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1999 Chrysler300M Road Test
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By CharlesOfria

Category: $25,000 to $35,000 Luxury-Sport Sedan
Who should buy this car: Someone who wants a flashy, sophisticated, fast, roomy sport sedan with all the bells and whistles available in this price range.
Comparable cars in this class: Pontiac Bonneville SSEi, Oldsmobile Aurora, Ford Taurus SHO 

 This is the first in a series ofroad tests with a slightly different slant than those offered by the typical car enthusiastpublication. We knowthat selecting a car, whether new or used, is a serious decision, so we have designedroadtests that will provide information to help you find the vehicle that will suit yourneeds and enhance your driving experience. We address ourselves to those of you who aremore concerned about how a car rides and performs, how it fits your lifestyle, than thedetails of its rack & pinion steering and multi-port fuel injection.  With thisin mind, we view each vehicle from three different perspectives:.

  • The Conservative Approach: Conservative drivers want to get from point A to point B safely and comfortably.  They avoid excess G forces when accelerating, braking and turning.  Speed limits are important to them, but they keep up with the flow of traffic as long as that does not take them over the posted limits by more than 10 mph.  Passengers are most comfortable with these drivers (unless the passenger is in a hurry).
  • The Sporty Style Sporty drivers enjoy being on the road.  They appreciate the feel of control that a good road machine delivers.  They like feeling G forces from time to time, but not at the expense of safety: they know their limits and the limits of the car and stay well within them.  Sporty drivers may make a conservative passenger nervous, especially if that passenger is also a driver.  They tend to move a bit faster than the prevailing traffic, but they stay at a safe speed for current conditions and are careful not to disrupt traffic, making sure to signal and to keep a respectful distance when executing lane changes.
  • The Fast-Lane Perspective.  When I speak of fast drivers, I do not mean inconsiderate roadhogs who jeopardize everyone around them.  No, the fast drivers I am describing like to explore the limits of their machine, but maintain control and never put others at risk.  On a deserted road, they may see how fast they can take a corner before the tires start to break loose, naturally leaving a generous margin for error. When alone on a completely clear stretch, they may try to see how the auto feels at speed, but they are extremely alert to their surroundings and sensitive to the idiosyncrasies of the vehicle.  When chauffeuring passengers, considerate "fast" drivers revert to the Sporty mode.

Most drivers fit one of these descriptions.  You know whoyou are.  At the end of each road test article, we will give you our opinion of howwell the car accommodates each driving style. 

 300c.JPG (25895 bytes)The 300M is Chrysler'sattempt to resurrect the magic of the original 300 Letter series cars manufactured from1955 to 1965.  The problem is, the original 300 was a limitedproduction model that was produced at the rate of about a thousand per year, making them quite exclusive,(and expensive) while this new Chrysler 300M is a regular production car, builtin large numbers to meet the demands of a much wider audience.

The original 1955 Chrysler "300" got its namefrom being the first production car to boast 300 horsepower. These were no-nonsense cars that combined luxury with performance.  Back then, carenthusiasts felt lucky just to see one go by.

Superb styling and leather trimmed interiors set the Chrysler300's apart as did their highly refined, powerful engines that would quickly burn therubber off their old-style four ply tires. Two prime examples are the 1957 300C picturedhere and the 1960 300F.  The 300C's custom hood and grill projected a powerful andaggressive look and, with 375 horsepower, it put its money where its mouth was. Around 2400 of these cars were built in 1957, including fewer than 500 convertibles.The 1960 Chrysler 300F was the first American car to sport four individual bucketseats and a full length console. Approximately 1200 were built in 1960. Backthen, the300 series was as special to the Chrysler line as the M5 (a limited-production BMW withspecial interior and a 400 HP engine) is to BMW today.

 Note: you can click onall the pictures below for a larger view.

LeftFront2.JPG (36714 bytes) While the new 300M is not the exclusive, groundbreaking trend-setter that itspredecessors were, I can tell you that after spending a week with this car in SouthernCalifornia, driving on freeways and on the winding mountain roads that snake around LA, Iwas impressed.

The styling is aggressive yet tasteful, a combination rarelyachieved. The handling is balanced and inspires confidence without compromising ridequality.

Under most conditions, this car is very quiet. Accelerating atabout half throttle, the engine emits a pleasing, muffled growl while pulling awaystrongly; although at full throttle the engine screams as it approaches its 6800 RPMredline.

