Chrysler 200 Convertible — Open air fun for four

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Exterior styling tweaks, interior upgrades and the addition of the award-winning Pentastar V-6 engine has transformed the Chrysler Sebring convertible — rechristened the 200 — into a four-person droptop worthy of consideration.

The extreme makeover was accomplished last year in Chrysler's rush to get freshened — and improved — "made in Detroit" products out the door. A new generation of the Chrysler mid-sized sedan and convertible is still a year or two away, but for now the renamed Chrysler 200 convertible is a noteworthy replacement for the cheap-looking and cheap-feeling Sebring.

While some of the "old Chrysler" still shines through such as the age-old convertible wiggles and shakes on uneven road surfaces, and the rather ungainly profile with its large, thick trunk, necessary to store the hard top. More modern versions of steel-top convertibles do a better job of smoothing out the lines.

But, for the most part, the 200 earned our admiration over seven days of top up and top down driving.

The 200 convertible gives people who desire a true four-place open-air car, but who can't afford the luxury prices of a Mercedes E-Series convertible or a Volvo C70, a solid, attractive alternative. The most alluring American-made four-passenger convertibles under 40 grand are the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro, but those cars do not afford the passenger-friendly interior or the large trunk offered by the Chrysler.

Chrysler  has been using the Pentastar V-6 over the past couple of years to transform several vehicles from the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Wrangler to the Dodge Avenger to the Chrysler Town and Country minivan. And with great success, giving Pentastar recipients a new lease on performance life.

Likewise, it gives the 200 a sense sophistication and urgency not found in the 2010 Sebring, powered by the old 3.5-liter V-6 making 235 horsepower while delivering gas mileage of 16 city and 27 highway. The 3.6-liter Pentastar endows the car with 283 horsepower with improved gas mileage measured by the EPA at 19/29.

Performance is also enhanced. Measured tests show the previous V-6 propelling the two-ton car from 0-to-60 in 8.3 seconds. The Pentastar gets the job done in swift 6.9 seconds.

A few words of caution for prospective convertible buyers. It is possible to hold the sticker price under 28 grand,  but you will not get the car described above. The base engine continues to be an outdated 2.4-liter 4-cylinder making 173 horsepower mated to an equally outdated 4-speed automatic. Its gas mileage is not much better than the large V-6 at 20/31.

We did not drive the 4-cylinder, but we have driven it in other products and we think it will be sufficient for some people. But consider that the V-6 can be added for just $1,795 to the base model bringing the price to $29,320. It will provide a more satisfying experience and will insure that the car is worth more at trade-in time and will be easier to sell or trade.

For fans of the soft top, which is rapidly leaving the convertible scene, they can order one for their 200.

The 200 displayed a pleasing, poised driving experience with handling at least on a par with the poplar mid-sized sedans. The ride is supple, but well controlled, and for the most part the chassis proved well controlled. Wind and road noise is well muted for a convertible. We did not test the soft top version.

We were pleased with its parking lot demeanor, as well. The almost-full-sized Chrysler has a tight turning radius of 36.5 feet with 17-inch wheels and 37.7 feet with 18-inchers. It means turning in a small parking spot can usually be accomplished in one maneuver.

Adult-size rear seating — Chrysler's trump card in competition with the sporty convertibles such as Mustang — is adequate, especially for the rear occupant sitting behind the passenger. Entry and exit can be a bit tedious, however, for older bodies. But that's the rule rather than the exception for coupes and convertibles.

Trunk space is a healthy 13.1 cubic feet with the top up, enormous for a convertible. It shrinks to 6.6 cubic feet with the top down.

Chrysler's best work in redesigning the Sebring came inside the car turning a cheap-looking interior into one of the best in the mid-sized segment. The actual dashboard layout is little changed, but the materials have been substantially upgraded giving the living quarters a quality look and feel.

A couple of annoyances — Chrysler offers no backup camera, and the trunk lid is stiff and heavy, hard to pull open and push closed. This is because of the power top mechanism. A power trunk lid would be a very welcome convenience.

The 200 starts at $27,525 for the Touring edition. We tested the mid-level Limited with the V-6 engine starting at $32,520. It has proven to be the most popular model. Our Limited test car with navigation and an upgraded Boston Acoustics sound system carried a bottom line of $35,485.

If you see a true four-passenger convertible in your future, but your budget cannot be stretched into Mercedes territory, you would be wise to consider the 200.

Base price: $27,525; as driven, $35,485
Engine: 3.6-liter V-6
Horsepower: 283 @ 6,400 rpm
Torque: 260 foot-pounds @ 4,800 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 108.9 inches
Length: 194.8 inches
Curb weight: 4,000 pounds
Turning circle: 37.7 feet
Luggage capacity top up: 13.1 cubic feet
Luggage capacity top down: 6.6 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 16.9 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 29 highway, 19 city
0-60: 6.9 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Ford Mustang V-6 convertible, Chevy Camaro V-6 convertible

The Good
• Improved styling inside and out
• Ability to hold four adults
• Outstanding Pentastar V-6

The Bad
• Retains awkward look from side view

The Ugly
• No backup camera available