Bruce Springsteen is wrong. You can, in fact start a fire without a spark, and arguably the best way of doing so is with the efficiency of a modern compression ignition diesel engine.
Not that you'd guess by looking at what the average Kiwi is driving.
There has been a hesitancy by many marques to distribute diesel variants of their passenger cars here, possibly because of the bad reputation oil burners get thanks to an aged fleet of import vehicles.
In the opaque exhaust cloud of a poorly maintained import diesel it might seem, we have been dancing in the dark.
We are now starting to see the light however, with distributor's arm's being twisted by rising fuel prices. Diesel passenger car sales in 2005 were double that of two years previous, still a long way from the 70 odd percent market share diesels see in Europe, but an encouraging sign for the future.
Now another passenger car manufacturer wishes to take advantage of these trends, and avoiding the obvious 'born in the USA' pun - interestingly, it's Chrysler.
If the stand-out styling of Chrysler's 300C isn't enough to stick it to the staple Aussie alternatives, the inclusion of a Common Rail Diesel (CRD) variant where Ford and Holden only offer petrols, could well be.
Powered by the superb Mercedes Benz sourced 3.0-turbocharged power unit; it also makes for an attractively priced substitute to the pricey German executive sedans, more often heralded as maestros of the modern diesel.
It Produces 160kW @ 4000 rpm and 510Nm of torque @ 2800 rpm, and mated to a smooth five-speed automatic the 300C CRD offers impressive performance. 0-100 km/h comes in 7.6 seconds, which is only around a second behind its Hemi V8 counterpart. An afternoon behind the wheel confirmed, it doesn't hang about, overtaking is effortless with barely a hint of turbo-lag.
A Variable Geometry Turbocharger (VGT) is fitted to the hi-tech V6 powerplant. The turbo can spool up to speed faster by redirecting the exhaust gases over vanes that can be pitched electronically at different angles. This enables the turbine shaft speed to be maximised even with low exhaust gas speed (low rpm). It all but eliminates neck-snapping turbo-lag and gives a far more linear delivery of power; it also improves torque and fuel efficiency.
Also making use of piezo type injectors, a particulate filtration system, four valves per cylinder, balance shafts and a double bush timing chain, the engine exhibits the latest and greatest in CRD technology. All in a compact and lightweight alloy package.
Some particulate filtration systems mix a small amount of Cerine-based additive to the engine's fuel supply to aid the regeneration process of the particulate filter; the 300C incorporates this additive in its engine oil instead.
During the periodic regeneration process of the system, particulates trapped by the filter are burnt off by a flame front in the exhaust system. Exhaust temperatures are increased further by traces of additive in the natural blow-by fumes of the engine. Chrysler New Zealand suggests approved oil is to be used only; currently this is only available through their dealer network.
As you would expect from a diesel of this pedigree, diesel 'knock' is minimal, at motorway speeds you could hear a pin drop in the vehicle's well-appointed cabin.
An induction growl can be heard with moderate to heavy acceleration, but considering its many attributes, this is a minor niggle.
Chrysler 300CIn our opinion its as equally rewarding, if not slightly more so on the open road as the Hemi; and as much as the Hemi tries with its Multi-Displacement cylinder shut down system (MDS), it'll never touch the economy of the CRD. Chrysler claim an average consumption figure of 8.1 litres / 100km can be expected, the vehicle's standard trip computer was indicating a close 9.2 litres / 100km after our drive at the vehicle's launch last week.
True to Chrysler's pricing strategy used on the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Commander product, the CRD variant 300C carries no premium over the Hemi V8.
Also launched last week was the Touring wagon version of Chrysler's 'baby Bentley'. In which all 3 of the sedan's engine options are available. An SRT-8 version, fitted with the 317kW Hemi 6.1 litre V8 will complete the range next year.
The Touring shares the wheelbase of the Sedan, and from the C pillar forward the two appear identical. With an extended, tapering roofline leading into its rear tailgate, the Touring loses none of the street cred and appeal the sedan offers.
The rear hatch pivots from aprox 350mm inboard from the roofline's rear edge, this clever design reduces the arc of the rear door so it can be opened in a more confined area. Luggage capacity has increased to an impressive 630 litres with the seats upright, or 1602 litres with the seats folded flat, there's also a handy under floor storage bin with removable dividers.
Time didn't permit a drive of the Touring, but sitting atop the same underpinnings as the competent sedan, we would be surprised to note a difference of any major dissention. From the driver's seat visibility is good, despite the rear screen's narrow appearance, and the interior, particularly for rear occupants feels more open thanks to light the additional glass permits.
The SRT-8 variant aside, there is only one specification the 300C regardless of body shape or engine option.
The cockpit is finished tastefully with California walnut wood accents on the steering wheel and interior door handles. A faux-brushed aluminium centre facia houses a 368-Watt Boston Acoustic sound system with 6-disc MP3 compatible CD changer, dual zone climate control and a classical analogue clock that matches the similarly stylish instrumentation. The steering wheel incorporates audio and menu controls but sadly is only height, not reach adjustable.
Chrysler feel the Touring body shape and CRD engine options will only appeal to a niche client base, and won't make up the bulk of the projected 350 units they expect to sell this year.
We feel they could be more popular than Chrysler expects. New Zealander's love the outdoorsy lifestyle a practical wagon permits, and the 300C touring looks as eager to hit the mountain for a week as any family of snow junkies. Now sporting an excellent, economical diesel with torque to spare; a family trip away in this large car, unlike its closest closest price rivals, needn't make the wallet run for cover at every gas station.
The CRD 300C is priced the same as the Hemi 5.7 version at $69,900, the Touring body configuration adds $4000. Should this price gap between sedan and touring models carry over to the SRT-8 Touring when it arrives in 2007, we can expect its price to be $86,900.