For Mopar enthusiasts, the letters ofthe alphabet have always meant performance, from the “letter series” 300s of the Fifties and early Sixties to the Plymouth and Dodge R/T muscle cars of the Sixites and early Seventies. That however, was thirty years ago, and the world is a different place, one where brute force is simply no longer the sole definition of performance.
DaimlerChrysler’s mid-size sedans are available in configuations from austere to Victorian parlour plush, but the 300M and Intrepid R/T represent Chrysler’s pick of the crop for performance oriented drivers who need four doors and room for five adults. The heart of the matter is the 3.5 L Magnum V-6 which produces a claimed 242 horsepower in the R/T and 253 pulling the 300M. The word “claimed” for the Intrepid refers to the 11 horsepower the R/T spots the 300M, because in SSGM testing the vehicles felt equally strong. The engine is a 60 degree all-aluminum affair with single overhead cams operating 24 valves through roller rockers up to a 7000 RPM redline. Bore and stroke are oversquare at 96 and 81 mm repectively, and the pistons run in cast iron liners to a compression ratio of 9.9 to 1. Fuel flows through sequential MPFI downsteam of an electronically controlled intake manifold tuning valve. Emissions are controlled by fast light-off close-coupled 3-way converters, heated oxygen sensors, and electronic EGR.
The power feeds through D-C’s Autostick transmission, a four speed automatic which can be shifted manually by toggling the selector handle laterally on the console. The system works well enough to allow significant engine braking, and is intelligent enough to refuse driver irrationality such as fourth gear starts and “4 to 1” downshifts at speed. Autostick adds to the experience, but the shifter is too far away from the steering wheel for comfort. Thumb buttons or paddles on the steering wheel would transform the system, especially on the R/T. The obligatory four wheel disc brakes slow the 3500 pound mass of the units admirably, aided by 225/55 VR 17 Goodyear Eagles on both vehicles. The M is definately softer, a luxury car with power, but the R/T is aimed at sport sedan buyers. The low restriction exhaust makes the right sounds, and the monochromatic charcoal-grey interior on the SSGM test vehicle looked all-business. The 300 M featured the obligatory leather, wood trim accents, and more power options than a 747, making the 300 M a car for quick touring, rather than the stoplight Grand Prix. Both vehicles returned about 22 MPG in totaly unscientific combined city and highway testing. Both use a strut-based four wheel independent suspension system. The 300M tested by SSGM stickered at $41,260, while the R/T carries a price of $30,875, but could be had for a thousand less without the sunroof and full size spare.
For a few die hard Pentastar fans, the new cars will never replace the Wedge and Hemi engined monsters of a generation ago, but they’re comfortable, fast, and aren’t outrageously expensive, especially the R/T. Coming up the middle between large, soft domestic sedans and small, sporting European product, both The 300M and Intrepid R/T should make sense to their target markets. Now if DaimlerChrysler would put the 3.5 Magnum in the new Sebring…