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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.
In spite of its size, the Chrysler 300M presents a somewhat European profile. Its short front and rear overhangs (the distance from the wheels to the bumper), high rear deck, and big tail lamps are all key design elements of many European sedans. The 300M's aggressive front end still looks good in spite of having been with us since 1999.
The 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.
The interior of the Chrysler 300M is inviting, with the purposeful look of a performance sedan. Simple flowing shapes suggest contemporary elegance. The dash is sleeker, more organic, and less cluttered than that of many other cars in this class. Much of the 300M interior is shared with the more conservative Chrysler Concorde, 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. Electroluminescent lighting enhances the white-faced analog gauges, which are surrounded by a thin chrome bezel. Stylish typefaces give the gauges a classic look. A neat white clock in the center of the dash continues the classic theme. Major controls use large twist dials that are easy to operate. The 300M Special comes with a nice wood steering wheel that feels good in the hands.
The bucket seats are supportive, trimmed in leather, and heated. Personalized memory controls allow two different drivers to always find their favorite seating positions. Steering wheel audio controls manage a seven-speaker Infinity stereo. An optional six-disc CD changer comes mounted in the instrument panel. Rear seats are roomy and comfortable.
Because the 300M is built on a shortened Concorde body shell, it does not share the Concorde's enormous trunk space. But at 16.8 cubic feet, the 300M's trunk is still plenty large, and usefully shaped. Trunk hinges are designed to not intrude into the cargo space when the trunk lid is closed
Safety features 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 (anti-lock brakes) and traction control. The doors lock automatically once underway (though they can be programmed not to do this). Child seat-top tether anchors are provided on the rear shelf panel. An anti-theft system is standard.
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.
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