You gotta either love it or hate it. Chryler's 300C is literally built like a brick outhouse, blocky and squared-off with lots of flat planes and improbably small glassed areas.
And the all-new second generation of this attitudinous American luxury sedan - released this week in South Africa - has no less presence, but has raised its game considerably in terms of style and efficiency.
It comes in three flavours: a 3.6-litre petrol V6 mated to Chrysler's first eight-speed auto transmission, a torquey three-litre diesel V6 and the seriously muscular 6.4-litre SRT8.
Let's get the bad news out of the way up front:
3.6-litre V6 - R479 990
3.0-litre V6 diesel - R539 990
6.4-litre SRT8 V8 - R629 990
The 210kW, 3.6-litre DOHC Pentastar has a die-cast aluminium block with cast-iron liners and aluminium heads. It has no exhaust manifolds - the exhaust gases flow through passages cast directly into the cylinder head - and all the ancillaries (including the power steering pump, alternator and air-conditioning compressor) are bolted straight on to the block to reduce vibration and noise.
Its new eight-speed transmission has evenly-spaced ratios to quicker acceleration and smoother shifts, and a 'Sport' shift mode to let the driver take full advantage of the die-cast paddle shifters behind the steering wheel.
The 2987cc turbodiesel is the same 176kW V6 that made its South African debut in the new Jeep Grand Cherokee earlier this year. Developed by Fiat and made in Italy by VM Motori, it uses Fiat's latest MultiJet 2 technology to help reduce fuel consumption, emissions and noise while delivering a claimed 550Nm from 1600-2800rpm.
That's good enough, says Chrysler, to take the new 300c from 0-100 in 7.4 seconds and on to 230km/h flat out at a cost of only 7.2 litres per 100km in the combined cycle and 191g/km of CO2.
Its proven five-speed automatic transmission can be put into 'Drive' and left to do its own thing or the driver can use the paddle shifters to get more 'hands-on'.
'Looks like heaven, goes like hell'
The SRT8's 6.4-litre Hemi V8 adds high-performance hardware to the new 300C, making it the most powerful street-legal Chrysler yet, with quoted outputs of 347kW and 631Nm, good enough for 0-100km/h acceleration in about five seconds, quarter-mile times in the high 12-second range, 0-160km/h in less than 16 seconds and a top speed of 280 km/h.
Nevertheless, Chrysler is still claiming a 21 percent fuel decrease in fuel consumption thanks to a new active valve exhaust system that allows the standard-issue four-cylinder mode to engage over a wider rev range - and bypasses the mid and rear mufflers for a throaty exhaust note under engine load.
The five-speed automatic transmission now has paddle shifters as well as a gear selector lever on the centre console. In 'Drive' the transmission will shift automatically, defined by the mode chosen - either 'Normal' or 'Sport'.
In 'Manual' the driver defines the shift points by either paddle shift or gear selector, while 'Sport' mode adds a hold function in all gears, allowing the driver full control.
RIDE AND HANDLING
The new 300C SRT8 now has an adaptive damping suspension that offers two chassis modes: In 'Auto' mode, sensors read the car's speed, steering angle, steering speed, brake torque, throttle position, and lateral and vertical accelerations, and automatically tune the suspension for specific conditions. In 'Sport' mode, however, rebound and compression damping are locked at their firmest.
The fully hydraulic power steering system also has a new, heavy-duty pump and revised gearing for more direct feel and on-centre response.
American style, world-class luxury
On all 300C models, full nappa leather trim in either black or tan and beige includes 12-way power-adjustable driver and front-passenger seats (including four-way power lumbar adjustment) with two-mode ventilation and two-mode heating for both front and rear seats.
Even the leather-wrapped steering wheel with die-cast paddle shifters has a heated rim, while the genuine wood trim is hand-sanded and matte finished for a more natural look.
The SRT8, however, has a more sporty look with carbon-fibre trim elements and sports pedals.
Premium features include a 215mm touchscreen with for the Uconnect Touch system, which has been upgraded for this model with hands-free texting, voice commands for the Garmin satnav and more iPod control features, LED-illuminated instrument cluster with driver-selectable colour display, power tilt and telescoping steering column with memory, power sunshade, two heated/cooled cup holders, LED-illuminated interior door handles and front and rear map pockets, power exterior mirrors with memory, driver mirror auto-dimming and auto-tilt in Reverse.
Obviously the safest thing is to avoid having a crash in the first place. The 300C has two new active safety features: Ready alert braking can predict if the driver is starting emergency braking and uses the electronic stability control pump to move the brake pads closer to the disc, reducing the time for the brakes to be applied.
Rain brake support performs the same function when it's raining to keep the brake pads dry for improved braking performance.
By monitoring steering inputs whatever the surface, the electronic stability control computer can tell if the car deviates from its intended path and steps in to brake selected wheels. It also controls the hill-start assist, which maintains braking pressure for a brief period after the driver lifts off the brake, and acts as a form of traction control by applying the brakes when it detects wheels are slipping.
An optional Safety Tech Package includes adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, forward collision warning and rear cross-path detection.
Adaptive cruise control uses radar to keep a safe distance when the car approaches another vehicle in the same lane or when another vehicle enters that lane. When the vehicle in front moves out of the way, the cruise control automatically returns to its set speed. It means the driver doesn't constantly have to alter the cruise control to match prevailing conditions.
Forward collision warning uses the same sensors to check the 300C's approach speed; if it's going too fast the car will alert the driver so he or she can brake or swerve (or both!) to avoid a collision.
Blind spot monitoring uses ultra-broadband radar sensors to search for vehicles that might be concealed from the driver's view. Icons illuminate in the mirror and an acoustic warning signal sounds if there is a car in the blind spot.
Rear cross-path detection is switched on when reverse is engaged, informing the driver with icons in the mirror and an acoustic signal if traffic is approaching as he or she reverses out of a parking space. Parksense detects stationary objects behind the car and warns the driver with an acoustic signal, while a reversing camera offers a wind-angle view of the area immediately behind the vehicle on the navigation screen.