Draws on 1950s heritage for global appeal.
by Mitch McCullough
Base Price (MSRP) $29,640
As Tested (MSRP) $30,295
Designed as an American sports sedan, the 300M is a contemporary interpretation of Chrysler's historic letter cars sold from 1955 to 1965. Its suspension is tuned on the firm side 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.
Safety has been improved for 2001 with optional front side airbags. Also, a three-point shoulder belt has been added to the rear center seat as standard equipment.
Retailing for $29,640, the 300M comes with a 3.5-liter V6 and AutoStick transmission. One model is available.
An optional performance handling package ($560) includes a high-performance suspension, steering, brakes and tires. Otherwise, options are limited to a few items: power moonroof ($895), chrome wheels ($750), premium stereo system ($515).
300M sports European design cues: short overhangs, a high rear deck, big tail lamps. An aggressive front end adds to its sports appeal. Chrysler exports the 300M to Japan and Europe.
New tail lamps with a clear lens design distinguish the 2001 model. New 17-inch silver wheels, chrome exhaust tips and bright side window moldings freshen the appearance further.
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 and an attractive analog clock in the center of the dash carries the theme through. Major controls use large twist dials.
Leather-trimmed seating and heated front seats with personalized memory controls on the driver's side are standard. 300M offers a bit more rear headroom than the LHS, but the LHS has the edge in legroom. The trunk hinges were designed to not intrude into the cargo space when the trunk lid is closed. Details like that make life seem just a bit more luxurious.
In addition to its five seat belts and optional front side airbags, safety features on the 300M include next-generation front air bags, child-protection rear door locks, upper interior trim impact protection and an inside emergency trunk release. It 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. Steering wheel audio controls manage a nine-speaker Infinity stereo. A four-disc CD changer mounted in the instrument panel is optional.
Designed to compete with the Cadillac Catera, Lexus ES 300, Infiniti I30, and Lincoln LS, Chrysler's 300M is a full-size sports sedan. It feels 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 Chattahoochee 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. The 2001 300M meets Low Emissions Vehicle (LEV) standards.
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 suspension is shared with Chrysler's LHS, but the 300M is tuned more aggressively. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes are standard. Electronic traction control is also standard for improved control when accelerating on slippery surfaces. All-season Michelin touring tires are standard and provide good handling characteristics on wet or dry roads with low tread noise and good snow traction. All tires are size P225/55R17.
An optional $560 handling package (standard on European-market 300M models) 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 Michelins should provide better cornering traction on dry and wet roads, but may not perform quite as well on snow and ice. The brakes are designed to increase stopping ability, enhance pedal feel and resist brake fade in hard use.
The standard suspension works extremely well and provides the driver with a bit more control than 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.
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.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.