The 300M was added to Chrysler's LH sedan series in the 1999 model year to rekindle the spirit of the performance Chrysler "letter series" produced between 1955 and 1965.

Many will argue, the Chrysler 300M came thisclose to acting as lively as it looks.

Close no more.

For '02 a 300M Special edition has been added that delivers a little extra power--255 horsepower and 258 foot-pounds of torque from its 3.5-liter V-6, up from 250 h.p. and 250 foot-pounds of torque with that engine in the regular 300M.

But more noticeable is sure-footed handling and suspension tuning that makes the 300M a spirited, fun-to-drive performance sedan.

More macho, less meek.

The 300M Special comes with a 4-speed automatic with Auto-stick, the clutchless manual that allows you to shift by slapping the lever side to side.

It would be a lot easier if the steering wheel didn't block the instrument panel display informing you of the gear you are in when slapping the shift lever. Having to pause to look through the opening in the wheel takes some of the intended pleasure out of the experience.

To set the Special apart from the regular 300M, Chrysler has dressed it up with a different grille and ground effects while lowering vehicle height by 1 inch for optimum handling.

The package is complemented by 18-inch uni-directional Michelin Pilot sport performance radials, stiffer performance-tuned suspension with firmer strut damping and slightly firmer tuned steering for better on-line feel and more precise response to steering input.

Even without the increased horsepower and torque, the 300M Special's suspension system puts more "sport" in the sports sedan.

Base price: $31,940.

Standard equipment includes larger, beefed-up, performance brakes with four-wheel anti-lock and low-speed traction control; front air bags with less-forceful deployment (side air bags a $390 option); air conditioning; power windows and locks; tilt steering; trip computer; AM/FM cassette and four-disc in-dash CD changer; steering-wheel mounted audio controls; remote keyless entry; power (eight-way driver's side) heated leather seats; automatic on headlamps; power heated outside mirrors with turn indicators; fog lamps; and dual exhausts. Only needed option other than side air bags is the $895 power moonroof.

Chrysler's dramatically designed, cab-forward, front-wheel-drive, LH sedans made consumers sit up and take notice when they arrived in the 1993 model year and again when the 300M was added for 1999.

Those FWD, LH sedans will give way to rear-wheel-drive LX sedans in the '04-'05 timeframe.

The '04 Chrysler Crossfire coupe will share drivetrains with the Mercedes-Benz SLK roadster as Daimler and Chrysler begin some long-awaited synergies.

Because of that sharing in the small-car end, many assumed the next-generation 300M would get a Mercedes engine/transmission if not a platform.

Won't happen.

The LX series get a variety of Mercedes components, from seat frames and fuel pumps to electrical switches and wiring harnesses, but not platforms, engines or transmissions--at least not this time.