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Chrysler's 300M flagship sedan is tuned for handling and performance, and designed to recall the historic "letter cars" sold from 1955 to 1965. Its powerful engine and firm suspension emulate the taut, responsive driving experience usually 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 seeking more zoom should consider the 300M Special, whose air dams and side skirts herald a lower, stiffer high-performance suspension, bold 18-inch wheels wearing massive P245/45ZR18 speed-rated tires, and a slightly more powerful version of the same 3.5-liter V6.
Changes to the 300M are minimal for 2003. An optional factory-installed Sirius satellite radio is available that receives 60 commercial-free music channels and 40 talk-radio channels at any location in the continental U.S.
An optional performance handling group ($560) upgrades the suspension, steering, and brakes, and switches to P225/55R17 all-season performance tires. You can also opt for a power moonroof ($895), chrome wheels ($750), or a premium 360-watt stereo system ($390) with a six-disc in-dash changer (up from four discs last year) and nine Infinity speakers.
300M Special ($32,015) delivers more driving thrills thanks to a higher-output version of the high-output 3.5-liter V6. It's rated at 255 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 258 pounds-feet of torque at 3950 rpm, 5 more horsepower and 8 more pounds-feet than the standard 300M V6. The 300M Special attacks the curves with a stiffer suspension, firmer strut damping, and taller rear jounce bumpers. Eighteen-inch wheels and 245/45ZR18 Michelin Pilot Sport tires aid grip, while stiffer brake calipers and outboard-vented rotors assure swift stops. A firm-feel steering gear enhances on-center response. Chrysler says one-third of 300M buyers opt for the Special.
The Chrysler 300M is a full-size sports sedan, stable at high speeds, with direct, precise response to steering inputs. It rides smoothly, yet feels controlled and connected to the road. This car does not isolate the driver from the experience of driving. The 2003 300M Special we drove felt smooth and confident at Chrysler's Chelsea Proving Grounds.
The 300M derives its motivation from an all-aluminum V6 with 24 valves and a single overhead camshaft for each bank of cylinders. Chrysler designed this engine to feel like a V8, and it succeeds, with 250 horsepower and 250 foot-pounds of torque. Yet despite its considerable prowess, the 300M engine meets Low Emissions Vehicle (LEV) standards. Chrysler recommends unleaded regular fuel for the 300M, but unleaded premium (92 octane) for the Special.
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.
The 300M comes standard with DaimlerChrysler's four-speed AutoStick transmission, which gives the driver a choice of conventional automatic operation or clutch-free manual control. 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. Overall, the 300M feels like a refined luxury sports touring sedan, even if noise and vibration are not down to Lexus levels. 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 handling suspension is tuned for a more controlled ride, sharper steering response, improved stability in transient maneuvers and increased cornering grip. The brakes, shared with the 300M Special, are designed to increase stopping ability, enhance pedal feel and resist fade in hard use.
The Chrysler 300M is a full-size car designed for people who like to drive. It's a sports sedan with performance and handling that belie 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.