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American automakers have a long tradition of taking a few body types and turning them into dozens of "different" cars. At Chrysler, the A body spawned the Valiant, Dart, Duster, Demon, Swinger, and Barracuda, and that was just in the United States; the B body was equally prolific (as were their General Motors and Ford counterparts). Meanwhile, European and Japanese companies generally had one or two names for each basic platform, with a variety of styles.
The point? The Chrysler 300M is one of the best examples of the American tradition of "brand engineering." Though it shares a platform with the family-oriented Chrysler Concorde and the luxury-oriented Chrysler LHS, thanks to a strong engine and suspension tuning, it manages to have a completely different personality. The 300M has fewer frills and a less cushioned ride, yet costs $10,000 more than the Concorde. There are no gadgets; just a larger, more powerful (250 hp) engine, AutoStick automatic transmission with manual override, and superb handling for a full-size car.
The 300M was supposedly designed for a European audience. We don't know if this is really true - it has no fuel-saving manual transmission or turbo engine - but it was definitely benchmarked against the best Europe could offer. Indeed, we'd happily put up a 300M against a BMW 5-series.
The 300M's standard 250 hp V6 (export models come with a 200-hp 2.7 liter engine, with the 250 hp version as an option) runs on regular gas. It is very smooth, unlike some of its predecessors in the V-8 powered 300 series; due to the smooth transmission, it seems less powerful than it really is. The engine takes almost no time to reach very fast speeds, but doesn't seem to be working hard to get there. Gas mileage is 18 city, 27 highway - not at all bad for a full sized sedan.
Many cars can go fast; few cars of this size, or for that matter few smaller four-door sedans,can handle so well around sharp turns. There was no torque steer, no skidding when hitting the gas duringn a turn, just a sense of dignity and stability. During fast turns, sudden lane changes, and hard acceleration, the 300M seem calm and in total control, even on wet roads. The smooth antilock brakes also helped.
The test model came with a handling package, which may have accounted for some of this, as well as the firm ride. We'd advise most people to get the standard suspension. We doubt many would reach its limits.
The interior design is as good as the handling. The instrument panel is beautiful. The black-on-white gaugesand analog center clock are extremely elegant, and set off nicely by chromed bezels. This is one attractive vehicle to drive, day or night. Visibility is assured by well-designed sun visors, efficient windshield washers and wipers, mirror defrosters, and effective side window demisters. Heating and air conditioning were both powerful. The headlights were far better than on previous Chrysler models, and the foglights were clearly designed by engineers: they were placed low and focused so they could actually penetrate fog, rather than other drivers.
The 300M is, like the Concorde, enormous insi de, with a trunk that can handle pretty much anything you care to put in it. The cargo net ropes off an area for groceries. The rear seat folds down (with a 30/20 split in case you want to leave a passenger or child seat in place) if more space is needed. The five-meter overall length, shorter than the Concorde or Intrepid, makes it relatively easy to park.
Unlike its LH siblings, there was little space for things such as sunglasses. A well designed coin holder oddly had no place for dimes, and was hard to reach in the center console. Yet, there was a good navigation computer, two memory positions for the seats, mirrors, and radio, and a stereo with lots of speakers. The leather seats were comfortable, and the cupholders (front only) worked well and did not block the radio.
Though the sound insulation was excellent, with hardly any wind noise, the vent fan was noisy, and the automatic temperature control tended to turn the fan up high. The air conditioning was good enough to keep the fan at lower levels (any part of the climate control could be adjusted manually).
The headlights can be set on automatic or manual; if it is really dark out, as in night-time, they will go on regardless of what the driver has done, but only if the car is in drive. Likewise, the AutoStick transmission lets the driver shift if desired, but will override the driver if it means avoiding a dead engine. In short - you can decide when to go from first to second, but it won't let you do 100 mph in first! We tried the AutoStick, but with such a wide power band and a responsive transmission that learns how you drive, we generally preferred to ignore it.
Because of Chrysler's emphasis on building quality into new car designs, the LHS had a surprisingly uneventful launch. By now, with over a year's experience, there seem to be no weak spots in the design or execution, making the 300M an even better buy.
We were hardly surprised by the success of the 300M (we think Chrysler was!) in the United States. If you want a large Eurosedan (or Japanese luxury car) with an automatic transmission and excellent handling, we'd recommend driving the 300M before a BMW 5-series or any of its other competitors. However, we'd still like to see a good manual transmission and maybe a fuel-saving turbo version, at least in Europe. This is a fine car, and it seems a shame not to go the whole way.
Like a "blast from the past" the 300M is reminiscent of Chrysler's letter-series cars introduced in 1955. Certainly, Daimler Chrysler has managed to offer many attributes incorporated into this vehicle which will be pleasing to many.
Furthermore, the alphabet doesn't stop at the letter L. Daimler Chrysler continues the legacy with the 300M, managing to incorporate many attributes which will be pleasing to many.
The 300M is a stylish and aesthetically pleasing sedan that offers a well balanced package of luxury and performance.
Upon initial entrance, I felt the elegant attraction, while my attention was drawn to the analog clock centered on the dashboard. Other standard equipment include heated power front seats, automatic climate control, leather upholstery and a "jamming" Infinity sound system. Certain to be an eye-catcher are the aqua blue-like instrument gages which filled me with anticipation waiting to flick on the instrument panel just before dusk. No doubt, the interior incorporated a unique and very pleasing ambiance. Adding to the excitement is the Auto Stick sequential shifter which is part of the standard equipment. Not that you have to, but as you may already know this allows you to shift through the gears manually, without the burden of a clutch. Although the automatic mode does a superb job for you, it's there when you have the need to feel a certain rush.
The 300M is powered by an aluminum 3.5- liter V6 engine which produces 253 HP and 255 ft./lbs. of torque. The result is 0-60 in just under 8 seconds. Overall, the 300M offers a well integrated package of styling, luxury and power offered at a relatively reasonable price when compared to its more trendy European rivals.
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