To most of us W-2 schlubs, a car costing between $28,000 and $36,000 would seem pretty darn luxurious. But to the auto industry, a car in that price range is only "near-luxury" or "entry-level luxury." While there might be a whiff of disdain in the industry terms for these nicely equipped sedans, the automakers are hardly turning up their noses at the chance to sell them. As a matter of fact, they are tripping over each other's tires getting their near-luxury iron to market. There is a good reason why a car segment that used to be the province of the Europeans has now taken root with a Miracle-Gro vengeance in Japan and the United States: The baby boomers are reaching their salary peaks, and industry market visionaries predict a three-fold increase in the sales of these cars, pushing their sales to about 700,000 by the turn of the century. Chrysler recently got into this fray with two brand-new large sedans: the LHS and the 300M. Although their under-$29,000 price tags put them at the bottom of the near-luxury segment, they are the most expensive four-doors Chrysler builds. The car we're looking at today, the 300M, is virtually identical to the LHS structurally and mechanically. The only significant differences between the two reside in their styling and suspension tuning. The LHS has an American luxury car look and feel, and is intended to vie with automobiles such as the Buick Park Avenue and Lincoln Continental for the hearts and minds of the middle-aged. The 300M, on the other hand, is a sportier-looking car with a more European personality, and is aimed at a slightly younger, more import-oriented crowd. In addition to selling 300Ms to Americans who like European cars, Chrysler also is hoping to peddle the agile sedans to Europeans. It will begin exporting them later this year. In order to do that, it has had to make several design accommodations for the European market. Its 198-inch length puts it under 5 meters, which is considered the cutoff for cars in Europe's cities. Also, the 300M for export will be offered with more engine choices. While the domestic version will be built only with Chrysler's new, 3.5-liter V-6, the export car will be available with either the 3.5-or the 2.7-liter V-6 used in the Chrysler Concorde and Dodge Intrepid. By doing this, Chrysler makes the car more attractive in those countries where vehicle registration fees are tied to engine size. The 300M, which derives its name from the high-performance Chrysler 300s of the '50s, is a lovely and spirited styling exercise with some expected and unexpected aspects. I wasn't surprised by the aggressive and sporty sculpting, given the nature of the beast. But I was caught off base by the car's tall, tailored and distinctive derriere. The back end is usually the lowest card dealt in a car's styling. But in the case of the 300M, it is literally and figuratively a high one. The interior is also compelling busin ess. The resurrection of the old nameplate resonates through several retro touches, notably the wonderful cluster of white-faced gauges. Unfortunately, the interior's interesting historical styling cues and flowing design are sandbagged by the use of phony wood trim. One wouldn't expect real wood in a car that starts for under $29,000, especially when it comes with this high-value automobile's stunning standard equipment list. But you would expect designers as good as Chrysler's to just say no to the phony wood entreaties from the Philistines in marketing. Otherwise, the 300M was an exceedingly pleasant experience. The car is nimble for its size, especially when equipped with the $255 handling package, as the tester was. In addition to making a real delight out of a windy back road, the car with the handling package is not electronically limited to 118 mph, as the one with the standard suspension is. So you can use the full potential of that 253-horsepower 6 and whip over to the country club at better than 140 miles an hour.
CHRYSLER 300M Base vehicle: Front-drive, 3.5-liter engine, four-speed automatic transmission, disc brakes, antilock braking system, variable-assist steering, 17-inch aluminum wheels, P225/55R17 touring tires, traction control, dual air bags, rear window defroster, intermittent wipers, climate control, power windows, leather upholstery, power and heated front seats, speed control, tilt steering, garage-door opener, power mirrors, stereo/cassette/CD, power doors with keyless entry, security alarm, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, fog lamps. Test model: Handling package (including 16-inch alloy wheels and P225/60VR16 high-performance tires). Base price: $28,300 Test model: $29,170 (including shipping) EPA city rating: 18 Test mileage: 20 Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles bumper-to-bumper.
|Larry Printz||The Morning Call and Mcall.com||March 7, 1999|
|Tom Strongman||KansasCity.com||September 26, 1998|
|Anita And Paul Lienert||The Detroit News||September 9, 1998|
|Richard Truett||Orlando Sentinel||August 28, 1998|
|Tony Swan||Detroit Newspapers||May 21, 1998|
|Paul Lienert||The Detroit News||May 6, 1998|
|Jim Mateja||chicagotribune.com||May 3, 1998|
|Tom Strongman||KansasCity.com||May 1, 1998|
|Al Haas||August 9, 1998|
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