by Jim Bennett
The 300M has always been a head turner, since it was introduced in 1998. Chrysler is now cleverly tapping into the 300's heritage in the fifties in their marketing campaigns. I wondered if this vehicle's performance would match the legendary performance and distinctive looks of yesteryear, while appealing to the sports and luxury enthusiasts of today. Getting an opportunity to take this unique blend of American and European influenced design, on a brief Los Angeles urban test drive, had me quickly rearrange my schedule. I was not disappointed by this unique, good handling, near-luxury cruiser.
Chrysler engineers have adapted the successful and evolving LH platform and are starting to refine it in order to improve vehicle dynamics, performance, steering and handling for the enthusiast market. While it is still not yet as refined as some of its European and Japanese counterparts, the 300M definitely provides a quality feel and remarkable handling for a car of this size and price. I feel that some people may consider the suspension a bit stiff when it reacts to potholes and rough road sections. The 300 M does improve its road manners on smoother roads, when I tried it on a small, but much too brief portion of the LA Freeway, prior to rush hour.
The power plant is based on the 3.5 liter, 24 valve V6 engine that generates 253 horsepower. There is plenty of power for passing, accelerating up steep urban streets and all-around driving. It doesn't have the "turbine like" smoothness of a BMW, but it has plenty of energetic, hot rod power to satisfy most drivers. The engine probably performs best on the open road, but again, I only evaluated the 300M in a congested, urban environment.
Chrysler's AutoStick transmission was a pleasure to use. In my opinion, it's one of the best manually controlled automatics in the market today. Smooth, precise and effortless shifts were the order of the day. Willing down shifts complemented the engine performance, especially when climbing a particularly difficult grade near the Pacific Ocean.
Interior space packaging is outstanding and flexible. Even at 6 foot 5 inches tall, I have plenty of head room in the vehicle cabin. Positioning of the steering wheel and controls is excellent. Shoulder room and overall visibility are also very good. The fold-down rear seats provide access to the large trunk and create a large cargo space. This is extremely practical and I wish this concept was adopted on even more vehicles.
Interior design and quality of materials are well suited for a vehicle in this market segment. The engineers have achieved a reasonable compromise between near luxury quality and affordability. The clean design of the instrument panel and its controls complement the uncluttered look of the seats and side panels. The front seats could use firmer support, especially for longer trips. Trunk access was easy, with low "liftover" height and the trunk lid positioned well forward when opened.
On the road, the 300M provides a quiet, comfortable and smooth riding experience. It handles like a smaller sporty sedan -- responsive and well balanced. Its brakes are powerful and had a good linear feel, in the urban environment. The steering is responsive with good on center feel for a large sedan. Noise, vibration and harshness seem to be under control.
In the quality department, fit and finish are good as well. This seems to indicate that Chrysler is well on its way to achieving much needed higher quality and reliability levels. This is a perfect complement to the companies outstanding design efforts and attractive pricing.
This vehicle deserves a closer look for the near luxury, driving enthusiast that would prefer to buy American-made and have a unique blend of driving experiences, at an affordable price. At around $30,000 this distinctive vehicle is a bargain.
Dated: February 1999