swapper can handle the 300C’s power and is fairly smooth, but the reliability stats give pause. Would a bullet-proof ZF six-speed really have been that much more expensive?
Driving the 300C evokes mixed emotions. It performs like a previous generation Mercedes E-Class on steroids—which it isn’t, really. The chassis is plenty stiff. The suspension’s pliant yet capable. Overall, the big ass barge is delightfully “chuckable.” Crank the wheel and the car responds with uncanny aplomb. Get a little too feisty and the electro-nanny responds with German efficiency (and American leniency). While not quite boaty nor hard, the 300C’s ride quality walks the sober fine line a luxury sedan should.
Slowly but surely, Chrysler has managed to bring one vehicle into the 21st century. Aesthetically. Mechanically. Only they forgot to do something—anything—with the interior. When you combine the dreadful interior with the sobering reality that the 300C looks exactly like the 190hp stripper rental version, a floaty drifty pig of an automobile with no reason to live, you start to ask the inevitable question: am I driving a gussied-up rental? Or is Dollar Rent-A-Car offering a bargain basement luxury car?
The masses have spoken with their wallets. All the performance and gadgets just can’t trump the damage done to the Chrysler brand in general, and the 300′s rep in specific. If the fleet models had never existed . . . If Chrysler had figured-out a way to build an interior to rival well, anyone . . . Instead here we have the Terry Malloy of Yank tanks.
Remember that night in the Garden you came down to my dressing room and you said, “Kid, this ain’t your night. We’re going for the price on Wilson.” You remember that? “This ain’t your night”! My night! I coulda taken Wilson apart! So what happens? He gets the title shot outdoors on the ballpark and what do I get? A one-way ticket to Palooka-ville! You was my brother, Charley, you shoulda looked out for me a little bit. You shoulda taken care of me just a little bit so I wouldn’t have to take them dives for the short-end money.