Step by step, day by day Chrysler is revamping its lineup. The Pentastar brand’s products are better than ever and their latest models give rival automakers serious competition. Vehicles like the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Dodge Dart and latest Ram trucks prove there’s plenty of dedication in Auburn Hills, Michigan.
|Engine: 2.4L 4-cylinder with 184 hp and 173 lb-ft of torque, or a 3.6L V6 with 295 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque.
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic.
Fuel Economy: The all-wheel drive V6 is rated at 18 mpg city, 29 highway or 22 on average.
Price: $22,695 to start or $32,215 as tested with a V6 and several extra-cost options.
Chrysler employees have been working overtime to pull themselves out of the lurch they were left in following Cerberus Capital Management’s disastrous reign. Probably one of the last vehicles on the market that dates back to those dark days is the Chrysler 200 mid-size sedan.
Of course the car formerly known as Sebring was refreshed with surprising success a few years ago. To draw attention and drum up sales, the company employed rapper Eminem in their groundbreaking “Imported from Detroit” ad campaign. The rebranding of the 200 was a mechanical rebuke of the three-headed dog from Hell (that’d be Cerberus).
But in spite of this redesign, the car still wasn’t all that competitive. Better? Yes. Class leading? No. It was worlds ahead of the moribund Sebring but still not up to the level of a Honda Accord or Volkswagen Passat for instance. But that all changes for the 2015 model year; this iteration of the Chrysler 200 is all new.
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Parked next to its predecessor, this car is practically unrecognizable. It looks elegant and upscale, where the version it replaces is rather awkward. Supposedly graced with the new “face” of Chrysler, the 2015 model reminds me a bit of an Asian carp with its squished grille opening and large lower air intake. Also, the general shape of its side glass brings to mind the daylight opening of Dodge Dart. Aside from the somewhat odd front end it’s quite pretty from other angles, though you have to see it outside in the sun to really appreciate its styling and surface details.
Riding atop Chrysler’s new compact U.S.-wide architecture, the car shares much of its bones with the Dart and Jeep Cherokee, though it’s got a lengthier wheelbase and longer body than either of those models. Adding a dash of panache to its provenance, this platform traces its lineage back to Alfa Romeo.
Compared to a Toyota Camry it’s just a whisker smaller in many key dimensions, like passenger-compartment volume, track width and wheelbase, but we’re talking fractions of an inch. It’s basically the same story when you park it next to a Ford Fusion or Nissan Altima; the Chrysler is in the heart of the segment.
The 2015 200 is offered in four different models: LX, Limited, the 200S and then the range-topping 200C. Icing the cake, a total of 11 different paint colors are available.
Over the years Chrysler earned a bad rap for its low-rent interiors, but that’s a thing of the past. Many of their new products have really good cockpits and latest incarnation of the 200 is no exception.
The overall look is chic, with curving forms and soft surfaces all over. Most of the materials are suitably rich; the dashboard and doors for instance are coated in squishy, low-sheen plastic.
Drivers can opt for the latest version of Chrysler’s Uconnect infotainment system. The new interface comes with built-in 3G connectivity and offers access to mobile apps including Pandora for streaming music or Yelp if you’re hungry. The company’s infotainment system is as easy to use as ever with simple graphics and an intuitive interface. Making it an easy reach, designers focused on putting the screen close to the driver so all parts of it can be accessed without straining.
Replacing a traditional shift lever this car features a rotary gear-selector like the one found in the new Ram pickup. It falls readily to hand and works reasonably well, freeing up precious real estate on the center console.
However, I found that it was a tiny bit slow going from reverse to drive, or vice versa. It’s not terribly sluggish, but when you’re executing a three-point turn and traffic is coming at you extra milliseconds feel like an eternity. Sport mode is also accessed by the all-powerful knob; push it in and turn it all the way to the right to sharpen the 200’s responses.
A non-electronic area where this car excels is storage. There’s a generously-sized center console that’s covered by a nifty sliding lid. Underneath there’s another storage space near your ankles. As a little Easter egg, designers molded the skyline of Detroit into the rubber mat lining this space. Curiously the Renaissance Center, which is GM’s corporate headquarters, is missing. We can’t imagine why…
When it comes to safety the 2015 Chrysler 200 features eight standard airbags. Additionally its structure is comprised largely of high-strength steel meaning that it should protect you very well if the unthinkable happens. Additionally customers can opt for some nice driver-assistance features including things like adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning and lane-keep assist.
