2004 Chrysler 300M

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1999 Chrysler 300M

This 1999 review is representative of model years 1999 to 2004.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Rating: 9
Pros:
  • Distinctively improved handling for a big Chrysler
  • New 3.5-liter V6
  • Neat, blue-green instrument gauges at night
Cons:
  • No side airbags offered
  • No accessory power on this luxury car
  • Rear center rider gets only lap belt

The 300M is the best of its platform siblings, which include the Chrysler Concorde, Dodge Intrepid and Chrysler LHS. But will buyers discern why it's better or just pick it based on styling?

Many big sedan choices at Chrysler Chrysler Corp., it seems, has no shortage of large sedans. In a nine-month flurry in late 1997 and into 1998, the automaker introduced four redesigned/new big cars: the Dodge Intrepid, Chrysler LHS, Chrysler Concorde and Chrysler 300M.

Chrysler tries hard to differentiate all these models via marketing, but truth is, they're all built on the same platform, at the same Canadian assembly plant and have nearly the same internal dimensions.

Still, my personal preference tends toward the 300M. Why?

Letter series is back
If you know something about Chrysler history, you may recall the company's letter-series cars. They debuted in 1955 as "contemporary, . . . sporty and emotional" vehicles, explained Martin Levine, general manager of the Chrysler/Plymouth/Jeep Division whose father owned a 300F.

They were cars that were considered "the rebel of the brand," according to Levine. And, as you'd expect, Chrysler tried to make the 300M "a distinctive driving experience," Levine said. "It's the brand's emotional icon."

The cars continued until 1965, going through the alphabet up to L. Thus, the 300M picks up with the next letter.

Best combination of suspension, steering, engine, transmission features
True to its goal, the 300M impresses with its balance and poise. Unlike the Chrysler LHS, which has what Chrysler describes as a "luxury-tuned suspension," the 300M has a touring suspension.

The difference in the ride is a bit subtle, but the 300M seems to let road imperfections just ripple themselves out as the car travels over them, while maintaining good road feel for the driver. There's also a noticeable difference in the steering. The 300M steering response is quicker than that of the more luxury-oriented LHS.

Like the other platform siblings, the 300M is classified as a large car, yet there's little body sway in many sweeping curves, even at 60 miles an hour. The test car stayed on track easily in lower-speed mountain twisties, too. The big, 17-inch tires squealed here and there, but the car's motions were predictable and pleasant, even without a guardrail nearby.

Chrysler put its new 3.5-liter single-overhead-cam all-aluminum V6 in both the 300M and LHS. Both cars get maximum 253 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque. But only the 300M also gets the AutoStick function with this engine and the 4-speed automatic transmission. AutoStick lets you shift through the gears manually without fussing with a clutch pedal, or you can let the automatic do it all for you.

Chrysler's AutoStick has been used in other vehicles, like the Plymouth Prowler, and it's available in the Intrepid, with a less powerful engine. The AutoStick is well designed for drivers with a sporty bent, letting them hold lower gears aggressively, but also automatically downshifting into first at stops.

Roomy interior
Inside, the 300M offers seating for five only, while the Concorde and Intrepid offer up to six seats. Rear-seat legroom in the 300M is spacious, even though it's 2.5 inches less than in the longer-length Concorde and LHS.

Headroom in the back seat of the 300M is a bit better than in the sister models, and large side windows give a spacious feel. But these rear windows go down just two-thirds of the way, and there's only a lap belt for the middle rear rider. Spokesman Jan Zverina said the company is studying whether to install a shoulder belt for that seating position.

The 300M's seats are covered in leather as standard equipment and are comfortably cushioned for long highway trips. Both front seats come standard with power adjustments. The sizable, multi-adjustable, front-seat headrests can be positioned just right for maximum safety and look more like safety-conscious Volvo's headrests than Chrysler's usually wimpy ones.

Neat look to instrument cluster
The 300M's instrument cluster is an eye-catcher. Black letters and numbers on a white background have a retro look; shiny silver circles around each of the gauges add to the feel. If you really want to impress someone, especially of the younger set, take him or her on a drive in the 300M at night, when the gauges are illuminated in a striking blue-green.

Too bad this luxury car doesn't provide accessory power after the vehicle is turned off, though. The 300M also doesn't offer side airbags, which are becoming a standard on other luxury cars.

Shorter overall than its platform siblings
The 300M's trunk is flat, with a wide opening. But it's the smallest of all its platform siblings.

Chrysler officials noted they want to sell the 300M in Europe, too, where the maximum length for a car typically runs 5 meters. So the 300M is shortest, overall, of the four cars that share the same 113-inch wheelbase platform. And much of that shortening came at the expense of trunk space.

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BB05 - 8/27/2014 2:24:43 AM