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Chrysler designed the 300M as an American sports sedan, a contemporary interpretation of its historic "letter cars" sold from 1955 to 1965. With firm suspension tuning, the 300M is designed to deliver the handling and performance benefits associated with European sedans. It isn't a BMW 5 Series, but its handling is exceptional for a full-size front-wheel-drive sedan and that makes the 300M a joy to drive.
Drivers who want to increase the sports appeal further should look at the new 300M Special. This special model comes with a lower, stiffer high-performance suspension, bold 18-inch wheels on massive P245/45ZR18 speed-rated tires, and other performance goodies.
For 2002, all 300Ms get a new tire pressure monitoring system, Electronic Brake Distribution, and the child seat LATCH system.
In spite of its size, the 300M offers a somewhat European appearance. This subtle similarity is because the 300M shares some key design characteristics with European sedans: short front and rear overhangs (the distance from the wheels to the bumper), a high rear deck, big tail lamps. Its aggressive front end still looks good in spite of having been with us since 1999.
300M Special is distinguished by ground effects skirts, unique wheels, twin exhaust pipes integrated into the rear lower sill, and a one-inch drop in ride height. A 300M Special badge tells the world it's hotter than your average 300M, which is not an average car to start with.
300M's interior was designed to be functional, yet inviting, with the purposeful look of a performance sedan. Simple flowing shapes grace the interior. The dash is sleeker, more organic, and less cluttered than a Cadillac Catera. The 300M interior shares much in common with the Chrysler LHS, but some of the details, such as the shifter surround, are more elegant in the 300M. Surfaces are soft to the touch for a luxurious feel. No seams are visible where the passenger airbag resides. Elegant white-faced analog gauges, surrounded by a thin chrome bezel, use electroluminescent lighting. Stylish typefaces give them a classic look. An attractive analog clock in the center of the dash carries the theme through. Major controls use large twist dials that are easy to operate.
Leather-trimmed seating and heated front seats with personalized memory controls on the driver's side are standard. Trunk hinges were designed to not intrude into the cargo space when the trunk lid is closed.
Steering wheel audio controls manage a nine-speaker Infinity stereo. A four-disc CD changer mounted in the instrument panel is optional.
Safety features on the 300M include front air bags, child-protection rear door locks, upper interior trim impact protection and an inside emergency trunk release. Side-impact airbags ($390) are optional. 300M comes standard with ABS and traction control. The doors lock automatically once underway (though they can be programmed not to do this). Child seat-top tether anchors have been added to the rear shelf panel. An anti-theft system comes standard.
This is a full-size sports sedan. It feels stable at high speeds and the steering is direct and precise. The ride quality is smooth, yet the car feels connected to the road; it does not isolate the driver from what's going on. We felt confident driving briskly on a wet, winding road through Georgia's Chattahoochie National Forest in spite of vertical drops on the outsides of the turns.
A 3.5-liter high-output aluminum V6 delivers 253 horsepower and 255 foot-pounds of torque to the front wheels of the 300M. Designed to deliver strong torque like a V8, this V6 features 24 valves and single overhead cams. Mid-grade 89-octane gasoline delivers the best performance, but it will run fine on 87 octane. It meets Low Emissions Vehicle (LEV) standards. The 300M comes standard with DaimlerChrysler's AutoStick transmission, which gives the driver a choice of conventional automatic operation or manual control.
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 with quick, responsive steering response. Overall, the 300M feels like a refined luxury sports touring sedan. Noise and vibration are not at Lexus levels, however. A small amount of wind noise can be heard and a bit of road vibration comes through.
The optional handling package includes firmer strut damping, taller rear jounce bumpers, a firmer feeling steering gear, Michelin HX all-season performance tires, high-performance brake linings, stiffer front brake calipers and externally vented brake rotors. The suspension tuning is designed for a more controlled ride, sharper steering response, improved stability in transient maneuvers and increased cornering grip. The brakes are designed to increase stopping ability, enhance pedal feel and resist brake fade in hard use.
This is a full-size car designed for people who like to drive. It's 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.
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