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Expert Reviews 1 of 9
By Larry Printz
The Morning Call and Mcall.com
March 7, 1999
It's often amazing to me to read the glowing memories that most people above a certain age have of automobiles they saw in their youth. Call it a generation gap if you will, but those of us who grew up in the '70s and early '80s have a less
charitable view of the cars of our youth. Personally, I find it hard to have anything good to say about my parents' dark green Dodge Coronet stationwagon with its truely uninviting green interior. Green was big in the '70s, and no one did it like
Chrysler. That car had a new car aroma that always nauseated me, so I was relieved when my parents bought a Chevy. Neither car was very reliable. So, I was always somewhat traumatized by the thought of driving a Chrysler product. My brother
never gave-in to childhood fear and bought a Chrysler in the mid-'80s. He loved the car, but not the build quality. Since then, I've heard from Chrysler owners who swear by their cars, not at them, so I know Chrysler products have improved somewhat.
How much they have improved is seen in the latest version of their full-sized LH-series cars. When I reviewed the Dodge Intrepid and Chrysler Concorde this past summer, it was hard not to be impressed by the saavy combination of style, speed and
interior space. The LHS was as large as its brash styling suggests. Like cold water in the face, the cars washed away the memories of Chrysler's bad old days and made me look forward to a drive in the 300M, Chrysler's most European of automobiles.
The 300M is a revival of the famed letter series marque, produced between 1955 and 1965 (Chrysler is choosing to ignore the ones produced through the early '70s). These full-sized coupes were large, stylish and powerful. Style and power, along with
two more doors and a European attitude, are what carries over from the old car. Take one look at the front end and you'll know that Chrysler has been looking closely at Lancias and Alfas of the past. But there's Chrysler's winged medallion and cab
forward architecture, sweeping back into a short, high, deck lid with sharp edges that give the rear a muscular look. That look is backed up by power. Under the swoopy front end lurks Chrysler's all-aluminum 3.5-liter single-overhead-cam V-6, a
powerplant it shares with its longer cousin, the LHS. Output is identical to the LHS: 253 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 255 pound-feet of torque at 3,950 rpm. That's enough to move this Canadian-built 3,567 pound Chrysler quite briskly. While that's not the
300 horsepower that was available in previous letter-series Chryslers, it is enough to keep things interesting. Mated to all this power is Chrysler's electronically controlled four-speed automatic with AutoStick. This dual mode transmission allows
the driver to lope along with the car doing the shifting, or take matters into their own hands by shifting manually. The system works well enough, adding a dimension to the fun the car otherwise wouldn't have. But the side-to
-side motion to activate it seems less natural than comparable systems. Power is strong off the line, with the V-6 furnishing plenty of power off the line without noticeable torque steer. The transmission shifts promptly. The engine doesn't have the
refined sound of some imported machinery however. Road noise is higher than the competition; more sound insulation would help. But, the car has the authoritative feel a car in this class should have. At the price this car is offered, it has more
power than its competition, the Acura TL, Lexus ES300, Mercedes E320 and Taurus SHO. Handling is excellent, with quick power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering. It has good heft to it and returns decent road feel. It will help you toss this letter car
around with gusto. Corner behavior is excellent. The car stays flat for the most part, while still absorbing road irregularities. Great fun for a large car. Dual airbags are standard as is four-wheel anti-lock disc bra kes and a low-spee
dtraction control system. Inside, this car shares its dash with the LHS. Here, the stylists shine with an eloquent simplicity that gives the car a beautiful feel. The gauges are clustered under a hood in front of the driver. They have a beautiful
retro feel that is mimicked by the analog clock in the center of the dash. The center stack contains automatic climate controls and the audio system. Both are convenient to understand and operate. It is accented by a horizontal strip of petro-chemical
pseudo-wood trim. The leather front bucket seats are large and comfortable. Seat heaters and two-person memory settings help insure comfort. There's plenty of room in back, albeit less than that of the cavernous LHS. It will be sufficient for most,
as it seems the LHS is more excess than necessity. Trunk space is equally good, with plenty of space for cargo. Gas mileage was about average for this league, returning about 21 mpg in mixed driving use. The only quality concern that came
up was a steering wheel that squeaked and a driver's side door that did likewise. Assembly quality was okay, with nothing rattling or falling off. The automotive press has showered accolades on this car and justifiably so. It's aggressive engine,
compliant ride, sport handling and post-modern retro styling make this stylish 300M one to consider seriously in this class, even if you have bad memories of Chryslers, like I do. 1999 Chrysler 300M Engine: 3.5-liter SOHC V-6