For most readers of this magazine, a luxury car can be defined as a maxed-out GTX or killer big-block C-Body from the days of yore. Unless we have some serious back-pocket green and want to impress the guys over at the yacht club, the Lexus/BMW/Mercedes is not really our cup of tea. So, it was with some skepticism that I climbed into the silver 300M Special left for me by DaimlerChrysler on a snowy Wednesday evening in February.
Truth be told, although guys like my father-in-law have a real love for such iron, I'm always surprised by what a nice piece of machinery a luxury car is. Things like the temperature control could maintain a steady 71 degrees despite the fact we were in the midst of a serious cold spell. Like the overhead console that gave an instant reading on fuel mileage. Like the deep leather seating that, despite being black, brought back memories of "rich Corinthian leather."
The "Special" part of this 300M was the fact that this version was hopped up a little more than the standard banker's version. Performance would not be an issue as I began the trek toward Auburn Hills for a meeting at Performance Vehicle Operations the following day; black ice, something rarely seen where I come from and a grim reminder of my youth, covered the highways. With only 400-plus miles on the odometer, the phone calls resulting from an accident would not be ones I'd want to make. Nice and easy up I-275, the car felt the road well, but the trip took about 45 minutes longer than normal. At the hotel, the radio said a couple of the roads I had been on had just been closed due to accidents. Snow blowing hard against the window, I had gotten through the first act.
After meeting with the guys at PVO, it was time to go down to Centerline to meet with Mopar's David Hakim. Hakim is known to many readers for his Road Runner we put through its paces on Woodward Avenue last year (Mopar Muscle, February '02); how could I say no when he asked to drive? We cruised to Hamtramack to meet with some Motor City Mopar owners for lunch. Dave showed me that the shift points were indeed a little higher in the 300M-S, kicking the V6 machine out of First gear all the way up at 6,200 rpm. He was also more than able to get it through city traffic (if you've ever ridden with him, you know exactly what I mean). Even his Hemi-ownin' heart was impressed. As the afternoon sun began dropping in the West, it was time for a 250-mile run down to Indianapolis.
Across southern Michigan and heading down toward the Indiana state border on I-69, it quickly became evident that this was not going to be a pleasure trip. High winds had blown snow onto the pavement, which then froze. Watching for patches of ice, I looked down the highway to see a red import something-or-another make that sickening sideways gyration associated with panic breaking. The car did a complete 360-degree loop and oscillated back and forth in front of traffic. The Auto-Stick proved its worth right there as I was already in that mode and shifted down to Third at 65 mph, but I finally had to nail the brake pedal. Waiting for the slide to begin, nothing happened as the computerized system adjusted for the situation and scrubbed off some speed. Thankfully, another phone call had been averted and I had not left anything in my underwear. I was soon slinking in behind a big four-wheel-drive Ford and passing the young instigator, who was now stopped in the fast lane pointing in the right direction.
Besides the big semis in snow banks and a regular progression of flashing police-car lights checking on the less fortunate, the rest of the evening was uneventful.
Ice Capades DNQs...
The cool mileage counter in...
The cool mileage counter in the overhead console.
The Auto-Stick shifter is...
The Auto-Stick shifter is easy to grab, and is one of my favorite things about all the automatic Chrysler products that use it. I like to drive, and this thing gives the car's pilot a chance to do a little more than just sit there.
I wouldn't get a chance to drive it seriously again until my trip back to Detroit the following weekend. Though cold weather and snow were something of a problem, rolling down I-70 east towards Dayton, Ohio, let the 3.5L mill wind out a bit, and with 1,000 miles or so on the odometer, the car easily walked up to big numbers. This is the sport model, with a speedometer that tracks to 150 mph; we were nowhere close to that in this weather. The white-faced gauges are very easy to see and read, though only four are present (speed, tach, fuel level, and engine temp).
The consoles, above and below, are also well laid out. The Auto-Stick shifter is easy to grab, and is one of my favorite things about all the automatic Chrysler products that use it. I like to drive, and this thing gives the car's pilot a chance to do a little more than just sit there. The stereo is very well-balanced in terms of sound quality (as it should be); although I never tried either the CD player or cassette player, I was picking up AM talk radio from as far away as New York and St. Louis in northern Indiana. There were a variety of options in the upper console, none of which I tried except to see what type of big number I could get on the instant mileage counter; it read 81 mpg at one point! That'll keep them Washington boys off our backs (of course, with the wood to it, numbers like 8 mpg can happen as well).
Were there any drawbacks to the car? In my mind, only the big wheels and tires. Perhaps I'm just not used to them, but they transferred an inordinate amount of road feel through the suspension to the chassis, and I guess I would expect it to be a smoother ride despite the sporty name. I didn't get the sense of total control I tend to feel through the tires in smaller, late-model vehicles. On the rugged highways of Detroit, keeping things in alignment and tire damage to a minimum might be a little difficult.That aside, everyone from the car-wash guy to the parking valet thought it was a pretty impressive deal, and they see a lot of cars. If you're looking for the modern GTX, this is where we are now. It's plush, but has enough performance acumen to put a smile on your face. Now, once PVO does that SRT-6 mill
|2002 Chrysler 300M Special Specs|
|Color||Bright Silver Metallic|
|Interior..||Dark Slate Grey/Leather-trimmed buckets|
|Engine||3.5L High Output 240hp MPI|
|Exhaust||Dual rear |
|Brakes||Anti-Lock four-wheel discs|
|Tires||245/452A18 black wall|
|Stereo||AM/FM/cassette w/4-disc CD changer in dash|
|Speakers||11 infinity units in 9 locations|
|Gas tank||17-gallon capacity|