Chrysler 300C

Recycling cars is nothing new, but DaimlerChrysler does it in style. Rather than simply rework the raw materials, it uses its designs again.

For many, the 300C will shoot to the top of its class on styling alone. Coupled with an awesome V8, it makes for a striking first impression. Ageing underpinnings and inaccurate steering will put off keen drivers, but it's hard to find a more characterful executive saloon. Running a 5.7-litre engine has never looked more affordable.

Recycling cars is nothing new, but DaimlerChrysler does it in style. Rather than simply rework the raw materials, it uses its designs again. The company's cutting-edge technology goes to Mercedes, while the three-pointed star's outgoing models are handed over to Chrysler, where they are re-engineered and introduced as completely new cars.

Following on from the SLK-based Crossfire, the next step in Chrysler's assault on the UK market is the 300C. Below its imposing body, you will find the underpinnings from the previous-generation Mercedes E-Class. So how has the firm managed to breathe new life into a nine-year-old design?

Firstly, leaving the old E's conservative styling behind, it has created one of the most striking medium-sized executive models around. And the appeal continues under the bonnet. The car we drove featured a mighty 5.7-litre V8 Hemi - a legendary name derived from its hemispherical combustion chambers. In order to make the 300C a viable UK proposition, engineers have added a clever system which shuts down four cylinders when they are not needed, dramatically cutting fuel consumption.

But turn the key and all eight pistons burble into life, letting just enough noise into the cabin. Slot the Mercedes five-speed automatic box into Drive, floor the throttle and the 340bhp unit thrusts the Chrysler forwards, sprinting from 0-60mph in 6.3 seconds. Thanks to the slick gearchanges and 525Nm of torque, gutsy performance is always on tap, while the top speed is 155mph.

Settle into a cruise and the electronics change the V8 to a V4 in only 40 milliseconds. The process is virtually seamless, so most drivers won't even notice until they check the fuel consumption. Despite the car's substantial 1,840kg kerbweight, the hi-tech system allows the 300C to average 24.8mpg.

Having been tuned to European tastes, the Chrysler strikes a reasonable balance between ride and handling. However, it's not up to the stan- dards of rivals from Jaguar and BMW, and the lifeless steering doesn't inspire the use of all the performance on a twisty road. Despite the gutsy engine, this model is more of a high-speed cruiser than a sports saloon.

So is the car comfortable? Slide into the unsupportive leather seats and you can't help but feel a bit disappointed. After the drama of the exterior, the cabin is a little dull, and although the layout is ergonomically fine, a more distinctive design would help the 300C's cause.

In the UK, the flagship will be joined by either a 2.7 or 3.5-litre petrol V6, while the diesel unit from Mercedes' E270 CDI is also likely. Prices have yet to be announced, but expect the 300C to undercut German rivals. It may be able to trace some of its parts back to the mid-Nineties, but we don't think that will stop it being a successful addition to the executive car market in 2005.

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