by Grant Yoxon
For $3,405 over the $41,065 base price of the 300M, a limited number of buyers – only 500 300M Specials will be available in Canada – receive a serious luxury and performance upgrade. Only side air bags are optional.
Chrysler’s big sport sedan gets a boost
When the former Chrysler Corporation introduced the re-engineered LH series cars – the Intrepid, Concorde and LHS – for the 1999 model year, a new model based on the same 113 inch wheel-base chassis, the 300M, joined the lineup. Although its name would certainly attract attention from 40-something buyers who could recall the legendary 300 letter series cars of the 1950s and 60s, the 300M was not simply a retro marketing ploy. More importantly, the 300M added something at the top end of Chrysler’s model lineup that was missing, a sport sedan.
Faced with an increasing demand for cars that not only offered luxury appointments, but sports car handling and acceleration - a demand that European and Japanese manufacturers were only too happy to meet - Chrysler needed a sporting sedan to compete. The 300M, with a leaner appearance, firmer suspension, a healthy V6, and a simpler and more functional interior, was the answer.
The car was well-received by auto writers, who applauded the handling ability of such a large sedan, but also by North American buyers. In its first year, the 300M outsold its more overtly luxurious sibling, the LHS by nearly 2 to 1. The LHS nameplate was dropped after the 2001 model year, replaced by the Concorde Limited.
But there were critics too who noted the 300M lacked any special features - either technological or aesthetic - that set it apart from the increasingly crowded competition. As one said, it was as if Chrysler had gone to the luxury parts bin and loaded the 300M with everything it could find, but added nothing that was new or unique to mark the return of an automotive icon.
Chrysler showed what the 300M could have been at the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show in November 1999, revealing a 300M Special concept car that sported low profile tires on 18 inch wheels, a slightly lowered suspension, thicker sway bars, larger brakes, dual exhaust and "ground effects" lower body cladding. For the concept, the 300M's new all-aluminum 3.5 litre V6 was souped up to achieve the benchmark 300 horsepower that the original 300 letter cars possessed.
Shift forward three years and the 300M Special SEMA concept has become a reality. Mostly. The limited edition 2002 Chrysler 300M Special - only 8,500 will be built with 500 designated for Canada - has the show car's low profile P245/45ZR18 uni-directional Michelin Pilot high performance tires mounted on 18 inch aluminum alloy rims, half-inch lower ride height, dual exhaust and ground effects lower body cladding. The suspension and brakes have been beefed up, but not to the extent of the concept. A freer flowing exhaust and improved engine management help the 3.5 litre V6 in the 2002 300M Special achieve a higher output than in base configuration, but only by five horsepower and 8 ft.-lb of torque. The Special's engine is rated at 255 hp @ 6500 rpm (258 ft.-lb.@ 3900 rpm), not the 300 horsepower baseline set four decades ago.
Numerous other features differentiate a 300M Special from "ordinary" 300Ms: automatic reversing exterior mirrors with signal repeaters, an enhanced electronic vehicle information centre with tire pressure monitoring system, high intensity discharge headlamps, 240 km/h speedometer, unique "carbon fibre" trim instead of woodgrain, brushed aluminum sill plates, premium "Waterfall" leather seats and 360-watt "Infinity II Spatial Imaging" sound system with four-disc in-dash CD changer and 11 speakers in nine locations.
For $3,405 over the $41,065 base price of the 300M, a limited number of buyers receive a serious luxury and performance upgrade. Only side air bags are optional, although at $390 it is hard to understand why they are not standard equipment.
Even a base 300M is a well-equipped car. Both models, base and Special, receive Chrysler's Memory System which includes personalized settings for the driver's power seat adjustments, power heated exterior mirrors and radio station presets for two drivers. The driver's seat is eight-way power adjustable, with a manual driver's lumbar adjustment, while the passenger seat is six-way power adjustable.
Click image to enlarge
300M Special seats are higher quality premium leather and provide a little more lateral support in hard cornering than the base seats.
Seat heater controls are located out of sight on the outboard side of the seat, next to the power seat controls where it is impossible to find the setting you want - high or low - or turn it off without pulling over or waiting until the next red light. Better that the seat heater controls were placed in a visible location.
Other notable comfort and convenience features standard on the 300M include automatic temperature control air conditioning, central locking and speed-sensitive door locks, overhead console with dual map lamps, outside temperature display, trip computer and garage door opener, remote keyless illuminated entry, 60/40 split rear folding seat back, adjustable rear headrests, security alarm and sentry key engine immobilizer, leather wrapped steering wheel with cruise control and audio controls, leather wrapped shifter and automatic dimming day/night rearview mirror. The centre console includes cup holders, coin holder, cassette, CD storage, a second power outlet and rear seat heat and A/C outlets. A power sun roof is a no-charge option on both the base and Special 300M.
