When it comes to choosing a sports sedan, Chrysler isn't the first brand to come to mind.

The often overlooked Chrysler 300M was added to Chrysler's large- car LH platform in 1999 as a sporty sedan, shorter than its siblings. Its name comes from Chrysler's performance-oriented letter- series cars produced from 1955 through 1965. Its shorter length was part of Chrysler's plans to export the car to Europe.

The 300M hasn't seen the kind of success overseas that Chrysler originally envisioned, but it's a terrific choice for the enthusiast seeking a fun set of wheels from an American nameplate.

Its sportiness is reinforced by the addition of a new 300M Special model.

What makes the 300M Special, special?

The 3.5-liter 24-valve V-6 increases horsepower by 5 and torque by 7, for a total of 255 horsepower and 257 foot-pounds of torque. It's mated to Chrysler's 4-speed AutoStick automatic with manual shift capabilities.

Chrysler adds a dual exhaust and truly large 18-inch uni- directional tires. Ride height is lowered by an inch and ground effects are added to the body trim. The suspension is stiffened, braking performance is improved and steering feel has been enhanced. Anti-lock disc brakes and high-intensity discharge headlamps round out this impressive package.

Performance is improved somewhat over a standard 300M. The grip is tenacious and steering is relatively quick, with good feel. Power and braking are linear, allowing for more fun than you'd ever expect from a large Chrysler. Tackling twisting roads is actually fun. In fact, it's more so than the Lexus ES 300 I drove the week before.

It all adds up to a surprisingly adept car.

Inside, an Infinity stereo system, leather seats and faux carbon fiber trim lend the interior a special feel.

The seats are surprisingly comfortable, blending outstanding support and comfort over long distances. The center stack, which features automatic climate control and an excellent sounding AM/FM/ cassette/4-CD audio system, is standard Chrysler fare. The stereo is so powerful, it makes the mirror vibrate.

Other niceties include a new tire pressure monitoring system, in addition to small items, such as headlamps that go on automatically with the windshield wipers. Heated seats with 2-position memory function add a luxurious touch.

There's ample room for four people, five if they're friendly. Leg and head room are quite good, although the Chrysler 300M sits very low.

Trunk room is plentiful

The 300M is a large car and returned mileage typical of the breed -- 18.3 mpg on regular gas.

The 300M Special is indeed special. It's that rare, large, domestic sedan that's fun to drive.

Of course, this is just the beginning for the 300M. According to industry trade publication Automotive News, the 300M will change for 2004 , switching to a new rear-wheel-drive platform and a V-8 engine that will share some components with Mercedes Benz E-Class.

In the meantime, you'll want to take the wheel of the 300M Special for a ride that's truly, -- um -- special.

Chrysler 300M Special

Engine: 3.5-liter SOHC V-6

Transmission: 4-speed AutoStick automatic

Tires: P245/45ZR18

Wheelbase: 113 inches

Length: 197.8 inches

Weight: 3,650 pounds

Cargo volume: 16.8 cubic ft.

Base price: $31,940

As tested: Not available

EPA rating: 18 city, 26 highway

Test mileage: 18.3 mpg

Fuel type: Regular

Built in: Brampton, Ontario, Canada