The ideal combination: Redesigned Chrysler 200 and Derby City

By Russ Heaps
Clanging Bell

(March 30, 2014) I'm not the kind of guy who typically looks a gift horse in the mouth. So, when Chrysler chose one of my favorite cities — the place I consider my hometown — for the media launch of its redesigned 2015 200, and issued an invitation, I was all over it.

I was 13 when my family moved to Louisville, Ky. There I matriculated through most of junior high and all of high school, graduating from Atherton High School. I graduated college while based there. My first, second and third jobs were there. I owned my first home in the Derby City. My parents are buried in its Resthaven Cemetery. I was 28 when my job took me from Louisville to Knoxville, Tenn., and beyond. But no matter how far away from Louisville I've drifted over the years, it has never been far from my heart. If I didn't live in Greenville, SC, I'd probably be back in Louisville. I visit every chance I get.

I scheduled my flight into Louisville a few days early to spend the extra time with friends. As the personal portion of my visit drew to a close, my friends dropped me off at the front door of the 21c Hotel in the heart of downtown Louisville, where Chrysler hosted this event.

While lunching with the communications manager for the 200, Kathy Graham, in Atlanta last week, she opined that Louisville was a good fit for the 200 media launch because both are experiencing a revival of sorts. Indeed they are.

Although the struggle with its downtown is ongoing, Louisville is rich in eclectic neighborhoods — some rubbing up against the downtown — populated with trendy bars, restaurants and boutiques. These are enclaves where the redesigned 200 will be quite at home.

The midsize-sedan segment, where the 200 competes, is a Battle Royale among a legion of overachievers. Finally, though, Chrysler has designed and engineered a car equal to the task of taking on the best sedans in its class.

Entry to the 200 for the base LX will set you back $21,700. Chrysler expects its $23,255 Limited to be the volume model. Beyond the Limited, Chrysler claims it is taking a novel pricing/trim-level approach by creating more of a “Y” than stacking its next two trims on top of one another over the Limited. Because the $25,995 200C costs more than the $24,495 200S and both cost more than the Limited, I don't quite grasp the Y-trim claim, but the S and the C do take somewhat different tacks with the S getting a sportier suspension and darker accents. But the S builds on the Limited's content; while the C builds on the S's content.

Chrysler has a marketing department for the same reason every major company does, to create and promote areas separating its products from the competition. The Y pricing/trim-level lane of attack would seem to be such a creation. It seems to be at least somewhat effective. After all, I've just spent more than a paragraph writing about it.

On to the important stuff. Here are the highlights of the 200:

Two engines — a 184-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder and a 295-horsepower 3.6 V6 – are available and each is bolted to the industry's first nine-speed, driver-shiftable automatic transmission. Shifting is accomplished with either steering wheel-mounted paddles or a round knob on the console.

Passengers enjoy a roomy cabin that is quiet and nicely appointed. The ride is smooth.

There are a passel of standard and available safety features — a few of which are unique in this segment. Parking assist that can help park the 200 in either a parallel or a perpendicular spot, Lane Sense Departure Warning-Plus not only alerts the driver when the 200 is drifting out of its lane, but also nudges it back on course, and Adaptive Cruise Control-Plus with the capability of bringing the 200 to a complete stop are all on the safety menu.

Premium materials well assembled highlight the roomy cabin.

I spent over 100 miles with the four and the V6, and I am impressed with both powertrains.

Even with some of its expressways experiencing the growing pains of widening, Louisville is an easy city to escape. You can transition from downtown to the countryside in 20 minutes. Terrific driving roads probably isn't the first thing that pops into most people's minds when Louisville is mentioned, but Chrysler found some dynamic roads laced with curves and variations in their topography.

Downtown Louisville suffers from the traffic snarl of most larger cities. Several one-way streets add to the confusion for the uninitiated.

Listing its address as 700 West Main Street, the 21c Hotel's actual entrance is on 7th Street. This was my third or fourth stay at this property that is as much an art gallery as it is a hotel. Owned by the Brown family, it benefits from their love of art and sufficiently deep pockets to assemble pieces from all around the world. Some of it is pretty quirky, and some of it will make the innocent blush, but what do I know? It's not all photos of one-legged naked guys.

Modern and well furnished, the 21c is an ideal base for business trips and vacation getaways alike.

Dinner our first night was downstairs in one of the art galleries. Part of the festivities included a bourbon-tasting station. Among the selections: Colonel E.H. Taylor, Eagle Rare and Elmer T. Lee – all products of Buffalo Trace. Old Grandad was also offered. I didn't even know it was still being made. It was certainly the odd man out among this group.

After dinner a few of us adjourned to Proof, the hotel's bar. As with the rest of the hotel, the bar is a bit quirky. The lighting is so crazed, it defies shooting photos at night. But what it does have is well over 50 bourbons. Stocking a Who's Who of hard-to-get labels, it is pure heaven for a bourbon lover. Was I happy? Why, yes I was!

Four blocks from the hotel at 3rd and Main Streets is the downtown edition of the Bluegrass Brewing Company. I always make a stop at the actual brewery in St. Matthew's just east of downtown on my Louisville visits, but don't get to the downtown version very often. It happens to be located in the 300 Building where I toiled at my first job out of college. It's sort of my Louisville circle of life. Even it had at least 25 or 30 bourbons on hand.

This was a Brown family-centric event that not only included our hotel, but also our lunch stop on the driving day at Hermitage Farms, as well as our dinner spot on the second evening at Garage Bar.

Garage Bar is a converted gas station. Its bar, stocked with, what in Louisville is, the obligatory 50 or so bourbons, was also loaded with wonderful craft and imported beers. With indoor and outdoor seating, there is more room than there would seem at first glance. The food was delicious; while the post-dinner bourbon sipping sucked a number of newbies into expanding their horizons and trying some small-batch versions.

All in all, it was a terrific trip with just the right amount of getting acquainted with the 2015 200, good food and wonderful bourbon.

Yep, Louisville was a good fit.