In the powertrain department, there are two engines to choose from. The base unit is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that delivers 184 hp and 173 lb-ft of torque. The optional engine is a 3.6-liter V6. Yes, Chrysler still offers a six-cylinder alternative at a time when many competitors have gone four-banger only. But there’s NOTHING wrong with choice. The smooth-running Pentastar engine puts out a spirited 295 hp with 262 lb-ft of twist.
You may have a choice of powerplant but you don’t when it comes to transmission. The only one offered is a nine-speed automatic; the first ever in a midsize sedan. Supposedly, it helps deliver up to 35 miles per gallon on the highway, which was compact-car territory just a few years ago. The V6 is expected to return up to 31 mpg. Those are only estimates because the EPA has yet to rate the entire model range.
SEE ALSO: 2015 Chrysler 200 Rated at 36 MPG
For customers that live in foul-weather markets Chrysler offers all-wheel drive, though only with the six-cylinder engine. Now, aside from providing traction at all four corners the rear axle can actually be completely decoupled from the rest of the drivetrain to improve fuel economy. When extra grip is needed it seamlessly engages again. That model is the only version with an official EPA rating currently available. It ought to return 18 mpg in the city, 29 on the highway or 22 on average.
With a thick steering wheel the new 200 has a sturdy feel to it. The meaty tiller is easy to grip and provides a place to mount various satellite buttons, switches for things like cruise control and telephone connectivity.
The 200S provides a reasonably smooth ride on nice road surfaces and decently engaging dynamics. It rolls a little bit through corners but what do you expect? This isn’t an SRT Viper. The driving dynamics this car provides are totally appropriate for the midsize segment. Dive and squat are well controlled; the car stays nice and flat under heavy acceleration or panic braking.
The cabin remains quiet at freeway speeds, though it doesn’t seem like it’s the most silent in its class. Full-figured A-pillars eat into forward visibility at oblique angles but it’s not nearly as troublesome as some other sedans on the road (Buick LaCrosse, we’re looking at you). Assembly quality seemed flawless in the test car I evaluated; the folks at Chrysler’s Sterling Heights Assembly Plant in Michigan are on the ball.
As for powertrain the company’s 3.6-liter V6 engine is as silky smooth as ever, delivering a potent punch. Engineers did a phenomenal job isolating this powerplant from the rest of the car; it’s totally smooth, transmitting damn near zero vibration through the steering wheel, pedals or floor. It’s better integrated into the vehicle than some Lexus and Acura powertrains.
And boy does it move the car with authority; acceleration is brisk at all speeds, but watch out. Models that lack all-wheel-drive will squeak the front tires when you mash the accelerator or navigate tight turns under power; this is no surprise as the 200 has nearly 300 ponies straining the reins. Surprisingly torque steer didn’t seem to be an issue.
The brand-new ZF-sourced nine-speed automatic transmission is smooth and well sorted. It gives you plenty of gears to choose from and makes the most of the car’s available power.
Again, sport mode is accessible by pushing and twisting the shift knob. It alters transmission performance, tightens the steering feel and makes stability control more liberal. As with competing setups the differences are fairly minor; I found myself just leaving it in normal mode.
Chrysler’s all-new 200 starts at a very reasonable $22,695, including 995 bucks in shipping and handling fees; if you can believe it that’s $95 less than the outgoing model. Price-wise it’s right in line with and sometimes even a few dollars less than arch rivals including the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Ford Fusion.
Naturally the 200S we evaluated was a little pricier than that. It checked out at a still sensible $32,215. It benefited from a number of highly desirable options including leather seats ($995), navigation and sound upgrades ($1,495) as well as the up-level V6 ($1,990).
The 2015 version of this family sedan gives Chrysler something they haven’t had in years: a competent midsize model. It’s got the style, features, pricing and performance to go toe-to-toe with some of the segment’s heavyweights. With the optional engine it’s also an exemplar of refinement. Dealers and customers alike can rejoice because the Pentastar brand is back and firing on all cylinders. Look for the new 200 to start arriving at showrooms in the next few months.