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Chrysler 300M (2001)

SEE ALSO: Chrysler Buyer's Guide

by John Heilig


MODEL: Chrysler 300M 
ENGINE: 3.5-liter V6 
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 253 hp @ 6,400 rpm/255 lb-ft @ 3,950 rpm 
TRANSMISSION:  Four-speed automatic with AutoStick 
WHEELBASE: 113.0 in. 
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 197.8 x 74.4 x 56.0 in. 
STICKER PRICE:  $33,995 

Chrysler's 300M is an anachronism. Let me explain. It's supposed to be the performance model of the three Concorde variations -- Concorde, LHS and 300M. Yet it's built on the same platform and has the same 3.5-liter 253-horsepower V6 that powers the "luxury" LHS. It's slightly shorter than the other two, but offers a full set of luxury amenities that push it more across the dividing line between performance and luxury.

So it's a car with a confused state of mind.

But it's also a car that is true to its design heritage as well as its luxury heritage. It is as luxurious as the LHS, but with an attitude. Here's a car that has as much leather and walnut trim as any other luxury car, yet it can zip along any highway at or above any legal speed limit. The nice thing is that it can do this in full comfort.

I had the privilege recently of driving a 1931 Chrysler Imperial Dual Cowl Phaeton with a LeBaron body. This was a car that was among the ultimate luxury cars of its era. Yet it could also perform as well as almost anything available in decent production quantities.

The 300 M is in that same class. But I have to admit, it made me feel more luxurious than sporty. Then again, so did the Imperial.

The 3.5-liter V6 driving the front wheels through a four-speed automatic transmission with AutoStick is sweet. It's relatively silent, unless you push the pedal to the floor in a demanding manner, and then it emits a pleasant growl. But since you don't drive that way all the time, the silence of the engine is what you notice most. Luxury, right?

Then, you sit behind a fully instrumented dash and grasp a walnut and leather steering wheel. Luxury. All right, the luxury Jaguar uses similar equipment, but you get the idea.

Out tester also had power heated seats, an AM/FM sound system with a four-CD in dash changer and player, 360 watt amplifier and nine speakers. It had a trip computer that told us we averaged 19.4 mpg (EPA ratings are 18 city, 26 highway). And it had P225/55R17 performance tires and 17-inch chromed aluminum wheels ($750).

On the performance side, our tester also had the "Performance Handling Group, a $560 option that included anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes, a high speed engine controller, performance steering, performance suspension and the uprated tires. We also had supplemental side air bags ($390) and a power moonroof ($895).

The $4,355 in options raised the base price of $29,640 to a final sticker price of $33,995. Compared to cars like the Jaguar and some of the European and Japanese sport/luxury cars, this isn't bad.

What impressed me the most about the Chrysler 300M though was its silence and pleasantness. I had expected a hard-riding performance sedan, sort of like a dressed-up Viper. What I got instead was an American Jaguar; a luxury sedan that had enough power to get out of its own way and had the handling and brakes to keep it from embarrassing itself on any road.

On Interstates, we zipped along with the other traffic and had no trouble keeping up and leading when we wanted. On back roads, we took the corners gleefully, knowing that the 300M was in control (or, I was in control of the 300M and it wasn't going to let me make a fool of myself.

The original 300 series was a group of high performance cars that dominated early NASCAR racing. Those cars DID have an attitude.

The present generation 300M doesn't quit live up to that reputation. But it does offer performance that is a cut above what most full-size sedan manufacturers are offering these days. And it gives you that performance in a package that's a pleasure to drive and ride in.