Standing start to 60 MPH acceleration takes place in a quick 7.8seconds.  If you are cruising at around 30 MPH with some conservative passengers inthe back seat and you floor the throttle to merge into fast traffic, you will be greetedwith a firm kick-down to first gear and some startled passengers as the car leaps into theflow of traffic.  This may produce a wide grin on your face just before you feel theswat on the back of your head.

Releasing the throttle when you reached the desiredspeed causes the transmission to smoothly shift up to a higher gear, a great improvementover the Chrysler LHS that I tested a few years ago which violently snapped out of firstwhen I relaxed the throttle.  In fact, this 300M transmission seemed to do everythingright. Extremely smooth shifts when driving conservatively, solid and responsive whenpushing it.  If I had any nits to pick, it would be the way the transmission kicks ifI hit the gas just before the car comes to a complete stop.

Then there is the AutoStick feature. Pull the shifter past ‘D’to where you would normally find 'L' and you have full manual controlover gear selection. Slap the shifter left (toward you) and the transmission downshifts tothe next lower gear, slap it right and it upshifts. In manual mode, the selected gear isdisplayed on the dash to eliminate guesswork..  I used this feature extensively whiledriving through winding mountain roads and found it to be a delight, giving me the controlof a standard shift when I wanted it without condemning me to shifting my way through theLA traffic jams. The AutoStick is not 100% manual.  First off, there’s no clutchpedal, good for maintaining equal-sized leg muscles. It will not allow you to start off in4th gear (you can start in 1st, 2nd, or 3rd),and it shifts back down to 1st gear on its own when you come to a stop . Italso will not let you over-rev the engine by not allowing moves like shifting to 1stwhile you are going 65 MPH.

The ride is smooth and controlled over most road surfaces, evenwith a full load of 5 people aboard. The car is quiet on blacktop, with little noiseintruding into the passenger compartment, either from the road or wind. On the LAfreeways, however, the grooved concrete pavement produced some road noise. Generally, itsrigid body structure produces a solid feel with no squeaks, groans or drumming sounds onbad roads or when driving over railroad tracks.  Instead of a "thump-thump"when hitting an expansion joint on the highway, you might hear "thip-thip" or nosound at all. 

This car is in its element snaking through the canyon roads outside of L.A. Thesteering is light and responsive and puts the car exactly where you want it.  Handling around these winding mountain roads is flat and balanced under moderately sportydriving, but for aggressive driving, the tires are not up to the task. The standard tiresare P225/55TR17 Goodyear Eagle LS.  This is a very low-profile size for a familysedan.  They rode well and were quiet under normal driving but they startedprotesting before you came anywhere near the handling potential of this car. There is anoptional "Performance Handling Group" that includes special wheels, P225/60VR16Michelin performance tires, better brakes and performance tuned steering and suspension.(Yes, you read right. 16" performance tires and 17" standard tires. For those ofyou who are not car buffs, it is usually the other way around.) This $500.00 option givesyou a slightly choppier ride and allows more road noise to enter the cabin.  The"Performance Handling Group" is standard on 300M’s sold in Europe but inAmerica, many people prefer a softer ride, so Chrysler lets you choose.

InteriorFront2.JPG (37105 bytes)Thiscar requires 37 feet to execute a U-turn which is good for a car of this size(197.8" overall length). You must be careful, however, when approaching drivewayramps as this car's long front overhang makes it susceptible to scraping bottom.

The 300M interior is spacious and comfortable. Perforated leather seatsare standard, as are electrically heated 8-way power seats for the driver and front seatpassenger.  The manual lumbar adjustment is well-positioned.  The driver's seatallows two different drivers to pre-set their seat and mirror positions, as well as radiostation preferences, and recall them by pressing a button either on the seat or on thesecurity system remote control. The driver's seat also automatically moves back about 2 "  when you shut off the car to allow easier exiting.  The seat returns to its original positionwhen the car starts.  This feature and others can be disabled if they don't appeal toyou.

The driving position is very comfortable with generally good visibility,although you can’t see the front of the car past the base of the windshield (or therear for that matter). The rear seat has lots of legroom and the seatback folds down toallow access to a large trunk. The rear seatback is split 60/40 to fit up to two people inthe back even with part of the seat folded to allow for long items in the trunk.  There is a small overhead console that contains some interesting features, notably acompass. Other features include a HomeLink garage door opener, an outside temperaturedisplay and a trip computer that shows miles per gallon, distance till empty, etc.  

 

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The instruments are clear and easy to see, both day and night. In the daytime the gauges are white with black numbers and pointers. At night the instrument faces light up with a pleasing pale blue glow. There are digital readouts for mileage and transmission position.