The standard sound system in the 300M is a 240-watt, nine-speaker Infinity system with in-dash CD player. The 300M receives a 360-watt system with four-disc in-dash changer and 11 speakers.
Interior finishing in the 300M Special is the best I've seen in a Chrysler product, with generally high quality materials used throughout. However, the "Carbon Fibre" interior trim, which replaces the woodgrain trim used on the 300M looks like plastic, feels like plastic and probably is.
The 300M is a big car with big car interior space. There is plenty of room for drivers of all sizes and three adults in the rear. Edmunds.com recently listed the 300M among the top ten passenger cars for interior room.
Yet, the 300M doesn't look like a large car. Even though it shares the same 113 inch wheel base with the Concorde and Intrepid, the 300M is 252 mm (9.9 in.) shorter than the Concorde and 150 mm (4 in.) shorter than the Intrepid.
It is surprising then to find that the 300M Special, at 1656 kg (3650 lbs), is heavier than either of its corporate cousins. And it takes quite a bit of power to move this much weight.
The 3.5 litre, single overhead cam, 24-valve V6, rated at 255 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, is up to the task, but it lacks the power one would expect in this class of vehicle. Don't misunderstand, the 300M accelerates very well for a big car and passing power is excellent, but there are many other comparably priced sport sedans - yes, smaller sport sedans - that would leave the 300M in their dust. The 300M special is about 45 horsepower short of being truly great.
The engine also feels somewhat unrefined. Part of the problem is in the transmission - a four-speed automatic with "AutoStick" manual shift feature. Power doesn't build in a linear, progressive fashion in response to throttle input. To get the 300M Special moving briskly requires some concerted effort with your right foot and a double down-shift from the transmission which might return more power than the occasion requires.
I found that manually shifting the transmission worked best, preventing the double down-shift and premature up-shifts. But this is the Jekyl and Hyde of transmissions. In automatic mode, up shifts are quite lazy, but in manual mode they are as solid and abrupt as an old four-speed manual behind a V8. I found myself wanting something in between.
Although the 300M Special is a big car, it handles extremely well. The P245/45ZR18 uni-directional Michelin Pilot high performance tires keep the car firmly planted on the road when the body would like to go in another direction. A firmer steering gear provides better control. A lower ride height, firmer strut damping and taller rear jounce bumpers also help out. But put a bit of snow on the ground and it is quite another story. Owners will find a warning glued to the back of their owners manual urging caution when snow or ice is on the road. To my mind, the appropriate amount of caution would be to leave it parked in the garage. Expect to invest in a winter wheel and tire package if you plan to drive this car year round.
The 300M Special is equipped with performance brakes - stiffer front calipers, outboard-vented rotors and higher-performance linings - with ABS and low speed traction control. With the performance tires neither ABS nor traction control is particularly useful in the conditions for which they were designed to work, although dry pavement braking is excellent.
Road feel is good, perhaps more than you'd expect from a large car like the 300M - and for some, it may be a bit too much road feel. The ride is firm, even a bit rough as you hear and feel every crack and ridge in the road. But in fairness to the 300M Special, too much comfort would detract from the handling capability of this large sedan.
|2002 Chrysler 300M Special|
|Options on vehicle||Front seat side air bags ($390)|
|Price as tested||$44,860|
|Type||4-door, 5-passenger luxury sport sedan|
|Layout||longitudinal front engine/front-wheel-drive|
|Engine||3.5 litre Enhanced High-Output V6, 24 Valve, single overhead cam, sequential multi-point fuel injection|
|Horsepower||255 @ 6500 rpm|
|Torque||258 ft.-lb.@ 3900 rpm|
|Transmission||4-speed automatic with AutoStick|
|Tires||P245/45ZR18 uni-directional Michelin Pilot|
|Curb weight||1656 kg (3650 lbs)|
|Wheelbase||2870 mm (113 in)|
|Length||5024 mm (197.8 in)|
|Width||1890 mm (74.4 in)|
|Height||1410 mm (55.5 in)|
|Trunk space||476 litres (16.8 cu. ft.)|
|Fuel consumption||City - 13.1 L/100 km (22 mpg)|
|Highway - 8.3 L/100 km (34 mpg)|
|Fuel||89 Octane mid-grade unleaded|
|Warranty||3 years/60,000 km|
|Powertrain warranty||5 years/100,000 km|