When Chrysler unveiled its 300C Concept in April, it was a thinly disguised version of the Hemi V-8-powered, rear-wheel-drive muscle car that arrives in dealerships sometime next year.
With that, Chrysler looks deep into its past to define its future.
My, how the future has changed. Ten years ago, a reborn Chrysler was touting a new generation of innovative front-drive “cab-forward” sedans that were ballyhooed as the next big thing. For Chrysler, it was a big thing, helping to pull the beleaguered company out of the red.
Now, such things are fading, with rear-wheel drive making a comeback and cab-forward turning into old hat.
The 300M Special is the sportiest version of Chrysler’s big sedans. A quicker, tighter take on the standard 300M, it adds an aggressive edge with more performance and better handling.
The 300M was added to the lineup in 1998, harking back to Chrysler’s legendary “letter cars,” a low-volume series of high-performance automobiles made between 1955 and 1965.
It took 33 years to get from the letter “L” to the letter M, and the concept had changed radically.
Now powered by a high-output V-6 instead of a V-8, the 300M was tarred by muscle-car enthusiasts as a poseur, and despite its performance attributes and practical accommodations, the 300M never lived up to its promise in the marketplace.
And the word is, 300M goes away next year after the 300C takes center stage.
Engine and transmission
Although the 300M may lack the booming V-8s of its letter-series predecessors, the V-6 under the sloping hood produces enough horsepower and torque to make this big sedan feel quick and muscular.
All that’s missing is the massive off-the-line torque of the big V-8s. This was a sticking point among Chrysler purists, that the 300M was a letter-car in name only, without the dragster performance to back up the claim.
Not that the sedan is a slowpoke. The Special adds 5 horsepower and 8 pound-feet of torque to the basic M engine, boosting it to 255 and 258, respectively. The power comes on a smooth rush.
A downside is the need for premium gas, rather than regular in the standard M.
The four-speed automatic is mated nicely to the engine power, with an AutoStick feature for manual shifting.
Handling and drivability
The Special adds a sport suspension to the already sporty M, providing a ride that is firm but not harsh. There’s minimal body sway in corners in this nice handling vehicle.
Steering has been enhanced for the Special, making it more responsive and precise. Also upgraded are the strong four-wheel disc brakes with an antilock system that senses each wheel’s speed in turns for added braking stability.
Wheels and tires on the Special are special indeed: 18-inch alloys with unidirectional tires. These really stick to the pavement.
All of this adds up to a sedan that is reasonably fun to drive, though more for people who appreciate American-style performance rather than European finesse.
For a big car, the M manages to look lithe and sporty, especially with those huge wheels. The Special is lowered one inch on its sports suspension, and additional ground-effects trim makes it look lower still. A sleek pair of chrome tips carry the tuned exhaust system.
The cab-forward design holds up well on the Special, which has a stealthy, masculine appearance. The short nose, large wheel arches, well-defined windows and high tail carry presence and garnered some turned heads.
Some people thought the tall, flat rear aspect looked awkward. On balance, the trunk space is huge.
The cabin is roomy and accommodating, a hallmark of cab-forward design. The huge, slanted windshield provides a deep, airy space, making the interior feel even bigger.
The Sirius satellite radio system is great. Similar to rival XM, it offers more than 100 stations ranging from classical to comedy, with lots of oldie, alternative, jazz, country, talk and pop. Minor problem was how the system blanked out under overpasses.
The system runs through a fantastic 360-watt audio system with nine speakers and a six-disc CD player.
The supportive seats are leather-trimmed, as are the steering wheel and shift knob. The gauges are white-faced and vintage-looking.
There’s a full assembly of features, with power everything, trip computer and vehicle-information center and tire-pressure monitor.
The center console is nicely finished, but in the test car, it felt loose and shaky.
The 300M Special comes fully loaded at $32,615. Options on the test car included a moonroof, $895; Sirius radio, $520, with the subscription fee extra; side air bags, $390; and shipping, $680. Total was $35,170.
Sleek and powerful, the 300M Special provides a sporty take on the big American car. It may be outdated, but it still has appeal.
Chrysler 300M Special
Vehicle type: Five-passenger, four-door sedan, front-wheel drive.
Base price: $32,615.
Price as tested: $35,170.
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6, 255 horsepower at 6,500 rpm, 258 pound-feet of torque at 3,950 rpm.
Transmission: Four-speed automatic.
Wheelbase: 113.0 inches.
Curb weight: 3,650 pounds.
EPA mileage: 18 city, 27 highway.
Awkward rear styling.