In 1999 Chrysler revived its legendary 300 letter series with a euro-performance version of the LH-sedan. Since then, the 300M has been a steady seller for folks who desire a roomy sedan with their driving excitement. For 2002, Chrysler has turned up the wick a bit with the 300M Special. Let’s see if it drives that way.
When Chrysler introduced the 300M in 1999, there were plenty of skeptics. After all, the ‘‘M’’ had some pretty big tire tracks to fill. The original 300 was a huge V8-powered two-door coupe, with a reputation for luxury and speed. And while the 300M isn’t the fire-breathing monster its predecessor was, it has built a loyal fan base by staying true to the original 300’s tenets: a rakish exterior, a roomy luxurious interior, and a healthy dose of pavement-pounding performance.
And for mid-year 2002, those principals are racheted up further with the 2002 300M Special. The Special augments the 300M’s Euro-aggressive styling with Xenon headlights and dark grey body cladding. Functional front and rear ground effects skirts and a one inch lower ride height reduced aerodynamic drag by 2 percent. The 300M’s slick CD of 0.31 is low for such a big sedan. Also accenting the Special’s bolder look are thin-spoked aluminum rims, upped from 17 to 18 inches, wrapped with serious 245/45ZR tires, and twin exhaust tubes peeking out from under the rear facia.
Feeding those twin tubes through a low restriction exhaust system is Chrysler’s high output 3.5 liter, SOHC, 24-valve V6. In the Special, horsepower has been increased from 250 to 255, with an equally modest increase in torque, 255 to 258 pound-feet. Good for a spirited 7.2 second run to 60, and a quarter mile time of 15.5 seconds at 91 MPH. Our drivers loved the throaty exhaust and the powertrain’s free-revving nature. Although the launch is energetic, power comes on strongest when the tach passes 5,000 rpm, and continues to pull nicely to the 6,800 rpm redline. All-speed traction control is standard, and shifting is done by way of a crisp 4-speed Autostick manual-matic. The transmission’s self-shift mode actually makes sense in the 300M.
Unlike the 300s of old, our M Special doesn’t require a Herculean effort to reel it in from speed. In keeping with the modern definition of performance, the Special’s 4 wheel disc brakes feature high performance pads. Scoops in the front fascia keep ‘em cool, while new Electronic Brake force Distribution keeps them balanced. Stops from 60 averaged 130 feet. Fine for a big sedan, with just enough ABS feedback through the pedal.
Handling does telegraph the M’s 3650 pound curb weight. That’s to say, plenty of understeer, with a tendency to react slowly to steering inputs. But once it finds its groove, the Special’s fat tires provide loads of grip. And that’s with a still rather soft suspension for the smooth ride that’s also part of the Chrysler letter-series tradition. We say ‘‘still’’ because the Special’s performance tuned suspension adds firmer strut dampening and taller rear jounce bumpers. Gas-charged struts control each corner, while the firm feel rack and pinon steering, optional on the 300M, is standard on the Special.
As we mentioned earlier, a standard hallmark of the original 300 was a luxurious interior, and in this regard the 300M Special absolutely shines. The Ms come with supple leather seating. And setting the Special apart from the others is either a dark grey or two-tone grey/taupe color scheme. Heated seats are standard, although we found the controls a little awkward to use. The Special also gets some of the most tasteful looking faux carbon fibre trim we’ve ever seen, and a 150 MPH speedo graces the gauge cluster. There’s a 360 watt audio system with a 3 band equalizer and 4-disc in-dash CD changer with , count ‘em , 11 carefully placed speakers.
The spacious rear seat offers comfortable seating for three adults and 60/40 split folding seat backs, that lead the way to a commodious trunk with 16.8 cubic feet. The trunk lid’s hinges close into the rain gutters to save space.
Base price on the 2002 Chrysler 300M Special is $32,595. Our tester with options rang up to $33,920. Compare that against any other sedans with comparable style and performance, and you’ll quickly appreciate what a big bargain this big sedan really is.
So how special is it? Special enough that the 2002 Chrysler 300M Special is a clear standout among other large sedans. So if you’re in the market for a heaping helping of big car luxury and performance, belly up to your Chrysler dealer and tell ‘em you’ll have the Special!
Engine: 3.5 Liter, Sohc, 24-valve V6
Torque: 258 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 7.2 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 15.5 Seconds @ 91 MPH
60-0 MPH: 130 Feet
EPA Mileage: 18 MPG City 26 MPG Highway