A 300M Special sedan joins the lineup at midseason. It will be equipped with a performance braking system, stiffer performance-tuned suspension, a firm-feel steering gear and larger, 18-inch wheels and tires. The Specials 3.5-liter V-6 engine produces 255 horsepower, which is a 5-hp increase from that of the base models engine. Dark Slate Gray leather seats go inside the Special, and the body gains ground-effects skirting. The Specials ride height is an inch lower than that on other 300M sedans.
All 300M sedans get a new grille for 2002. Electronic brake-force distribution has been added to the antilock braking system, and a pressure-based tire monitor is included in the optional luxury group.
The 300M is a sporty spin-off of the Chrysler Concorde and a relative of the Dodge Intrepid, but it is considerably shorter than those full-size front-drive sedans. Introduced for the 1999 model year, the base 300M uses a 250-hp version of the 3.5-liter V-6 and is the only Chrysler exported to other countries. It serves as the performance-oriented flagship of Chryslers sedan fleet and is a descendant, at least in name, of the fabled letter-series 300 models of the 1950s and 60s.
Although the four-door 300M sedan shares some of its styling touches with the Concorde, it is about 10 inches shorter overall. The 300M has a short, stubby rear deck that has sharper creases instead of rounded lines. Measuring just less than 198 inches long overall, the 300M has the same 113-inch wheelbase as its Concorde and Intrepid mates and is 74.4 inches wide.
Chrysler makes the 300M shorter than the others partly because it is exported and needs to fit into the smaller garages and parking spaces in other countries. Standard 17-inch tires roll on cast-aluminum wheels, and a sport suspension is installed.
Five passengers enjoy many amenities in the 300M. Leather upholstery and heated front bucket seats are standard. Although the rear seat has adequate space for taller passengers, theres less legroom than that found in the Concorde this should be no surprise in view of the sedans shorter length. A split, rear seatback folds down to augment the 16.8-cubic-foot trunk, but it lacks a pass-thru provision. The trunk has a smaller opening and less cargo space than Chryslers related models. Standard equipment includes a HomeLink garage door opener, trip computer, automatic air conditioning, remote keyless entry and steering-wheel audio controls for the cassette/CD stereo system.
Under the Hood
Chryslers 3.5-liter V-6 engine develops 250 hp in the base 300M, while the new 300M Special uses the same power plant but earns 5 additional horses. The four-speed automatic incorporates an AutoStick feature that allows manually selected gear changes, when desired, simply by tipping the lever to the left or right.
Side-impact airbags for the front seats are optional. Three-point shoulder belts, antilock brakes and low-speed traction control are standard.
Though it is closely related to the Concorde, the 300M yields a different sort of driving experience in order to uphold its sporty and stylish profile. The strong V-6 engine delivers truly energetic performance, and Chryslers AutoStick does a good job of simulating manual shifts. But most drivers will be content with the conventional operation of the automatic, which shifts smoothly and easily with no awkward moves.
From a standstill, the 300M virtually leaps ahead as the gas pedal approaches the floor and thats no small achievement for a sizable sedan. For passing and merging, it responds eagerly, which certainly inspires confidence. Because the 300M has thick roof pillars and a rather plump profile, over-the-shoulder visibility isnt the best and the sedan can be tricky to park. Nautical-style gauges are exquisite in appearance. Despite the stubby appearance of the trunk lid and its high liftover, cargo space is not bad.
You can tell at all times that youre in a relatively heavy automobile, but thats no drawback. Handling definitely ranks as a cut above the full-size norm and gets even more athletic with the optional handling group, but theres a penalty to be paid in ride stiffness with the latter. The same should be true of the new 300M Special, with its bigger tires and performance-tuned suspension. Be sure to test-drive those models on bumpy pavement before you decide. Though the ride is generally pleasing, excessive bouncing can occur on coarse or wavy surfaces.
Engine sounds are more noticeable in the 300M than in the Concorde, but theyre satisfying tones and not annoying noises. In addition to its other virtues, the 300M exhibits impressively high quality, and that helps to boost its competitiveness with European and Japanese sport-luxury sedans.