Orlando Sentinel's view

Chrysler’s too-often overlooked sporty sedan gets a new model for 2002, the 300M Special, and it’s more of an already good thing.

Pricey, but good. The 300M is essentially a shortened-up enthusiast version of the Chrysler Concorde. When Chrysler designed the 300M, it was conceived as what is called a “five-meter” car, and the company had high hopes for exporting the Canadian-built car to Europe.

Shorter cars are easier to sell there than big cars like the Concorde. But the 300M hasn’t made a lot of noise in Europe.

However, it continues to be a very nice car for American roads. There is plenty of room inside for five people, and the shorter length makes it more maneuverable around town and easier to park.

Most of the reduced length was taken from the car’s rear, which appeared a bit stubby at first, but, after being on the road for several years, now looks just fine. Even minus the length, the 300M’s trunk has a healthy 16.8 cubic feet of room – less than the Concorde’s 18.7 cubic feet, but still more than adequate.

Under the hood, the regular 300M has a 250-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6, with a four-speed automatic transmission. For the 300M Special, it’s the same engine, plus five more horsepower. The Special has a slightly stiffer suspension, big P245/45ZR-18 tires and wheels, instead of standard 17-inchers; and high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights.

Other additions to the Special are inside, including an excellent Infinity stereo with 11 speakers, tilt-down outside mirrors (they tilt down as you are backing up, to show curbs), and a comfortable, deluxe leather-trimmed interior.

That said, the regular 300M is no slouch when it comes to standard features. Even in standard trim, it gets a leather interior, an Infinity sound system with AM/FM and a compact disc player, and full power-operated equipment.

On the road, the 300M was designed to have a European feel, and for the most part, it does. The four-wheel disc brakes are excellent, handling is crisp, and the ride, though firm, is never punishing. The engine isn’t quite as smooth as the better European six-cylinders, but it isn’t far behind. Power is plentiful, and on the highway, we were able to just slightly beat the EPA-estimated 26 mpg.

As nice as he the 300M Special is, I’m not sure it’s worth the extra money over the regular 300M. The base price for the 300M Special is $31,940, about $3,500 over the regular 300M. With a sunroof ($890), side air bags ($390), a “Cold Weather Group” ($40), and $655 in destination charges, the bottom line for the test car was $33,920.

When you’re nearing $35,000, you are in neighborhood populated by such excellent cars as the Lincoln LS, BMW 330i, and a couple of Lexus and Infiniti models. Feature-for-feature, the 300M is a match for most, but I’d be looking for a healthy discount on the aging Chrysler.

Base price: $31,940

Price as tested: $33,920

EPA-rated fuel mileage: 18 mpg city, 26 mpg highway

Details: Front-wheel-drive sedan powered by a 3.5-liter, 255-hp V-6, with a 4-speed automatic transmission.

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