Chrysler 300M is First Produced
The Chrysler 300M is a sports sedan produced by Chrysler from 1999 to 2004.
Chrysler Corporation revived the 300 name on the 300M. This time it was a front-wheel drive, 255hp V6 engined car using the Chrysler LH platform. While not technically part of the famous "letter series" of the 1950s and 1960s, Chrysler did use the next letter after the last of the series, the 300L. It was 10 inches (250 mm) shorter than the Chrysler Concorde to make it exportable to Europe as a sports sedan, and was priced above the Concorde. The 300M was a luxury car as opposed to the mainstream status on the Concorde, and during its production was Chrysler's flagship vehicle.
When Chrysler redesigned the LH-cars in 1998, the Eagle Vision was discontinued. In order to fill the "import-fighter" gap, a position held by the Vision, Chrysler brought back the 300 name. Chrysler once stated that if the Eagle brand had not been dropped, the 300M would instead be sold as a redesigned Vision. Indeed, design images surfaced on the Internet showing a 300M with an Eagle badge on the grille. The 300M was similar in exterior and almost identical in the interior as the Concorde. The 300M also fit the European "5 metre" (16.4 foot) size class for export, unlike the substantially similar, yet larger LHS. It had the same wheelbase as the Dodge Intrepid, Eagle Vision, and pre-2002 Chrysler Concorde, reducing its length by cutting front and rear overhangs.
Only one engine was available, the Chrysler-engineered 3.5 L V6, initially created for first-generation LH vehicles and revamped for the newer LH line. It was shared with the Plymouth Prowler and a limited edition R/T variant of the second-generation Dodge Intrepid. It was not used on another vehicle until the arrival of the Chrysler Pacifica in 2004. For 1999, it was rated at 253 horsepower (189 kW), and 255 pound-feet (346 N·m) of torque. It was connected to the 42LE, a four-speed automatic transmission with Autostick, which allowed manual selection of gears. Standard gear ratio on the 300M was 3.66:1. The 300M Special was offered beginning midyear of 2002. This model included imitation-carbon-fiber interior trim panels, replacing the woodgrain trim panels (which come in the standard 300M), 255 hp (190 kW) 3.5 liter engine on 91+ octane with 258 lb·ft (350 N·m) of torque, and a 3.89 final drive ratio. Performance dual exhaust, high-intensity discharge headlamps, and 18-inch Z-rated wheels and tires were also standard on the Special. Other standard features of the Special included premium "Waterfall" leather seats, signal mirrors, body cladding, and slightly lower ride height.
For the 2004 model year, Chrysler offered the Platinum Series 300M to coincide with the company's 20th anniversary of the minivan (Dodge Caravan/Chrysler Town And County/Plymouth Voyager). In addition to the 300M, a five other vehicles were offered as Platinum Series: the Sebring Convertible, PT Cruiser, Sebring Sedan, Sebring Coupe, and Town & Country.
The Platinum Series 300M was available only in exclusive paint finishes: Graphite Metallic, Bright Silver Metallic or Brilliant Black Crystal. Other special features include: Deep Slate/Light Taupe two-tone interior, chrome door handles, deep gloss black turn signal mirrors with a reverse gear auto pivot feature, and 17-inch chrome wheels. 360-watt Infinity II Cassette/CD player, and a no-charge SIRIUS satellite radio system, complete with a one-year SIRIUS subscription were also included. Additional features include leather seats, satin silver bezels, chrome or platinum clad wheels, and an other unique interior features. These models have a special Platinum Series badging on the rear B pillars also.
The 300M was Motor Trend magazine's Car of the Year for 1999. It also was on Car and Driver magazine's Ten Best list for 1999 and 2000.
In 1999, automatic headlamps were added, and the Handling Group removed the speed limiter. In 2000, an interlock was added to prevent shifting from Park unless the brake was pressed; and tether anchors were added to the rear shelf for child seats. The year 2001 brought more changes, with an optional luxury group that included an automatic dimming driver-side mirror and supplemental side airbags. A more advanced EVIC (trip computer) was made optional. The 300M also received new jeweled taillights.
In 2002, electronic brake distribution was added to the antilock brakes; a new computer combined engine and transmission controls; LATCH tethers were built in; and “natural” evaporative emission monitoring was added. Midyear, the 300M Special was introduced with a 255 horsepower 3.5 liter engine (running on premium gas) with 258 lb-ft of torque, and a 3.89 final drive ratio. The 300M Special also had high intensity discharge headlights, faux carbon fiber trim, high performance brakes, and optional Michelin Pilot Sport 245/45R18 performance tires. A new grille design was also introduced. Also, not as powerful as the 300M Special but much more rare, the 300M Pro-Am appeared in 2002. It included an infinity system with subwoofers. 2 toned leather was also added in the Pro-Am edition.
In 2003, new colors were added, a six-disc CD changer replaced the four-disc changer, and the changer controls were added to the stereo. 2004 brought optional Sirius Satellite Radio and an optional stereo with DVD-based GPS navigation.
