2011 Chrysler 200 Convertible Review

The revamped and renamed Sebring Convertible is much improved but deeply flawed

2011 Chrysler 200 Convertible Review

Chrysler’s Sebring Convertible might be the butt of more jokes than the Pontiac Aztek, from its tremendously ironic name to its lackluster, well, everything. And yet Chrysler has continued to sell quite a few of them, so when it came time to redesign and re-name the Sebring sedan, execs made the call to stay the course on the convertible model as well.

FAST FACTS

1. A new V6 engine adds 97-hp for a total of 283-hp and actually delivers better fuel economy too at 19/29-mpg.

2. The 200 Convertible comes standard as a soft-top, with a retractable hard-top available on mid-level Limited and top-level S trims.

3. Pricing has dropped $1,400 and now starts at $26,445.

Now called the Chrysler 200 Convertible, it really is a significant improvement over the past model. But what does that mean, considering the Sebring drop-top might just have been the worst vehicle to throw your hard-earned dollars away on?

Let’s just say that the Sebring had two fundamental problems, one has been fixed, the other essentially can’t be.

Starting with what’s been improved, well, we’re talking about the car itself, from the interior trim, to the hardware, to the engine, suspension and price.

Outside the changes might not at first be all that significant but run across an older model on the road and you’ll instantly take note. A redesigned front end sports a new grille and the rear now has design hints from the Jaguar XK. It’s still beige-enough to make a Solara look like it’s blushing pink in comparison, but small items like LED lights at the front and rear certainly help.

BIG SUSPENSION CHANGES MAKE FOR A MORE COMFORTABLE RIDE

Chrysler claims a more dynamic drive with steering that’s more direct, although to be honest it’s just at the level it should always have been. Sure it’s light and still lacks feedback, but no one buying such a car is looking for anything more and would probably not enjoy something a little stiffer and more accurate.

The bigger change is in the more solid and comfortable feel you get while driving the car. Suspension updates aren’t just limited to new springs and shocks. Chrysler engineers tossed out almost everything about the old setup, with new designs and parts. Add to that thicker swaybars, a suspension that’s 12mm lower in the front and 6mm lower in the rear, a track that’s one-inch wider than before and tires that are wider too, measuring 225 mm, rather than the 215 mm size last year. The result is a package that is more comfortable and more stable, whether you’re cruising comfortably or at highway speeds.

As for cowl shake and chassis rigidity, there’s plenty of the former and little of the latter – as expected. This convertible gets seriously bent out of shape on rougher roads, but the up-side is that it remains quite comfortable.

NEW V6 EASILY THIS CAR’S HIGHLIGHT

Contributing to the improved driving quality is a new V6 engine that’s smooth and quiet. Displacing 3.6-liters it’s the same powerplant being used across the Dodge/Chrysler/Jeep lineup and is the result of a smart business decision to pool resources into one solid V6 rather than a selection of out-dated and poorly-engineered powerplants. Power is rated at a solid 283-hp, an increase of 97-hp over the old 2.7-liter unit. A testament to exactly how bad the old unit was, when mated to a 6-speed automatic, the 3.6L even manages better fuel economy at 19/29-mpg.

In terms of the actual mechanics of the car, the 6-speed may be smooth but, like a lot of modern cars, it does not want to downshift. This may help fuel economy and it brings with it a calmer driving experience, but if you want to make use of the horsepower far too much throttle input is required to drop a gear or two.

A 173-hp 2.4-liter 4-cylidner is standard equipment on the entry-level Touring model, although it’s barely worth mentioning as Chrysler expects the take rate on the V6 to be a near-unanimous 90 percent. It may save you a few dollars on the initial purchase, but it’s actually worse on fuel at 18/29-mpg. That’s expected to change, however, with the introduction of a dual-clutch 6-speed later this year.

