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Chrysler's advertising campaign recalls the legendary "letter cars" the company sold from 1955 to 1965. But the Chrysler 300M provides a much better driving experience than those cars could ever hope to offer. The 300M is a joy to drive. Handling is exceptional for a full-size front-wheel-drive sedan.
Perhaps you've seen the creative commercials that use actual sales and service training footage from the 1950s and 1960s. Chrysler's new ad campaign was created to appeal to driving enthusiasts and build on the heritage of the letter cars. Counting through the alphabet from the 1956 300B to the 1965 300L (there was no 300I), they were fitted with high-performance V8 engines and, for a time, ruled the great horsepower race. They introduced the latest innovations: Cross Ram dual quads, new suspensions, limited-slips, swiveling bucket seats, center consoles, tachometers, pushbutton automatics. Chrysler's 1955 300 won 23 of 45 NASCAR races. The 1956 300B came with a 354-cubic-inch Hemi engine and won five straight NASCAR races. Other models competed at Le Mans and ran events such as the Carrera Panamerica, a mad cross-country rally through Mexico.
Believe the retro ads. Designed as an American sports sedan, the Chrysler 300M is a contemporary interpretation of those historic letter cars. It was designed to appeal to people who have a passion for driving and offers much of the handling and performance benefits we appreciate in European sedans. Chrysler's 300M competes with the Cadillac Catera, Lexus ES 300, INFINITI I30, and the Lincoln LS.
This is a full-size sports sedan. The 300M feels very stable at high speeds. The steering is direct and precise. The ride quality is smooth, yet the car feels connected to the road-it doesn't isolate the driver from what's going on. We felt confident on a wet, winding road through Georgia's Chattahoochie National Forest in spite of vertical drops on the outsides of the turns.
Plenty of power is on tap for accelerating off the line, climbing mountain roads and passing other cars. The engine is smooth and quiet, but growls when provoked. A broad torque curve means it's ready to provide instant throttle response at any speed. Chrysler's AutoStick is entertaining on the daily commute and gives the driver better control on winding roads. Usually, though, we found normal automatic operation the best way to go. It's an efficient transmission that selects the appropriate gears and does not hunt excessively.
The standard suspension works extremely well and offers a bit more control than the setup on the LHS. Steering response is also slightly quicker than the LHS. 300M noise and vibration are not quite at Lexus levels; a small amount of wind noise can be heard and a bit of road vibration comes through. But, overall, the 300M feels like a refined luxury sports touring sedan. By comparison, the Cadillac Catera's suspension feels a bit firmer, but transmits more road vibration through to the occupants.
We drove 300M models with and without the optional handling package in back-to-back runs up and down a gnarly mountain road and found the performance benefit barely perceptible. The one equipped with the handling package seemed to transmit slightly more vibration into the seats and steering wheel. Hard bumps felt just a bit sharper. And there was slightly more road noise, presumably generated by the performance tires. Still, the handling package offers a lot of high-performance hardware for a minimum price increase, and the Michelins alone are worth that much.
Chrysler has produced a full-size car for people who like to drive. The 300M is a sports sedan with performance and handling that belies its size. An exciting exterior design and an elegant interior with all the creature comforts add to its appeal. Best of all, it's available for a price that makes it even more attractive.