Whenever one of these co-branded vehicles crosses my path, I try to judge them according to some simple questions. The first is, does the co-branding make sense for the target audience? And the second is, do the changes improve or diminish the experience of the standard vehicle? With this partnership, both brands are clearly aiming at the same target, or perhaps Chrysler hopes its aim will improve by partnering with the JV set, bringing it closer to that bullseye of style-conscious trendsetters.
The second question, meanwhile, can be answered with your eyes alone, as no mechanical changes are included among the Varvatos upgrades. Despite that, the 300C John Varvatos Edition is priced above – well above – all other 300 sedans save the 300 SRT8, suggesting that cool is not sold by the barrel (was it ever?) and Mr. Varvatos is a dealer in the stuff. Yet while I couldn't actually tell you if John Varvatos was a designer or a ditch digger before Chrysler introduced us, I do like his style, and the man knows how to dress a car.
- There are actually two separate John Varvatos models of the 300C available. The murdered-out one you see here is priced from $44,345 and available only with rear-wheel drive, and there's a less expensive version called the John Varvatos Luxury Edition, available with either rear- or all-wheel drive, that loses the emo look in favor of shiny, happy platinum chrome trim and three other available (though still dark) colors. However, only the more expensive model gets a serialized badge on the center console. Chrysler offered just 2,000 examples for the 2013 model year (this one is No. 15), and while the automaker has confirmed that the Limited Edition will be back for the 2014 model year, it's unclear at this time exactly how many examples will be made.
- The visual changes focus on an entire blackout of the 300C's exterior, which includes the deeply rich and sparkly Phantom Black Tri-Coat Pearl paint and the 20-inch Titanium painted wheels. A black grille surrounded by a titanium-finish frame, and titanium-finish fog lamp rings, headlight bezels, mirror caps and exterior badging complete the Darth Varvatos look. It's actually quite fetching in person thanks to the contrast that's still present between the pure black paint and titanium-finish pieces.
- Kudos to Mr. V for not plastering his branding all over the exterior; the only indication it's a John Varvatos Limited Edition model, besides the color, is a small badge of the designer's logo on the rear.
- The branding is much less inconspicuous inside, with Varvatos logos debossed into the seatbacks and on both the speedometer and tachometer, the analog clock, the navigation system's start-up screen and the aforementioned serialized badge on the center console. Looking past that, the white contrasting stitching on the dash looks great, and the Diesel Gray double-stitch on the seats exhibits premium craftsmanship. Even the Charcoal Hydrographic woodgrain trim is monochromatic.
- I feel obliged to give at least a couple of notes on some non-Varvotos-related items in this 300C. The seats were not as comfortable as I expected and lacked any amount of bolstering that would be helpful in hot handling maneuvers. The Chrysler Uconnect infotainment system still stands up as the most user-friendly and responsive on the market. Lastly, the Beats by Dr. Dre audio system, a $995 option on top of the Varvatos package, offers overwhelming bass even at the default setting. I turned the bass all the way down and even that level felt like the default setting of some other stereos.
- This tester has Chrysler's 3.6-liter V6 engine rated at 292 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. While I'd normally prefer a V8, the V6 suits the Varvatos edition better. It's still plenty powerful, very smooth and returns an EPA-estimated 19 miles per gallon in the city and 31 on the highway. The latter is thanks to the V6 model's eight-speed automatic transmission, which has the engine hardly working on interstates. Shifts are almost imperceptible, which is good because they happen so often. Its one knock is its hesitating to leave the higher gears for passing maneuvers. Using the shift paddles can override the automatic, and there's a Sport mode to keep the engine on boil all the time, though fuel economy suffers. The eight-speed is only available with the V6, while V8 buyers have to settle for the old five-speed automatic.
- The 300C in general isn't a sport sedan, so as you'd expect, it shines more on the boulevard than the backroads. The ride is smooth, even with those 20-inch rollers, and spoiling four passengers is this car's purpose in life. This model, however, has the optional Dual-Pane Panoramic Sunroof (a $1,495 option), which steals away some precious headroom inches. The one dynamic quibble I had was with its steering, which felt overly heavy, even at low speeds.
- While I like the look of this 300C John Varvatos Limited Edition, I find myself considering it in the same way I shop for clothes. Browsing the John Varvatos website, I'd pick out his Linen V-Neck, Hampton Fit Pant and Chuck Taylor Double Zip High Tops to wear in a heartbeat. They'd make a great outfit, but I'm not going to pay $168 for a t-shirt, $1,595 for pants and $170 for a pair of Chucks. Likewise, the JV Limited Edition starts $14,000 above a base 300C at $30,345, and with the options on this tester and a $995 destination charge, crests $50,000. I'm not so square that I think fashion shouldn't command a premium, but for these markups, I'd like more than a different color palette.