INTERIOR MOSTLY, BUT NOT COMPLETELY, IMPROVED

Enjoying the more refined ride quality of the new suspension is made easier thanks to an improved interior. Big changes come with a new, standard leather-wrapped steering wheel with some quality audio, cruise and Bluetooth buttons. There are new gauges, although they already have an out-dated look to them. The same can be said of the big shifter and the low-grade plastic surrounding it.

There are plenty more soft-touch surfaces than in the past and Chrysler claims to have upgraded the seats too – we did find them quite comfortable. New seat material (cloth or leather) is also part of the restyle and makes a big difference.

A soft top is standard on both the base Touring and Limited trim levels, and a hard-top can be ordered on either as an option. It does offer a more isolated coupe-like drive, but looks borderline unnatural from a styling perspective.

Cargo room with the top up is a solid 13 cu-ft, and with the top down it drops to 6.6 cu-ft, which is enough to fit a few items and isn’t completely useless.

Touring models start at $26,445 and come with cloth seats, 6-way power front seats, remote keyless entry, 17-inch wheels, A/C and an electronic vehicle information center. That’s a solid $1,400 less than last year’s model.

Upgrade to the $31,240 Limited trim and add on leather seats, remote start, a touch screen ‘media center’, some chrome exterior trim and 18-inch wheels. Improved or not, that’s a pretty substantial amount of money for what is ultimately not a lot of car. Then again, convertibles are notorious for being priced by their own absurd standard.

Reliability and durability of Chrysler products is always a concern and the 200 Convertible is no different. While Chrysler does seem to have made a concerted effort to improve, time will tell and even with our short time with the car, we noticed a few issues, including a convertible tonneau cover that took repeated attempts to shut, as well as a situation in which the car exhibited a serious shake under braking from speed.

WHAT CHRYSLER DIDN’T, AND COULDN’T, FIX

But where Chrysler engineers succeeded in making the 200 Convertible a better Sebring Convertible, they were ultimately doomed to fail in making it a good car. And here’s the reason why.

The Sebring Convertible is, both literally and conceptually, a mid-size sedan that’s been built into a convertible. That brings with it every quality of the mid-size family car segment – most of which do not a driver’s car make.

This is why the 200 Convertible and the Sebring before it are so loathed, as they’re the antithesis of what any car enthusiast wants or understands to be a car that is good, or even worth caring about.

And yet for that very reason, the 200 C will continue to sell. Sure the Mustang Convertible is twice the car, but it’s a sports car. Those who want a relaxed mid-size ride can get it in the 200 Convertible. For them the drop-top Mustang is too showy, too stiff and too high-strung.

THE VERDICT

A mainstay of rental fleets from Miami to San Francisco, it’s little surprise that Chrysler decided to keep the 200 Convertible around. And while interest in such vehicles does seem to be waning, especially with the elimination of the Toyota Solara and news that the Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder is set to be retired, Chrysler is poised to gobble up large swaths of the albeit small segment.

Rivals may seem non-existent at first look, but if you don’t need back seats there are significantly more fun vehicles on offer, from the MINI Cooper Convertible to the Mazda MX-5. And while it’s hard to understand why anyone would buy a Volkswagen Eos, the 200 C makes a strong argument.

Is it better than the Sebring Convertible? Yes.

Is it a lot better. Yes.

Should you buy one?

If you’re in search of top-down mid-size sedan style motoring on a budget and couldn’t care less about a history of less-than-stellar reliability, then we suppose you could give it a cautious look. If you hold any philosophical opinions about what a car (not an appliance, but a car) is or what it should be, well, why did you ask?

RELATED READING

2010 Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder GT Review 2009 Volkswagen Eos 2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata PRHT Review

2012 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible Review 2010 Lexus IS250C Review

  • Ted

    I’m late to this show, but I’m retiring in a year or less or two or three or four, but less than five. The 200 Limited Convertible is exactly the Interstate car I want. To Hell with the elite car magazine writers who get to drive $50,000+ convertibles. They are spoiled, just like the Millennials who think they deserve $100,000 right out of college and table wipers at McDonald’s who think they deserve $30,000 starting pay.

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