This car has standard automatic temperature control so occupants can select the number of degrees as on a thermostat.  The system will automatically maintain the temperature, summer or winter, by activating the heater or air conditioner as required. This system worked well and the fan was reasonably quiet.

Reliability is always an important factor when buying a car. Chrysler’s reputation for reliability has been mixed at best, but has been steadily improving. The fit and finish on this car is reasonably good for an American model but not quite up to the standards set by some Japanese makes.

I found the faux wood trim on the dash and door panels cheap and plasticy. The chrome rings around the gauges and the fancified numerals on the gauge faces, not to mention the little round clock that was lifted from theInfiniti Q45, look out of place in a performance sports sedan like this one.  In fact, I have heard that the white-faced gauges were a last minute decision. The original plan was for black gauges with white numerals and red pointers, but then Chrysler settled on the white gauges from the LHS.

How would I improve this car?  Lose the fake wood (or make it look more like realwood).  Keep the analog clock, but make it larger and give it a more functionallook.  Leave the suspension as is for a good ride, but provide better tires.  Add a remote gas door (the finger notch in the gas door looks cheap and out of place in acar of this caliber).  Oh, and about that hood that can't be seen past the windshieldand the long front overhang that sometimes scrapes bottom... Leave them alone.   Thestyling is worth it.

If this is all I could find wrong with this vehicle, you may safely conclude that Iconsider this Chrysler a winner. In fact, this is a vehicle that I would be happy to own.

How does the 300M fit yourdriving style? 

Conservative drivers will find that this car inspires confidence with easy and predictable handlingand a comfortable, quiet ride. Accelerating into traffic is smooth at up to half-throttle,although it can get annoying if the transmission kicks down to a gear that brings theengine RPM over 4000 so that its performance personality gets in your face.  This isno carriage horse: this is a thoroughbred straining at the bit to run.  If you likethe look of this car and the many features that it has to offer for the price, it could bea good choice.  But be warned,  there is a good chance that these wheels willstep you up to becoming a sporty driver.

Sporty drivers will love the solid performance and precise control that this fun sedan providesdespite its size. This car has it all in one great package.  The AutoStick is theperfect compromise for those occasions when you wish for a standard shift transmission butwould never want to live with one.  If you are looking for an American sedan withkick and style, then look no further.  This is the car for you.

Fast driverswill want the optional sport suspension with performance tires for the best at-the-limitgrip. They will not be happy with this car without it. This option will also remove the118 MPH electronic speed limiter that  is on the standard setup. There are sedansthat are faster and handle better, but not at this price.  If you need a largefamily sedan, this car will not disappoint.

Clickhere for more pictures of the 300M

Specifications 

Engine Type 3.5-liter High-Output SOHC 24-valve 60 V6, Cast aluminum block and heads
Horsepower 253 @ 6,400 RPM
Torque 255 @ 3,950 RPM
Fuel Recommended Mid grade 89 Octane Unleaded recommended but will run safely but with reduced power on regular grade fuel.
Transmission Four Speed Automatic with Autostick for manual control
Tires Standard: Goodyear Eagle LS P225/55TR17
Optional: Michelin XGTV4 P225/60VR16
Overall Length 197.8"
Width 74.4"
Turning Diameter 37.6 ft Curb to Curb
Max. Towing Capacity 2000 lbs.
Curb Weight 3,576
Fuel Tank 17 Gals.
Miles Per Gallon EPA city 18, hwy 27.  Observed during aprox. 1000 miles of road testing, 23 MPG
Acceleration 0 to 60 7.8 seconds
Base Sticker Price $29,585 includes destination charges
Standard Equipment
  • 3.5-liter High Output V6 Engine
  • Four-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission with AutoStick
  • Touring suspension
  • Power rack and pinion steering
  • Four-wheel disc antilock brakes
  • Low-speed traction control
  • Next Generation driver and front passenger air bags
  • Vehicle Theft Security System
  • Automatic air conditioning
  • Automatic headlamps
  • Fog lamps
  • Dual power heated outside mirrors
  • Automatic dimming inside rearview mirror
  • Power windows and door locks
  • Overhead console with compass, outside temperature, trip computer and HomeLink transmitter
  • Leather  trimmed, heated, 8 way power seats with driver's 2 position memory
  • AM stereo /FM stereo radio with cassette and CD players, 240 watt amplifier and 9 speakers

Major Available Options

  • Power moonroof
  • Performance Handling Group
  • Better sound system with 320 watts and 11 speakers

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