Some have criticized Chrysler's introduction of the 300M, because its engine is not rated at 300 hp, it is not rear wheel drive, and it does not clobber the competition as well as the early 300 series did. Our considered opinion: this engine is probably at least 300 hp according to gross horsepower, which was used when the original 300s were made; and it does clobber the competition, though in handling, elegance, and interior space rather than in straight-line acceleration. In short, we think it follows the 300 tradition quite well. Based on a standard body, shortened to save weight (and to fit into European parking places), and tuned for maximum performance, it is just as much a 300 as any other; it just has different proportions of handling, luxury, and performance.
riginally slotted to be second-generation Eagle Vision), the 300M was benchmarked not against GM, Ford, and Toyota, but against the BMW 5-series.
Based on the same platform as the $20,000 Intrepid and Concorde, the $30,000 300M is smaller (though you'd never know it from the interior), faster, firmer-riding, and better-handling. Though it still fails the Eurotest in some ways (no turbo option, no diesel option, no five-speed), it will certainly give automatic-transmission-and-gas-V6-equipped Eurosedans a run for their money.
Though the 300M has a standard 250 hp V6 that runs on regular gas and has both manners and teeth, in some ways it does not feel as powerful as the earlier 300 series, because it is smoother in operation. Matched up to the electronic automatic transmission, this engine is deceptively fast: it takes almost no time to reach illegal speeds, but it doesn't seem to be working very hard to do it. Under normal acceleration, shifts are practically undetectable. Likewise, the engine itself is very quiet and well-mannered except near redline - a place most drivers will rarely be, since it makes good power at low engine speeds. It is not a thrilling engine like the Jeep Cherokee's 4.7 V8, or the Audi TT's 225 horsepower turbo four - but it makes it easy and enjoyable to drive either slow or fast.
European buyers have a base 2.7 liter engine which provides sufficient power, with better mileage. In the US, where gas is cheap, most people will not mind SUV-beating EPA ratings of 18 and 27 (which we think are reasonable based on our experience).
Any number of cars can go fast; few cars of this size can handle with such aplomb around sharp turns, especially while the gas pedal is pushed to the floor. The 300M outhandled many small cars, and did it with full dignity and a firm sense of stability. Thanks to the good tires and capable suspension, there was a complete sense of confidence, even on wet roads. The 300M made fast turns, sudden lane changes, and hard acceleration seem calm and in total control. The smooth antilock brakes and traction control also helped, on those rare occasions when they activated. We found absolutely no torque steer on straight-line acceleration, though hitting the gas hard while turning caused some slippage.
With our 2001 model, we discovered that the 300M is a very good snow car. The traction control helps the car to get going, and the refined suspension helps it to avoid getting stuck or spinning out of control. We can't say that about the Honda Accord, based on the samples we saw spinning out in front of us and behind us - we were happy to be in the 300M, which serenely slowed at our request and quietly followed our request to go around the slowly spinning Accord. (The one behind us went into a spin when its driver tried to slow down). It might have been luck, but we found the 300M to be very good in the snow.
Ours had an extra handling package, which made the suspension somewhat firmer than the stock model. For most people, the handling package will probably be overkill; it is more for the automotive press and a very small number of enthusiasts than for the general public. Along with the superior handling comes a stiffer ride, more like a BMW than a Cadillac. The stock 300M has very good handling as well. Steering effort was a bit high at low speeds, a minor issue.
One exceptional feature is the interior design. The instrument panel is, simply, beautiful. The black-on-white gauges (evenly backlit with Indiglo-like lighting at night) and 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 aided by well-designed sun visors, efficient windshield washers and wipers, mirror defrosters, and effective side window demisters. Heating and air conditioning were both powerful, and the controls can be set by people wearing gloves.
The headlights were far better than on previous Chrysler models, and the foglights were clearly designed by engineers rather than fashion folk: they were placed low and focused so they could actually penetrate fog, rather than other drivers' eyes.
Rear reminds us of the Altima. No doubt this made Nissan feel better when they copied the 2000 Neon's rear for the Maxima.
The 300M is enormous inside, with a trunk that can handle pretty much anything you care to put in it. The cargo net ropes off a roughly Camaro-trunk-sized area for groceries or other items. If you need to carry a very, very long object, the rear seat folds down (with a 30/20 split in case you want to leave a passenger or child seat in place). The five-meter overall length makes it relatively easy to park.
Unfortunately, there seems to be little space for things such as coins, spare cash, and sunglasses. On the other hand, it did have a navigation computer, two memory positions for the seats, mirrors, and radio, and a stereo with lots of speakers. The navigation computer included a menu of options for programming the car (automatic headlight delay, door locking and unlocking features, etc.) similar to the one in the Grand Cherokee. We really appreciate the ability to use our own preferences.
We were surprised to find that there is no "power memory" on a car of this class; most modern vehicles in the over-$20,000 class keep the accessories on after you take out the keys.